Colleges Change Common App Essay Prompts | This Week in Admissions News

04/08/20235 minute read
Colleges Change Common App Essay Prompts | This Week in Admissions News

The world of college admissions is ever-changing and for students with top university ambitions, it’s important to stay up-to-date on the latest developments. The Common App for the 2024-25 application cycle went live on August 1 and some universities have changed their essay prompts to address race in the topics. Check back next week to see what’s new and noteworthy in university admissions!

Colleges Change Common App Essay Prompts

The Common App for the 2023-24 application cycle is now live. However, following the end of affirmative action, many universities have changed their essay prompts to better collect race information, Chronicle of Higher Education has reported.

Here are some of the changes universities have already implemented:

  • Harvard ditched a previously optional essay prompt on its supplement and replaced it with five required short-answer questions (200 words each).
  • Columbia University added a new essay prompt that invites applicants to write about adversity — in 150 words or less.
  • One of University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill's two short-answer prompts asks applicants to “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.” The other prompt asks students to describe an academic topic that interests them.
  • Sarah Lawrence College has the boldest topic directly addressing the Supreme Court ruling.
  • Amherst College, University of Massachusetts at Amherst, University of Virginia, Babson College, Brandeis University and Emory University added new prompts that could address race-based issues.
  • Lafayette College reduced the number of extracurriculars admissions counselors will consider from an applicant.

Though the Supreme Court ruled that colleges could no longer consider an applicant’s racial status, it left the door to open for the consideration of an applicant’s racial identity or experience. “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise,” Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote in the majority’s opinion. But he cautioned that a “benefit” given to an applicant who overcame racial discrimination “must be tied to that student’s courage and determination.” A benefit given to a student whose heritage or culture inspired them to pursue an achievement “must be tied to that student’s unique ability to contribute to the university.”

Other top stories in admissions news this week:

  1. Virginia Tech will discontinue considering legacy for admission from the 2023-24 cycle. The university will also end the early decision plan in favor of bringing forward its early action deadline to Nov. 15. The regular decision deadline of Jan. 15 will remain. “While around 12 percent of our applications are legacy, they comprise over 20 percent of the incoming class," said Juan Espinoza, associate vice provost for enrollment management. This demonstrates that legacy students are applying with all the academic and extracurricular preparation that they need to compete for admission.”
  2. The Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law at Arizona State University will allow students to use generative artificial intelligence tools to help draft their applications, Reuters has reported. Applicants will need to certify that they used generative AI and that the information submitted is truthful. The school has long asked applicants to certify if they use a professional consultant. The University of California, Berkeley School of Law was the first to adopt a formal policy in April on the use of artificial intelligence in the classroom. The policy allows students to use AI technology in certain circumstances, and not on exams or to compose written assignments.
  3. As ChatGPT becomes more popular, prompt engineering courses have started gaining popularity, Inside Higher Ed reported. Prompt engineering focuses on creating the most useful text prompts—in this case, for ChatGPT—that yield the best answers from the AI chat bot. Arizona State University, Vanderbilt University and University of Mississippi offer such courses. Meanwhile research by shows that 41% of high school seniors and incoming freshmen have used ChatGPT in the past six months. Among the 41 percent of students who have used ChatGPT in the past six months, 14 percent of incoming college freshmen say they used ChatGPT to write their college essays.
  4. Vermont’s Middlebury College, struggling with an enrollment boom, is offering $10,000 to upperclassmen to delay their education to ease overcrowding, AP News has reported. The unusual pay-to-delay offer comes as the small liberal arts school is about to burst at the seams. Official are making the pay-to-delay offer to the first 30 juniors and seniors who opt to take a leave of absence for the fall 2023 semester and winter term. The college typically has 2,500 to 2,600 students, but enrollment this fall could be upward of 2,845. The surge is caused by the return of students who took time off during the pandemic, not the incoming freshman class numbering 600.
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