Ivey Files

March 31, 2015

Juniors: Common Application Essay Topics are Out, But Don't Start Writing Until July!

Juniors, have you been on pins and needles wondering what the essay topics will be for next year? If so, your agony is over. The Common Application released the 5 essay topics that will appear on next year's Common Application today. They are:

  1. 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. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

In case you are wondering, only topic #4 is new; the others have been options for the last two years. (Although the wording of topics #1 and #2 got streamlined and modified slightly, they really didn't change.) 

Now that you know the topics, should you get to work on writing your essays? We don't think so. Essays written now tend to go stale by the time you'll be submitting them. And for more than half of the colleges that accept the Common Application, this essay isn't going to be the only essay on the application. To produce your best application, you need to approach it as a whole, so you need to know what the other essay questions on the application are before you tackle this Common Application essay. Experience has taught us that the optimal time to begin working on your essays in late July-early August.

So what should you be doing now to get a jump on the college application process? First things first -- focus on building your credentials. That means:

  • Finishing your junior year with your best grades ever.
  • Preparing for and taking the standardized tests.
  • Making plans for doing something during the summer to take your academics or activities to the next level.

Once you've got your credentials in order, then you can move on to the essential "pre-work" you have to do before you are ready to dig into the applications themselves. As we explain in our book, How to Prepare a Standout College Applicationyou've got to do three things to before you are really ready to begin completing your applications (or drafting your essays). 

  • Make the big decisions regarding your college list -- Where are you going to apply? And where, if anywhere, are you going to apply early?
  • Write "your story" -- a summary statement of who you are that will be your guide for choosing the right essay topics.
  • Put together your resume. 

You can read more about how to do the pre-work by consulting the blog postings for week 2 and week 3 in our 52 Weeks to College series based on our book.