How to Answer the 2024-25 Common App Essay Prompts

16/05/202422 minute read
How to Answer the 2024-25 Common App Essay Prompts

In this guide, we'll help you navigate the 2024-2025 common app essay prompts, breaking down each prompt, and offering insights, tips, and strategies to craft a compelling narrative.

We'll also discover why the prompts remain unchanged from last year and how Crimson Education's mentors  graduates from top universities  can guide you in telling your unique story.


Overview of the 2024/25 Common App Essay Prompts

The Common App essay prompts serve as a lens through which applicants can share their unique stories, experiences, and perspectives. For the 2024/25 application cycle, the prompts are as follows:

  1. Personal Background or Talent: 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. Learning from Challenges: 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. Questioning Beliefs: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Acts of Kindness: 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. Personal Growth: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Passion and Curiosity: 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. Topic of Your Choice: 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.

Additionally, the Common App will retain the optional COVID-19 question within the Additional Information section. In this section you can share any meaningful personal experiences related to the pandemic and relevant to your applicant profile or background, which might include:

  • Illness or loss within your family or support network
  • Employment or housing disruptions within your family
  • Food insecurity
  • Challenges to mental and emotional health
  • New responsibilities, such as part-time work or caring for family members
  • Difficulties in accessing necessary technology or a conducive study environment
  • Shifts in your major or career interests due to the pandemic's influence
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What’s New in 2024/25?

You might notice that the 2024-2025 essay prompts have remained unchanged from the previous year. This consistency offers an advantage, as students can draw from a wealth of advice and examples from past years.

Past research has shown last year's prompt of 2023/2024 had an extremely high satisfaction rate, with over 95% of respondents from different groups being satisfied with the prompts. This research is cited as the main reason as to why the common app retained the same prompts of last year.

These prompts might change for 2025/26; Common App is continuously looking at the essays submitted, and what prompts students are choosing. This information will be reviewed and incorporated into how they design their future prompts.

5 Common App Essay Tips

General Guidelines for Answering Common App Essay Questions

  1. Word Count: The Common App essay has a word limit of 650 words. It's essential to stay within this limit to ensure your essay is read in its entirety. While brevity is key, make sure you provide enough depth and insight into your chosen topic.
  2. Be Authentic: Admissions officers read thousands of essays. What stands out is authenticity. Write in your voice and be true to your experiences. Avoid trying to write what you think they want to hear.
  3. Proofread: Spelling and grammar mistakes can detract from the content of your essay. Always proofread your work, and consider having a teacher, mentor, or trusted individual review it.
  4. Avoid Repetition: Your essay should provide new information or insights that aren't found in other parts of your application. It's an opportunity to showcase a different side of you.
  5. Stay Focused: While it might be tempting to cover multiple topics, it's better to focus on a single story or idea and delve deep into it. This provides clarity and depth to your narrative.
  6. Reflect: The best essays not only narrate an event or idea but also reflect on its significance. Discussing how it influenced your beliefs, values, or future aspirations adds depth to your essay.
  7. Draft and Revise: Rarely is the first draft the best version. Write multiple drafts, refining your story and message with each iteration.
  8. Avoid Controversial Topics: While it's essential to be genuine, be cautious about discussing highly controversial topics unless you can approach them with sensitivity and depth.
  9. Answer the Prompt: It might seem obvious, but ensure your essay answers the prompt. Admissions officers want to see that you can follow instructions while also showcasing your unique perspective.
  10. Look at Examples: Review examples of essays that have scored well in the past. These successful essays can provide invaluable insights into what makes an impactful and memorable personal statement.

The Essay That Got Me Into Brown University

How to Answer the Common App Essay Prompts for 2024/25

For a detailed look at each prompt, visiting the official common app website is always a good way to make sure you’re following the most accurate and up-to-date information and guidelines before you spend lots of time writing!

How Do You Answer Common App Essay Prompt 1?

Prompt: 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.

Delving into Your Roots

This prompt beckons you to explore your cultural roots, upbringing, and defining experiences. To spark ideas, consider:

  • Where is your family from, and where did you grow up?
  • Were there cultural elements that played a significant role in your life?
  • What were the defining moments in your upbringing that shaped your identity?
  • Were there specific individuals, artworks, or philosophies that influenced your growth?
  • How did your environment or community mold your interests or talents?

Self-Reflection and Personal Evolution

Reflecting on your identity and its evolution can offer rich material for your essay. If you've experienced shifts in your identity or perspective, delve into the reasons behind these changes and their implications for your future aspirations. A significant event or realization that altered your worldview can be a compelling narrative focus.

Descriptive Lists as Brainstorming Tools

If you're grappling with where to start, jot down phrases or values that resonate with your identity. Words like "compassion," "resilience," or "innovation" can serve as anchors for your essay, guiding your narrative around pivotal experiences that exemplify these traits.

“Writing quality is important for essays, but what helps students stand out more is the depth of their reflections and insights about themselves (and the evolution of those reflections and insights over time, which demonstrate growth). The essays that do that have always been the most memorable and successful.”

- Vincent Lim, US Strategy Consultant at Crimson Education

Narrative Depth Through Personal Stories

Select a story or incident from your life that encapsulates the essence of the chosen descriptive word. For instance, if "cooperation" resonates with you, narrate an instance where teamwork within your family or community led to a significant achievement.

Distinguishing Your Narrative

While the overarching theme of identity might be common, your unique experiences and reflections will set your essay apart. Remember, this essay is an opportunity to showcase aspects of your life and character not evident elsewhere in your application. Avoid redundancy and strive for fresh, engaging content.

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How Do You Answer Common App Essay Prompt 2?

Prompt: 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?

Prompt 2 requires identifying meaningful obstacles in your life, articulating lessons learned from them, and sharing how the lessons pave the way for future success.

Identifying Genuine Challenges

While it's tempting to narrate minor setbacks, such as narrowly avoiding tardiness, these stories often lack depth and don't offer insights into your character or values. Instead, focus on significant challenges that had a profound impact on your life:

  • Did you experience a major culture shock, like relocating to an unfamiliar place?
  • Were there struggles in building connections or finding friends in a new environment?
  • Did you grapple with personal tragedies, health issues, or other profound challenges?

Embracing Vulnerability

It's natural to want to present your best self, but genuine growth often stems from acknowledging failures and setbacks. Demonstrating how you initially struggled, made mistakes, or even failed but then learned and grew from those experiences showcases maturity and resilience.

“I sometimes read back some of my past students' essays, and they evoke different emotions. Some make me cry. Others make me laugh. The best essays resonate at an emotional level.”

- Vincent Lim, US Strategy Consultant at Crimson Education

Highlighting Personal Growth

Detail how you navigated the challenge. What catalyzed your transformation? Instead of merely stating that you overcame an obstacle, delve into the lessons it taught you.

  • How have these lessons equipped you for future challenges?
  • Would you approach similar situations differently now?

Expanding the Horizon

Challenges aren't always personal. They can encompass broader issues affecting your community, nation, or even globally. Discussing how you and those near to you collectively navigated such challenges, supported one another, and emerged stronger can offer a unique perspective.

Common App Essay Guide Part 1: Ideation

How Do You Answer Common App Essay Prompt 3?

Prompt: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Prompt 3 is an opportunity to highlight a decisive realization that led you to question or challenge established beliefs while showcasing your ability to act with courage and in accordance with a deep conviction.

Challenging Authority and Norms

This essay explores your journey in standing up against established norms or beliefs. It could be a personal belief ingrained since childhood or a societal norm you felt needed challenging.

  • Did you confront a deeply-rooted cultural or religious belief?
  • Were you influenced by literature, cinema, or personal interactions that made you question your long-held views?

Courting Controversy with Care

While the prompt encourages you to delve into potentially controversial topics, it's essential to approach them with sensitivity and respect. Whether it's politics, culture, or religion, ensure your narrative remains personal, focusing on your journey of introspection and growth.

Navigating Uncertainty

This prompt is as much about the questions as it is about the answers. Reflect on:

  • How did you grapple with the uncertainty that came with challenging established beliefs?
  • Who were your pillars of support or guidance during this period?
  • Are you still on a journey of discovery, or have you found a new perspective?

Attributes of Open-mindedness

Your response will give admissions officers insights into your ability to think critically, remain open-minded, and evolve in your beliefs – qualities highly valued in the academic world.

How Do You Answer Common App Essay Prompt 4?

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?

Prompt 4 allows you to turn positivity in your life circumstances — as opposed to adversity — into an opportunity to showcase your capacity for gratitude and how gratitude shapes your character and actions.

The Element of Surprise:

Begin by reflecting on moments when someone's unexpected act of kindness caught you off guard.

  • Was it the sheer selflessness of the act, or was it the combination of the gesture and its unexpected nature that evoked gratitude?
  • How did this act redefine your understanding of family, friendship, community, or even the benevolence of strangers?

Delving Deeper into the Impact

While the act itself is significant, the emphasis should be on its ripple effect on your life.

  • How did this gesture reshape your worldview, actions, or aspirations?
  • Did it inspire you to pay forward the kindness or make changes in your life?

“Some of my favorite student essays have a film-like quality. There is a lot more showing and telling. The reader can imagine what the student would be like in person and how they'd interact with others on campus from the life stories that they share. Does the essay pass the "camera test"? Can an admissions officer understand you as a person from your essays?”

- - Vincent Lim, US Strategy Consultant at Crimson Education

Reflect Beyond the Surface

While narrating the act and your immediate feelings is essential, delve deeper into introspection. Reflect on:

  • The broader implications of the act on your understanding of human nature.
  • How did it influence your interactions with others or your contributions to your community?
  • The long-term impact on your values, beliefs, and aspirations.

What I wrote about for my Common App Essay

How Do You Answer Common App Essay Prompt 5?

Prompt: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Prompt 5 specifically focuses on moments of realization and their profound impact on shaping one's understanding of self and others.

Choosing the Right Story

Begin by reflecting on pivotal moments in your life.

  • Was there a significant challenge you overcame or an event that reshaped your perspective?
  • Perhaps a seemingly small realization had profound implications for your worldview.
  • While you can choose any event, ensure it's a story that hasn't been extensively covered in other parts of your application.

Depth Over Breadth

While the event or accomplishment is the starting point, delve deeper into its implications.

  • How did this experience reshape your values, beliefs, or aspirations?
  • What lessons did you derive, and how have they influenced your subsequent actions or decisions?
  • Remember, it's not about having all the answers but about showcasing your ability to introspect and grow from experiences.

Navigating the Grey Areas

Life is complex, and personal growth often stems from navigating its intricacies.

  • Avoid painting a picture of having achieved complete clarity or understanding.
  • Emphasize the ongoing nature of personal growth and the continuous journey of understanding.

How Do You Answer Common App Essay Prompt 6?

Prompt: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging 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?

Prompt 6 focuses on topics or ideas that captivate you to the point that you lose track of time — perhaps as evidence of what kind of topics and lines of inquiry and thought align with your passions, are most natural and compelling for you personally.

Selecting the Right Passion

Begin by reflecting on what genuinely excites you.

  • Is it an ideology that resonates with your core beliefs?
  • An academic topic that you've delved deep into?
  • A fascination with a particular artist, book, or historical event? Ensure that your chosen topic is something you're truly passionate about, allowing your genuine enthusiasm to shine through.

Authenticity Over Pretense

Avoid the trap of selecting a topic merely because it sounds impressive. Admissions officers can discern genuine passion from pretense. The essay should be a reflection of your true interests, not a showcase of academic prowess.

Delving into Personal Experiences

Discuss how your chosen topic has influenced various facets of your life.

  • How has it shaped your daily routines, conversations, or even dreams?
  • Have you taken specific actions or initiatives to further explore this interest?
  • How has this passion influenced your personal growth or future aspirations?

5 Common App Personal Essay Red Flags

How Do You Answer Common App Essay Prompt 7?

Prompt: 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.

Prompt 7 is the most open-ended of all, allowing you to venture into any topic of your choice, making it both an exciting and challenging option.

Embracing the Freedom

This prompt offers unparalleled freedom, but with that comes the responsibility of selecting a topic that is both engaging and meaningful.

  • Reflect on experiences or ideas that have profoundly impacted you.
  • Consider moments of personal growth, challenges overcome, or unique perspectives you hold.

Depth Over Breadth

While the temptation might be to cover a broad topic, focus on specific moments or ideas. Dive deep into introspection, exploring how these moments have shaped your worldview and aspirations.

Engaging Your Personal Voice

Your unique voice is your most potent tool here.

  • Ensure your narrative is genuine and resonates with your personal experiences and beliefs.
  • Avoid trying to fit into a mold or writing what you think admissions officers want to hear.

The Journey of Growth

Colleges value growth and potential. Reflect on:

  • How your chosen topic or experience has influenced your personal growth.
  • The lessons you've derived and how they've shaped your aspirations and future endeavors.

The Importance of the Common App Essay

The Common App streamlines the application process, allowing students to apply to multiple institutions using a single platform. One of the most crucial components of the Common App is the personal essay.

The essay isn't just another box to tick off in the application process; it's a pivotal opportunity for submitting a more compelling and memorable application.

While grades, test scores, and extracurriculars provide a quantitative view of an applicant, the essay offers a qualitative glimpse into their character, aspirations, and experiences. It's the space where students can transcend numbers and voice their unique stories, challenges, and dreams.

The Common App essay can account for up to 30% of the importance of a college application, based on its weight amongst all other factors.

What US universities look for in your university application

In a sea of applications, the essay is the student's chance to showcase their personality, values, and the experiences that have shaped them. It's a canvas where they can paint a vivid picture of who they are and what they bring to the table.

In essence, the Common App essay is more than just words on a page; it's a reflection of the individual behind the application. Your essay is a vital opportunity to stand out as an applicant — with the power to turn an application from ordinary to extraordinary.

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Final Thoughts

The college application process is a unique opportunity to showcase who you are beyond grades and test scores. The Common App essay is a testament to your journey, passions, and the experiences that have molded you.

Everyone has a distinct story; this platform is your chance to narrate yours. Approach it with authenticity, introspection, and a genuine desire to convey your essence.

Not sure if your essay captures your essence? Want to ensure it stands out in a sea of applications? Get your essay reviewed by our team of experts to ensure it resonates with admissions officers.

And if you're at the beginning stages of your college application journey, consider booking a free consultation with our seasoned college counselors.

We're here to guide you in building a holistic application that amplifies your chances of acceptance at top-tier universities. Your dream college is within reach; let us help you get there.

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