The Common App Personal Statement Prompts are Out…Which One Should You Choose?


Just weeks after our seniors finished submitting their applications for the Fall of 2019, the Common Application announced this year’s personal statement prompts.

The good news: The prompts haven’t changed since last year.

The bad news: Well, there is none.

For those of you new to the application process, let’s take a step back. What is the personal statement in the first place? It’s a 650-word admissions essay that will be sent to most of the US universities you apply to – in other words, it’s a V.I.E. (a “very important essay”). The personal statement is one of the biggest components of your US undergraduate application; it is just as important (in the review process) as your grades (transcript), your standardized test scores (ACT/SAT, SAT IIs, IELTS/TOEFL), your resume and extracurricular profile, your letters of recommendation, and your additional supplemental essays.

Like we said, it’s a V.I.E.

This early question-release is a big deal for you as a future US university applicant. It means that you can get started brainstorming, and writing, your personal statement now.

Without further ado, here are the (same as last year) prompts:

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

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

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

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

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

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

With 7 different choices, you’re probably asking “which question should I explore?”

The good news: There’s no right answer.

The bad news:  There’s no right answer.

CommonApp, with their announcement, also told us which questions are the most popular. And, well, there wasn’t a majority. Here are the stats:

  1. 24.1% of applicants chose to answer this question: 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.
  2. 23.7% of applicants chose to answer this question: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  3. 21.1% of applicants chose to answer this question: 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?

That leads us to a very important question. Why isn’t there a majority?

Here’s the scoop: universities don’t prefer one prompt over another…and neither do students. In fact, we encourage students to work backwards.

That’s right.

Ignore the prompts we just showed you.

Instead, focus on choosing a relevant, meaningful, personal story. A story only you can tell.

In the end, it doesn’t matter whether your story answers question 1, 3, or 5. In the end, it doesn’t matter whether it focuses on your adventurous trek through the mountains, your relationship with your dad, you discovering something new about your background, or your recovery from a broken arm. What does matter is that your final personal statement is honest, personal, eloquent, and backed with your own strong, individual voice.

And let’s not forget the self-reflection that is required to execute a standout personal statement; your essay should aim to answer these questions:

Where/Who were you in the past?
Where/Who are you now?
Where/Who do you hope to be in the future?

Our last piece of advice to US university hopefuls: before you log into the Common App to upload your 650 words, make sure you, and someone else, and a second someone else, proofread your writing for any, and all, mistakes. There’s nothing like ruining a strong story with the misuse of a comma or an easily avoidable typo. Yes, these things do matter.

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At Hale, our consultants have already began working tirelessly with students to make sure they find the right prompt for their story. What’s next for our students? Outlining, writing, and proofreading…When, and where, will you begin?





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