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Clearing Up Confusion About The Dreaded College Application Personal Statement: Part 1

At this time of year, it’s typical to see rising seniors agonize over what they should write for their college application personal statement. While some colleges have their own applications and unique personal statement prompts, most schools use the Common Application or the Coalition Application, each with its own set of essay prompts. Here they are for each application for 2018-19:

Common Application Essay Prompts

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

  4. Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma - anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Coalition Application Essay Prompts

  1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

  2. Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.

  3. Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?

  4. What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

  5. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice

Did you notice that last prompt for each application? Both are literary equivalents of a get-out-of-jail-free card–providing this simple answer to the question, “What should I write about for my college application personal statement?” Answer: Anything…as long as it’s about YOU!

If the agonizing student grows nearly catatonic about choosing the prompt to respond to, then we strongly suggest choosing the last one in each case. Our advice: Write whatever you wish to write, even if the topic you’ve chosen was strongly influenced by one of the other prompts! That approach will give you the greatest latitude to say whatever you honestly want to say. And if you’re inferring that we think that it’s okay to use the other prompts as sources of inspiration, you’re right on the money. Further, it might be possible to morph a “topic of your choice” personal statement written for the Common Application, which has a 650-word maximum, into a lower word-count essay for one or more of the Coalition Application schools.

Remember this: It doesn’t matter in the slightest what you write about for your Common and Coalition Application personal statements — as long as it’s about you. What does matter is what you say and how you say it, because you should have clear objectives, and we’ll provide you with advice on that matter in future blogs.

Score at the Top

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