College Essays Common Application Common Application Essay COVID-19

Common App Makes Changes for the 2021-2022 Essays

The Common Application released their essay prompts early this year. Usually, the prompts are an exact repeat from the previous year (as has been the case for four years) but this year they’re changing it up —just what you need this year, more change.  Thankfully, it’s not too much!


The following question, which they’ve had for years, is now gone:

  • “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 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.”

This is a bummer because we (and admissions officers) liked this one! For our students who are STEM researchers, this prompt was a terrific way to showcase their research experience noting what they’ve done outside of school assignments.

In its place, there is a new prompt 4 and it keeps with the pandemic’s theme of striving for kindness, being thankful for (and cognizant of) what you have, and showing you truly care about and respect others. It is:

  • “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?”

To us, it sounds like the Common Application has been reading the Coalition Application’s prompts, as they decided to keep theirs the same for 2021-2022.  Note prompt # 2, which is: “Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus.  Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.”


These two prompts align with the times. Colleges are urging students to consider their civic leadership, community activism, and how they care for others, remaining mindful of the greater good.

Also, the Common App is keeping the optional COVID-19 essay prompt from last year. It is:

  • Community disruptions such as COVID-19 and natural disasters can have deep and long-lasting impacts. If you need it, this space is yours to describe those impacts. Colleges care about the effects on your health and well-being, safety, family circumstances, future plans, and education, including access to reliable technology and quiet study spaces (250 word limit)
    • Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
    • Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you. (Students may wish to discuss shifting family obligations, education disruptions, ways they have helped others, or how they have used their time at home to pursue new interests. This question will not replace the preexisting Additional Information essay, which has a 650 word limit.)

While everyone on the planet has been impacted by the global pandemic, the Common App’s COVID-19 optional essay is not something that all students should complete. It’s for unique circumstances only –and we can walk you through it, just let us know!

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All college applicants submitting a Common App WILL need to complete the main essay for the Common Application, and below is the full set of essay prompts for 2021-2022:

  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.

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Need assistance with your essay? Try our personalized essay solution.


How do you keep it scholarly and memorable, pick the prompt that best works for you, and still relay who you are and what you’ll uniquely bring to a university? Let us assist! We’ve helped students who have written their Common App main essays on topics such as:

  • A research internship studying asylum in the United States
  • 3D visualization techniques used to recreate a grandfather’s antique clock collection
  • Experiencing how Black feminism impacts high school sports
  • Why studying the water we drink should be a priority for all (hint –there’s other stuff in there, you know)
  • How a violin’s bow speed links to wave studies and physics
  • Creating a robot that can teach coding to kids
  • How gender equity threads to juvenile justice

When we work with students, a main essay discussion starts with a dialogue on what you love, what intrigues you, what excites you, why you do it, and who it’s for. Check out our Common App 911 and Essay Guidance Program, work with us in our Application Boot Camp 2021, or consider TTA’s Private Counseling Program. We’re certain we can help you narrow down these 7 prompts to one that puts you, your work, and your accomplishments in the best possible light.  The prompts are out early, so start brainstorming early – we’re at the ready to help!

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