New Supplemental Essay Prompts 2023-24

07/08/202316 minute read
New Supplemental Essay Prompts 2023-24

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.

What does the end of affirmative action mean for college admissions in the United States?

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.

Blog Banner
Blog Banner

What is the Common App Essay?

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:

  • Your Personal Statement is the best place to share qualitative and unique aspects of yourself with the admissions committee so they can get to know you beyond your grades, test scores, and extracurriculars.
  • It’s impossible to capture your entire personality in a single essay, so choose just one or two character traits that differentiate you from your peers.
  • You don’t necessarily need an incredible experience or story. Choose something meaningful to you and capture why it means so much to you in your writing!

Read our blog to understand how to answer each Common App essay prompt in detail.

What are the Common App essay prompts for 2023-24?

The Common App essay prompts that are required by all universities will remain the same for 2023-24 application cycle.

  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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.
Blog Banner
Blog Banner

What changes are being made to supplementary essays?

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:

Harvard University

All applicants will have to answer the following questions within a 200-word limit:

  1. Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard?
  2. Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you.
  3. Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are.
  4. How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future?
  5. Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you.

Yale University

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?

Columbia University

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.

University of Pennsylvania

All applicants have to answer the following three questions:

  1. Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge. (We encourage you to share this note with that person, if possible, and reflect on the experience!) (150-200 words, only required for first year applicants)
  2. How will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective, and how your experiences and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 words)
  3. School-specific questions

Stanford University

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.

Northwestern University

The Common App essay is optional this year for applicants.

One required answer in 300 words:

  • We want to be sure we’re considering your application in the context of your personal experiences: What aspects of your background, your identity, or your school, community, and/or household settings have most shaped how you see yourself engaging in Northwestern’s community, be it academically, extracurricularly, culturally, politically, socially, or otherwise?

Up to two optional answers of 200 words from:

  • Painting “The Rock” is a tradition at Northwestern that invites all forms of expression—students promote campus events or extracurricular groups, support social or activist causes, show their Wildcat spirit (what we call “Purple Pride”), celebrate their culture, and more. What would you paint on The Rock, and why?
  • Northwestern fosters a distinctively interdisciplinary culture. We believe discovery and innovation thrive at the intersection of diverse ideas, perspectives, and academic interests. Within this setting, if you could dream up an undergraduate class, research project, or creative effort (a start-up, a design prototype, a performance, etc.), what would it be? Who might be some ideal classmates or collaborators?
  • Community and belonging matter at Northwestern. Tell us about one or more communities, networks, or student groups you see yourself connecting with on campus.
  • Northwestern’s location is special: on the shore of Lake Michigan, steps from downtown Evanston, just a few miles from Chicago. What aspects of our location are most compelling to you, and why?
  • Northwestern is a place where people with diverse backgrounds from all over the world can study, live, and talk with one another. This range of experiences and viewpoints immeasurably enriches learning. How might your individual background contribute to this diversity of perspectives in Northwestern’s classrooms and around our campus?

Dartmouth College

Additional options for prompts 2 and 3 to be answered in 250 words or fewer:

  • There is a Quaker saying: Let your life speak. Describe the environment in which you were raised and the impact it has had on the person you are today.
  • Celebrate your nerdy side.
  • "It's not easy being green…" was the frequent refrain of Kermit the Frog. How has difference been a part of your life, and how have you embraced it as part of your identity and outlook?
  • As noted in the College's mission statement, "Dartmouth educates the most promising students and prepares them for a lifetime of learning and of responsible leadership…" Promise and potential are important aspects of the assessment of any college application, but they can be elusive qualities to capture. Highlight your potential and promise for us; what would you like us to know about you?

Cornell University

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.

Brown University

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.

New York University

One additional essay prompt:

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.

Johns Hopkins University

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.

Blog Banner
Blog Banner

University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill

Two questions to be answered in less than 250 words:

  • Discuss one of your personal qualities and share a story, anecdote, or memory of how it helped you make a positive impact on a community. This could be your current community or another community you have engaged.
  • Discuss an academic topic that you’re excited to explore and learn more about in college. Why does this topic interest you? Topics could be a specific course of study, research interests, or any other area related to your academic experience in college.

Sarah Lawrence College

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.”

Emory University

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."

University of Virginia

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.”

Rice University

Choice of essay prompts to be answered in 500 words or less:

  • The Residential College System is at the heart of Rice student life and is heavily influenced by the particular cultural traditions and unique life experiences each student brings. What life experiences and/or unique perspectives are you looking forward to sharing with fellow Owls in the residential college system?
  • Rice is strengthened by its diverse community of learning and discovery that produces leaders and change agents across the spectrum of human endeavor. What perspectives shaped by your background, experiences, upbringing, and/or racial identity inspire you to join our community of change agents at Rice?
Blog Banner
Blog Banner

General College Essay Formatting Guidelines

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!

Uploading Your Essay

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.

  • Make sure that your essay is transferred over completely. Formatting on a different program initially than using the copy/paste function could cut your essay off, change your word count, alter the paragraph structure, and overall change the initial way you meant your essay to be read.
  • The smaller details, such as bold and italics, may not be possible depending on the platform. As the point of the essay is the text, not including bold/italics only makes for a more straightforward read — it might just be a blessing in disguise!

When attaching a document, you’ll need to be  more precise with your formatting, but here are a few rules of thumb to follow:

  • 1” margin is the standard, and difficult to go wrong with.
  • An easy-to-read font, such as Times New Roman and Arial, is the way to go. The last thing you want is for the admissions officers to have difficulty reading your essay due to a complicated font.
  • Download your college essay in an accepted format according to the submissions site.
Blog Banner
Blog Banner

Final Thoughts

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