Connect to your story - zoom in and focus.

Which prompt inspires you to tell your story?

The 2020-2021 Common App offers seven writing prompts, listed below. Notice how each prompt is different in its own way. Choose one prompt for your essay. 


 The topic of Covid-19 can be addressed in a separate question on the Common App portal. (250 word limit.) Don't use the main Common App essay to write about your experience with the pandemic.

During the self-exploration steps, you reconnected with your core experiences. You reflected on the beliefs, values, feelings, ideas, traits and goals that form your identity. You considered the story of your application without your essay. Now it's time to narrow your focus.


Directions: Choose a prompt that inspires the story you want to tell in your essay. Then, create an outline. 

Story Structure. What makes a compelling story? Author Steven Pressfield simplifies story structure with three words: Hook. Build. Payoff.

1. Hook (What's it about?)

2. Build (What happens?)

3. Payoff (What's the significance?)

Personal statements have a unique structure and purpose. 

Hook the reader with a premise that you'll expand on in your narrative. Think about your set-up. How are you going to activate your writing?

In the body paragraphs, follow up on your premise in specific ways. What did you promise to write about in your opener? Think about the story of your essay and include essential details.

Sum up the vision of your story. Does it lead to an epiphany, breakthrough or insight?

Create a structure that inspires you. 

Are you a rebel who resists the status quo? If so, there's a good chance the traditional essay format is not for you.  Don't despair! You have options, and Prompt 7 can work for you.


What structural format allows you to connect to a zone of creative expression? See what happens when you're true to the structure that you decide to establish. 


Trust your mind-heart-soul. That's your treasure. Don't cut yourself off from the gift of your insights. Once you've got a draft, examine it for consistency. (Rambling, unfocused writing isn't going to work.) The goal is to produce a piece of writing that adheres to a consistent structure, the one that allows your authentic self to shine through.​

Common App: Optional Question re COVID-19

Text from Common App website:


Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces.

  • Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N

  • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.


The question will be optional and will appear in the Additional Information section of the application.The response length will be limited to 250 words.

Common App Prompts for 2020-21

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

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, event or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. 


6.  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.  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.

Review. Essay prompts allow you to zoom in and focus on a particular aspect of your life. You’ve done the background work. Now it’s time to write a personal statement with a clear sense of purpose.

© 2017 by Susan Treadwell. Created with Wix.com