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On Thursday June 29, 2023, the US Supreme Court effectively overturned decades of legal precedent and declared that it was unconstitutional for colleges and universities to admit students based on their race. Many universities had already started preparing for such a verdict and as the new Common App opens for the next application cycle we can see the changes. To incorporate race-based information, many colleges have either changed or added to the essay prompts to gather more information about the candidate’s background. The personal essay, many experts believe, will remain the one place where students can talk about their race and will become a more important factor for admissions.
Race conscious admission policies allowed universities to build more diverse student bodies, the ACLU stated. It said that, “students from diverse backgrounds who learn from each other and are exposed to a variety of experiences, backgrounds, interests, and talents are better prepared to be successful in our society.”
By blocking the ability of universities to consider race, there will be a significant drop in the number of students of color being admitted to elite and selective universities, the Washington Post reported. This could also have a knock-on effect on employers who work to diversify their workforces. Lower courts cited this as a main reason for upholding affirmative action policies. “Less diverse campuses will harm students of color and white students alike, and take us backward in our efforts to overcome the country’s shameful legacy of racism and racial inequality,” the ACLU said.
The Common App Essay (or Personal Statement) is a 650-word essay that’s part of the Common Application. You must complete this essay if you’re applying for college through the Common App.
Before you get started on your personal statement, consider the following:
The Common App essay prompts that are required by all universities will remain the same for 2023-24 application cycle.
Many universities ask applicants to provide supplementary writing material along with the Common App essay. Here is a list of the universities and the topics they have added so far:
All applicants will have to answer the following questions within a 200-word limit:
Optional third prompt for its 400-word essay:
Reflect on an element of your personal experience that you feel will enrich your college. How has it shaped you?
One new prompt to be answered in 150 words or fewer:
In college/university, students are often challenged in ways that they could not predict or anticipate. It is important to us, therefore, to understand an applicant's ability to navigate through adversity. Please describe a barrier or obstacle you have faced and discuss the personal qualities, skills or insights you have developed as a result.
All applicants have to answer the following three questions:
One new prompt to be answered in 100-250 words:
Please describe what aspects of your life experiences, interests and character would help you make a distinctive contribution as an undergraduate to Stanford University.
The Common App essay is optional this year for applicants.
One required answer in 300 words:
Up to two optional answers of 200 words from:
Additional options for prompts 2 and 3 to be answered in 250 words or fewer:
Besides college-specific prompts everyone will answer the following:
In the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, Ezra Cornell wrote, "I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study." For over 150 years, Cornell University has remained deeply committed to Ezra’s vision. Explain how your life experiences will help inform your contributions to a learning community devoted to “... any person … any study.” We encourage you to think broadly about your life experiences, including how local (e.g., family, school, neighborhood) or global communities you’ve been part of have helped shape your perspective.
One new essay required for all students to be answered in 200-250 words:
Students entering Brown often find that making their home on College Hill naturally invites reflection on where they came from. Share how an aspect of your growing up has inspired or challenged you, and what unique contributions this might allow you to make to the Brown community.
We are looking for peacemakers, changemakers, global citizens, boundary breakers, creatives and innovators. Choose one quote from the following and let us know why it inspires you; or share a short quote and person not on our list who inspires you, and include why.
One additional essay prompt to be answered in less than 300 words:
Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community, etc.) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins. This can be a future goal or experience that is either academic, extracurricular, or social.
Two questions to be answered in less than 250 words:
In a move that directly addresses the Supreme Court ruling, the university added an optional prompt:
In the syllabus of a 2023 majority decision of the Supreme Court written by Chief Justice John Roberts, the author notes: "Nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected the applicant’s life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university." Drawing upon examples from your life, a quality of your character, and/or a unique ability you possess, describe how you believe your goals for a college education might be impacted, influenced, or affected by the Court's decision.”
A new prompt has been added asking students to “tell about a community that you have been part of where your participation helped to change or shape the community for the better."
There is an additional optional essay prompt that will provide applicants an opportunity “to describe their experiences, including but not limited to their experiences of race or ethnicity, and the ways in which those experiences have shaped their abilities to contribute.”
Choice of essay prompts to be answered in 500 words or less:
The main focus of your college essay is the content. The format and structure should make the essay easy to read to maintain this focus.
A title to your college essay is generally not required and takes from your word count. It can also confine your essay to a single meaning, so if you decide to use titles, use them with care. Keep your font double-spaced with a line space between the paragraphs to keep the essay easy on the eyes.
When the word count is not given, staying around 600 words is a safe bet. While it’s important to share about yourself in your essay, oversharing could make you stand out from your competition — in the worst way possible!
If you are copying and pasting your essay into a text box, here are some necessary actions to take to ensure your essay will be received as intended.
When attaching a document, you’ll need to be more precise with your formatting, but here are a few rules of thumb to follow:
While changing the essay definitely helps collect missing information, many experts are cautioning against relying on just one element for ensuring racial diversity by universities. While the verdict does not allow the consideration of race, there is some for interpreting at the end of the 230-page opinion read out by Chief Justice John Roberts:
"At the same time, nothing prohibits universities from considering an applicant's discussion of how race affected the applicant's life, so long as that discussion is concretely tied to a quality of character or unique ability that the particular applicant can contribute to the university."
It remains to be seen how these new prompts will help universities or will it be too little to address a very important issue.
5 Common App Essay Tips