College essay prompts change to reflect values of this year


Zaynah Shah

The Common App allows for students to apply to colleges nationwide through essay formatted prompts.

Zaynah Shah, AVT Page Editor

The Common App college application service recently switched an essay question that now stresses the importance of student gratitude as a result of the pandemic.

“Particularly at this challenging time, we can help students think about something positive and heartfelt in their lives … and we can do it explicitly,” said Jenny Rickard, President and CEO of the Common App.

Every few years, the program changes the topic of a single essay prompt in order to best reflect current events in the world that impact the lives of students. This time, they’ve swapped out their essay question regarding problem solving to one about gratitude. 

“A shift from describing challenging times or problems needing to be solved to a focus on finding light or gratitude during this hard year seems timely,” said Amador College and Career Specialist Kimberly Woodworth.

With the insertion of the new prompt, Amador senior Anshika Ojha (‘22) believes that it is beneficial for students to recognize gratitude.

“I actually really like that change because it allows you to express more about outside-of-school life. Especially with the pandemic, I can understand why there might be many gratitude moments that people can talk about, like how other people have helped them,” said Ojha.

In comparison to the concrete nature of the previous problem-solving question, gratitude is an abstract universal theme based on appreciation and the positive influence of other people, regardless of one’s family background. 

“I feel like gratitude is something that everyone has a chance to experience and everyone has a chance to; everyone has an equal opportunity to it,” said Amelia Schwarz (‘22).

While one’s feelings of gratitude definitely can be crafted into a stellar essay, it can also lead to a supposedly personal piece inadvertently focusing on the kindness of another person.

“When you’re writing about how someone else has done something for you that made you happy, I feel like it’s hard to write a good essay that describes who you are as a person, instead of describing the person who did something good for you,” said Brady Judson (‘22).

This year’s essay questions also emphasize meaningful identities, overcoming challenges, complicated ideas, and student interest and accomplishments. The Common Application also offers students the opportunity to write an essay on a topic of their choice.

“I’m glad that they gave that option to share whichever topic you want. They always have that option so just in case if you wanted to go back to the old problem solving prompt, you could still always talk about it,” said Ojha.

For seniors currently in the process of crafting their college applications, it’s recommended to choose the question that you’re confident can best show who you are as a person. 

“Schools really want to know who you are, how you handle adversity, and what makes you tick,” said Woodworth.