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Common App essay prompts remain the same for 2019-20 while strategic plan suggests future change

Based on “extensive counselor feedback,” the Common Application decided to make no changes to essay prompts for 2019-20, keeping them the same for the third consecutive year.

And a collective sigh of relief could be heard from the cottage industry that’s grown up to support college essay preparation.

According to the Common App, “Retaining the essay prompts provides the added benefit of consistency for students, counselors, parents, and members during the admissions process.”

It also means that essay advisers won’t have to retool or come up with innovative approaches to new prompts. They can simply add another year of feedback to advice accumulated over the past two years.

The early release of essay prompts together with the ability to “roll over” existing Common App accounts ensures students have more time to plan and prepare applications prior to senior year of high school. Knowing what to expect for the coming year also provides counselors and others the opportunity to get a head start on application workshops and other programs designed to support students in a process many find increasingly stressful.

In the meantime, while preparing for 2019-20, the Common App’s Board of Directors Strategic Planning Committee is simultaneously engaging in an internal “creative and collaborative process”with the support of Tomorrow Partners, a California-based design team, “to reimagine its future.”

Specifically, Tomorrow Partners was asked to“envision a college preparation and application experience that meets the needs of the changing demographic of students” and answer the question, “How can we make this process better and more relevant” for both students and the Common App membership of colleges.

The research spanned four months and 18 states, reaching over 75 students, counselors, admissions leaders and parents. The resulting strategic plan identified myriad “possible solutions to help improve their existing product” and suggested as a “guiding principle” the desire to innovate “capitalizing on the latest technology to provide students, members, and counselors with an experience that not only serves their needs, but exceeds their digital expectations.”

So while essay prompts remain the same for the coming application cycle, it should come as no surprise that the Common Application may be looking to make future changes in product and operations. And unlike the experience of the recent past with CA4, the Common App is involving stakeholders early enough to voice opinions and respond to proposed changes long before anything new is launched.

For the record, the 2019-20 Common Application prompts will inspire essays on the following topics:

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.

Also for the record, during the 2018-19 application year, the most popular prompt was #7, “Share an essay on any topic of your choice” (24.1%). The next popular topics were #5 (23.7%) followed by #2 (21.1%).

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