Common Essay Questions

The Admittedly Team
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While colleges often pose different essay questions to their applicants, there are typically a handful of traditional topics that show up time and time again. To help you prepare for any prompt headed your way, here is a list of common essay questions!

Write about a significant experience or achievement.

Before you begin to tackle this essay prompt, there are a few points to consider: First things first, don’t reiterate information that can be found in other parts of your application. Instead, use this opportunity to showcase an additional side/aspect of yourself. Keep in mind that schools don’t only view “big” achievements as a viable topic. You don’t need to have worked on a cure for AIDS or helped send a rocket into space to write a compelling essay. Sometimes we learn the most from modest feats. Lastly, dig deep. Don’t just say that volunteering in a soup kitchen allowed you to see the importance of helping others. That sounds clichéd and obvious. Admissions committees really want you to speak to the experience and really explain the impact it had. Be sure to keep a balance between slight #humblebragging and being extra.

Discuss an issue (local/national/personal) of importance to you.

As with many of these questions, the issue you select is not nearly as important as your explanation. Though you can certainly demonstrate passion for your argument, it’s crucial you don’t come across as overly opinionated. You want to show that you can think logically and objectively; the reader shouldn’t come away thinking you can’t see things from a different point of view. Additionally, you must remember that, ultimately, admissions officers are using these essays to gain insight into you. You should relate your opinions and arguments to your own life and experiences.

Where do you see yourself in 5/10/20 years? What are your future goals?

Be careful – applicants can easily go overboard with this question. Sure, ambition and creativity will help you craft a colorful (and hopefully memorable) answer. However, admissions officers aren’t necessarily looking for something quirky (like ringmaster of a chain of flea circuses) or extraordinary (like leading senator from Florida). They simply want to know about your dreams for YOUR future.

Discuss a book or creative work that has had an influence on you.

Colleges and universities don’t expect you to write about a work that garnered a Pulitzer or sparked a new artistic movement (though it’s okay if you do). It doesn’t have to be something super academic that was required reading for your AP English. In fact, it’s better if you’re able to show that you (even if only occasionally) explore art or literature outside the classroom. Be sure to not just describe the object or plot points (you can get that on sparknotes). It’s imperative for you remember that in the end it must relate back to you and demonstrate your ability to think critically.

Why do you want to attend this school/pursue this degree?

When answering this question, it’s important not to be heavy-handed. Steer clear of heaping ambiguous praise on a school or program; you don’t want to come across as gushing. Instead, demonstrate that you’ve done your research and that you have concrete reasons for wanting to attend. Highlight specific programs or opportunities that appeal to you and how a particular school will help you meet your goals.

Write about someone you admire or a person who has influenced you.

Similar to the questions above, the emphasis should not be on who you choose. There’s no right or wrong answer. Don’t assume a school will view you as a person of strong moral character if you select Martin Luther King Jr. or Socrates. If you choose a person in the hopes of merely impressing the admissions committee, it will likely make your essay appear disingenuous.

Instead, write about a person who truly has impacted your life. It doesn’t matter if it’s a third cousin, your boss at the local pizzeria, or your French teacher. Just be sure that the essay isn’t merely a biographical sketch. You must write about what they taught you and how it relates to your own perspective.

When it comes to writing a successful college essay, you must realize that honesty exceeds everything. Though you may feel like you don’t have anything to say, that’s not the point! Schools want to hear about your authentic experiences, not fantasy versions of their applicants. You are a unique individual; be truthful with your answers, and the admissions committee will appreciate your point-of-view.

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