Answer Essay prompts on The CommonApp




One Short Answer: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below or on an attached sheet (150 words or fewer).


Plus… One Personal Essay: Please write an essay (250 words minimum) on a topic of your choice or on one of the options listed below. Please indicate your topic by checking the appropriate box. This personal essay helps us become acquainted with you as a person and student, apart from courses, grades, test scores, and other objective data. It will also demonstrate your ability to organize your thoughts and express yourself. 


1. Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

3. Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.

4. Describe a character in fiction, a historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you, and explain that influence.

5. A range of academic interests, personal perspectives, and life experiences adds much to the educational mix. Given your personal background, describe an experience that illustrates what you would bring to the diversity in a college community, or an encounter that demonstrated the importance of diversity to you.

6. Topic of your choice.






Question 1 - What has influenced you to be who you are today? What did you learn from the experience you had/ or the risk you took? Don’t list the experience without saying what you learned, how you grew, how it changed you.


Question 2 - If the concern is political, social, religious or ethical, be sure you take a TOK approach.   In other words, show various sides of the issue.


Question 3 - If you choose to write about a person, write about someone different.  Don’t choose someone obvious like Einstein or Obama, choose someone more obscure.  Let the admissions people learn something new.  Your essay will be more memorable that way.


Question 4 - If you choose this creative side, then play with it and have fun!  But don’t lose sight of letting the admissions people know who you are by which character you have chosen.  Be sure you make it clear how this character (real or historical) changed you. If you choose someone historical, try to choose someone from your own culture. If you choose someone fictional, try to be original in your choice!


Question 5 - This is different from Question 1.  Although the university is asking about an experience, the admissions people want to see how that experience will come into play when you come to university. For example, since you worked with orphans here at school, you also hope to start a Big Brother/Big Sister Organization on campus.


Question 6 - This is the most open question but be sure you give your essay a title so that the admissions people know what it is you wish to express.  You can either be creative or not in this one, but be sure you are clear.




 Examples of Supplemental Essays


University of Michigan

Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (Approximately 250 words). 



Please submit a one-page, single-spaced essay that explains why you have chosen Carnegie Mellon and your particular major(s), department(s) or program(s). This essay should include the reasons why you've chosen the major(s), any goals or relevant work plans and any other information you would like us to know. If you are applying to more than one college or program, please mention each college or program you are applying to. Because our admission committees review applicants by college and programs, your essay can impact our final decision. Please do not exceed one page for this essay.



Why Duke?


UT, Austin

Topic A: Write an essay in which you tell us about someone who has made an impact on your life and explain how and why this person is important to you.

Topic B: Choose an issue of importance to you—the issue could be personal, school related, local, political, or international in scope—and write an essay in which you explain the significance of that issue to yourself, your family, your community, or your generation.



Write a letter to your future roommate




 Five Supplemental Essay Mistakes



(If a College Requires a Supplemental Essay, Avoid These Common Errors)


Supplemental essays for college applications can take all kinds of forms, but the majority of them are actually asking a very similar question: "Why do you want to go to our college?"

The question sounds simple, but college admissions officers see the five mistakes below all too frequently. As you write your supplemental essay for your college applications, be sure to steer clear of these common blunders.


  • Vague Language - The Essay Is Generic and Lacking Detail:

If a college asks you why you want to attend, be specific. Far too many supplemental essays resemble this - the essay says nothing specific about the school in question. Whatever school you are applying to, make sure your essay addresses the particular features of that school that appeal to you.


  • Length - The Essay Is Too Long:

Many prompts for the supplemental essay ask you to write a single paragraph or two. Don't go beyond the stated limit. Also realize that a tight and engaging single paragraph is better than two mediocre paragraphs. The admissions officers have thousands of applications to read, and they will appreciate brevity.


  • Lack of Focus - The Essay Doesn't Answer the Question:

If the essay prompt asks you to explain why the college is a good match for your professional interests, don't write an essay about how your friends and brother go to the school. If the prompt asks you how you hope to grow while in college, don't write an essay about how much you want to earn a bachelor's degree. Read the prompt multiple times before writing, and read it again carefully after you've written your essay.


  • Faulty Tone - You Sound Like a Privileged Snob:

"I want to go to Williams because my father and brother both attended Williams..." A better reason to attend a college is because the curriculum matches your academic and professional goals. Essays that focus on legacy status or connections with influential people often fail to answer the question well, and they are likely to create a negative impression.


  • Faulty Tone - You Sound Too Materialistic:

The admissions counselors see a lot of essays that are honest to a fault. Sure, most of us go to college because we want to get a degree and earn a good salary. Don't over-emphasize this point in your essay. If your essay states you want to go to Penn because their business majors earn more money than those from other colleges, you won't impress anyone. You'll sound self-interested and materialistic.








1. Ones in which you write about yourself. 

2. Ones in which you describe an interest or an idea. 

3. Ones in which you explain why you wish to go to university.

4. Ones in which you are asked to show your imaginative side.



 Type One: Telling about yourself:



  • Yale: We are interested in anything of importance to you that will help us better understand you: your abilities, your background, your interests, your aspirations.
  • Brown: Tell us anything you would like us to know about you.
  • Dartmouth: If you were to describe yourself by a quotation, what would it be? Explain your answer.


Tips on how to answer this type of question:-

Ask yourself the following to help you answer this type of question:

  • What have I done that best illustrates my strong points?
  • What do I enjoy doing?
  • What do I hope to be?
  • What do I hope to do for my country?
  • What has influenced me most in my life?


What NOT to do:

  • Don't list your interests like a shopping list.
  • Don't dwell on a negative experience.  Do mention something negative but show how it affected your personal development.  Show how it strengthened you NOT how it weakened you.




 Type Two: Telling about an interest or an idea



  • Amherst: Describe an intellectual experience of the past two years that has given you great satisfaction.
  • Dartmouth: Which activity in or out of school is most meaningful to you? Why?
  • Colby: Discuss any reading you have done lately that has been particularly meaningful to you and tell why.
  • Trinity: "It does not pay to tether one's thoughts to the past or use too short a rope." Do you agree or disagree?


Tips on how to answer this type of question: 

  • Show how the book, experience, quotation or idea you discuss reflects YOUR outlook and aspirations.
  •  Always relate the question to your own personal experiences.
  • Show how you really think about the issue!


What NOT to do:

  • Don't give an outline of your favorite book.
  • Don't list all the wins and losses of your team.
  • Don't write an encyclopedic report.



 Type Three: Telling why you want to go to their College



  • Why do you think our college is a good place for you?
  • How do you expect our college to affect your growth as an individual?


Tips on how to answer this type of question:-

  • Read about the college!
  • Ask yourself what you want from that college. 


What NOT to do:

  • Don't be vague! (i.e. "Your college will give me everything I have hoped to learn from life.")
  • Don't be misinformed about the college. Don't write about all the wonderful Law courses you hope to study when that particular college doesn't even offer the course!



 Type Four: Showing your imaginative side



  • Swarthmore: Imagine the year is 1881. You may expect to live for another 35 years. What person would you most want to know well during that time? For what reasons?
  • U Penn: If you were given the opportunity to spend an evening with any one person, living, deceased or fictional, whom would you choose and why?


Tips on how to answer this type of question:

  • Choose your tone (i.e. fanciful or serious) but be natural!
  • Be honest!
  • Have Fun!


What NOT to do:

  • Don't TRY to be overly clever for the sake of impressing the Admissions Officer. The INSINCERITY of your attempt will show.
  • Don't write to impress, using words you had to look up in a Thesaurus. It will sound stiff and insincere.

 Final Suggestions
  • Keep your audience in mind. You are introducing yourself to a college, not a roommate!
  • Don't use words to impress. Use words which are part of your normal English usage but don't use slang either!
  • Show what you want to say by giving details and examples.
  • Leave enough time to write your essays. You will have plenty of work to do in your classes alone.








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