Common App Releases Prompts for 2021–2022

The Common App has released its prompts for the 2021–2022 application cycle. That means students who are currently juniors in high school can now look at some of the essay prompts they will answer in their applications due this fall and winter.

Most schools have their own specific questions and prompts, which will be released later in 2021. In the meantime, this is a great opportunity for students to get a head start on how they might respond to the Common App’s prompts.

Below is the full set of essay prompts for 2021–2022. Students with older siblings and parents with older children should take note of this year’s new prompt, which invites students to think about how gratitude has influenced their growth. The prompt reads:

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?

The new prompt offers a welcome opportunity for students to think positively about their lives, and the people they love. It also says a lot about what admissions officers are looking for when trying to build a class. College admissions is not simply about academic ability — it is also about character, about personality, about what admissions experts vaguely call “fit.” The Common App essays are an opportunity for students to present the parts of themselves that don’t necessarily show up on a transcript or in an SAT or ACT score. They are an opportunity for students to share a fuller picture of themselves, so that colleges and universities can better gauge whether a student will be happy with life at their institutions.

Students should take comfort in knowing that schools want to know about their applicants beyond their grades. They should also keep in mind, as a result, that the admissions process is not something to “game,” and is not necessarily a straightforward reflection of accomplishment or ability. Many students try to represent themselves in such a way to impress one or two specific schools, only to find that they don’t enjoy their time there. What matters most is that students present themselves honestly, and try their best in their academic and extracurricular endeavors. “Fit” is an idea that cuts both ways. It’s not just about whether a student fits a school — a school needs to fit the student. The Common App essays are an important part of helping students achieve the outcome that matters most: admission to the school that is right for them.

Below you can read all seven prompts. You can also read these prompts and the Common App’s explanation of the prompts on their website, where you can also learn more about how students can inform colleges about their experiences and struggles during the pandemic.

  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.