Common College Application Essay Prompts and How to Answer Them

Here are some common application essay prompts

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The power of the essay as part of the overall application process is not to be underestimated. The essay is your chance to show the admissions team just who you are. Colleges can have unique (or even bizarre) essay prompts, but a majority have common themes.

Here are some common application essay prompts:

The Challenge

High school wasn’t a breeze, and neither is college. How someone rises to a challenge is a good show of character. Many essays might have questions like “recount a time you overcame a challenge” or “how did you face a particular setback?”

Attitude is everything. Colleges want to see students who are willing to face problems, take on challenges, and work to overcome obstacles. You’ve had to do that plenty of times so far—whether in the classroom or in your personal life—so find a time that a particular challenge really pushed you. What did you learn?


There are plenty of prompts that fall into this category. “Who is a person you really admire?” “Describe a time something inspired you to make a change” “What made you want to pursue this major?” In essence, they’re looking for what drives you, what values or traits you admire.

The who or what isn’t the main focus here, but the why. Why does this thing or person inspire you? Make sure you come up with a number of sincere reasons, no matter the question.

Your Story

Common also as icebreaker questions, are the “tell us about yourself” style of essay prompts. They come in all sorts of forms: “What’s your most unique talent?” “What are you really passionate about?” “What are your core traits?”

App essays are meant to be personal, to highlight you. This type of prompt is ideal for showing them just who you are. If your heritage and background are super important to you, write about that. Or write about a talent that you’ve worked hard on over the years. Or write about causes that really matter to you.


Pride is not always a bad thing. With the “tell us about an accomplishment” or “what is something you worked really hard for and achieved?” kind of questions, it’s ok to brag a little.

However, it’s important to back up your pride with the facts. How much did you practice in a week? What went into the preparation? Did you receive any official awards or recognition? Show off your dedication and win!

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