Common App Announces Change To 2021-22 Essay Prompts

By: Judi Robinovitz | Last Updated: March 2, 2021

We’ve all gotten used to change this past year, so it only seems natural that after four years of providing the exact same essay prompts, the Common Application has announced a revision to their 2021-22 slate of prompts. Not to worry – only one prompt has changed, and it offers a fresh, new topic for students to consider.

What’s Out?

The following prompt will no longer be listed as an option:

“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 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.”

Here’s good news: just because it’s off the list doesn’t mean you can’t use it! Several years ago, Common App added the golden ticket – Prompt number 7 – which gives students a free pass to submit an essay on any topic. So, if this is a question that speaks to you, go for it. Select the last prompt option. This is, in fact, a topic that colleges are interested in. They love to see that you’re passionate about an issue that affects you or perhaps the world on a larger scale, and that you’ve explored it thoroughly and thought deeply about finding a solution and a role you might play.

What’s In?

The new prompt replacing the previous one is:

"Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?"

We like this new prompt! It feels current, personal, and inclusive – and that’s likely the point. It veers a bit from the typical obstacle/challenge/achievement angle – which some students struggle to identify – and takes an approach that truly almost anyone can answer. There are many truisms about those “small things in life” that provide an inordinate share of joy to people, little things whose memory lasts and lasts. Our past topsy-turvy year may have hidden somewhere the very surprise this prompt addresses. If you can muster your thoughts and provide really deep reflection about gratitude, then this topic is for you!

A Note About the Essay Prompts

You’ll find the full list of this year’s prompts below. First, some words of advice. Our essay experts have been working with students for years and will tell you to avoid getting intimidated or worried about these essay prompts. In most cases, it’s advisable to brainstorm first before ever looking at the prompts, and then see if the story you want to tell fits nicely within one of the prompts. Of course, we love that last prompt, the freebie that gives you the gift of creative freedom. If you do choose to answer one of the specific prompts, it’s important to make sure that your essay answers that question fully and stays on topic.

The 2021-2022 Common App Essay Prompts

Here’s the full list of questions. These can also serve to get you started with the brainstorming process, so pay attention, as you read through them. If a particular one resonates with you, perhaps start making some notes about it. Remember, our essay experts are here to help with every phase of the process! Contact us if you need assistance.

  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. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  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.


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