• Share full article

Advertisement

Supported by

Over 170 Prompts to Inspire Writing and Discussion

Here are all of our Student Opinion questions from the 2020-21 school year. Each question is based on a different New York Times article, interactive feature or video.

examples of essay prompt

By The Learning Network

Each school day we publish a new Student Opinion question, and students use these writing prompts to reflect on their experiences and identities and respond to current events unfolding around them. To introduce each question, we provide an excerpt from a related New York Times article or Opinion piece as well as a free link to the original article.

During the 2020-21 school year, we asked 176 questions, and you can find them all below or here as a PDF . The questions are divided into two categories — those that provide opportunities for debate and persuasive writing, and those that lend themselves to creative, personal or reflective writing.

Teachers can use these prompts to help students practice narrative and persuasive writing, start classroom debates and even spark conversation between students around the world via our comments section. For more ideas on how to use our Student Opinion questions, we offer a short tutorial along with a nine-minute video on how one high school English teacher and her students use this feature .

Questions for Debate and Persuasive Writing

1. Should Athletes Speak Out On Social and Political Issues? 2. Should All Young People Learn How to Invest in the Stock Market? 3. What Are the Greatest Songs of All Time? 4. Should There Be More Gender Options on Identification Documents? 5. Should We End the Practice of Tipping? 6. Should There Be Separate Social Media Apps for Children? 7. Do Marriage Proposals Still Have a Place in Today’s Society? 8. How Do You Feel About Cancel Culture? 9. Should the United States Decriminalize the Possession of Drugs? 10. Does Reality TV Deserve Its Bad Rap? 11. Should the Death Penalty Be Abolished? 12. How Should Parents Support a Student Who Has Fallen Behind in School? 13. When Is It OK to Be a Snitch? 14. Should People Be Required to Show Proof of Vaccination? 15. How Much Have You and Your Community Changed Since George Floyd’s Death? 16. Can Empathy Be Taught? Should Schools Try to Help Us Feel One Another’s Pain? 17. Should Schools or Employers Be Allowed to Tell People How They Should Wear Their Hair? 18. Is Your Generation Doing Its Part to Strengthen Our Democracy? 19. Should Corporations Take Political Stands? 20. Should We Rename Schools Named for Historical Figures With Ties to Racism, Sexism or Slavery? 21. How Should Schools Hold Students Accountable for Hurting Others? 22. What Ideas Do You Have to Improve Your Favorite Sport? 23. Are Presidential Debates Helpful to Voters? Or Should They Be Scrapped? 24. Is the Electoral College a Problem? Does It Need to Be Fixed? 25. Do You Care Who Sits on the Supreme Court? Should We Care? 26. Should Museums Return Looted Artifacts to Their Countries of Origin? 27. Should Schools Provide Free Pads and Tampons? 28. Should Teachers Be Allowed to Wear Political Symbols? 29. Do You Think People Have Gotten Too Relaxed About Covid? 30. Who Do You Think Should Be Person of the Year for 2020? 31. How Should Racial Slurs in Literature Be Handled in the Classroom? 32. Should There Still Be Snow Days? 33. What Are Your Reactions to the Storming of the Capitol by a Pro-Trump Mob? 34. What Do You Think of the Decision by Tech Companies to Block President Trump? 35. If You Were a Member of Congress, Would You Vote to Impeach President Trump? 36. What Would You Do First if You Were the New President? 37. Who Do You Hope Will Win the 2020 Presidential Election? 38. Should Media Literacy Be a Required Course in School? 39. What Are Your Reactions to the Results of Election 2020? Where Do We Go From Here? 40. How Should We Remember the Problematic Actions of the Nation’s Founders? 41. As Coronavirus Cases Surge, How Should Leaders Decide What Stays Open and What Closes? 42. What Is Your Reaction to the Inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris? 43. How Worried Should We Be About Screen Time During the Pandemic? 44. Should Schools Be Able to Discipline Students for What They Say on Social Media? 45. What Works of Art, Culture and Technology Flopped in 2020? 46. How Do You Feel About Censored Music? 47. Why Do You Think ‘Drivers License’ Became Such a Smash Hit? 48. Justice Ginsburg Fought for Gender Equality. How Close Are We to Achieving That Goal? 49. How Well Do You Think Our Leaders Have Responded to the Coronavirus Crisis? 50. To What Extent Is the Legacy of Slavery and Racism Still Present in America in 2020? 51. How Should We Reimagine Our Schools So That All Students Receive a Quality Education? 52. How Concerned Do You Think We Should Be About the Integrity of the 2020 Election? 53. What Issues in This Election Season Matter Most to You? 54. Is Summer School a Smart Way to Make Up for Learning Lost This School Year? 55. What Is Your Reaction to the Senate’s Acquittal of Former President Trump? 56. What Is the Worst Toy Ever? 57. How Should We Balance Safety and Urgency in Developing a Covid-19 Vaccine? 58. What Are Your Reactions to Oprah’s Interview With Harry and Meghan? 59. Should the Government Provide a Guaranteed Income for Families With Children? 60. Should There Be More Public Restrooms? 61. Should High School-Age Basketball Players Be Able to Get Paid? 62. Should Team Sports Happen This Year? 63. Who Are the Best Musical Artists of the Past Year? What Are the Best Songs? 64. Should We Cancel Student Debt? 65. How Closely Should Actors’ Identities Reflect the Roles They Play? 66. Should White Writers Translate a Black Author’s Work? 67. Would You Buy an NFT? 68. Should Kids Still Learn to Tell Time? 69. Should All Schools Teach Financial Literacy? 70. What Is Your Reaction to the Verdict in the Derek Chauvin Trial? 71. What Is the Best Way to Stop Abusive Language Online? 72. What Are the Underlying Systems That Hold a Society Together? 73. What Grade Would You Give President Biden on His First 100 Days? 74. Should High Schools Post Their Annual College Lists? 75. Are C.E.O.s Paid Too Much? 76. Should We Rethink Thanksgiving? 77. What Is the Best Way to Get Teenagers Vaccinated? 78. Do You Want Your Parents and Grandparents to Get the New Coronavirus Vaccine? 79. What Is Your Reaction to New Guidelines That Loosen Mask Requirements? 80. Who Should We Honor on Our Money? 81. Is Your School’s Dress Code Outdated? 82. Does Everyone Have a Responsibility to Vote? 83. How Is Your Generation Changing Politics?

Questions for Creative and Personal Writing

84. What Does Your Unique Style Say About You? 85. How Do You Spend Your Downtime? 86. Would You Want to Live to 200? 87. How Do You Connect to Your Heritage? 88. What Do You Think Are the Secrets to Happiness? 89. Are You a Sneakerhead? 90. What Role Have Mentors Played in Your Life? 91. If You Could Make Your Own Podcast, What Would It Be About? 92. Have You Ever Felt Pressure to ‘Sell Your Pain’? 93. Do You Think You Make Good Climate Choices? 94. What Does TikTok Mean to You? 95. Do Your Parents Overpraise You? 96. Do You Want to Travel in Space? 97. Do You Feel You’re Friends With Celebrities or Influencers You Follow Online? 98. Would You Eat Food Grown in a Lab? 99. What Makes You Cringe? 100. What Volunteer Work Would You Most Like to Do? 101. How Do You Respond When People Ask, ‘Where Are You From?’ 102. Has a School Assignment or Activity Ever Made You Uncomfortable? 103. How Does Your Identity Inform Your Political Beliefs and Values? 104. Are You an Orchid, a Tulip or a Dandelion? 105. Are You Having a Tough Time Maintaining Friendships These Days? 106. How Is Your Mental Health These Days? 107. Do You Love Writing or Receiving Letters? 108. What Has Television Taught You About Social Class? 109. Are You Easily Distracted? 110. What Objects Bring You Comfort? 111. What Is Your Favorite Memory of PBS? 112. Have You Ever Felt Embarrassed by Your Parents? 113. What Are You Doing to Combat Pandemic Fatigue? 114. Have You Ever Worried About Making a Good First Impression? 115. What Do You Want Your Parents to Know About What It’s Like to Be a Teenager During the Pandemic? 116. How Have You Collaborated From a Distance During the Pandemic? 117. How Important Is It to You to Have Similar Political Beliefs to Your Family and Friends? 118. How Are You Feeling About Winter This Year? 119. Which Celebrity Performer Would You Like to Challenge to a Friendly Battle? 120. How Mentally Tough Are You? 121. What Smells Trigger Powerful Memories for You? 122. What Are You Thankful for This Year? 123. Do You Miss Hugs? 124. Are You a Good Conversationalist? 125. What Habits Have You Started or Left Behind in 2020? 126. What Was the Best Art and Culture You Experienced in 2020? 127. What’s Your Relationship With Masks? 128. What Role Does Religion Play in Your Life? 129. How Will You Be Celebrating the Holidays This Year? 130. What Is Something Good That Happened in 2020? 131. What New Flavor Ideas Do You Have for Your Favorite Foods? 132. What Are Your Hopes and Concerns for the New School Year? 133. How Has 2020 Challenged or Changed You? 134. What Do You Hope for Most in 2021? 135. How Do You View Death? 136. What Is Your Favorite Fact You Learned in 2020? 137. What Are the Places in the World That You Love Most? 138. Have You Ever Experienced ‘Impostor Syndrome’? 139. How Well Do You Get Along With Your Siblings? 140. Do You Talk to Your Family About the Cost of College? 141. Do You Have a Healthy Diet? 142. How Do You Feel About Mask-Slipping? 143. Do You Believe in Manifesting? 144. How Do You Express Yourself Creatively? 145. What Are Your Family’s House Rules During the Covid Crisis? 146. What Online Communities Do You Participate In? 147. Have You Experienced Any Embarrassing Zoom Mishaps? 148. What Does Your Country’s National Anthem Mean to You? 149. Are Sports Just Not the Same Without Spectators in the Stands? 150. Would You Volunteer for a Covid-19 Vaccine Trial? 151. What ‘Old’ Technology Do You Think Is Cool? 152. Have You Ever Tried to Grow Something? 153. How Has the Pandemic Changed Your Relationship to Your Body? 154. How Do You Find New Books, Music, Movies or Television Shows? 155. Are You Nervous About Returning to Normal Life? 156. How Do You Celebrate Spring? 157. How Do You Talk With People Who Don’t Share Your Views? 158. Would You Want to Be a Teacher Someday? 159. What Would You Recommend That Is ‘Overlooked and Underappreciated’? 160. What Children’s Books Have Had the Biggest Impact on You? 161. What Is Your Gender Identity? 162. Have You Hit a Wall? 163. What Is the Code You Live By? 164. Do You Think You Have Experienced ‘Learning Loss’ During the Pandemic? 165. What Are the Most Memorable Things You’ve Seen or Experienced in Nature? 166. Do You Want to Have Children Someday? 167. What Have You Learned About Friendship This Year? 168. What Seemingly Mundane Feats Have You Accomplished? 169. Has a Celebrity Ever Convinced You to Do Something? 170. How Have You Commemorated Milestones During the Pandemic? 171. How Often Do You Read, Watch or Listen to Things Outside of Your Comfort Zone? 172. Do You Think You Live in a Political Bubble? 173. What Is Your Relationship With the Weight-Loss Industry? 174. What Have You Made This Year? 175. How Are You Right Now? 176. What Are You Grateful For?

Want more writing prompts?

You can find even more Student Opinion questions in our 300 Questions and Images to Inspire Argument Writing , 550 Prompts for Narrative and Personal Writing and 130 New Prompts for Argumentative Writing . We also publish daily Picture Prompts , which are image-centered posts that provide space for many different kinds of writing. You can find all of our writing prompts, added as they publish, here .

  • Grades 6-12
  • School Leaders

FREE Poetry Worksheet Bundle! Perfect for National Poetry Month.

60+ College Essay Prompts From Actual 2023-2024 Applications

Ideas to inspire every college applicant.

Discuss a time when reflection or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you.

Writing a college application essay can be a stressful task for a lot of students. The more practice they get in advance, the better! This roundup of college essay prompts gives applicants a chance to explore their thinking, polish their writing, and prepare to make the best possible impression on selection committees. Every one of these questions is taken from real college applications for the 2023-2024 season, so they’re meaningful and applicable to today’s high school seniors.

Common App 2023-2024 College Essay Prompts

2023-2024 coalition for college essay prompts, life experiences college essay prompts, personal college essay prompts, academics college essay prompts, creative college essay prompts.

Hundreds of colleges and universities use the Common App process . For many schools, this includes responding to one of several college essay topics, which can change each year. Here are the essay prompts for the current application cycle (check with your chosen school/s to see if an essay is required).

  • 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.
  • 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?

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?

  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.- college essay prompts

  • 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?
  • 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.

More than 150 colleges and universities use the Coalition for College process . Here are their essay prompts for 2023-2024.

  • Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

  • What interests or excites you? How does it shape who you are now or who you might become in the future?
  • Describe a time when you had a positive impact on others. What were the challenges? What were the rewards?
  • Has there been a time when an idea or belief of yours was questioned? How did you respond? What did you learn?
  • What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?

What success have you achieved or obstacle have you faced? What advice would you give a sibling or friend going through a similar experience?

  • Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

Answer these questions by sharing specific examples from your own experience.

  • Who is your favorite conversation partner? What do you discuss with that person?
  • Discuss a time when reflection or introspection led to clarity or understanding of an issue that is important to you.
  • Share an example of how you have used your own critical-thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea, or interest.

Share an example of how you have used your own critical-thinking skills on a specific subject, project, idea, or interest.- college essay prompts

  • Describe a time when you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond?
  • What are the best words of advice you have received? Who shared them, and how have you applied them in your own life?
  • Elaborate on an activity or experience you have had that made an impact on a community that is important to you.
  • Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you.
  • Who do you agree with on the big, important things, or who do you have your most interesting disagreements with? What are you agreeing or disagreeing about?
  • Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.
  • When was the last time you questioned something you had thought to be true?
  • Discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.
  • Reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty.
  • Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

  • Describe a time you did not meet expectations and what impact the experience had on you.

These essay topics give schools a better sense of who you are, what you value, and the kind of student citizen you might be.

  • What drives you to create, and what do you hope to make or have you made?
  • Which book, character, song, monologue, or piece of work (fiction or nonfiction) seems made for you? Why?
  • What would you want your future college roommate to know about you?
  • How has your own background influenced the types of problems you want to solve, the people you want to work with, and the impact you hope your work can have?

How has your own background influenced the types of problems you want to solve, the people you want to work with, and the impact you hope your work can have?- college essay prompts

  • Describe any meaningful travel experiences you’ve had.
  • What would you want to be different in your own country or community to further principles of equality, equity, or social justice?
  • What strength or quality do you have that most people might not see or recognize?
  • If you could live your life fighting for one cause, what would it be and why?
  • What gives meaning to your life?
  • If you wrote a letter to yourself to be opened in 20 years, what would it say?
  • If you had the power to change the course of history in your community or the world, what would you do and why?

If you had the power to change the course of history in your community or the world, what would you do and why?

  • Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
  • What is the greatest compliment you have ever been given? Why was it meaningful to you?
  • Explain how a text you’ve read—fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or literature of any kind—has helped you to understand the world’s complexity.

Topics like these show your academic interests and demonstrate your commitment to learning and discovery.

  • What does it mean to you to be educated?
  • What is your motivation for pursuing higher education?
  • Describe your reasons for wanting to attend the specific school you’re applying to. Who or what factored into your decision?
  • Academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited, and why do they interest you?

Academic inquiry starts with bold questions. What are some of the bold questions you have pondered that get you excited, and why do they interest you?- college essay prompts

  • What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?
  • If you decide to take a “gap year” between high school and college, what would you do during that time?
  • Many schools place a high value on diverse student populations. How can you contribute to and support a diverse and inclusive student population at your chosen school?
  • Imagine you were just awarded a research grant for a project of your choice. What are you researching and why?
  • What do you love about the subject(s) you selected as potential major(s)? If undecided, share more about one of your academic passions.

What do you love about the subject(s) you selected as potential major(s)? If undecided, share more about one of your academic passions.

  • Describe a time when you’ve felt empowered or represented by an educator.
  • Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

Use these college essay topics to show off your creativity and innovative thinking.

  • You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.

You are tasked with creating a new category for the Nobel Prize. Explain what it would be, why you chose your specific category, and the criteria necessary to achieve this accomplishment.

  • Pick one person—a historical figure, fictitious character, or modern individual—to converse with for an hour, and explain your choice.
  • If you could witness a historic event (past, present, or future) firsthand, what would it be and why?
  • If you could have a theme song, what would it be and why?
  • Discuss a book that you would call a “great book.” What makes the book great in your view?
  • If you could give any historical figure any piece of technology, who and what would it be, and why do you think they’d work so well together?
  • If I could travel anywhere, I would go to …
  • My favorite thing about last Tuesday was …
  • Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge.
  • If you had 10 minutes and the attention of a million people, what would your TED Talk be about?
  • What are your three favorite words in the English language? Explain what they mean to you.
  • Imagine that you could have one superpower. What would it be and how would you use it? What would be your kryptonite?

Imagine that you could have one superpower. What would it be and how would you use it? What would be your kryptonite?- college essay prompts

  • Which Ben & Jerry’s ice cream flavor (real or imagined) best describes you?
  • If you could create a college course that all students would take, what would it be about and why?
  • What website is the internet missing?

How do you help your students prepare their college application essays? Come share your ideas and ask for advice in the We Are Teachers HELPLINE group on Facebook .

Plus, check out  the ultimate guide to college scholarships.

Looking for writing ideas for your college application? These college essay prompts offer inspirational topics that let every student shine.

You Might Also Like

examples of essay prompt

65 Engaging Personal Narrative Ideas for Kids and Teens

Tell a story to engage the reader. Continue Reading

Copyright © 2023. All rights reserved. 5335 Gate Parkway, Jacksonville, FL 32256

The 2021-22 Common Application Essay Prompts

Tips and Guidance for the 7 Essay Options on the New Common Application

  • College Admissions Process
  • College Profiles
  • College Rankings
  • Choosing A College
  • Application Tips
  • Essay Samples & Tips
  • Testing Graphs
  • College Financial Aid
  • Advanced Placement
  • Homework Help
  • Private School
  • College Life
  • Graduate School
  • Business School
  • Distance Learning
  • Ph.D., English, University of Pennsylvania
  • M.A., English, University of Pennsylvania
  • B.S., Materials Science & Engineering and Literature, MIT

For the 2021-22 application cycle, the Common Application  essay prompts remain unchanged from the 2020-21 cycle with the exception of an all new option #4. As in the past, with the inclusion of the popular "Topic of Your Choice" option, you have the opportunity to write about anything you want to share with the folks in the admissions office.

The current prompts are the result of much discussion and debate from the member institutions who use the Common Application. The essay length limit stands at 650 words (the minimum is 250 words), and students will need to choose from the seven options below. The essay prompts are designed to encourage reflection and introspection. The best essays focus on self-analysis, rather than spending a disproportionate amount of time merely describing a place or event. Analysis, not description, will reveal the critical thinking skills that are the hallmark of a promising college student. If your essay doesn't include some self-analysis, you haven't fully succeeded in responding to the prompt.

According to the folks at the Common Application , in the 2018-19 admissions cycle, Option #7 (topic of your choice) was the most popular and was used by 24.1% of applicants. The second most popular was Option #5 (discuss an accomplishment) with 23.7% of applicants. In third place was Option #2 on a setback or failure. 21.1% of applicants chose that option.

From the Admissions Desk

"While the transcript and grades will always be the most important piece in the review of an application, essays can help a student stand out. The stories and information shared in an essay are what the Admissions Officer will use to advocate for the student in the admissions committee."

–Valerie Marchand Welsh Director of College Counseling, The Baldwin School Former Associate Dean of Admissions, University of Pennsylvania

Always keep in mind why colleges are asking for an essay: they want to get to know you better. Nearly all selective colleges and universities (as well as many that aren't overly selective) have holistic admissions, and they consider many factors in addition to numerical measures such as grades and standardized test scores. Your essay is an important tool for presenting something you find important that may not come across elsewhere in your application. Make sure your essay presents you as the type of person a college will want to invite to join their community.

Below are the seven options with some general tips for each:

Option #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.

"Identity" is at the heart of this prompt. What is it that makes you you? The prompt gives you a lot of latitude for answering the question since you can write a story about your "background, identity, interest, or talent." Your "background" can be a broad environmental factor that contributed to your development such as growing up in a military family, living in an interesting place, or dealing with an unusual family situation. You could write about an event or series of events that had a profound impact on your identity. Your "interest" or "talent" could be a passion that has driven you to become the person you are today. However you approach the prompt, make sure you are inward looking and explain how and why  the story you tell is so meaningful. 

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #1
  • Sample essay for option #1: "Handiwork" by Vanessa
  • Sample essay for option #1: "My Dads" by Charlie
  • Sample essay for option #1: "Give Goth a Chance"
  • Sample essay for option #1: "Wallflower"

Option #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?

This prompt may seem to go against everything that you've learned on your path to college. It's far more comfortable in an application to celebrate successes and accomplishments than it is to discuss setbacks and failure. At the same time, you'll impress the college admissions folks greatly if you can show your ability to learn from your failures and mistakes. Be sure to devote significant space to the second half of the question—how did you learn and grow from the experience? Introspection and honesty are key with this prompt.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #2
  • Sample essay for option #2: "Striking Out" by Richard
  • Sample essay for option #2: "Student Teacher" by Max

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

Keep in mind how open-ended this prompt truly is. The "belief or idea" you explore could be your own, someone else's, or that of a group. The best essays will be honest as they explore the difficulty of working against the status quo or a firmly held belief. The answer to the final question about the "outcome" of your challenge need not be a success story. Sometimes in retrospection, we discover that the cost of an action was perhaps too great. However you approach this prompt, your essay needs to reveal one of your core personal values. If the belief you challenged doesn't give the admissions folks a window into your personality, then you haven't succeeded with this prompt.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #3
  • Sample essay for option #3: "Gym Class Hero" by Jennifer

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

Here, again, the Common Application gives you a lot of options for approaching the question since it is entirely up to you to decide what the "something" and "someone" will be. This prompt was added to the Common Application in the 2021-22 admissions cycle in part because it gives students the opportunity to write something heartfelt and uplifting after all the challenges of the previous year. The best essays for this prompt show that you are a generous person who recognizes the contributions others have made to your personal journey. Unlike many essays that are all about "me, me, me," this essay shows your ability to appreciate others. This type of generosity is an important character trait that schools look for when inviting people to join their campus communities.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #4

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

This question was reworded in 2017-18 admissions cycle, and the current language is a huge improvement. The prompt use to talk about transitioning from childhood to adulthood, but the new language about a "period of personal growth" is a much better articulation of how we actually learn and mature (no single event makes us adults). Maturity comes as the result of a long train of events and accomplishments (and failures). This prompt is an excellent choice if you want to explore a single event or achievement that marked a clear milestone in your personal development. Be careful to avoid the "hero" essay—admissions offices are often overrun with essays about the season-winning touchdown or brilliant performance in the school play (see the list of bad essay topics for more about this issue). These can certainly be fine topics for an essay, but make sure your essay is analyzing your personal growth process, not bragging about an accomplishment.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #5
  • Sample essay for option #5: "Buck Up" by Jill

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?

This option was entirely new in 2017, and it's a wonderfully broad prompt. In essence, it's asking you to identify and discuss something that enthralls you. The question gives you an opportunity to identify something that kicks your brain into high gear, reflect on why it is so stimulating, and reveal your process for digging deeper into something that you are passionate about. Note that the central words here—"topic, idea, or concept"—all have rather academic connotations. While you may lose track of time when running or playing football, sports are probably not the best choice for this particular question.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #6

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.

The popular "topic of your choice" option had been removed from the Common Application between 2013 and 2016, but it returned again with the 2017-18 admissions cycle. Use this option if you have a story to share that doesn't quite fit into any of the options above. However, the first six topics are extremely broad with a lot of flexibility, so make sure your topic really can't be identified with one of them. Also, don't equate "topic of your choice" with a license to write a comedy routine or poem (you can submit such things via the "Additional Info" option). Essays written for this prompt still need to have substance and tell your reader something about you. Cleverness is fine, but don't be clever at the expense of meaningful content.

  • See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #7
  • Sample essay for option #7: "My Hero Harpo" by Alexis
  • Sample essay for option #7: "Grandpa's Rubik's Cube"

Final Thoughts

Whichever prompt you chose, make sure you are looking inward. What do you value? What has made you grow as a person? What makes you the unique individual the admissions folks will want to invite to join their campus community? The best essays spend significant time with self-analysis rather than merely describing a place or event.

The folks at The Common Application have cast a wide net with these questions, and nearly anything you want to write about could fit under at least one of the options. If your essay could fit under more than one option, it really doesn't matter which one you choose. Many admissions officers, in fact, don't even look at which prompt you chose—they just want to see that you have written a good essay.

  • Tips for Writing an Essay on an Event That Led to Personal Growth
  • Tips for the Pre-2013 Personal Essay Options on the Common Application
  • Common Application Essay Option 2 Tips: Learning from Failure
  • Common Application Essay Option 3 Tips: Challenging a Belief
  • Common Application Essay on a Meaningful Place
  • 2020-21 Common Application Essay Option 4—Solving a Problem
  • "Grandpa's Rubik's Cube"—Sample Common Application Essay, Option #4
  • Common Application Essay, Option 1: Share Your Story
  • 5 Tips for a College Admissions Essay on an Important Issue
  • Tips for an Application Essay on a Significant Experience
  • How to Ace Your University of Wisconsin Personal Statements
  • Addressing Diversity in a College Application Essay
  • Tips for the 8 University of California Personal Insight Questions
  • The Length Requirements for the Common Application Essay in 2020-21
  • Tips for Writing a Winning College Transfer Essay
  • Private School Application Essay Tips

Have a language expert improve your writing

Run a free plagiarism check in 10 minutes, generate accurate citations for free.

  • Knowledge Base
  • How to write an argumentative essay | Examples & tips

How to Write an Argumentative Essay | Examples & Tips

Published on July 24, 2020 by Jack Caulfield . Revised on July 23, 2023.

An argumentative essay expresses an extended argument for a particular thesis statement . The author takes a clearly defined stance on their subject and builds up an evidence-based case for it.

Instantly correct all language mistakes in your text

Upload your document to correct all your mistakes in minutes

upload-your-document-ai-proofreader

Table of contents

When do you write an argumentative essay, approaches to argumentative essays, introducing your argument, the body: developing your argument, concluding your argument, other interesting articles, frequently asked questions about argumentative essays.

You might be assigned an argumentative essay as a writing exercise in high school or in a composition class. The prompt will often ask you to argue for one of two positions, and may include terms like “argue” or “argument.” It will frequently take the form of a question.

The prompt may also be more open-ended in terms of the possible arguments you could make.

Argumentative writing at college level

At university, the vast majority of essays or papers you write will involve some form of argumentation. For example, both rhetorical analysis and literary analysis essays involve making arguments about texts.

In this context, you won’t necessarily be told to write an argumentative essay—but making an evidence-based argument is an essential goal of most academic writing, and this should be your default approach unless you’re told otherwise.

Examples of argumentative essay prompts

At a university level, all the prompts below imply an argumentative essay as the appropriate response.

Your research should lead you to develop a specific position on the topic. The essay then argues for that position and aims to convince the reader by presenting your evidence, evaluation and analysis.

  • Don’t just list all the effects you can think of.
  • Do develop a focused argument about the overall effect and why it matters, backed up by evidence from sources.
  • Don’t just provide a selection of data on the measures’ effectiveness.
  • Do build up your own argument about which kinds of measures have been most or least effective, and why.
  • Don’t just analyze a random selection of doppelgänger characters.
  • Do form an argument about specific texts, comparing and contrasting how they express their thematic concerns through doppelgänger characters.

Here's why students love Scribbr's proofreading services

Discover proofreading & editing

An argumentative essay should be objective in its approach; your arguments should rely on logic and evidence, not on exaggeration or appeals to emotion.

There are many possible approaches to argumentative essays, but there are two common models that can help you start outlining your arguments: The Toulmin model and the Rogerian model.

Toulmin arguments

The Toulmin model consists of four steps, which may be repeated as many times as necessary for the argument:

  • Make a claim
  • Provide the grounds (evidence) for the claim
  • Explain the warrant (how the grounds support the claim)
  • Discuss possible rebuttals to the claim, identifying the limits of the argument and showing that you have considered alternative perspectives

The Toulmin model is a common approach in academic essays. You don’t have to use these specific terms (grounds, warrants, rebuttals), but establishing a clear connection between your claims and the evidence supporting them is crucial in an argumentative essay.

Say you’re making an argument about the effectiveness of workplace anti-discrimination measures. You might:

  • Claim that unconscious bias training does not have the desired results, and resources would be better spent on other approaches
  • Cite data to support your claim
  • Explain how the data indicates that the method is ineffective
  • Anticipate objections to your claim based on other data, indicating whether these objections are valid, and if not, why not.

Rogerian arguments

The Rogerian model also consists of four steps you might repeat throughout your essay:

  • Discuss what the opposing position gets right and why people might hold this position
  • Highlight the problems with this position
  • Present your own position , showing how it addresses these problems
  • Suggest a possible compromise —what elements of your position would proponents of the opposing position benefit from adopting?

This model builds up a clear picture of both sides of an argument and seeks a compromise. It is particularly useful when people tend to disagree strongly on the issue discussed, allowing you to approach opposing arguments in good faith.

Say you want to argue that the internet has had a positive impact on education. You might:

  • Acknowledge that students rely too much on websites like Wikipedia
  • Argue that teachers view Wikipedia as more unreliable than it really is
  • Suggest that Wikipedia’s system of citations can actually teach students about referencing
  • Suggest critical engagement with Wikipedia as a possible assignment for teachers who are skeptical of its usefulness.

You don’t necessarily have to pick one of these models—you may even use elements of both in different parts of your essay—but it’s worth considering them if you struggle to structure your arguments.

Regardless of which approach you take, your essay should always be structured using an introduction , a body , and a conclusion .

Like other academic essays, an argumentative essay begins with an introduction . The introduction serves to capture the reader’s interest, provide background information, present your thesis statement , and (in longer essays) to summarize the structure of the body.

Hover over different parts of the example below to see how a typical introduction works.

The spread of the internet has had a world-changing effect, not least on the world of education. The use of the internet in academic contexts is on the rise, and its role in learning is hotly debated. For many teachers who did not grow up with this technology, its effects seem alarming and potentially harmful. This concern, while understandable, is misguided. The negatives of internet use are outweighed by its critical benefits for students and educators—as a uniquely comprehensive and accessible information source; a means of exposure to and engagement with different perspectives; and a highly flexible learning environment.

The body of an argumentative essay is where you develop your arguments in detail. Here you’ll present evidence, analysis, and reasoning to convince the reader that your thesis statement is true.

In the standard five-paragraph format for short essays, the body takes up three of your five paragraphs. In longer essays, it will be more paragraphs, and might be divided into sections with headings.

Each paragraph covers its own topic, introduced with a topic sentence . Each of these topics must contribute to your overall argument; don’t include irrelevant information.

This example paragraph takes a Rogerian approach: It first acknowledges the merits of the opposing position and then highlights problems with that position.

Hover over different parts of the example to see how a body paragraph is constructed.

A common frustration for teachers is students’ use of Wikipedia as a source in their writing. Its prevalence among students is not exaggerated; a survey found that the vast majority of the students surveyed used Wikipedia (Head & Eisenberg, 2010). An article in The Guardian stresses a common objection to its use: “a reliance on Wikipedia can discourage students from engaging with genuine academic writing” (Coomer, 2013). Teachers are clearly not mistaken in viewing Wikipedia usage as ubiquitous among their students; but the claim that it discourages engagement with academic sources requires further investigation. This point is treated as self-evident by many teachers, but Wikipedia itself explicitly encourages students to look into other sources. Its articles often provide references to academic publications and include warning notes where citations are missing; the site’s own guidelines for research make clear that it should be used as a starting point, emphasizing that users should always “read the references and check whether they really do support what the article says” (“Wikipedia:Researching with Wikipedia,” 2020). Indeed, for many students, Wikipedia is their first encounter with the concepts of citation and referencing. The use of Wikipedia therefore has a positive side that merits deeper consideration than it often receives.

An argumentative essay ends with a conclusion that summarizes and reflects on the arguments made in the body.

No new arguments or evidence appear here, but in longer essays you may discuss the strengths and weaknesses of your argument and suggest topics for future research. In all conclusions, you should stress the relevance and importance of your argument.

Hover over the following example to see the typical elements of a conclusion.

The internet has had a major positive impact on the world of education; occasional pitfalls aside, its value is evident in numerous applications. The future of teaching lies in the possibilities the internet opens up for communication, research, and interactivity. As the popularity of distance learning shows, students value the flexibility and accessibility offered by digital education, and educators should fully embrace these advantages. The internet’s dangers, real and imaginary, have been documented exhaustively by skeptics, but the internet is here to stay; it is time to focus seriously on its potential for good.

If you want to know more about AI tools , college essays , or fallacies make sure to check out some of our other articles with explanations and examples or go directly to our tools!

  • Ad hominem fallacy
  • Post hoc fallacy
  • Appeal to authority fallacy
  • False cause fallacy
  • Sunk cost fallacy

College essays

  • Choosing Essay Topic
  • Write a College Essay
  • Write a Diversity Essay
  • College Essay Format & Structure
  • Comparing and Contrasting in an Essay

 (AI) Tools

  • Grammar Checker
  • Paraphrasing Tool
  • Text Summarizer
  • AI Detector
  • Plagiarism Checker
  • Citation Generator

An argumentative essay tends to be a longer essay involving independent research, and aims to make an original argument about a topic. Its thesis statement makes a contentious claim that must be supported in an objective, evidence-based way.

An expository essay also aims to be objective, but it doesn’t have to make an original argument. Rather, it aims to explain something (e.g., a process or idea) in a clear, concise way. Expository essays are often shorter assignments and rely less on research.

At college level, you must properly cite your sources in all essays , research papers , and other academic texts (except exams and in-class exercises).

Add a citation whenever you quote , paraphrase , or summarize information or ideas from a source. You should also give full source details in a bibliography or reference list at the end of your text.

The exact format of your citations depends on which citation style you are instructed to use. The most common styles are APA , MLA , and Chicago .

The majority of the essays written at university are some sort of argumentative essay . Unless otherwise specified, you can assume that the goal of any essay you’re asked to write is argumentative: To convince the reader of your position using evidence and reasoning.

In composition classes you might be given assignments that specifically test your ability to write an argumentative essay. Look out for prompts including instructions like “argue,” “assess,” or “discuss” to see if this is the goal.

Cite this Scribbr article

If you want to cite this source, you can copy and paste the citation or click the “Cite this Scribbr article” button to automatically add the citation to our free Citation Generator.

Caulfield, J. (2023, July 23). How to Write an Argumentative Essay | Examples & Tips. Scribbr. Retrieved April 15, 2024, from https://www.scribbr.com/academic-essay/argumentative-essay/

Is this article helpful?

Jack Caulfield

Jack Caulfield

Other students also liked, how to write a thesis statement | 4 steps & examples, how to write topic sentences | 4 steps, examples & purpose, how to write an expository essay, what is your plagiarism score.

2023-2024 Common Application Essay Prompts: Examples & Templates

examples of essay prompt

If you are looking for guidance on the Common Application, including Common App essay prompts and essay examples and templates as well as answers to the most common questions about the Common App, then you’ve come to the right place. 

This Application Prep guide is fully updated with the 2023-2024 Common App application and essay prompts .

Don’t forget to access our Common App essay template we created to help you write unique and memorable essays. Keep reading for breakdowns and examples for each essay prompt .

Before you dive in, it’s important to understand that all of the colleges that use the Common App each receive thousands of applications every year. To help you stand out from the crowd, you need to demonstrate a clear sense of self , strong life experience , and exemplary communication skills .

Our ‘full student’ coaching process does exactly that. If you’re not working with a coach, be sure to read the Self-Awareness , Goal-Setting , and Narrative Communication Skills Guides.

The Narrative Communication Approach™ is a particularly useful storytelling framework that helps you tell a clear and concise story, while creating an emotional connection with the reader. All Common App essay prompt examples use this approach.

In this guide, we’ll give you Common App essay prompt templates and examples that use this approach to help make your essay deeply personal and unique — which is exactly what the admissions counselors at all the colleges and universities you’re applying to look for.

If you’re serious about creating a standout Common App and getting into all the colleges on your list and reaching your fullest post-secondary potential, connect with a coach . It’s never too early to receive coaching.

Table of Contents

  • Common Application Overview : Application Requirements; Deadlines; Fees; Essays; Recommendations; and More.
  • 2023-2024 Common App : Personal essay prompts; Question breakdowns and tips; Question templates and examples; and More.
  • Common App FAQs : What is the Common App used for?; Why do I need to write a Common App?; What Common App Essay should I choose?; Do I need a recommendation?; and More. 

How to Write the Common App (Overview): What You Need To Know 

What is the common app.

Common App is a free application tool that’s designed to simplify the application process for first year and transfer students as they apply and get into college. Common App has more than 1,000 member colleges and universities around the world. 

With the Common App, you only need to complete one application to apply to up to 20 colleges and/or universities at once .

Common App Deadlines

The 2023-2024 Common App opens on August 1, 2023 . While there is no specific deadline for the Common App, you MUST submit it before the deadline of the college/university you’re applying to (and whether you are applying for early admission or regular admission). 

You can find each school’s app deadlines by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the date requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.

COACH’S TIP : Common App recently announced that the 2023-2024 application is the same as the 2022-2023 application, including the Personal Essay prompts. We recommend that you get started as soon as possible, so you have plenty of time to make your app and essay perfect. If you’re eager to get started on the app before it opens on August 1, you can start it early (the 2023-2024 essay prompts are the same as the 2022-2023 prompts), and then simply transfer everything over to the new app when it opens.  

While the Common App is designed to help make the admissions process easier, it isn’t required when applying to college/university . There are other platforms available (such as the Coalition Application or the Universal Application) and most schools allow students to apply directly through their websites or unique application system. 

Common App Cost

The Common App is free. However, some schools have their own application fee , so be sure to do your research before applying. Almost half of Common App member schools don’t charge an app fee, and others offer a fee waiver for those who qualify. Check out the ‘Application Requirements’ button on your Dashboard to see the fees for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.

Common App Recommenders

The Common App also has its own recommenders platform for teachers, counselors, and other people you’ve asked to write a letter of recommendation. Applicants simply add the person and they get an invitation to complete the form. With Common App, you can ask your teacher, counselor, etc. to write one letter of recommendation , and send it to all the schools you’re applying to. Learn more in this Common App Recommender guide .

REMEMBER : Whether or not you need a recommendation letter depends on the individual school you’re applying to . The type of recommendation letter (e.g. counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, other type of recommendation, etc.) also varies from school to school. Some schools require recommenders, others don’t, and for others it’s optional (you can check individual schools’ requirements on the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and click the ‘Application Requirements’ button). 

We know that the Common App can seem overwhelming at first, so we’ve put together a list of FAQs about the Common App below . 

Common App Components

When you use the Common App, you need to complete 2 main parts:

  • Common App Common Questions & Personal Essays : Basic background information such as family, education, testing, activities, and courses/grades (if applicable). There are also personal essays, which can be found in the Writing section of the Common App. You will see 7 essay prompts, and you must choose ONE to write an essay of maximum 650 words based on that. Here’s a list of the 2023-2024 personal essay prompts (keep reading for a full breakdown and essay examples for all the prompts). 
  • College-Specific Questions and/or Writing Supplements : Some colleges will have their own specific questions, usually a short answer or essay. Click here for each college’s writing requirements . Similarly, some colleges will have a writing supplement that is not completed in the Common App profile. ALWAYS research each college to determine if they have an additional writing requirement. 

Here are the 7 sections that make up the Common App Common Questions & Personal Essays section of your application (part #1 above): 

  • Profile : Personal information like your name, date of birth, address, contact details, demographics, language, nationality, etc. 
  • Family : Parent information, sibling information, etc.
  • Education : Current high school, past schools, colleges/universities, grades, current/recent courses, future plans, etc.
  • Testing : Standardized test scores, international applicant testing, etc. For more information on this section, check out this page .
  • Activities : Discussing relevant (up to 10) extracurriculars, like arts, clubs, community engagement, hobbies, work/volunteering etc. (keep reading for a template and example for the Common App Activities List ).
  • (a) Personal Essay , answering ONE of the 7 prompts (keep reading for breakdowns, templates, and examples for each); 
  • (b) Additional Information, where you discuss any impacts of community disruptions and how it has impacted you.
  • Courses and Grades : List courses and the grades you received for each. Note that not all colleges require this list (you can check if it is required in the My Colleges tab of the app).

REMEMBER : As mentioned above, each college/university has their own requirements in addition to the Common App (usually an extra set of questions or an additional application or a writing supplemental). Make sure you do your research and complete all components of the application for each school you’re applying to. Keep track of all the requirements for each college/university you’re applying to here .

We know that this process can seem really overwhelming and stressful. Just remember — you don’t have to go through this alone! Our Youth Coaches™ have helped hundreds of students complete and submit the Common App and get into their top choice schools. Connect with a coach now for support.

Ace your Common App & Personal Essay.

Common App Expert and Youth Coach™

examples of essay prompt

2023-2024 Common Application Essay Prompts & Examples

In this section, we’ll go through all the Common App Essays prompts and provide breakdowns, templates, and examples for each question. 

REMEMBER : You only need to write ONE ESSAY that’s 650 words (and no less than 250 words). The essay prompts for the 2023-2024 Common App can be found here .

Common App Essay Prompts – Overview 

Here are the instructions for all of the 2023-2024 Common App essay prompts:

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.) 

The Common App Personal Essays allow app reviewers to get to know you on a deeper, more personal level beyond your courses, grades and test scores.

Your essay is your one chance to make a personal connection with the reviewers and showcase your interests, skills, experiences, and plans for the future. 

Put simply, the Personal Essay allows you to show what makes you, you . It’s arguably the most important part of your application. 

A unique and memorable essay can help your application stand out. It should also be specific enough that it paints an accurate picture of who you are , while also appealing to all the schools you’re applying to (even if you’re applying for different programs or specializations). 

A great way to show exactly who you are while connecting with a bunch of different audiences is through storytelling . This will help you write a memorable essay about all sorts of topics, while creating an emotional connection through character development , deep personal insights , and learning outcomes . 

We recommend using our Narrative Communication Approach. This effective structure uses storytelling to connect emotionally with the reader and effectively communicate your interests, skills, goals, and experiences. Learn more about it our Narrative Communication™ blog here .  

We know that this essay can seem really overwhelming at first. But remember — you aren’t alone! Youthfully Coaches have helped hundreds of students ace their Common App and achieve more than they ever thought possible. Connect with a coach now for support with your application and Personal Essay.

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 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. 

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 1 

This question asks you to talk about that one thing that makes you unique . 

The question is intentionally left open-ended so you can choose any aspect of your life that makes you completely different from anyone else. It can be anything from a hobby, academic interest, personal passion, or favorite pastime, to a formative experience or event in your life or an extracurricular activity you’ve been doing for years. 

When choosing what to discuss, take time to think about something that is so meaningful that it’s inseparable from who you are as a person. Maybe you have been playing tennis since you were 5 years old and you’re now a pro, or you immigrated to the US and were so inspired by your parents’ successful small business that you started your own. Or maybe you went on a trip when you were younger and this ignited your love of studying other cultures and languages. Focus on that defining thing that makes you who you are.

Once you’ve decided what you want to discuss, communicate how this background, identity, interest, or talent has fundamentally influenced you and changed you as a person. Highlight your personality using this topic, and focus on showcasing what’s important to you , as well as your interests, skills, and goals wherever possible.

Use storytelling to discuss the evolution of this meaningful thing, like how it started, how it has changed over time, what it has meant in your life etc., while giving enough detail that the reader can go on the journey with you and connect with you emotionally (check out the template below and learn how to create the perfect story using this 5-step process ). 

The key is to make the app reviewer feel what you feel so they can understand the significance of the background, identity, interest, or talent you’re talking about. The goal is to make them care about it just as much as you do . 

No matter what meaningful aspect of your life you choose, the point is that you show the admissions committee that you have self-awareness and can identify your interest, skills, and strengths. They want to see that you have gone on a journey of personal growth that has led you to where you are today (and that it will help you as you continue on to post-secondary studies). If you’ve completed our Student Identity Blueprint , you already know how your experiences, interests, talents, background and identity makes you unique, so this will help you out a lot for this essay prompt. If you haven’t completed your Blueprint, connect with a coach to get started.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 1 

As mentioned above, all the templates and examples in this App Prep Guide follow our Narrative Communication Approach™. This structure uses storytelling to create an emotional connection with the reader, while showcasing character development, deep learning outcomes, and personal insight. The result? Truly unique, authentic, and memorable essays. Check out our Narrative Communication Approach Guide to learn more.

Your essay should have these 5 components to help make it unique and memorable:

  • State the background, identity, interest, or talent that is an inseparable part of who you are.  
  • State the background, identity, interest, or talent that is an inseparable part of who you are. Provide some details about where it began and what you felt when it did. Was there a specific event or sudden realization that occurred? An evolution over time? 
  • Discuss how you developed your background, identity, interest, or talent over time, as well as how it became an inseparable part of who you are. Talk about what you would be if this one thing didn’t exist and talk about how it set you on the path to self-discovery. 
  • Discuss how it has impacted your life, drawing on experiences wherever possible. Provide examples of how you’ve put your background, identity, interest, or talent into practice in your daily life and how it has evolved or changed over time. 
  • Discuss what you’ve learned about yourself because of this background, identity, interest, or talent. Try to make your learning outcomes as unique as possible. Then, briefly state how this background, identity, interest, or talent will impact your goals and aspirations going forward.

If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2023-2024 Common App essay prompt, connect with a coach for support .

Common App Essay Example: Prompt 1 

Here’s a Common App essay prompt example for this question. 

REMEMBER : This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy. Why? First and foremost, this is plagiarism and is a serious offense . Plagiarizing these essays will result in immediate disqualification from the admissions process . This can be easily detected using technology and application reviewers are usually trained and/or able to spot when an application isn’t original and does not align with an applicant’s background, personality, values, etc.

common application essay examples prompts

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 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? 

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 2 

You can tell a lot about a person by the way they handle themselves during difficult situations and when something doesn’t go as planned. 

The obstacle you talk about in this essay can be a specific event from your personal or academic life, or it can be more broad, like a challenge you continually face , like a fear of public speaking, or a sudden realization , like figuring out you didn’t want to follow the plans your parents had for your future. 

The app reviewers don’t care so much about the exact obstacle that happened. What’s really important is how you react, how you face adversity , and how you use your problem solving skills to find a solution. They want to know what this obstacle or challenge taught you, how you used this as an opportunity for personal growth and learning , and how this ultimately made you a better person and student. 

When writing your story, make sure you describe your emotions as much as you can. You want the app reviewers to go on this journey with you and understand how you felt when this obstacle or challenge happened, and then how you felt when you overcame it and used it as an opportunity for growth . Write your story in a way that the reader walks in your shoes. 

Finally, reflect on why this obstacle was so influential in your life and how these lessons have made you better. Did it make you discover something about yourself that you didn’t know? Did it ignite an interest that set you on a new path? Did you develop key real-world skills when trying to solve it? Then, wrap up by discussing how you will use the lessons from this challenge as you set and achieve your goals in the future.

If you aren’t sure which challenge, setback, or failure to talk about in your essay, connect with a coach anytime for support.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 2

Your essay should have these 5 components to help make your story unique and memorable:

  • Capture the reader’s attention and give a preview of what’s to come.
  • Provide some background about yourself and discuss who you were and what you believed in before this obstacle occurred. State what the obstacle (challenge, setback, or failure) was. Paint the picture of the situation you were in, focusing on the emotions you felt when this obstacle occurred as well as your initial reaction. 
  • Talk about the turning point, addressing how you faced the obstacle and what you did to resolve it. Discuss any trial and error moments that occured. Go through your journey to solve this problem.
  • Outline how this obstacle turned out in the end (either positive or negative). If possible, talk about quantifiable outcomes, such as hours worked/volunteered, money raised, people impacted, etc.
  • Discuss what you learned because of this obstacle. Why was this lesson important? How did it change you as a person? Finally, briefly talk about how you will use this lesson going forward and how it has already (and will contribute) to your success (personally, professionally, and academically). 

Common App Essay Example: Prompt 2

REMEMBER : This is an EXAMPLE ONLY and is NOT meant for you to copy.

common application essay examples prompts

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 3

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

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 3 

This essay prompt is definitely one of the harder ones out of the 7.

The app reviewers want to see that you can think critically and use logic and the evidence you have to form opinions for yourself (rather than being influenced and coerced by others). 

They also want to see that you’re willing to adapt and change your views as you learn more about yourself and experience the world. 

The belief or idea that you discuss doesn’t have to be extremely complex, like the meaning of life. It can be something as simple as you believing that it’s too risky to try something outside of your comfort zone or that you have to follow in the same footsteps as your parents. The important thing is that this belief or idea is something that you believed was true for a long time, until something happened that changed your outlook and allowed you to evolve as a person. If you’re having trouble coming up with a belief or idea to discuss, have a look at the Values section of your Student Identity Blueprint ™ (if you haven’t filled out your Blueprint yet, click here to get started ).

COACH’S TIP : While topics like religion, politics, race, and other social issues are popular topics of discussion, avoid talking about these topics in your essay. Everyone has strong beliefs about these topics, and the last thing you want to do is offend anyone or start an argument. Choose topics that are more unique to your life , experiences, skills, and interests, and NOT broad, touchy subjects . 

Also, while you want to effectively communicate your belief/idea before and after you challenged or questioned it, you don’t want to come across as too preachy or difficult. Everyone has their own beliefs, and if you seem completely unaccepting of others’ views, then this will actually hurt your chances of getting into the schools you’re applying to. 

Instead, focus on what the experience taught you and how you evolved as a person . Create a story that emphasizes the emotions you felt when this event happened, and how you invited the opportunity for growth and change . 

The most important aspect of this essay is talking about what you learned because you were willing to go beyond what you believe or what you were taught, and how accepting new perspectives actually made you a stronger person both now and in the future.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 3

  • State the belief or idea you challenged or questioned. Where did this belief come from? Why did you believe it to be true? Be as specific as possible, painting the ‘before’ picture (i.e. before the event that made you question it occurred). 
  • Discuss what made you question or challenge this belief. This can be a specific event, discussion you had with someone, a gradual change over time, etc. Explain why this caused so much doubt to happen, and what your initial reaction to this doubt was (explaining the emotion you felt wherever possible).  
  • Talk about your changing views on this belief or idea after the event you discussed in the Catalyst section (this is the ‘after’ picture you discussed in the Context section). If your old belief/idea was replaced with a new belief/idea, briefly explain what the new one is here. 
  • Talk about what you learned by challenging this belief/opinion and how it changed your outlook going forward. Provide some learning outcomes about how it impacted you personally, academically, and/or professionally.

If you need support finding a topic and writing an essay for this 2023-2024 Common App prompt, connect with a coach for support .

Common App Essay Example: Prompt 3

common application essay examples prompts

You Might Also Like

communication skills

Skills Training

Narrative communication: how to improve your communication skills using storytelling.

At school, you’ve written extensive academic essays, evaluated classical literature, and enhanced your vocabulary.  But you’ve never learned—and intentionally practiced—how…  Read more

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 4

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 4 

This question is a bit newer than the others, first appearing in the 2021-2022 Common App. 

The theme of this prompt is gratitude — for being inspired, being put outside your comfort zone, learning something new, and getting excited about your future. 

The focus of this essay isn’t gushing about how amazing the person who did something for you is, and how nice they are for doing it. Just explain who the person is and what the act of kindness was.

Instead, the app reviews want a personal story that communicates how this act of kindness initiated personal growth and self-discovery , as well as how and why it was so unexpected. Spend time thinking outside of the box and make the act as unique as possible. Go beyond saying someone was your mentor or helped you with a school project, and use an act of kindness that had a long-lasting impact . 

A key phrase in this prompt that students often overlook is “in a surprising way” . While the experience doesn’t have to be huge, what’s important is the impact it had on you (as well as the emotions you felt as it was happening).  

This can be something you learned that made you change your outlook on life, ignited your passion for something, or set you on the path you’re on now. This act of kindness should have a long lasting effect on your life and fundamentally change you in some way. 

COACH’S TIP : Your topic also doesn’t have to be positive — someone could have done something that seemed negative at the time, but actually turned out for the better in the end (keep reading to see the example). This would be a great way to bring in the ‘surprise’ element of this question.

Finally, when talking about how this act of kindness affected you, try to draw out personal details about yourself as much as possible. 

Here’s an example: A mentor got you a summer internship at your local hospital and this surprised you because you realized that medicine wasn’t for you, even though it’s what your parents expected when they immigrated from China. Then, you decided to pursue your passion for business and start your own non-profit organization so that you could support cancer research because you lost your grandfather to this disease. You were so grateful that this happened because you got to go outside of your comfort zone and combine your love of business and philanthropy. At the same time, you can see all the personal details here — it tells who the you are (from China, in a family of doctors) and your interests (philanthropy), as well as some explanation of your experiences (internships, starting a non-profit) and your skills (leadership, organization, time management). 

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 4 

  • Give some background about you, like who were before this act of kindness occurred. Imagine this as the ‘before’ scenario. 
  • Briefly discuss the thing that someone did for you (and who did the action), answering the 5Ws (who, what, when, where, why). 
  • Describe what happened as a result of this act of kindness. Tap into your emotions as much as possible (maybe you were surprised, hesitant, etc. when it happened). 
  • Answer where you’d be if this event hadn’t occurred, and then discuss why you’re so grateful that it did. Talk about the impact of this event, emphasizing why it was so significant in your life, like that you learned about yourself or how it inspired you to explore a new interest. Finally, explain how you will use these lessons going forward (especially in your post-secondary studies).  

Common App Essay Example: Prompt 4

common application essay examples prompts

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 5

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

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 5 

In the other sections of your Common App, you’ve already given the app reviewers a pretty clear picture of what you’ve done, like your grades, courses, extracurriculars, other experiences, etc. 

This question is your chance to talk about how this accomplishment, event, or realization has influenced you and made you the person you are today. Remember that these formative events aren’t always obvious — you might not have even realized it was happening! 

When thinking about what accomplishment, event, or realization you want to talk about, think about who you are now, asking questions like:

  • What’s important to me and why?
  • What do I genuinely enjoy doing?
  • What am I good at? What could I improve on? 
  • Who is most important in my life? 
  • What am I proud of? 
  • Have I changed over the last few years? If so, how?

Once you’ve answered these questions, think about that specific thing which initiated it and where it all began. This is the accomplishment, event, or realization that you should focus on in your essay.

COACH’S TIP : According to Common App, this is the second most popular essay prompt that 23.7% of students answered for the 2021-2022 Common App. To make sure your essay stands out from the crowd, choose a topic that is unique and isn’t overdone, like the death of a family member, a trip somewhere, or an injury. Think outside the box and come up with an accomplishment, event, or realization that’s unexpected. If you are discussing something a bit more common, try to make your learning outcomes as unique as possible.

Once you’ve narrowed down your topic, focus the majority of the essay on 2-3 learning outcomes that allowed you to grow personally, academically, and professionally. 

These learning outcomes should be centered around a common theme, while focusing inward on you as a person along with the growth of your interests, skills, goals, and more. Next, turn the focus outward and talk about how this growth has changed how you interact with others and view the world around you. Emphasize how this has changed how you view and interact with the world and how it has impacted your life for the better.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 5

Your essay should have these 5 components :

  • Provide some background info about you, like who were before this accomplishment, event, or realization occurred, and exactly where you were in life. Imagine this as the ‘before’ scenario.
  • Introduce the accomplishment, event, or realization that occurred and give some details about what happened. Explain what it was about this experience that made it such a good opportunity for growth and learning.
  • Discuss what kind of growth and/or change this accomplishment, event, or realization initiated, and who you became during and after it happened (this is the ‘after’ picture you introduced in the Context section). Emphasize your emotions as much as possible as you discuss your growth and change (e.g. were you afraid? Hesitant? Excited? Inspired?) 
  • Provide some details about what you learned about yourself and others because of this accomplishment, event, or realization. Focus on 1-2 deep learning outcomes that go beyond the surface level, and emphasize how you will apply what you learned both now and in the future. 

Common App Essay Example: Prompt 5

common application essay examples prompts

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 6

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 6 

This essay prompt asks you to take any topic (simple or complex) and explain why it fascinates you. 

The possibilities for the subject of the essay are endless — it can be anything from a hobby you’re obsessed with, like surfing to fixing up old cars, to a theory you learned in science class, like evolution, or a question you always think about, like whether there’s life on other planets.

Don’t be afraid to get creative with this question. You can take a seemingly simple topic and use your creativity to make it unique and interesting . 

The point of this question is to show the reviewers who you are, what your thought processes are, what you’re interested in, what you enjoy doing, and more. The important thing isn’t so much as what you are so engaged with, but why it’s so engaging.

To communicate why this topic, concept, or idea is so engaging to you, you should use storytelling to paint a clear picture of where this interest started, how it evolved, and how it has impacted your life so much. Be as descriptive as possible when you explain the topic, concept, or idea. Imagine that you’re trying to explain this topic to a friend or family member and you want to get them as excited about it as you are by using detail and emotion . 

The final part of this essay is showing how you have evolved your exploration of this topic, concept, or idea over time. You want to show that you are open to continual learning as well as new perspectives and ideas. Emphasize how your interest in this topic has changed over time and how that has fuelled your interest in it even more.

Common App Essays Prompts – Template: Prompt 6 

  • Introduce your topic, idea, or concept, giving some helpful background information so the reviewers understand exactly what you’re talking about (What is it?; When did it start?; What’s so special about it?, Etc.). Discuss when you first became interested in this topic, idea, or concept, and what was so special about it that captivated all your time and energy. 
  • Discuss a turning point when the topic, concept, or idea began to change your life, and how this set you on a journey of self-discovery. 
  • Explain how your interest in this topic, idea, or concept has grown over time and how it influences you in your daily life. Talk about how you continue to explore this topic in your life and your interactions with others. 
  • Discuss what your exploration of this topic, concept, or idea has taught you and how it has changed you as a person. Think about who you’d be if you hadn’t become engaged in it, and how it has impacted your personal and academic life. Wrap up the essay but stating how you will continue to explore and engage with this topic, concept, or idea in the future.

Common App Essay Example: Prompt 6

common application essay examples prompts

Common App Essays Prompts and Examples: Prompt 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. 

Common App Essays Prompts – Breakdown: Prompt 7 

This is the most popular Common App essay prompt, with 24.1% of students choosing it on the 2021-2022 Common App. 

This question is probably the most popular because it allows you to use an essay you’ve already written — meaning you have to do less work. Don’t be fooled though, the app reviewers know this , so they’ll likely evaluate the essay a bit harder.  

We highly recommend that you stick with one of the other prompts if you can. 

Why? The Common App essay prompts are designed to allow you to show your personality, identity, interests, skills, and goals through storytelling. They give the app reviewers the chance to understand what makes you unique as well the lessons and experiences you’ve had so far.

Each prompt targets a different aspect of your life and personality. 

The takeaway is that the essay you already have prepared probably wasn’t written with the same goals as the Common App essays ask of students. You might have written it for a class or in your spare time, and while it might show glimpses of who you are, it’s possible that it completely misses the mark. If this is the case, the app reviewers won’t understand you fully and get a clear picture of you beyond your grades and extracurriculars, and this could hurt your chances of acceptance. 

If you do have an essay you are thinking about using for this section, we recommend that you connect with a coach to make sure it has all the components that the app reviewers are looking for. 

Get into the college of your dreams.

examples of essay prompt

Common App FAQs

You asked, and we answered! 

Here are the most frequently asked questions about the Common App . 

  • What is Common App used for?

Common App is a free application tool that’s designed to simplify the application process for first year and transfer students as they apply and get into college.

With the Common App, you only need to complete one application for multiple colleges and universities (Common App has more than 1,000 member colleges/universities around the world).

When you create your account, you can complete your application, keep track of college-specific requirements, fees, deadlines, etc. as well as sending requests for recommenders and financial aid. 

The Common App makes the process much easier by having everything you need for your applications, all in one place .   

Who uses Common App?

The Common App is used by first-year students (both domestic and international) as well as transfer students (and their recommenders ) to apply to over 1,000 member colleges and universities around the world.  

How does the Common App work?

Applicants create a Common App account and then fill out one application that can be sent to up to 20 colleges and/or universities . 

Each application includes 7 sections : Profile, Family, Education, Testing, Writing (Personal Essay and Additional Information), and Courses and Grades ( see the section above for a full breakdown of each ). 

Once you submit the Common App (and any other college-specific requirements like writing supplements or recommendations), each college/university assesses the application individually and makes their admission decision. 

When do I apply for Common App? 

The 2023-2024 Common App opens on August 1, 2023 . 

You must submit the Common Application before the deadline of the college/university you’re applying to (and whether you are applying for early admission or regular admission). 

You can search for each school’s app deadlines by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.

Is the Common App required when applying to college?

The Common App is designed to help make the admissions process easier, but it isn’t required when applying to college and/or university . 

There are other platforms available (such as the Coalition Application or the Universal Application) and most schools allow students to apply directly through their websites or unique application system. 

Check the requirements of the specific program you’re applying to and make sure you have all the application requirements covered.

Is the Common App worth it?

You might be wondering exactly why colleges and universities ask prospective students to complete the Common App. Trust us, it’s definitely worth the time .

Why? Apart from making the process easier by requiring one application for all the schools you’re applying to (plus any additional requirements or writing supplements), the Common App allows app reviewers to get to know you on a deeper, more personal level beyond your courses, grades and test scores. 

If you spend the time writing a unique and memorable Common App, you can make your application more competitive and increase your chances of getting into your top choice college/university — and your future is definitely worth the extra effort !

How long do Common Apps take?

While there’s no exact amount of time to complete the Common App, you should give yourself about 4 weeks for the whole process (brainstorm, write, proofread, final review, and submit). 

This is definitely an application you do not want to rush! Take your time and we promise it will pay off.

How many schools can you apply to on Common App? 

Common App allows students to add up to 20 colleges from one account.  

Do all colleges use and accept the Common Application? 

College App has over 1,000 partner colleges and universities around the world, including 60+ international universities and 250+ public colleges and universities. 

Not all colleges accept the Common Application. Around 600+ out of 2,400 colleges in the United States use Common App.

How much is the Common App?

Common App is free. However, each school has its own application fee , so be sure to do your research before applying. 

Almost half of Common App member schools don’t charge an app fee , and others offer a fee waiver for those who qualify. 

You can find each school’s application fee by going to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and clicking the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list.

Do I need a recommendation for all schools or just some?

Whether or not you need a recommendation letter depends on the individual school you’re applying to . The type of recommendation letter (e.g. counselor recommendation, teacher recommendation, other type of recommendation, etc.) also varies from school to school.

Some schools require a recommender, others don’t, and for others it’s optional. 

You can ask your teacher, counselor, etc. to write one letter of recommendation , and you can send this same letter to all the schools you’re applying to. 

Make sure you check each school’s requirements (go to the ‘Dashboard’ tab on your account and click the ‘Application Requirements’ button to see the requirements for each of the colleges you’ve added to your My Colleges list).

How do I send a Common App recommendation?

Once you’ve created your Common App account, you can add recommenders to your application by clicking on the ‘My Colleges’ tab and then clicking on the name of the college on the left side of the page. There, you’ll see “Recommenders and FERPA” in the dropdown menu. 

Then, sign the release form and click the “Invite Recommenders” button. Common App will email your recommender with instructions on how to complete their letter for you. 

Invite a recommender for every school you want to send a letter to. The recommender’s letter will be sent directly to the school.

How do I submit the Common App? 

Here’s a breakdown of how to complete your Common App, so you can make sure you don’t miss anything. If you have any questions about this process, connect with a coach anytime for support.

Step 1 : Create a Common App Account by clicking here . Then, select what type of applicant you are (first year, transfer, education professional, or parent) and insert your email, create a password, and then fill out the information it asks (name, birthday, etc.).

Step 2 : Once you log in, click on the ‘College Search’ tab at the top of the page and type in each college you plan on applying to. Click the + (add) button for each one. These will appear in the ‘My Colleges’ tab at the top of the page when you’re done. Explore colleges here .

At the top right corner of the ‘College Search’ page, you will see a button for ‘Application Requirements’. Here, you can type in each college you want to apply to, and then get a quick snapshot of the specific deadlines, fees, Common App requirements (like if you need a Personal Essay), standardized tests, etc. If you want a more detailed breakdown for each college, go to ‘My Colleges’ and click on the specific college you’re looking for. 

Step 3 : When you’ve completed your college list, click on the ‘Common App’ tab and complete all this information (keep reading for a detailed breakdown of each section of the app). 

Step 4 : Complete the Common App question, including the Personal Essay from the list of Common App essay prompts. 

Step 5 : Check and see whether the colleges you’re applying to have any other writing requirements or supplements. If they do, make sure to complete those as well.

Step 6 : Review your entire application.

Step 7 : Pay the fee (if applicable) and submit the application.

REMEMBER : The above steps are for first year applicants . If you’re a transfer student, learn more about the application and how to submit it here . If you’re an international student, learn how to complete and submit your application here .

How many Common App essays are required for 2023-2024?

You must write an essay on ONE out of the 7 Common App essay prompts.  

Before getting started on your essay, check out the essay prompts, breakdowns, templates, and examples we provided earlier on in this guide to learn how to write a memorable and unique essay.

What Common App essay should I choose?

A lot of students ask our Youth Coaches which Common App essay they should write . 

With 7 prompts, it can be super tough to choose, especially when there is more than one you know you could write a really strong essay for. 

As a first step, we always tell our students to read through all the questions at once. Is there a question that sticks out to you right away? If not, go through each and make some quick bullet points under each one.

When thinking about what prompt to choose, ask yourself these questions: 

  • What aspects of my personality do I want to highlight in my application?
  • What are the top 3 things I want to showcase about myself in this application? Which prompt can help me do that?
  • What is the thing that makes me most unique? Which prompt will give me the chance to talk about this more and differentiate myself from other applicants?
  • Will this question paint a clear picture of who I am, and my experiences, skills, values, and goals? 
  • Do I have a specific experience, interest, belief, hobby, etc. that fits in perfectly with one of the prompts? 
  • Have I learned something about myself recently that has changed my outlook on life? Which prompt will allow me to talk about this more?
  • Is there something about myself that I feel I haven’t discussed enough in the other parts of my application? Which prompt will help me highlight that specific thing in my Personal Essay?

If you need help deciding which prompt to choose, remember that our Youth Coaches are always here to help !

Which Common App prompt is most popular?

According to Common App, 68.9% of students pick 1 of 3 Common App essay prompts . 

The most popular is Prompt #7 (“Share an essay on any topic of your choice…”), with 24.1% of students choosing it on the 2021-2022 Common App. 

Followed up Prompt #5 (“Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself and others”) with 23.7% . In third is Prompt #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?) with 21.1% of applicants picking it. 

common application essay examples prompts

Prompt #7 is probably the most popular because it allows you to use an essay you’ve already written — meaning you have to do less work. Don’t be fooled though, the app reviewers know this , so they’ll probably evaluate the essay a bit harder.  

But remember, just because these three prompts are the most popular DOESN’T mean you have to choose one of them. 

In fact, if you can create a well written, unique, and compelling essay on one of the other 3 essay prompts , it might actually help your chances of standing out from almost 70% of applicants (and increase your chances of admission success ). Sometimes it pays to go against the crowd. 🙂

How long is the Common App essay?

The Common App essay has a limit of 650 words , and must be at least 250 words . 

This isn’t very much space, so you should focus on being as clear and concise as possible and cut out repetitive or necessary sentences during the editing process. Check out our templates and examples above to help you write a memorable and unique essay.

Do Common App prompts change?

The Common App essay prompts are very similar year to year , except for a couple changes here and there. 

For example, in the 2021-2022 Common App, there was only one prompt that changed from the 2020-2021 Common App (Prompt #4, “Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?”). 

The 2023-2024 Common App essay prompts are the same as the 2021-2022 application.

How to complete the Common App activities section?

The Activities section of the Common App allows you to tell the app reviewers more about you beyond your courses and grades . 

Here, you can discuss any activities you participate in outside of the classroom, like clubs, community involvement, hobbies, sports, work, volunteering, hobbies, and more. 

These will all help give a better sense about what’s important to you , what you’re interested in , and how you’re building important skills like communication, teamwork, leadership, problem solving, etc.

You can include up to 10 activities in this section. 

To complete the Common App activities section, go to the ‘Common App’ tab on your Dashboard, and click the ‘Activities’ section on the left side.

The form will ask: “Do you have any activities that you wish to report?”. Answer ‘Yes’.

You will be asked for the following information for each activity :

  • Activity Type: Academic, Art, Career Oriented, etc. Choose the one that is most applicable to the specific activity.
  • Position Description : List your role and responsibilities (max 50 characters)
  • Organization Name (max 100 characters)
  • Activity Description: Focus on quantifiable accomplishments, like awards you received, money earned, people you managed, hours worked, etc. (max 150 characters)
  • Participation Grade Levels : From grades 9-12 or after you graduated high school 
  • Timing of Participation : When you took part in this activity (during the school year, during break, or all year).
  • Hours spent per week
  • Weeks spent per year  
  • Whether you intend to continue this activity in college  

Access our template.

Here’s an example of what this section might look like:

common application essay examples prompts

You’ve Got a Dedicated Coach in Your Corner

For over a decade, we have worked with thousands of students to help them achieve more than they ever thought possible. 

Our coaches have a strong success rate supporting students as they complete the Common App and get into their top universities and colleges. 

Our 1-on-1 Youth Coaching fills that gap that most high schools miss. We can help you build self-awareness through probing questions and assessments, set bigger goals to elevate your extracurriculars and future career plans, and improve skills that matter on supplementary applications, such as interviewing, written communication, critical thinking, and creativity. 

We use a coaching methodology, called ‘full student’ development, that’s been proven to increase your chances of admission to top-tier universities and obtaining competitive jobs/internships. 

So, what are you waiting for? Fulfill your post-secondary potential with the mentorship and coaching you’ve always wanted!

IMPORTANT : Want to share information and/or images from this resource on your own website, blog, article, etc.? Please ensure you reference content of any kind published by Youthfully Inc., in whole or in part, using the following statement: (1) Our Organization (Youthfully Inc.); (2) The title of our content/resource; and (3) the URL to our webpage where the content was originally posted. For example: “Sourced from: Youthfully Inc., ‘Common Application Essay Prompt Examples & Templates”, https://youthfully.ca/common-application-essay-prompts-examples.” Not doing so is an infringement of copyright and is illegal. We spend significant time developing resources for students, so please take a few seconds to ensure they are referenced properly. DISCLAIMER : While the information in this blog is considered to be true and correct at the date of publication, and although our team makes every attempt to ensure that the information is accurate and vetted by university staff, Youthfully is not in any way liable for the accuracy of any information printed and stored or in any way interpreted and used by a user.

Admissions-Consulting-Canada-Supplementary-Application-Guidance-Acceptance-Rate-Rotman-Commerce-York-Schulich-Queens-Commerce-Queens-Health-Science-McMaster-BHSc-Waterloo-Engineering-UBC-Sauder-Commerce-Western-Ivey-HBA-AEO-Youthfully

Youthfully is the world's most comprehensive admissions, career, and educational guidance platform. We empower students to unlock their full potential through a holistic, highly personalized coaching approach.

Common App - Overview

  • What is Common App?
  • Recommenders
  • App Components

Essay Prompts & Examples

  • Prompt 1 - Unique Identity
  • Prompt 2 - Conflict & Setbacks
  • Prompt 3 - Challenge a Belief
  • Prompt 4 - Act of Kindness
  • Prompt 5 - Personal Growth
  • Prompt 6 - Captivating Topic
  • Prompt 7 - Other Essay
  • Who uses it?
  • How does it work?
  • When do I apply?
  • Is it required when applying to college?
  • Is it worth it?
  • How long does it take?
  • How many schools can I apply for?
  • Do all colleges use and accept it?
  • How much is it?
  • Do I need recommendations?
  • How do I send recommendations?
  • How do I submit it?
  • How many essays do I have to write?
  • Which essay prompt do I choose?
  • Which prompt is most popular?
  • How long is the essay?
  • Do prompts change?
  • How to complete the Activities section?

Get 1-on-1 Support

  • Connect with a Coach

Achieve Your Goals

1-on-1 youth coaching for students, youthfully inc..

5020 17 St SW Calgary, AB Canada T2T 6X2

examples of essay prompt

All we need is your email.

We’ll send you free access to the entire course immediately.

We use cookies (yummy!) to optimize your Youthfully experience.

162 Persuasive Writing Prompts & Topics: Examples & Tips

examples of essay prompt

Writing a persuasive essay can be a challenging task. While it is excellent for improving a student’s critical thinking and rhetoric skills, coming up with a good topic might be difficult.

The easiest way to kickstart the writing process is to find persuasive writing prompts. Are you passionate about some controversial issue? Want to express your opinion? A prompt will help you to start thinking about it critically. It may contain a set of questions or a brief guideline for your discussion.

Our team will help you!

There is plenty of persuasive writing prompts for high school and college that deserve attention. So, we’ve prepared a list of such. Once you choose one to your liking, remember to read a prompt thoroughly. The controversy of an issue is usually apparent. It is crucial to find a prompt that states the main aspects of the topic clearly.

Believe us—writing a persuasive essay is elementary with prompts at your disposal!

  • 🤷 Writing with Prompts
  • 💡 How to Write?
  • ⭐ 12 Best Prompts
  • 🧒 Elementary School
  • 🎒 Middle School
  • 🖊️ High School
  • 🌊 Environment
  • 🕹️ Video Games
  • 🔌 Technology

🤷 Persuasive Writing with Prompts

Before we dive into the prompts, let’s answer a few vital questions.

What is a persuasive essay?

A persuasive essay is a type of academic writing where you try to persuade your reader using arguments and supporting evidence. You provide facts and examples that explain why your position is the correct one. Describe the issue in the introduction, and express your stance on it in your thesis statement.

Remember to include the other side of the argument in your essay. It is essential to consider different perspectives on the problem. You can find numerous examples of persuasive papers in a free essay database . Not only will it serve as a sample, but can act as a source of writing prompts, too.

What is a writing prompt?

A writing prompt is a short passage that describes an idea for an essay, report, article, or some other piece of writing. It can be as short as one sentence, although it is usually more elaborate.

Some prompts can be presented in the form of an image. The most crucial thing is that they give a clear understanding of the topic.

Re-read the writing prompt when to ensure that you should write a persuasive essay.

How does a persuasive writing prompt look like?

The main goal of persuasive writing is to convince the reader that your side of an argument is the most legitimate one. Unlike in expository or descriptive writing, persuasive essay prompts express the duality of a dispute.

Persuasive letter prompts should be pertinent to the audience’s concerns. A prompt should ultimately convey your stance on the subject. Use words like convince , persuade , and why . Avoid using how in a persuasive essay prompt as it distracts from the purpose of such writing.

💡 How to Write a Persuasive Essay Using a Prompt?

Persuasive writing prompts help produce a good quality essay. Here is a list of things you should do to write an essay using a prompt:

  • Read it and learn what issue the prompt states. What should you elaborate on? Look out for words that you find especially important or problematic.
  • Understand what the prompt wants you to do. See whether you should discuss causes and effects or your opinion. In the case of persuasive writing prompt, it asks you to convince your reader in something. In what? Should you discuss both sides of an argument or state your opinion immediately?
  • Divide the prompt. Look deeper into what it’s saying. Write down your initial thoughts on the subject.
  • Compose a thesis statement . Outline the question or the situation the prompt states and elaborate on it in one topic sentence.
  • Write arguments and supporting evidence. Dedicate one body paragraph to describing the opposing argument. Remember to use transition words to ensure good writing flow.
  • Revise if you have time for it. Check with the prompt not to miss anything. That’s why writing drafts is always a good idea. This way, you can change your text without making a mess out of your paper.

⭐ 12 Persuasive Writing Prompts for High School

  • Cooking as art — a delicate craft.
  • 4-Day work week.
  • Facebook vs. Instagram: visual design.
  • Winter holidays — a time for friends.
  • Is living in a village stressful?
  • Beef production.
  • Is kindergarten education importnat?
  • Hobby as a job is a bad idea.
  • High school students and independence.
  • Allowance for kids: how much?
  • Reptiles as pets — a lifelong commitment.
  • Outside classes and fresh air benefits.

✔ 50 Persuasive Essay Writing Prompts

If you have trouble coming up with ideas for writing a persuasive essay, here is our prompts list. Whether you’re in school or college, we’re sure here you’ll find a topic that interests you!

Ask someone to proofread your persuasive essay.

🧒 Persuasive Writing Prompts for Elementary Students

  • Your parents should go to bed at 9 pm every day. They say that it’s your time to fall asleep, but why? This way, they get to have a good night’s rest to feel energized the next morning. And your parents need it as their jobs are tedious and stressful. While you would like to have more spare time before going to bed. Persuade your parents that going to bed at 9 pm is perfect for them, not for you.
  • We should stop wearing a uniform to school. If not every day, at least once a week, students should be allowed to wear casual clothes to school. Discuss why it is a fun and useful initiative.
  • You need to move to another country for a year. Explain why you think that studying abroad is essential for you. Which country would you pick and why? Discuss what made you choose this country.
  • Every child needs a pet. Some parents don’t allow animals at home. Explain why it is vital to have a pet in a family. Convince that a pet of your choice is the perfect option for any kid.
  • Pupils should select their seats in the class . Your teacher always tells you where to sit in class. Would it be better if you get to pick your place? What is your opinion on that?
  • Playing music is an educating activity that is crucial for child development. What musical instrument is the most fun to play? Convince your reader that the music instrument of your choice is the best one.
  • The summer break has to be longer. Do you believe the summer holidays are long or short? Is it enough for you to get rest and find the strength to start a new term? Convince your reader that your point of view is the right one.
  • The ability to read people’s minds in both the worst and best superpower. Imagine that you get to have this superpower. What are its advantages and disadvantages? When can you use it? Is it ethical? Discuss your opinion in your essay.
  • Pupils should select their tutors. In school, you don’t get to choose your teacher. Would it be better if you could? Can students change teachers based on their personal preferences? Discuss why or why not.
  • We should manage our budget from an early age. Do your parents give you pocket money? Well, they’re better to start. Some parents think they should give their kids pocket money even if they misbehaved. Others wouldn’t give allowance to their children if they did something wrong. What position do you think is fairer, and why?

Giving a set budget for a specific task teaches teenagers responsibility.

🎒 Persuasive Writing Prompts for Middle School Students

  • Tutors should wear uniforms to schools, just like students do. Imagine there is an initiative that wants teachers to do so. Some people believe it is a sign of equality and professional attire. Others think that just a formal dress code is enough. What is your opinion on this?
  • Every school has to initiate school trips. Some individuals think they are disruptive to the study process. Other people claim that such trips unite students and are an essential part of education. What do you think? Explain your point of view and why it is the right one.
  • Students should learn from famous people from time to time. There is an opportunity for one famous person to come to your school with a motivational speech. Who would you want to come, and why? Discuss why your school can benefit if a celebrity of your choice gives a speech there.,
  • Single-sex schools are better than mixed ones. Do you agree or disagree? Why or why not? Talk about your point of view using convincing argumentation.
  • Some individuals should lack money. What’s better: enough money to get by or too much money and more problems? Some think that too much money makes you forget about more straightforward and essential things in life. Yes, cash gives more opportunities, but people tend to strive for more money than necessary. What’s the point of millionaires in the 21st century? What is your opinion on this?
  • Fast food damages children’s health and should be excluded from the school meal plan. Do you agree or disagree? What are some benefits of having fast food as a meal option at school? Discuss which opinion is more legitimate.
  • Educational institutions have to support the arts and sciences more. Imagine there is a new building opening up in your school. The school administration hasn’t decided what is going to be there. It could be an art studio, a new sports center, or a computer class. Explain why it should belong to the arts and sciences. Talk about how such disciplines motivate students to evolve.
  • We should study for four days a week. There is a law that considers implementing a more extended weekend. Do you think three days would be too much? Why or why not? Support your point of view with thoughtful arguments.

25 US states have at least one district using a four-day school week.

  • Teachers should be required to turn off their mobiles during the classes. You can’t use your phone during the course (or at school). It’s a law in various educational institutions and for obvious reasons. Should teachers be prohibited from using their phones as well? Is it fair?
  • It is better to have PE lessons as the first classes of the day. Some people think it is an excellent way to kickstart the day. Others believe that students will be physically tired to carry on with other classes. Which opinion is the right one?
  • Plagiarism and cheating should be punished more strictly. Copying others’ works or using crib notes in class is strictly prohibited, yet it happens. Should schools implement more measures to ensure there is no cheating? How can they work?
  • Students should select their courses according to their performance. Some people are better at science, while others excel at arts. Would it be better if we were allowed only to study things we are naturally good at? Why or why not? Convince your reader that your opinion is valid.
  • You shouldn’t eat in class. Teachers generally think that it interrupts the lesson and distracts other students. At the same time, eating a snack can help you concentrate better and stay energized. Discuss your opinion on this in your essay.
  • There should be mixed sports teams at school. Girls often like to play the same sports as boys. Should schools let them play in the same groups? Why or why not? Support your opinion with argumentation.
  • Teachers should treat every student equally. It seems like an obvious thing, but the reality is often different. What would you do to make sure everyone is respected? Why?

🖊 Persuasive Writing Prompts for High School Students

  • In the US, the 18-year-olds should be allowed to drink alcohol. In the country, driving is permitted after age 16, while drinking becomes legal after 21. How fair are these age thresholds? Statistics show that countries with integrated drinking culture (like France or Italy) have lower alcoholism rates. Would it be better to bring the legal drinking age down to 18? Discuss why or why not, using supportive argumentation.
  • The “book of your choice” is fantastic, and here is why. Write a persuasive essay explaining why your favorite book deserves attention. Convince your audience it is worth reading it.
  • Time management skill is vital for a successful adult life. It’s what you acquire in school and use for a job. Why is being organized so important? And why should you learn this already in school? Talk about your opinion on this subject.
  • What’s more important in school – discipline or an ability to self-express? Some think that you come to school to get knowledge and acquire social skills. However, some students thrive in a less harsh environment. Discuss your point of view and why it is valid.
  • Educational institutions should implement anti-bullying policies. School authorities should intervene if a student is bullied by other students, even outside of school. Do you agree or disagree? Convince your reader that your opinion is the most legitimate.

The definition of bullying includes three characteristics.

  • Parents shouldn’t raise their children the same way they’ve been raised. Some people think there are universal values and principles that parents should teach their kids. While this is true, times change tremendously as generations grow up. What do you think is more just? Discuss your point of view in your essay.
  • Your neighborhood requires a renovation. Imagine city authorities are planning on improving your area. What would you change in particular, and why? Write an essay using the appropriate argumentation.
  • The importance of community is overrated. Some people are naturally more outgoing and thrive in such environments. Others often feel pressured and may feel out of place. Talk about your opinion on that subject.
  • Are fictional books useless? Some people believe fiction improves imagination and teaches empathy. Others consider it a waste of time since there is no actual value in it. Which stance is more valid?
  • Life is fair because it is unfair to everyone. Do you think this statement is true? Discuss the issue of class privilege. Do you think modern society gives everyone equal opportunities? Why or why not?
  • Community service should be mandatory for high school students. Do you agree or disagree? What kind of activities would be included? Discuss your point of view in your essay.
  • Classic literature should be an integral part of the high school curriculum. Should students be required to read old texts like Homer’s Odyssey or Shakespeare’s tragedies? Why or why not?
  • You can make a career out of a hobby. True or not? Pick your side of an argument and convince a reader it’s valid.
  • It would be better if all countries in the world switched to one currency. There are many aspects to consider when talking about this argument. Which side of it would you support? Why?
  • Safety on school property should be a primary concern. Some institutions offer inefficient security services, which can result in tragedies. They may lack funds to ensure their students are safe. Should the government prioritize these issues? Discuss your opinion on this.

🎓 Persuasive Writing Prompts for College Students

  • Abortions should be legal in all US states. Some religious communities are vehemently opposed to abortions. People with more liberal beliefs claim that it should be a mother’s personal choice. Discuss your opinion in an essay.
  • The military should be voluntary. Military service is a civic duty is some countries. Should it be obligatory everywhere? Why or why not? Persuade your reader that your opinion is the most legitimate.
  • Veganism and vegetarianism should become a new norm. They start to gain popularity in Western society. Some people consider it beneficial for health and the environment. Others switch to these diets because good meat is often too pricey. What are the real advantages? Or are they a myth? Discuss your opinion.
  • The education system in the Western world has become outdated. Do you agree or disagree? What should be changed to make it more suitable for modern times?
  • Your parents shouldn’t be your buddies. What’s better: a parent who is your mentor or best friend? Choose your stance on the subject and defend it using appropriate reasoning.
  • Soft skills are more important than hard skills. It is thought that employers often prioritize your personal skills over professional ones at first. Do you think this is the right position? Express your opinion and support it with facts.

Technical skills alone are not enough to be truly effective.

  • Social media is a major frustrating factor in the lives of many people. Have you ever gotten FOMO looking at other’s picture-perfect lives? Why is it so easy to succumb to this illusion of ideal life? Discuss your opinion on the subject and support your point of view with pertinent facts.
  • Democracy has proven to be the most sustainable governmental form. Do you agree or disagree with this statement? Express your opinion and use relevant argumentation in your essay.
  • United Nations have become inefficient over time. There is an opinion that the UN does not function properly anymore. Would you agree with this statement?
  • Are genderless pronouns a good idea? They have become a crucial tool for transgender and genderfluid people to express their identity. Or does society overthink about words instead of actions? Do you agree or disagree?

💯 Persuasive Essay Writing Topics

If you feel more confident and inspired after reading our prompts list, check out some persuasive writing topics!

🎤 Persuasive writing: Music

  • Hip-hop music objectifies women .
  • Jazz does not exist anymore.
  • Music festivals involve too many drugs.
  • Classical music is the most sophisticated genre.
  • The music culture of other societies does not get enough attention because of Western dominance .
  • Musical therapy is not efficient.
  • Patriotic songs can have a stimulating effect on people.
  • Listening to music can increase one’s productivity.
  • Anyone can learn how to sing.
  • Humanity cannot imagine itself without the art of music.
  • Music is the most influential form of art.
  • Rap should be considered a form of poetry .
  • Jazz sounds the best at a live concert .
  • A piano is the best musical instrument.
  • All children should have musical training at school.
  • Music can unite people from all over the world.
  • Specific lyrics can trigger aggression in people.
  • Queen is the most influential band in Western history.
  • To some extent, all music reflects a creator’s personal experience.
  • Is the bell ringer a musician?

🦙 Persuasive Writing: Animals

  • Wild animals should not be kept in a zoo.
  • Animal fights should be illegal.

Three most common types of animal fighting in the US.

  • Hybrid animals are unnatural.
  • Agricultural production puts endangered species at more significant risk .
  • Slaughtering farm animals for food does not justify their killing .
  • Animal hunts should be illegal everywhere.
  • There is no better alternative than animal experimentation for some medicine.
  • Exotic animals should not be kept as pets.
  • Animals should not be treated as objects—they are meant to cohabitate with humans .
  • Cow milk is terrible for human health.
  • Dolphins are the most intelligent animals.
  • Using animals for medical research is unethical.
  • There are better alternatives than cosmetic testing on animals .
  • Poaching has multiple adverse effects on the economy.
  • Farming is a form of animal abuse .
  • Zoos can help in preserving endangered animals.
  • All makeup brands should switch to cruelty-free policies.
  • The use of elephants in the entertainment industry can lead to their extinction .
  • Children should be taught how to treat animals.
  • A dog is the best animal companion for a human.

🌊 Persuasive Writing: Environment

  • Governments should advocate for the use of renewable energy sources.
  • Garbage recycling should be obligatory.
  • Humanity should take rainforest conservation more seriously.
  • Urban areas should implement environment-friendly design and policies .
  • There is a connection between waste management and global warming.

Fuel buyers in the United States could be convinced to buy back their carbon.

  • If proper measures are not taken, the loss of biodiversity in coral reefs will be devastating .
  • Greta Thunberg is the voice of her generation . The girl’s letter to the UN was one of the most discussed events of 2019. Talk about why her call to enhance environmental protection is more than timely.
  • Sustainable clothing is the best fashion trend in 2023.
  • Poor farming technologies accelerate climate change .
  • Water pollution will soon become a more significant issue than air pollution.
  • Environmental conservation is an essential element of economic growth in developing countries .
  • First-world countries should implement a carbon tax.
  • It is impossible to decrease environmental pollution without severe damage to the world’s economy .
  • Weather forecasts are too inaccurate.
  • Climate change trends have made the risk of natural disasters worse.

🌽 Persuasive writing: Food

  • Parents in America should take better care of their children’s diets . Childhood obesity is a growing concern in the US.
  • Healthy eating is more important than exercise.
  • Overeating junk food affects mental health.
  • Restaurants should be transparent about the nutritional value of the food they serve.
  • There is no harm in consuming GMOs .
  • Addiction to sugar can be worse than drug addiction.
  • The fast-food industry isn’t entirely responsible for consumers’ health . It is up to every individual to take care of their diet.
  • Food is not just fuel; it’s a leisure experience .
  • Schools must provide students with healthy food options.
  • Intuitive eating is the best diet.
  • The downsides of sugar substitutes aren’t thoroughly researched .
  • Being underweight is more dangerous than being overweight.
  • Social and psychological factors have a notable role in obesity development .
  • Eating meat is bad for health.
  • Food supplements are harmful.

🕹 Persuasive Writing: Video Games

  • Violence in video games causes behavioral problems in kids .
  • Board games will never go out of fashion.
  • Playing computer games can develop one’s cognitive skills .
  • Game addiction is a more prominent concern than most of us realize.
  • Virtual reality can disrupt one’s social skills .
  • Children should have limited access to certain video games.

The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests the time for video games should be limited.

  • There is no place for gaming in education.
  • Certain video games can be beneficial for human health and brains.
  • Hunger Games should not have been turned into a franchise.
  • Gaming will become the most popular leisure activity in 30 years.
  • You can earn a fortune by playing online games.
  • Video games have multiple adverse effects on children .
  • Gaming is just a way to escape reality.
  • First-person shooter games improve one’s reaction and reflexes.
  • Playing video games too much affects one’s academic and life performance.

🔌 Persuasive Writing: Technology

  • Siri is the best example of publicly available Artificial intelligence .
  • Computer science classes at school should incorporate beginner-level software engineering.
  • Internet is humanity’s greatest invention.
  • E-learning in medicine is still too expensive .
  • Nowadays, nobody’s personal data is protected.
  • If World War III happens, it will be a war of modern technology and information, not nuclear power.
  • Genetically modified organisms are science’s big mistake.
  • Cloning should be illegal.
  • Cell phone addiction will soon become humanity’s worst challenge.
  • Cyberbullying leads to drug and alcohol abuse among the youth .
  • Robots will never be able to replace humans .
  • Technology can help individuals with learning disabilities .

Assistive technology is available to help individuals with many types of disabilities.

  • Drones are an invasion of privacy and should be illegal.
  • Apple is the best technology brand on the market.
  • Data mining is an essential part of every company’s marketing strategy .

Thank you for reading the article! Leave a comment below to let us know what you think. Share the page with friends who may find the persuasive writing prompts and topics useful.

🔗 References

  • 15 Awesome Persuasive Writing Prompts: Thoughtful Learning, K-12
  • 200 Prompts for Argumentative Writing: Michael Gonchar, The New York Times
  • English II Persuasive Essay [10th grade]: Brianna Johnson, Trinity College
  • Writing Prompt (Composition): Richard Nordquist, ThoughtCo
  • What Is a Writing Prompt: Karen Frazier, LoveToKnow
  • What Makes a Great Writing Prompt: Laura Davis, Kripalu
  • Writing Prompts for Middle School: Holt McDougal Online
  • Persuasive Essay Outline: Houston Community College Learning Web
  • Tips To Write An Effective Persuasive Essay: Melissa Burns, The College Puzzle
  • Counterargument: Gordon Harvey for the Writing Center at Harvard University
  • Persuasive Essay: EssayInfo, Writing Guides
  • Ten Timeless Persuasive Writing Techniques: Brian Clark, CopyBlogger
  • 31 Powerful Persuasive Writing Techniques: Karri Stover, Writtent
  • A CS Research Topic Generator or How To pick A Worthy Topic In 10 Seconds: Department of Computer Science, Purdue University
  • Share via Facebook
  • Share via Twitter
  • Share via LinkedIn
  • Share via email

What are your chances of acceptance?

Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.

Duke University

Your chancing factors

Extracurriculars.

examples of essay prompt

How to Write Common App Essay Prompt #1

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Hale Jaeger in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.

What’s Covered:

What is prompt #1, how to highlight your background.

  • Prompt #1 Essay Examples and Tips

How to Perfect Your Prompt #1 Essay

The Common App system allows applicants to choose one of seven different prompts for their personal statement. The essay you write should be under 650 words, and it should creatively tell the admissions committee about who you are as a person. This article will guide you through crafting a response to the first Common App prompt, which is the following: 

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.

You’ll notice that there’s no direct question here. It’s asking you to share your story, and that story should relate to your unique background, identity, interest, or talent that you find meaningful. 

This prompt allows you to craft a narrative that displays personal growth in your chosen area. Sharing your story in an essay that displays your personality or a unique interest can be attention grabbing, particularly if you have an unconventional passion like blogging about Chinese basketball or unicycling. 

As an example of a topic, let’s say that a student wrote about how their mother was a henna tattoo artist. They could explain how they learned their own style of henna tattoo design by embracing what their mother taught them and then tweaking it to make it their own. Here we can see the theme of self-exploration. Indeed, any passion that isn’t on your resume or activities list can really give some insight into who you are and what makes you tick. Instead of trying to impress readers by making up unusual or shocking things, think about how you spend your free time. Ask yourself why you spend it that way and how your upbringing, your identity, and your life experiences have shaped who you are. 

Background is the central theme behind any response to prompt #1. The background that you have can include long-term interactions with art or music, sciences, sports, writing, and many other learned skills. It also includes your social environments and how they’ve influenced you. In addition, you can highlight intersections between multiple parts of your background or multiple backgrounds in general, and you can show how each one is essential to you.

Prompt #1 Essay Examples and Tips 

Include an anecdote.

Let’s look at an essay example that shows how to talk about your background. In this essay, the author tells the story of how growing up in a poor Vietnamese immigrant family inspired her to seize big opportunities, even if they were a little risky or challenging. She focused her story on the emotional demands of opening and running a family grocery store:

An opportunity knocked on my parents’ door. A grocery store in the town of Dennis Mississippi was up for rent. My parents took the chance, risking all of their savings. And on the first day, the business brought in exactly $20. My mother and my father wept after they closed the shop, seeing the business as a failure. My mom commenced packing that night. Returning to Vietnam seemed inevitable. The next business day, however, sales increased tenfold.

More and more customers came each successive day. And my mom’s tears turned into more tears, but they were tears of joy. My mother unpacked a bag each night. 15 years later, my parents now own Blue Ravine Grocery. My parents work, work, work to keep the shelves stocked, and the customers kept coming. The grocery store holds a special place in my heart. It’s the catalyst for my success.

So when the opportunity to attend the Mississippi school for mathematics and science presented itself, I took it and ran as my parents did by leaving Vietnam and by buying the store. Although the opportunities that my parents and I pursued are quite different, our journey is the same. We walk a road paved with uncertainty and doubt with the prospect of success fortified by our hearts and our hands. 

This excerpt does several things well. Perhaps most importantly, it opens with an anecdote and it closes with reflection. That’s what your essay should do in the aggregate. 

One thing to bring your attention to here is that the essay opens on a story about the author’s parents. You want to make sure that if you’re going to use this kind of narrative that you make the essay about you as much as possible. You have to show how you are going to be interacting with each character and how it paves the way for your background.

Focus on Your Identity

Moving on from background, you can also talk about your racial identity, ethnic identity, sexual orientation, gender, or simply your place within a specific community for this essay. Even communities as unique as players of World of Warcraft can make for great essay topics.

In addition, you have to make sure that you explain context well if you’re talking about any sort of more insular community, whether that’s one related to where you grew up or a small culture you are a part of. Otherwise, it can be difficult for a reader who’s not part of that community to understand the messages and the lessons that you’re trying to impart. 

Alternatively, focusing on a dominant personality trait can also make for a compelling theme. For example, if you are extremely outgoing, you could explain how your adventurousness has allowed you to learn from a diverse group of friends and the random situations you find yourself in.

One important thing to note is that the topic of identity can easily lack originality. If you cover a common experience, like feeling divided between cultures, your essay might not stand out . That’s simply because the admissions officers reading these essays have seen some version of these essays many times, so striking a unique chord is going to be more difficult.

If such experiences were super integral to who you are and you must write about them, you should. You shouldn’t feel that you can’t, but you should be sure to show your unique introspection and reflection. Ask yourself why your topic is unique to you. Here is an essay example that talks about identity in a creative and insightful way: 

Growing up, I always wanted to eat, play, visit, watch, and be it all: sloppy joes and spaetzle, Beanie Babies and Steiff, Cape Cod and the Baltic Sea, football and fussball, American and German.

My American parents relocated our young family to Berlin when I was three years old. My exposure to America was limited to holidays spent stateside and awfully dubbed Disney Channel broadcasts. As the few memories I had of living in the US faded, my affinity for Germany grew. I began to identify as “Germerican,” an ideal marriage of the two cultures. As a child, I viewed my biculturalism as a blessing. I possessed a native fluency in “Denglisch” and my family’s Halloween parties were legendary at a time when the holiday was just starting to gain popularity outside of the American Sector.

Insidiously, the magic I once felt in loving two homes was replaced by a deep-­rooted sense of rootlessness. I stopped feeling American when, while discussing World War II with my grandmother, I said “the US won.” She corrected me, insisting I use “we” when referring to the US’s actions. Before then, I hadn’t realized how directly people associated themselves with their countries. I stopped feeling German during the World Cup when my friends labeled me a “bandwagon fan” for rooting for Germany. Until that moment, my cheers had felt sincere. I wasn’t part of the “we” who won World Wars or World Cups. Caught in a twilight of foreign and familiar, I felt emotionally and psychologically disconnected from the two cultures most familiar to me.

After moving from Berlin to New York at age fifteen, my feelings of cultural homelessness thrived in my new environment. Looking and sounding American furthered my feelings of dislocation. Border patrol agents, teachers, classmates, neighbors, and relatives all “welcomed me home” to a land they could not understand was foreign to me. Americans confused me as I relied on Urban Dictionary to understand my peers, the Pledge of Allegiance seemed nationalistic, and the only thing familiar about Fahrenheit was the German after whom it was named. Too German for America and too American for Germany, I felt alienated from both. I desperately wanted to be a member of one, if not both, cultures.

During my first weeks in Scarsdale, I spent my free time googling “Berlin Family Seeks Teen” and “New Americans in Scarsdale.” The latter search proved most fruitful: I discovered Horizons, a nonprofit that empowers resettled refugees, or “New Americans,” to thrive. I started volunteering with Horizon’s children’s programs, playing with and tutoring young refugees.

It was there that I met Emily, a twelve­-year-­old Iraqi girl who lived next to Horizons. In between games and snacks, Emily would ask me questions about American life, touching on everything from Halloween to President Obama. Gradually, my confidence in my American identity grew as I recognized my ability to answer most of her questions. American culture was no longer completely foreign to me. I found myself especially qualified to work with young refugees; my experience growing up in a country other than that of my parents’ was similar enough to that of the refugee children Horizons served that I could empathize with them and offer advice. Together, we worked through conflicting allegiances, homesickness, and stretched belonging. 

Forging a special, personal bond with young refugees proved a cathartic outlet for my insecurities as it taught me to value my past. My transculturalism allowed me to help young refugees integrate into American life, and, in doing so, I was able to adjust myself. Now, I have an appreciation of myself that I never felt before. “Home” isn’t the digits in a passport or ZIP code but a sense of contentedness. By helping a young refugee find comfort, happiness, and home in America, I was finally able to find those same things for myself.

You can see how the writer takes the common topic of immigrating to the United States and makes a unique story out of it. It’s not just about struggling to find a place to fit in — it’s about how they ultimately did fit in by helping other people who were even more estranged from mainstream American culture than they were. 

Talk About an Interest

Lastly, an interest is another topic you can write about for this prompt. Interests are basically synonymous with activities in this case, but slightly broader. You can say that interests encompass activities in the same way that squares are rectangles, but rectangles aren’t squares. 

Participation in an interest is often less organized than in an activity. For instance, you might run cross country as an activity, but cook or paint as an interest. Writing about an interest is a way to highlight passions that may not come across in the rest of your application. For example, if you’re a wrestler, writing about your interest in standup comedy would be a refreshing addition to your application, and you should also feel free to use this topic to show what an important activity on your application really means to you.

Keep in mind, however, that a lot of schools will ask you to describe one of your activities in their supplemental essays. Thinking strategically, you don’t want to write twice about the same thing in two different essays. 

Want to know if your response to Common App prompt #1 is strong enough for your top-choice schools? Try out our Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free, anonymous, and secure review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills and earn CollegeVine Karma by reviewing other users’ essays!

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

examples of essay prompt

Writing Beginner

What Is a Prompt in Writing? (Ultimate Guide + 200 Examples)

Ever stumbled upon a blank page and didn’t know where to start?

That’s where a writing prompt steps in, kicking your creativity into gear and guiding your pen (or cursor) in the right direction.

What is a prompt in writing?

A prompt in writing is a starting point designed to ignite creativity, guiding writers to explore themes, genres, or emotions. It can be a word, question, image, or scenario, aiding in overcoming writer’s block.

Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about prompts in writing.

What Is a Prompt in Writing (Long Description)?

Book with lightbulb and inspiration - - What Is a Prompt in Writing

Table of Contents

A writing prompt is essentially a starting point.

Think of it as a spark designed to ignite your creativity and guide your thoughts in a specific direction.

This little nudge can come in various forms – a word, a sentence, a question, or even a picture – and serves the purpose of inspiring you to write.

Whether you’re drafting a story, an essay, or just jotting down your thoughts, prompts help overcome the intimidation of a blank page.

It sets a predefined theme or direction for your writing.

They’re not just about what you write, but how you think and approach writing, encouraging you to explore new ideas, genres, and perspectives.

Here is a good video that explains prompts in writing:

Types of Prompts in Writing

Now let’s go over different types of prompts in writing.

Common prompt types include:

The Story Starter

The question quest, picture this, the first line frenzy.

The Story Starter is your classic nudge towards narrative creativity.

It’s a sentence or scenario meant to kick off your storytelling journey, helping you dive straight into the plot, characters, or setting.

This type of prompt is great for fiction writers looking for a jumping-off point to explore various themes or genres.

It can be as detailed or as open-ended as you like, providing just enough information to spark an idea without dictating the direction of your story.

  • “When the clock struck midnight, she realized…”
  • “Lost in the forest, he stumbled upon a hidden village…”
  • “The last person on Earth sat alone in a room. Suddenly, there was a knock at the door…”
  • “In a world where magic is real, a young apprentice discovers…”
  • “The photograph in the old book revealed a secret that would change everything…”
  • “Stranded on a desert island, they found a message in a bottle…”
  • “On her hundredth birthday, she received a letter that took her back to her youth…”
  • “The map led them to a place that wasn’t supposed to exist…”
  • “In the midst of war, a forbidden love blossomed…”
  • “He inherited an old mansion, not knowing the ancestors would still be around…”

The Question Quest prompt type uses intriguing questions to push your thinking boundaries and explore ideas in depth.

It’s perfect for essays, reflective writing, or exploring complex themes and issues.

These prompts challenge you to consider different perspectives, analyze situations, and develop reasoned arguments or narratives based on the question posed.

  • “What would you do if you could travel back in time?”
  • “How would society change if humans lived to be 300 years old?”
  • “Is it possible to live a completely ethical life in today’s world?”
  • “What does true bravery look like?”
  • “How would the discovery of extraterrestrial life impact humanity?”
  • “What is the true cost of progress?”
  • “Can happiness be measured?”
  • “What role does fate play in our lives?”
  • “Is technology bringing us closer together or driving us apart?”
  • “What would you change if you were the leader of your country for a day?”

Picture This prompts use images as the springboard for writing.

A photograph, painting, or even a random doodle can unlock a flood of creativity.

Which makes it an excellent tool for both fiction and non-fiction writers.

This visual cue encourages you to dive into descriptive writing, storytelling, or even analytical essays, exploring the emotions, stories, or ideas evoked by the image.

  • A deserted street at dawn, with an old bicycle leaning against a lamppost.
  • A vintage suitcase, open and filled with letters and photographs.
  • A bustling market scene in a foreign country.
  • A child gazing out of a rain-spattered window.
  • A majestic mountain range under the stars.
  • An abandoned house, its rooms still furnished but covered in dust.
  • A close-up of a spider web with dewdrops.
  • A lively street festival, with people dancing and musicians playing.
  • An old, faded map with several places marked in red.
  • A serene lake at sunset, with a lone boat tied to a wooden dock.

The First Line Frenzy is a thrilling way to dive into a story.

These prompts provide the opening sentence of your narrative, setting the tone and direction for everything that follows.

It’s a fantastic method for overcoming writer’s block and sparking your imagination, as the initial line can lead to unexpected and exciting story developments.

  • “The day began with a mysterious package on my doorstep.”
  • “I never believed in ghosts until I moved into the old Henderson house.”
  • “The moment I heard the news, I knew my life would never be the same.”
  • “Under the light of a full moon, the city revealed its true secrets.”
  • “It was the kind of café you’d stumble upon once and never find again.”
  • “With a deep breath, I stepped into the unknown.”
  • “The letter, sealed with a wax emblem, contained a proposition I couldn’t refuse.”
  • “As the train pulled away, she realized her mistake.”
  • “In the heart of the ancient forest, a hidden path led to unexpected wonders.”
  • “The discovery promised to rewrite history, but at what cost?”

Dialogue Driven

Dialogue Driven prompts center around a snippet of conversation, offering a dynamic entry point into your writing.

This approach is particularly effective for character development and exploring relationships through direct speech.

It can set the scene, reveal personalities, and drive the plot forward, all through the power of dialogue.

  • “Did you really think I wouldn’t find out?” “I was hoping.”
  • “Why is this door always locked?” “You’re not ready to know what’s behind it.”
  • “Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.” “That’s where you’re wrong.”
  • “The stars look different here.” “Everything does.”
  • “I wish I could stay.” “Then why are you leaving?”
  • “It’s not about what I want anymore.” “Then what’s it about?”
  • “I’ve never seen anything like it.” “And you never will again.”
  • “Can you keep a secret?” “Depends on the secret.”
  • “We’re not in Kansas anymore.” “We’re not even on the same planet.”
  • “It was supposed to be a simple plan.” “Since when does anything go according to plan?”

The Sensory Dive

The Sensory Dive prompts are designed to immerse you and your reader in vivid, sensory-rich experiences.

These prompts encourage descriptive writing that appeals to the senses, painting a scene so tangible that readers feel they can touch, taste, hear, see, and smell it.

It’s a powerful tool for creating immersive worlds and experiences.

  • Describe the cacophony of a bustling city market at noon.
  • The taste of the first snowflake of winter.
  • The scent of old books in a forgotten library.
  • The feeling of sand between your toes as waves crash on the shore.
  • The sight of a landscape transformed by autumn’s touch.
  • The sound of a distant thunderstorm approaching.
  • The warmth of a crackling fire on a cold night.
  • The chill of walking through a foggy graveyard at dusk.
  • The texture of an ancient, carved stone.
  • The silence of a snow-covered forest.

The What-If Wonder

The What-If Wonder prompts take you on a journey of imagination, exploring alternate realities and scenarios.

These prompts ask you to consider how different choices, events, or conditions might alter the world, characters, or story.

It’s an excellent way to delve into speculative fiction, science fiction, and fantasy, pushing the boundaries of reality.

  • What if humans had the ability to communicate telepathically?
  • What if gravity suddenly became a variable force on Earth?
  • What if you woke up 100 years in the past with your current memories intact?
  • What if plants were the dominant intelligent species on the planet?
  • What if you could see the future but only 24 hours ahead?
  • What if water was as rare as gold?
  • What if everyone had their lifespan displayed above their heads?
  • What if you found a door that could take you to parallel universes?
  • What if animals could petition for their rights?
  • What if dreams were actually glimpses into alternate realities?

The Emotional Rollercoaster

The Emotional Rollercoaster prompt is all about exploring the depths of human emotion, challenging you to convey complex feelings and reactions.

These prompts are perfect for delving into character development, interpersonal relationships, and personal reflection.

By focusing on the emotional landscape, writers can create compelling narratives that resonate with readers on a deeply personal level.

  • The moment you realized you were in love.
  • Feeling utterly lost in a place you once called home.
  • The bitter sweetness of a farewell.
  • Overcoming a fear that once held you back.
  • The complex emotions of reuniting with someone after many years.
  • The guilt of a lie that spiraled out of control.
  • The rush of achieving something you thought was impossible.
  • The profound sadness of losing a cherished memory to time.
  • The unexpected joy found in a simple act of kindness.
  • The peace of accepting things you cannot change.

The Genre Blender

The Genre Blender prompts encourage you to mix elements from different genres, creating unique and innovative narratives.

These prompts are excellent for writers looking to break the mold and experiment with their storytelling.

Whether it’s combining science fiction with historical fiction or fantasy with mystery, the possibilities are endless.

  • A detective in a dystopian future solving a crime that could change the course of history.
  • A romance blossoming in the midst of a zombie apocalypse.
  • A fantasy world where magic is dying, and technology is on the rise.
  • A historical drama set in ancient Rome, but with a twist of time travel.
  • A horror story set in space, aboard a ship with a mysterious alien artifact.
  • A western where the frontier towns are protected by wizards instead of gunslingers.
  • A cyberpunk thriller featuring a heist in a virtual reality world.
  • A mystery set in a magical school where the students must uncover a dark secret.
  • A superhero story grounded in the real-world challenges of modern society.
  • An adventure tale that blends deep-sea exploration with ancient mythology.

The Time Traveler’s Gateway

The Time Traveler’s Gateway prompts explore the intricacies of time travel, its implications, and its paradoxes.

This type of prompt is perfect for science fiction and speculative fiction writers, offering a playground for the imagination that challenges our understanding of time, history, and causality.

  • Discovering a time machine in your backyard and deciding where to go first.
  • A message from the future warning of an impending disaster.
  • The consequences of changing a small event in the past.
  • A society where time travel is common, but strictly regulated.
  • An ancient civilization that had advanced time travel technology.
  • Meeting your ancestors and learning their secrets.
  • The ethical dilemmas of using time travel for personal gain.
  • A love story that transcends time barriers.
  • The discovery that history is a construct, shaped by time travelers.
  • A time loop where the protagonist must solve a puzzle to escape.

The World Builder’s Dream

The World Builder’s Dream prompts invite you to create entire worlds from scratch.

This type of prompt is a boon for fantasy and science fiction writers, offering the freedom to craft unique settings, cultures, laws of nature, and societies.

It’s an opportunity to let your imagination run wild and establish the groundwork for epic tales.

  • A planet where the seasons last for decades.
  • A city built entirely on the back of a giant, wandering creature.
  • A society where people’s roles are determined by their innate magical abilities.
  • An underwater civilization that has never seen the surface.
  • A world where dreams can be entered and manipulated.
  • A floating island nation that travels the skies.
  • A dystopian future where memories can be bought and sold.
  • A kingdom where music is the source of all magic.
  • A realm where the night lasts half the year.
  • An alternate Earth where the continents never split apart.

The Unseen Perspective

The Unseen Perspective prompts challenge you to write from the viewpoint of non-human characters or entities.

This approach forces you to step outside the human experience and consider the world from a completely different angle.

It’s a fantastic way to explore themes of consciousness, nature, and the interconnectedness of life.

  • The life of a tree over centuries, witnessing the changes in the world.
  • A day in the life of a household pet during a major family event.
  • The thoughts of a spaceship AI as it travels through the cosmos.
  • The experiences of a ghost haunting an old mansion.
  • A story told from the perspective of a river, from source to sea.
  • The journey of a single leaf from sprout to falling to the ground.
  • The collective consciousness of a hive of bees facing environmental challenges.
  • The ancient spirit of a mountain overseeing its surroundings.
  • The adventures of a book as it passes from reader to reader, experiencing different interpretations and emotions.
  • The perspective of a city as it grows and evolves over centuries, through peace and conflict.

The Emotional Journey

The Emotional Journey prompts focus on the internal growth and transformation of characters.

It invites writers to delve into personal development, self-discovery, and the overcoming of obstacles.

This type of prompt is ideal for character-driven narratives, where the emphasis is on emotional depth and the evolution of the protagonist’s inner self.

  • A character grappling with the loss of a loved one and finding a way to move forward.
  • The journey of self-acceptance for someone who feels out of place in their world.
  • A hero facing their darkest fears in order to save what they cherish most.
  • A villain’s realization of the impact of their actions and their quest for redemption.
  • A young adult’s transition into independence and the challenges they face along the way.
  • The transformation of a skeptic into a believer through a series of unexplainable events.
  • The struggle of a character to forgive themselves and others for past mistakes.
  • The process of rebuilding one’s life after a catastrophic event.
  • A character’s journey from indifference to passionate advocacy for a cause.
  • The evolving relationship between two characters who start as rivals and become allies.

The Moral Dilemma

The Moral Dilemma prompts put characters in situations where they must make difficult choices, often between two equally undesirable options.

These prompts are great for exploring ethical questions, character morality, and the complexity of human nature.

They challenge writers to think deeply about what it means to make a “right” decision.

  • Choosing between saving a loved one or a group of strangers from danger.
  • Deciding whether to expose a painful truth that could destroy a friend’s happiness.
  • The choice of upholding the law or doing what is morally right in a corrupt society.
  • A character must decide whether to seek revenge or forgive an unforgivable act.
  • The dilemma of sacrificing personal dreams for the greater good.
  • Deciding whether to keep a secret that protects one person but harms others.
  • A leader’s choice between peace at the cost of justice or war for the sake of freedom.
  • The ethical implications of using advanced technology to alter human nature.
  • A scientist faces a moral conflict over a discovery that could change the world but has dangerous implications.
  • The struggle of a character who finds out that their entire life is based on a lie and must choose how to react.

The Creative Challenge

The Creative Challenge prompts are designed to push the boundaries of conventional storytelling.

It encourages experimentation with narrative structure, style, and content.

These prompts invite writers to play with unconventional formats, such as a story told in reverse, a narrative composed entirely of dialogue, or a tale that weaves multiple perspectives into a cohesive whole.

  • A story told through a series of diary entries, each revealing a piece of the puzzle.
  • A narrative structured as a series of text messages between characters.
  • A tale that begins with its conclusion and works backward to the start.
  • A story where each chapter is from the perspective of a different character, all revolving around a single event.
  • A narrative composed entirely of letters sent between two characters.
  • A story told through the lens of an inanimate object witnessing events unfold.
  • A tale that intertwines the past and present, revealing how they mirror and affect each other.
  • A narrative that challenges the concept of linear time, mixing moments from various points in the characters’ lives.
  • A story where the setting changes in each chapter, influencing the plot and characters in unique ways.
  • A narrative that plays with genre conventions, blending elements from different genres in unexpected ways.

Final Thoughts: What Is a Prompt in Writing?

I hope this guide “prompts” you to understanding, creativity, and motivation to write.

Check out some of our other great guides below.

Read This Next:

  • What Is A Personal Account In Writing? (47 Examples)
  • 150+ Christmas Story Ideas, Tips & Prompts (Fun & Festive)
  • 620 Best ChatGPT Prompts for Writing a Nonfiction Book
  • 650+ Best Prompts for ChatGPT (Ultimate List for 2024)
  • 346 Fluff Prompts (Easy & Unique)

100 Creative Writing Prompts for Middle & High School – 2024

April 15, 2024

creative writing prompts for high school and middle school teens

Some high school students dream of writing for a living, perhaps pursuing an English major in college, or even attending a creative writing MFA program later on. For other students, creative writing can be useful for school assignments, in English and other subjects, and also for preparing their Common App essays . In a less goal-oriented sense, daily freewriting in a journal can be a healthy life practice for many high schoolers. Not sure where to start? Continue reading for 100 creative writing prompts for middle school and high school students. These middle/high school writing prompts offer inspiration for getting started with writing in a number of genres and styles.

Click here to view the 35 Best Colleges for Creative Writing .

What are Creative Writing Prompts?

Similar to how an academic essay prompt provides a jumping-off point for forming and organizing an argument, creative writing prompts are points of initiation for writing a story, poem, or creative essay. Prompts can be useful for writers of all ages, helping many to get past writer’s block and just start (often one of the most difficult parts of a writing process).

Writing prompts come in a variety of forms. Sometimes they are phrases used to begin sentences. Other times they are questions, more like academic essay prompts Writing prompts can also involve objects such as photographs, or activities such as walking. Below, you will find high school writing prompts that use memories, objects, senses (smell/taste/touch), abstract ideas , and even songs as jumping-off points for creative writing. These prompts can be used to write in a variety of forms, from short stories to creative essays, to poems.

How to use Creative Writing Prompts

Before we get started with the list, are a few tips when using creative writing prompts:

Experiment with different formats : Prose is great, but there’s no need to limit yourself to full sentences, at least at first. A piece of creative writing can begin with a poem, or a dialogue, or even a list. You can always bring it back to prose later if needed.

Interpret the prompt broadly : The point of a creative writing prompt is not to answer it “correctly” or “precisely.” You might begin with the prompt, but then your ideas could take you in a completely different direction. The words in the prompt also don’t need to open your poem or essay, but could appear somewhere in the middle.

Switch up/pile up the prompts : Try using two or three prompts and combine them, or weave between them. Perhaps choose a main prompt, and a different “sub-prompt.” For example, your main prompt might be “write about being in transit from one place to another,” and within that prompt, you might use the prompt to “describe a physical sensation,” and/or one the dialogue prompts.  This could be a fun way to find complexity as you write.

Creative Writing Prompts for Middle School & High School Students (Continued)

Write first, edit later : While you’re first getting started with a prompt, leave the typos and bad grammar. Obsessing over details can take away from your flow of thoughts. You will inevitably make many fixes when you go back through to edit.

Write consistently : It often becomes easier to write when it’s a practice , rather than a once-in-a-while kind of activity. For some, it’s useful to write daily. Others find time to write every few days, or every weekend. Sometimes, a word-count goal can help (100 words a day, 2,000 words a month, etc.). If you set a goal, make sure it’s realistic. Start small and build from there, rather than starting with an unachievable goal and quickly giving up.

100 Creative Writing Prompts for Middle School & High School Teens

Here are some prompts for getting started with your creative writing. These are organized by method, rather than genre, so they can inspire writing in a variety of forms. Pick and choose the ones that work best for you, and enjoy!

Prompts using memories

  • Begin each sentence or group of sentences with the phrase, “I remember…”
  • Describe a family ritual.
  • Choose an event in your life, and write about it from the perspective of someone else who was there.
  • Pick a pathway you take on a regular basis (to school, or to a friend’s house). Describe five landmarks that you remember from this pathway.
  • Write about your house or apartment using a memory from each room.
  • Write an imaginary history of the previous people who lived in your house or apartment.
  • Write about an ancestor based on stories you’ve heard from relatives.
  • What’s your earliest memory?
  • Who was your first friend?
  • Write a letter to someone you haven’t seen since childhood.
  • Write about yourself now from the perspective of yourself twenty, or eighty, years from now.
  • Write about the best month of the year.
  • Write about the worst day of the year.
  • Rant about something that has always annoyed you.
  • Write about the hottest or coldest day you can remember.
  • Visualize a fleeting moment in your life and as though it’s a photograph, and time yourself 5 minutes to write every detail you can remember about the scene.
  • Draw out a timeline of your life so far. Then choose three years to write about, as though you were writing for a history book.
  • Write about a historical event in the first person, as though you remember it.
  • Write about a memory of being in transit from one place to another.

Objects and photographs as creative writing prompts

  • Describe the first object you see in the room. What importance does it have in your life? What memories do you have with this object? What might it symbolize?
  • Pick up an object, and spend some time holding it/examining it. Write about how it looks, feels, and smells. Write about the material that it’s made from.
  • Choose a favorite family photograph. What could someone know just by looking at the photograph? What’s secretly happening in the photograph?
  • Choose a photograph and tell the story of this photograph from the perspective of someone or something in it.
  • Write about a color by describing three objects that are that color.
  • Tell the story of a piece of trash.
  • Tell the story of a pair of shoes.
  • Tell the story of your oldest piece of clothing.

Senses and observations as creative writing prompts

  • Describe a sound you hear in the room or outside. Choose the first sound you notice. What are its qualities? It’s rhythms? What other sounds does it remind you of?
  • Describe a physical sensation you feel right now, in as much detail as possible.
  • Listen to a conversation and write down a phrase that you hear someone say. Start a free-write with this phrase.
  • Write about a food by describing its qualities, but don’t say what it is.
  • Describe a flavor (salty, sweet, bitter, etc.) to someone who has never tasted it before.
  • Narrate your day through tastes you tasted.
  • Narrate your day through sounds you heard.
  • Narrate your day through physical sensations you felt.
  • Describe in detail the physical process of doing an action you consider simple or mundane, like walking or lying down or chopping vegetables.
  • Write about the sensation of doing an action you consider physically demanding or tiring, like running or lifting heavy boxes.
  • Describe something that gives you goosebumps.
  • Write a story that involves drinking a cold glass of water on a hot day.
  • Write a story that involves entering a warm house from a cold snowy day.
  • Describe someone’s facial features in as much detail as possible.

Songs, books, and other art

  • Choose a song quote, write it down, and free-write from there.
  • Choose a song, and write a story in which that song is playing in the car.
  • Choose a song, and write to the rhythm of that song.
  • Choose a character from a book, and describe an event in your life from the perspective of that character.
  • Go to a library and write down 10 book titles that catch your eye. Free-write for 5 minutes beginning with each one.
  • Go to a library and open to random book pages, and write down 5 sentences that catch your attention. Use those sentences as prompts and free-write for 5-minutes with each.
  • Choose a piece of abstract artwork. Jot down 10 words that come to mind from the painting or drawing, and free-write for 2 minutes based on each word.
  • Find a picture of a dramatic Renaissance painting online. Tell a story about what’s going on in the painting that has nothing to do with what the artist intended.
  • Write about your day in five acts, like a Shakespearean play. If your day were a play, what would be the introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution?
  • Narrate a complicated book or film plot using only short sentences.
  • Read a short poem. Then write a poem that could be a “sister” or “cousin” of that poem.

Abstract ideas as creative writing prompts

  • Write about an experience that demonstrates an abstract idea, such as “love” or “home” or “freedom” or “loss” without ever using the word itself.
  • Write a list of ways to say “hello” without actually saying “hello.”
  • Write a list of ways to say “I love you” without actually saying “I love you.”
  • Do you believe in ghosts? Describe a ghost.
  • Invent a mode of time travel.
  • Glass half-full/half-empty: Write about an event or situation with a positive outlook. Then write about it with a miserable outlook.
  • Free-write beginning with “my religion is…” (what comes next can have as much or as little to do with organized religion as you’d like).
  • Free-write beginning with “my gender is…” (what comes next can have as much or as little to do with common ideas of gender as you’d like).
  • Write about a person or character that is “good” and one that is “evil.” Then write about the “evil” in the good character and the “good” in the evil character.
  • Write like you’re telling a secret.
  • Describe a moment of beauty you witnessed. What makes something beautiful?

Prompts for playing with narrative and character

  • Begin writing with the phrase, “It all started when…”
  • Tell a story from the middle of the most dramatic part.
  • Write a story that begins with the ending.
  • Begin a story but give it 5 possible endings.
  • Write a list of ways to dramatically quit a terrible job.
  • Write about a character breaking a social rule or ritual (i.e., walking backwards, sitting on the floor of a restaurant, wearing a ballgown to the grocery store). What are the ramifications?
  • You are sent to the principal’s office. Justify your bad behavior.
  • Re-write a well-known fairytale but set it in your school.
  • Write your own version of the TV show trope where someone gets stuck in an elevator with a stranger, or a secret love interest, or a nemesis.
  • Imagine a day where you said everything you were thinking, and write about it.
  • Write about a scenario in which you have too much of a good thing.
  • Write about a scenario in which money can buy happiness.
  • Invent a bank or museum heist.
  • Invent a superhero, including an origin story.
  • Write using the form of the scientific method (question, hypothesis, test, analyze data conclusion).
  • Write using the form of a recipe.

Middle School & High School Creative writing prompts for playing with fact vs. fiction

  • Write something you know for sure is true, and then, “but maybe it isn’t.” Then explain why that thing may not be true.
  • Write a statement and contradict that statement. Then do it again.
  • Draft an email with an outlandish excuse as to why you didn’t do your homework or why you need an extension.
  • Write about your morning routine, and make it sound extravagant/luxurious (even if it isn’t).
  • You’ve just won an award for doing a very mundane and simple task. Write your acceptance speech.
  • Write about a non-athletic event as though it were a sports game.
  • Write about the most complicated way to complete a simple task.
  • Write a brief history of your life, and exaggerate everything.
  • Write about your day, but lie about some things.
  • Tell the story of your birth.
  • Choose a historical event and write an alternative outcome.
  • Write about a day in the life of a famous person in history.
  • Read an instructional manual, and change three instructions to include some kind of magical or otherwise impossible element.

Prompts for starting with dialogue

  • Write a texting conversation between two friends who haven’t spoken in years.
  • Write a texting conversation between two friends who speak every day and know each other better than anyone.
  • Watch two people on the street having a conversation, and imagine the conversation they’re having. Write it down.
  • Write an overheard conversation behind a closed door that you shouldn’t be listening to.
  • Write a conversation between two characters arguing about contradicting memories of what happened.
  • You have a difficult decision to make. Write a conversation about it with yourself.
  • Write a conversation with a total lack of communication.
  • Write a job interview gone badly.

Final Thoughts – Creative Writing Prompts for Middle School & High School 

Hopefully you have found several of these creative writing prompts helpful. Remember that when writing creatively, especially on your own, you can mix, match, and change prompts. For more on writing for high school students, check out the following articles:

  • College Application Essay Topics to Avoid
  • 160 Good Argumentative Essay Topics
  • 150 Good Persuasive Speech Topics
  • Good Transition Words for Essays
  • High School Success

' src=

Sarah Mininsohn

With a BA from Wesleyan University and an MFA from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Sarah is a writer, educator, and artist. She served as a graduate instructor at the University of Illinois, a tutor at St Peter’s School in Philadelphia, and an academic writing tutor and thesis mentor at Wesleyan’s Writing Workshop.

  • 2-Year Colleges
  • Application Strategies
  • Best Colleges by Major
  • Best Colleges by State
  • Big Picture
  • Career & Personality Assessment
  • College Essay
  • College Search/Knowledge
  • College Success
  • Costs & Financial Aid
  • Dental School Admissions
  • Extracurricular Activities
  • Graduate School Admissions
  • High Schools
  • Law School Admissions
  • Medical School Admissions
  • Navigating the Admissions Process
  • Online Learning
  • Private High School Spotlight
  • Summer Program Spotlight
  • Summer Programs
  • Test Prep Provider Spotlight

College Transitions Sidebar Block Image

“Innovative and invaluable…use this book as your college lifeline.”

— Lynn O'Shaughnessy

Nationally Recognized College Expert

College Planning in Your Inbox

Join our information-packed monthly newsletter.

I am a... Student Student Parent Counselor Educator Other First Name Last Name Email Address Zip Code Area of Interest Business Computer Science Engineering Fine/Performing Arts Humanities Mathematics STEM Pre-Med Psychology Social Studies/Sciences Submit

PrepScholar

Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 177 college essay examples for 11 schools + expert analysis.

author image

College Admissions , College Essays

body-typewriter-writing-desk-cc0

The personal statement might just be the hardest part of your college application. Mostly this is because it has the least guidance and is the most open-ended. One way to understand what colleges are looking for when they ask you to write an essay is to check out the essays of students who already got in—college essays that actually worked. After all, they must be among the most successful of this weird literary genre.

In this article, I'll go through general guidelines for what makes great college essays great. I've also compiled an enormous list of 100+ actual sample college essays from 11 different schools. Finally, I'll break down two of these published college essay examples and explain why and how they work. With links to 177 full essays and essay excerpts , this article is a great resource for learning how to craft your own personal college admissions essay!

What Excellent College Essays Have in Common

Even though in many ways these sample college essays are very different from one other, they do share some traits you should try to emulate as you write your own essay.

Visible Signs of Planning

Building out from a narrow, concrete focus. You'll see a similar structure in many of the essays. The author starts with a very detailed story of an event or description of a person or place. After this sense-heavy imagery, the essay expands out to make a broader point about the author, and connects this very memorable experience to the author's present situation, state of mind, newfound understanding, or maturity level.

Knowing how to tell a story. Some of the experiences in these essays are one-of-a-kind. But most deal with the stuff of everyday life. What sets them apart is the way the author approaches the topic: analyzing it for drama and humor, for its moving qualities, for what it says about the author's world, and for how it connects to the author's emotional life.

Stellar Execution

A killer first sentence. You've heard it before, and you'll hear it again: you have to suck the reader in, and the best place to do that is the first sentence. Great first sentences are punchy. They are like cliffhangers, setting up an exciting scene or an unusual situation with an unclear conclusion, in order to make the reader want to know more. Don't take my word for it—check out these 22 first sentences from Stanford applicants and tell me you don't want to read the rest of those essays to find out what happens!

A lively, individual voice. Writing is for readers. In this case, your reader is an admissions officer who has read thousands of essays before yours and will read thousands after. Your goal? Don't bore your reader. Use interesting descriptions, stay away from clichés, include your own offbeat observations—anything that makes this essay sounds like you and not like anyone else.

body-frog-cc0

Technical correctness. No spelling mistakes, no grammar weirdness, no syntax issues, no punctuation snafus—each of these sample college essays has been formatted and proofread perfectly. If this kind of exactness is not your strong suit, you're in luck! All colleges advise applicants to have their essays looked over several times by parents, teachers, mentors, and anyone else who can spot a comma splice. Your essay must be your own work, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with getting help polishing it.

And if you need more guidance, connect with PrepScholar's expert admissions consultants . These expert writers know exactly what college admissions committees look for in an admissions essay and chan help you craft an essay that boosts your chances of getting into your dream school.

Check out PrepScholar's Essay Editing and Coaching progra m for more details!

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Links to Full College Essay Examples

Some colleges publish a selection of their favorite accepted college essays that worked, and I've put together a selection of over 100 of these.

Common App Essay Samples

Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows:

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. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you? 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.

Now, let's get to the good stuff: the list of 177 college essay examples responding to current and past Common App essay prompts. 

Connecticut college.

  • 12 Common Application essays from the classes of 2022-2025

Hamilton College

  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2026
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 7 Common Application essays from the class of 2018
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2012
  • 8 Common Application essays from the class of 2007

Johns Hopkins

These essays are answers to past prompts from either the Common Application or the Coalition Application (which Johns Hopkins used to accept).

  • 1 Common Application or Coalition Application essay from the class of 2026
  • 6 Common Application or Coalition Application essays from the class of 2025
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2024
  • 6 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2023
  • 7 Common Application of Universal Application essays from the class of 2022
  • 5 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2021
  • 7 Common Application or Universal Application essays from the class of 2020

Essay Examples Published by Other Websites

  • 2 Common Application essays ( 1st essay , 2nd essay ) from applicants admitted to Columbia

Other Sample College Essays

Here is a collection of essays that are college-specific.

Babson College

  • 4 essays (and 1 video response) on "Why Babson" from the class of 2020

Emory University

  • 5 essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) from the class of 2020 along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on why the essays were exceptional
  • 5 more recent essay examples ( 1 , 2 , 3 , 4 , 5 ) along with analysis from Emory admissions staff on what made these essays stand out

University of Georgia

  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2019
  • 1 “strong essay” sample from 2018
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2023
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2022
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2021
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2020
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2019
  • 10 Harvard essays from 2018
  • 6 essays from admitted MIT students

Smith College

  • 6 "best gift" essays from the class of 2018

body-library-cc0-2

Books of College Essays

If you're looking for even more sample college essays, consider purchasing a college essay book. The best of these include dozens of essays that worked and feedback from real admissions officers.

College Essays That Made a Difference —This detailed guide from Princeton Review includes not only successful essays, but also interviews with admissions officers and full student profiles.

50 Successful Harvard Application Essays by the Staff of the Harvard Crimson—A must for anyone aspiring to Harvard .

50 Successful Ivy League Application Essays and 50 Successful Stanford Application Essays by Gen and Kelly Tanabe—For essays from other top schools, check out this venerated series, which is regularly updated with new essays.

Heavenly Essays by Janine W. Robinson—This collection from the popular blogger behind Essay Hell includes a wider range of schools, as well as helpful tips on honing your own essay.

body-writing-notebook-student-cc0

Analyzing Great Common App Essays That Worked

I've picked two essays from the examples collected above to examine in more depth so that you can see exactly what makes a successful college essay work. Full credit for these essays goes to the original authors and the schools that published them.

Example 1: "Breaking Into Cars," by Stephen, Johns Hopkins Class of '19 (Common App Essay, 636 words long)

I had never broken into a car before.

We were in Laredo, having just finished our first day at a Habitat for Humanity work site. The Hotchkiss volunteers had already left, off to enjoy some Texas BBQ, leaving me behind with the college kids to clean up. Not until we were stranded did we realize we were locked out of the van.

Someone picked a coat hanger out of the dumpster, handed it to me, and took a few steps back.

"Can you do that thing with a coat hanger to unlock it?"

"Why me?" I thought.

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame. Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally. My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed. "The water's on fire! Clear a hole!" he shouted, tossing me in the lake without warning. While I'm still unconvinced about that particular lesson's practicality, my Dad's overarching message is unequivocally true: much of life is unexpected, and you have to deal with the twists and turns.

Living in my family, days rarely unfolded as planned. A bit overlooked, a little pushed around, I learned to roll with reality, negotiate a quick deal, and give the improbable a try. I don't sweat the small stuff, and I definitely don't expect perfect fairness. So what if our dining room table only has six chairs for seven people? Someone learns the importance of punctuality every night.

But more than punctuality and a special affinity for musical chairs, my family life has taught me to thrive in situations over which I have no power. Growing up, I never controlled my older siblings, but I learned how to thwart their attempts to control me. I forged alliances, and realigned them as necessary. Sometimes, I was the poor, defenseless little brother; sometimes I was the omniscient elder. Different things to different people, as the situation demanded. I learned to adapt.

Back then, these techniques were merely reactions undertaken to ensure my survival. But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The question caught me off guard, much like the question posed to me in Laredo. Then, I realized I knew the answer. I knew why the coat hanger had been handed to me.

Growing up as the middle child in my family, I was a vital participant in a thing I did not govern, in the company of people I did not choose. It's family. It's society. And often, it's chaos. You participate by letting go of the small stuff, not expecting order and perfection, and facing the unexpected with confidence, optimism, and preparedness. My family experience taught me to face a serendipitous world with confidence.

What Makes This Essay Tick?

It's very helpful to take writing apart in order to see just how it accomplishes its objectives. Stephen's essay is very effective. Let's find out why!

An Opening Line That Draws You In

In just eight words, we get: scene-setting (he is standing next to a car about to break in), the idea of crossing a boundary (he is maybe about to do an illegal thing for the first time), and a cliffhanger (we are thinking: is he going to get caught? Is he headed for a life of crime? Is he about to be scared straight?).

Great, Detailed Opening Story

More out of amusement than optimism, I gave it a try. I slid the hanger into the window's seal like I'd seen on crime shows, and spent a few minutes jiggling the apparatus around the inside of the frame.

It's the details that really make this small experience come alive. Notice how whenever he can, Stephen uses a more specific, descriptive word in place of a more generic one. The volunteers aren't going to get food or dinner; they're going for "Texas BBQ." The coat hanger comes from "a dumpster." Stephen doesn't just move the coat hanger—he "jiggles" it.

Details also help us visualize the emotions of the people in the scene. The person who hands Stephen the coat hanger isn't just uncomfortable or nervous; he "takes a few steps back"—a description of movement that conveys feelings. Finally, the detail of actual speech makes the scene pop. Instead of writing that the other guy asked him to unlock the van, Stephen has the guy actually say his own words in a way that sounds like a teenager talking.

body_coathangers

Turning a Specific Incident Into a Deeper Insight

Suddenly, two things simultaneously clicked. One was the lock on the door. (I actually succeeded in springing it.) The other was the realization that I'd been in this type of situation before. In fact, I'd been born into this type of situation.

Stephen makes the locked car experience a meaningful illustration of how he has learned to be resourceful and ready for anything, and he also makes this turn from the specific to the broad through an elegant play on the two meanings of the word "click."

Using Concrete Examples When Making Abstract Claims

My upbringing has numbed me to unpredictability and chaos. With a family of seven, my home was loud, messy, and spottily supervised. My siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing—all meant my house was functioning normally.

"Unpredictability and chaos" are very abstract, not easily visualized concepts. They could also mean any number of things—violence, abandonment, poverty, mental instability. By instantly following up with highly finite and unambiguous illustrations like "family of seven" and "siblings arguing, the dog barking, the phone ringing," Stephen grounds the abstraction in something that is easy to picture: a large, noisy family.

Using Small Bits of Humor and Casual Word Choice

My Dad, a retired Navy pilot, was away half the time. When he was home, he had a parenting style something like a drill sergeant. At the age of nine, I learned how to clear burning oil from the surface of water. My Dad considered this a critical life skill—you know, in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed.

Obviously, knowing how to clean burning oil is not high on the list of things every 9-year-old needs to know. To emphasize this, Stephen uses sarcasm by bringing up a situation that is clearly over-the-top: "in case my aircraft carrier should ever get torpedoed."

The humor also feels relaxed. Part of this is because he introduces it with the colloquial phrase "you know," so it sounds like he is talking to us in person. This approach also diffuses the potential discomfort of the reader with his father's strictness—since he is making jokes about it, clearly he is OK. Notice, though, that this doesn't occur very much in the essay. This helps keep the tone meaningful and serious rather than flippant.

body-oil-spill

An Ending That Stretches the Insight Into the Future

But one day this fall, Dr. Hicks, our Head of School, asked me a question that he hoped all seniors would reflect on throughout the year: "How can I participate in a thing I do not govern, in the company of people I did not choose?"

The ending of the essay reveals that Stephen's life has been one long preparation for the future. He has emerged from chaos and his dad's approach to parenting as a person who can thrive in a world that he can't control.

This connection of past experience to current maturity and self-knowledge is a key element in all successful personal essays. Colleges are very much looking for mature, self-aware applicants. These are the qualities of successful college students, who will be able to navigate the independence college classes require and the responsibility and quasi-adulthood of college life.

What Could This Essay Do Even Better?

Even the best essays aren't perfect, and even the world's greatest writers will tell you that writing is never "finished"—just "due." So what would we tweak in this essay if we could?

Replace some of the clichéd language. Stephen uses handy phrases like "twists and turns" and "don't sweat the small stuff" as a kind of shorthand for explaining his relationship to chaos and unpredictability. But using too many of these ready-made expressions runs the risk of clouding out your own voice and replacing it with something expected and boring.

Use another example from recent life. Stephen's first example (breaking into the van in Laredo) is a great illustration of being resourceful in an unexpected situation. But his essay also emphasizes that he "learned to adapt" by being "different things to different people." It would be great to see how this plays out outside his family, either in the situation in Laredo or another context.

Want to build the best possible college application?   We can help.   PrepScholar Admissions combines world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've guided thousands of students to get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit and are driven to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in:

Example 2: By Renner Kwittken, Tufts Class of '23 (Common App Essay, 645 words long)

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver. I saw it in my favorite book, Richard Scarry's "Cars and Trucks and Things That Go," and for some reason, I was absolutely obsessed with the idea of driving a giant pickle. Much to the discontent of my younger sister, I insisted that my parents read us that book as many nights as possible so we could find goldbug, a small little golden bug, on every page. I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Then I discovered a real goldbug: gold nanoparticles that can reprogram macrophages to assist in killing tumors, produce clear images of them without sacrificing the subject, and heat them to obliteration.

Suddenly the destination of my pickle was clear.

I quickly became enveloped by the world of nanomedicine; I scoured articles about liposomes, polymeric micelles, dendrimers, targeting ligands, and self-assembling nanoparticles, all conquering cancer in some exotic way. Completely absorbed, I set out to find a mentor to dive even deeper into these topics. After several rejections, I was immensely grateful to receive an invitation to work alongside Dr. Sangeeta Ray at Johns Hopkins.

In the lab, Dr. Ray encouraged a great amount of autonomy to design and implement my own procedures. I chose to attack a problem that affects the entire field of nanomedicine: nanoparticles consistently fail to translate from animal studies into clinical trials. Jumping off recent literature, I set out to see if a pre-dose of a common chemotherapeutic could enhance nanoparticle delivery in aggressive prostate cancer, creating three novel constructs based on three different linear polymers, each using fluorescent dye (although no gold, sorry goldbug!). Though using radioactive isotopes like Gallium and Yttrium would have been incredible, as a 17-year-old, I unfortunately wasn't allowed in the same room as these radioactive materials (even though I took a Geiger counter to a pair of shoes and found them to be slightly dangerous).

I hadn't expected my hypothesis to work, as the research project would have ideally been led across two full years. Yet while there are still many optimizations and revisions to be done, I was thrilled to find -- with completely new nanoparticles that may one day mean future trials will use particles with the initials "RK-1" -- thatcyclophosphamide did indeed increase nanoparticle delivery to the tumor in a statistically significant way.

A secondary, unexpected research project was living alone in Baltimore, a new city to me, surrounded by people much older than I. Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research. Whether in a presentation or in a casual conversation, making others interested in science is perhaps more exciting to me than the research itself. This solidified a new pursuit to angle my love for writing towards illuminating science in ways people can understand, adding value to a society that can certainly benefit from more scientific literacy.

It seems fitting that my goals are still transforming: in Scarry's book, there is not just one goldbug, there is one on every page. With each new experience, I'm learning that it isn't the goldbug itself, but rather the act of searching for the goldbugs that will encourage, shape, and refine my ever-evolving passions. Regardless of the goldbug I seek -- I know my pickle truck has just begun its journey.

Renner takes a somewhat different approach than Stephen, but their essay is just as detailed and engaging. Let's go through some of the strengths of this essay.

One Clear Governing Metaphor

This essay is ultimately about two things: Renner’s dreams and future career goals, and Renner’s philosophy on goal-setting and achieving one’s dreams.

But instead of listing off all the amazing things they’ve done to pursue their dream of working in nanomedicine, Renner tells a powerful, unique story instead. To set up the narrative, Renner opens the essay by connecting their experiences with goal-setting and dream-chasing all the way back to a memorable childhood experience:

This lighthearted–but relevant!--story about the moment when Renner first developed a passion for a specific career (“finding the goldbug”) provides an anchor point for the rest of the essay. As Renner pivots to describing their current dreams and goals–working in nanomedicine–the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” is reflected in Renner’s experiments, rejections, and new discoveries.

Though Renner tells multiple stories about their quest to “find the goldbug,” or, in other words, pursue their passion, each story is connected by a unifying theme; namely, that as we search and grow over time, our goals will transform…and that’s okay! By the end of the essay, Renner uses the metaphor of “finding the goldbug” to reiterate the relevance of the opening story:

While the earlier parts of the essay convey Renner’s core message by showing, the final, concluding paragraph sums up Renner’s insights by telling. By briefly and clearly stating the relevance of the goldbug metaphor to their own philosophy on goals and dreams, Renner demonstrates their creativity, insight, and eagerness to grow and evolve as the journey continues into college.

body_fixers

An Engaging, Individual Voice

This essay uses many techniques that make Renner sound genuine and make the reader feel like we already know them.

Technique #1: humor. Notice Renner's gentle and relaxed humor that lightly mocks their younger self's grand ambitions (this is different from the more sarcastic kind of humor used by Stephen in the first essay—you could never mistake one writer for the other).

My first dream job was to be a pickle truck driver.

I would imagine the wonderful life I would have: being a pig driving a giant pickle truck across the country, chasing and finding goldbug. I then moved on to wanting to be a Lego Master. Then an architect. Then a surgeon.

Renner gives a great example of how to use humor to your advantage in college essays. You don’t want to come off as too self-deprecating or sarcastic, but telling a lightheartedly humorous story about your younger self that also showcases how you’ve grown and changed over time can set the right tone for your entire essay.

Technique #2: intentional, eye-catching structure. The second technique is the way Renner uses a unique structure to bolster the tone and themes of their essay . The structure of your essay can have a major impact on how your ideas come across…so it’s important to give it just as much thought as the content of your essay!

For instance, Renner does a great job of using one-line paragraphs to create dramatic emphasis and to make clear transitions from one phase of the story to the next:

Suddenly the destination of my pickle car was clear.

Not only does the one-liner above signal that Renner is moving into a new phase of the narrative (their nanoparticle research experiences), it also tells the reader that this is a big moment in Renner’s story. It’s clear that Renner made a major discovery that changed the course of their goal pursuit and dream-chasing. Through structure, Renner conveys excitement and entices the reader to keep pushing forward to the next part of the story.

Technique #3: playing with syntax. The third technique is to use sentences of varying length, syntax, and structure. Most of the essay's written in standard English and uses grammatically correct sentences. However, at key moments, Renner emphasizes that the reader needs to sit up and pay attention by switching to short, colloquial, differently punctuated, and sometimes fragmented sentences.

Even with moving frequently between hotels, AirBnB's, and students' apartments, I strangely reveled in the freedom I had to enjoy my surroundings and form new friendships with graduate school students from the lab. We explored The Inner Harbor at night, attended a concert together one weekend, and even got to watch the Orioles lose (to nobody's surprise). Ironically, it's through these new friendships I discovered something unexpected: what I truly love is sharing research.

In the examples above, Renner switches adeptly between long, flowing sentences and quippy, telegraphic ones. At the same time, Renner uses these different sentence lengths intentionally. As they describe their experiences in new places, they use longer sentences to immerse the reader in the sights, smells, and sounds of those experiences. And when it’s time to get a big, key idea across, Renner switches to a short, punchy sentence to stop the reader in their tracks.

The varying syntax and sentence lengths pull the reader into the narrative and set up crucial “aha” moments when it’s most important…which is a surefire way to make any college essay stand out.

body-crying-upset-cc0

Renner's essay is very strong, but there are still a few little things that could be improved.

Connecting the research experiences to the theme of “finding the goldbug.”  The essay begins and ends with Renner’s connection to the idea of “finding the goldbug.” And while this metaphor is deftly tied into the essay’s intro and conclusion, it isn’t entirely clear what Renner’s big findings were during the research experiences that are described in the middle of the essay. It would be great to add a sentence or two stating what Renner’s big takeaways (or “goldbugs”) were from these experiences, which add more cohesion to the essay as a whole.

Give more details about discovering the world of nanomedicine. It makes sense that Renner wants to get into the details of their big research experiences as quickly as possible. After all, these are the details that show Renner’s dedication to nanomedicine! But a smoother transition from the opening pickle car/goldbug story to Renner’s “real goldbug” of nanoparticles would help the reader understand why nanoparticles became Renner’s goldbug. Finding out why Renner is so motivated to study nanomedicine–and perhaps what put them on to this field of study–would help readers fully understand why Renner chose this path in the first place.

4 Essential Tips for Writing Your Own Essay

How can you use this discussion to better your own college essay? Here are some suggestions for ways to use this resource effectively.

#1: Get Help From the Experts

Getting your college applications together takes a lot of work and can be pretty intimidatin g. Essays are even more important than ever now that admissions processes are changing and schools are going test-optional and removing diversity standards thanks to new Supreme Court rulings .  If you want certified expert help that really makes a difference, get started with  PrepScholar’s Essay Editing and Coaching program. Our program can help you put together an incredible essay from idea to completion so that your application stands out from the crowd. We've helped students get into the best colleges in the United States, including Harvard, Stanford, and Yale.  If you're ready to take the next step and boost your odds of getting into your dream school, connect with our experts today .

#2: Read Other Essays to Get Ideas for Your Own

As you go through the essays we've compiled for you above, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Can you explain to yourself (or someone else!) why the opening sentence works well?
  • Look for the essay's detailed personal anecdote. What senses is the author describing? Can you easily picture the scene in your mind's eye?
  • Find the place where this anecdote bridges into a larger insight about the author. How does the essay connect the two? How does the anecdote work as an example of the author's characteristic, trait, or skill?
  • Check out the essay's tone. If it's funny, can you find the places where the humor comes from? If it's sad and moving, can you find the imagery and description of feelings that make you moved? If it's serious, can you see how word choice adds to this tone?

Make a note whenever you find an essay or part of an essay that you think was particularly well-written, and think about what you like about it . Is it funny? Does it help you really get to know the writer? Does it show what makes the writer unique? Once you have your list, keep it next to you while writing your essay to remind yourself to try and use those same techniques in your own essay.

body-gears-cogs-puzzle-cc0

#3: Find Your "A-Ha!" Moment

All of these essays rely on connecting with the reader through a heartfelt, highly descriptive scene from the author's life. It can either be very dramatic (did you survive a plane crash?) or it can be completely mundane (did you finally beat your dad at Scrabble?). Either way, it should be personal and revealing about you, your personality, and the way you are now that you are entering the adult world.

Check out essays by authors like John Jeremiah Sullivan , Leslie Jamison , Hanif Abdurraqib , and Esmé Weijun Wang to get more examples of how to craft a compelling personal narrative.

#4: Start Early, Revise Often

Let me level with you: the best writing isn't writing at all. It's rewriting. And in order to have time to rewrite, you have to start way before the application deadline. My advice is to write your first draft at least two months before your applications are due.

Let it sit for a few days untouched. Then come back to it with fresh eyes and think critically about what you've written. What's extra? What's missing? What is in the wrong place? What doesn't make sense? Don't be afraid to take it apart and rearrange sections. Do this several times over, and your essay will be much better for it!

For more editing tips, check out a style guide like Dreyer's English or Eats, Shoots & Leaves .

body_next_step_drawing_blackboard

What's Next?

Still not sure which colleges you want to apply to? Our experts will show you how to make a college list that will help you choose a college that's right for you.

Interested in learning more about college essays? Check out our detailed breakdown of exactly how personal statements work in an application , some suggestions on what to avoid when writing your essay , and our guide to writing about your extracurricular activities .

Working on the rest of your application? Read what admissions officers wish applicants knew before applying .

Want to improve your SAT score by 160 points or your ACT score by 4 points?   We've written a guide for each test about the top 5 strategies you must be using to have a shot at improving your score. Download them for free now:

The recommendations in this post are based solely on our knowledge and experience. If you purchase an item through one of our links PrepScholar may receive a commission.

author image

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.

Student and Parent Forum

Our new student and parent forum, at ExpertHub.PrepScholar.com , allow you to interact with your peers and the PrepScholar staff. See how other students and parents are navigating high school, college, and the college admissions process. Ask questions; get answers.

Join the Conversation

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!

Improve With Our Famous Guides

  • For All Students

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 160+ SAT Points

How to Get a Perfect 1600, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 800 on Each SAT Section:

Score 800 on SAT Math

Score 800 on SAT Reading

Score 800 on SAT Writing

Series: How to Get to 600 on Each SAT Section:

Score 600 on SAT Math

Score 600 on SAT Reading

Score 600 on SAT Writing

Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests

What SAT Target Score Should You Be Aiming For?

15 Strategies to Improve Your SAT Essay

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 4+ ACT Points

How to Get a Perfect 36 ACT, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 36 on Each ACT Section:

36 on ACT English

36 on ACT Math

36 on ACT Reading

36 on ACT Science

Series: How to Get to 24 on Each ACT Section:

24 on ACT English

24 on ACT Math

24 on ACT Reading

24 on ACT Science

What ACT target score should you be aiming for?

ACT Vocabulary You Must Know

ACT Writing: 15 Tips to Raise Your Essay Score

How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League

How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA

How to Write an Amazing College Essay

What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?

Is the ACT easier than the SAT? A Comprehensive Guide

Should you retake your SAT or ACT?

When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Stay Informed

examples of essay prompt

Get the latest articles and test prep tips!

Looking for Graduate School Test Prep?

Check out our top-rated graduate blogs here:

GRE Online Prep Blog

GMAT Online Prep Blog

TOEFL Online Prep Blog

Holly R. "I am absolutely overjoyed and cannot thank you enough for helping me!”

IMAGES

  1. 004 Essay Writing Prompts ~ Thatsnotus

    examples of essay prompt

  2. Unique College Prompt Essay Examples ~ Thatsnotus

    examples of essay prompt

  3. Writing Prompt:

    examples of essay prompt

  4. Writing-Prompts

    examples of essay prompt

  5. 007 Essay Prompts For College Example Examples Common Application Questions App Short Answer

    examples of essay prompt

  6. 002 What Is An Essay Prompt Example Using Quotes In College Essays Quotesgram Examples Of

    examples of essay prompt

VIDEO

  1. How to use AI for Essay Writing #college #texteroai

  2. How to Showcase Your Writing Skills on The SSAT Creative Essay Prompt

  3. Common Application Essay Tips!

  4. Episode 12: How to Write the 2023-24 Harvard University Essays (Part 2)

  5. How to Write the Common App Essay Prompt #2 2022

COMMENTS

  1. 130 New Prompts for Argumentative Writing

    Try our student writing prompts. In 2017, we compiled a list of 401 argumentative writing prompts, all drawn from our daily Student Opinion column. Now, we're rounding up 130 more we've ...

  2. Over 170 Prompts to Inspire Writing and Discussion

    During the 2020-21 school year, we asked 176 questions, and you can find them all below or here as a PDF. The questions are divided into two categories — those that provide opportunities for ...

  3. Common App Essays

    Prompt 2: Overcoming challenges. Prompt 3: Questioning a belief or idea. Prompt 4: Appreciating an influential person. Prompt 5: Transformative event. Prompt 6: Interest or hobby that inspires learning. Prompt 7: Free topic. Other interesting articles. Frequently asked questions about college application essays.

  4. 35 College Essay Prompts and Topics

    Write about the role that a certain activity (sports, theater, band, etc.) has had on your life. This prompt gives you the opportunity to talk about your passions and show off your extracurricular activities. Make sure to connect the importance of the activity to a certain experience or story to give the essay direction.

  5. How to Write the Common Application Essays 2023-2024 (With Examples)

    This section provides insights and examples for each of the 7 Common App essay prompts for the 2023-2024 cycle. Each of these prompts lends itself to distinct topics and strategies, so selecting the prompt that best aligns with your idea is essential to writing an effective Common App essay.

  6. College Essay Prompts: Complete List, Analysis, and Advice

    The UCA essay prompt is completely open ended and has a 650-word limit. Here is the 2022-2023 prompt: Please write an essay that demonstrates your ability to develop and communicate your thoughts. Some ideas include: a person you admire; a life-changing experience; or your viewpoint on a particular current event.

  7. 21 Stellar Common App Essay Examples to Inspire Your College Essay

    Common App Essay Examples. Here are the current Common App prompts. Click the links to jump to the examples for a specific prompt, or keep reading to review the examples for all the prompts. Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without ...

  8. 19 College Essay Topics and Prompts

    Sample statement prompts: Talk about an unusual circumstance in your life. Share how you hope to use your college education. Discuss a list of books you have read in the last year. Common App essay prompts. Common App is an online platform designed to simplify the college application process.

  9. 60+ College Essay Prompts for 2023-2024 Applicants

    2023-2024 Coalition for College Essay Prompts. More than 150 colleges and universities use the Coalition for College process. Here are their essay prompts for 2023-2024. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it. We Are Teachers.

  10. The 2023-2024 Common App Prompts (7 Example Essays & Analysis)

    According to the 2023/2024 Common Application, the Common App essay prompts are as follows: 1. Background Essay. 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.

  11. Choosing Your College Essay Topic

    If you do choose a common topic, ensure you have the following to craft a unique essay: Surprising or unexpected story arcs. Interesting insight or connections. An advanced writing style. Here are a few examples of how to craft strong essays from cliché topics. Common topic.

  12. 2021-22 Common Application Essay Prompts: Tips, Samples

    However you approach the prompt, make sure you are inward looking and explain how and why the story you tell is so meaningful. See more Tips and Strategies for Essay Option #1. Sample essay for option #1: "Handiwork" by Vanessa. Sample essay for option #1: "My Dads" by Charlie. Sample essay for option #1: "Give Goth a Chance".

  13. 16 Strong College Essay Examples from Top Schools

    Reading examples of successful essays, however, can help you understand what admissions officers are looking for. In this post, we'll share 16 college essay examples of many different topics. Most of the essay prompts fall into 8 different archetypes, and you can approach each prompt under that archetype in a similar way.

  14. What is a Writing Prompt?

    Essay Prompt Example. Write a 1-to-2-page essay about the increasing presence use of artificial intelligence in a career field you are interested in. In your essay, be sure to:

  15. How to Write an Argumentative Essay

    Examples of argumentative essay prompts. At a university level, all the prompts below imply an argumentative essay as the appropriate response. Your research should lead you to develop a specific position on the topic. The essay then argues for that position and aims to convince the reader by presenting your evidence, evaluation and analysis.

  16. Common Application 2023-2024 Essay Prompt Examples & Templates

    2023-2024 Common Application Essay Prompts & Examples. In this section, we'll go through all the Common App Essays prompts and provide breakdowns, templates, and examples for each question. REMEMBER: You only need to write ONE ESSAY that's 650 words (and no less than 250 words). The essay prompts for the 2023-2024 Common App can be found here.

  17. 27 Outstanding College Essay Examples From Top Universities 2024

    The "Dead Bird" Example College Essay Example. This was written for a Common App college application essay prompt that no longer exists, which read: Evaluate a significant experience, risk, achievement, ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you. Smeared blood, shredded feathers. Clearly, the bird was dead.

  18. 162 Persuasive Writing Prompts & Topics: Examples & Tips

    A prompt should ultimately convey your stance on the subject. Use words like convince, persuade, and why. Avoid using how in a persuasive essay prompt as it distracts from the purpose of such writing. 💡 How to Write a Persuasive Essay Using a Prompt? Persuasive writing prompts help produce a good quality essay.

  19. SAT Essay Prompts: The Complete List

    Special note: The prompt for Practice Test 4 also appears on the College Board's site with real sample essays written in response. If you've written a practice essay for practice test 4 and want to see what essays of different score levels look like for that particular prompt, you can go there and look at eight real student essays.

  20. How to Write Common App Essay Prompt #1

    The essay you write should be under 650 words, and it should creatively tell the admissions committee about who you are as a person. This article will guide you through crafting a response to the first Common App prompt, which is the following: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe ...

  21. What Is a Prompt in Writing? (Ultimate Guide + 200 Examples)

    A prompt in writing is a starting point designed to ignite creativity, guiding writers to explore themes, genres, or emotions. It can be a word, question, image, or scenario, aiding in overcoming writer's block. Keep reading to learn everything you need to know about prompts in writing.

  22. 6 SAT Essay Examples to Answer Every Prompt

    Here are a couple of examples of statistics from an official SAT essay prompt, "Let There Be Dark" by Paul Bogard: Example: 8 of 10 children born in the United States will never know a sky dark enough for the Milky Way. Example: In the United States and Western Europe, the amount of light in the sky increases an average of about 6% every year.

  23. 100 Creative Writing Prompts for Middle & High School

    Similar to how an academic essay prompt provides a jumping-off point for forming and organizing an argument, creative writing prompts are points of initiation for writing a story, poem, or creative essay. ... Perhaps choose a main prompt, and a different "sub-prompt." For example, your main prompt might be "write about being in transit ...

  24. 177 College Essay Examples for 11 Schools + Expert Analysis

    Using real sample college essays that worked will give you a great idea of what colleges look for. Learn from great examples here. ... Please note that some of these college essay examples may be responding to prompts that are no longer in use. The current Common App prompts are as follows: 1. Some students have a background, identity, interest ...