How to Master the New Common App Prompt
Over the past couple years, our teens have had a very different high school experience than we had. Beyond the larger impacts of the pandemic, our teens have missed out on important dances, extracurricular activities, and all the social ventures that can make high school days so memorable.
In an effort to seek out the positive, the Common App has added a new college essay prompt: 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 Common App President and CEO Jenny Rickard explained, “Particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives. And we can do it explicitly.”
Essentially, the Common App Prompt is encouraging teens, in the wake of challenging times worldwide, to find the good that is still prevalent in their lives.
The Benefit of Your Teen Choosing this Prompt for College Admissions
College admissions officers, particularly at more highly selective schools, see countless applications from well-qualified students. The GPA is excellent, the standardized test scores remain impressive, extracurricular involvement is high, and teacher recommendations glow.
As a result, many college admissions officers attempt to learn as much as they can about the applicant’s personality. And what excites them most? An applicant who is clearly generous, reflective, and gracious.
Breaking Down the Prompt so Your Teen Can Write Amazing College Essays
While reading over the common app prompt, a few words and phrases stand out: “reflect,” “surprising,” and “affected or motivated.”
“Reflect” is a particularly powerful and specific word intended to make your teen more self-aware. Not only are they describing the experience that brought them gratitude, they are thinking deeply about its impact on them. The ability to reflect shows an admissions officer critical thinking skills and a willingness to grow.
“Surprising” hints at choosing a moment that was not expected. We expect to be motivated by coaches and teachers. We don’t always expect to feel gratitude towards peers, distant family members, or even a stranger.
“Affected and motivated” point the writer back towards themselves. After spending so much time thinking about the generous action of somebody else, the admissions officers want to know how the event ultimately impacted the applicant.
Tips To Make Your Essay Stand Out
Let’s be honest: this common app prompt is sure to bring out a lot of sentimental, but potentially boring essays that can work against your teen and college admissions. The time that inspiring teacher encouraged your teen to work your hardest, the time your teammate gave your teen words of advice before stepping on the mound, the time you, mom or dad suggested your teen join the swim team, etc. etc. etc.
To make your college essay truly stand out, however, try thinking about a small moment with a large impact. Steer clear of choosing a celebrity or historical figure, as that falls under influence more than gratitude. Instead, focus on that word “surprising” and try to encourage your teen to remember a time they didn’t even know they needed something, but are grateful they received it.
Research has told us that those who regularly show gratitude are happier in general. They are more willing to trust others, work cooperatively, and display kindness. Highly selective schools know the students who will add to their programs excel in all these areas. Explicitly showing these aspects of your teen’s personality might be the final push to create a memorable, positive impression to college admissions.