How to Respond to Prompt Seven of the Common Application

Common Application 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.

The seventh and final prompt of the Common Application throws the gates wide open and welcomes whatever topic you desire to write about!

I love this prompt, and I’ll tell you why I love it so much. Often times I find students struggling to ensure that their essay precisely responds to what one of the other prompts asks for. They worry whether or not their essay will work based on whether or not it addresses a prompt in a particular way. Perhaps as they wrote they found a new focus that took it in a different direction, or perhaps they feel inclined to express themselves with a topic that doesn’t quite appear in the prompts. Maybe it is even a cross between two of the prompts, and then how do you choose? This final prompt gives students permission to write about what they are truly passionate about for their Common Application Personal Statement. It essentially says, didn’t find what you were looking for? No worries! Share with us what you would like!

This seventh prompt encapsulates the true purpose of the personal statement: to get to know you. Every prompt that has come before is just that — a prompt, meant to help you begin to brainstorm and get the juices flowing for what might become a representative, intriguing, meaningful essay. If they help you in full or in part, perfect; if you have something else that you need to express, then go for that instead!

This mentality pulls me back to what I always ask students when we first start working together — what do you most want admissions officers and a university to know about you?

How do you want to introduce or represent yourself? What is important to understanding who you are, what you care about, what your values are, who you are as a person? The personal essay focuses on this purpose. It is meant to give admissions officers insight into who you are as a person, how you will enrich the campus community, and how prepared you are for collegiate level study.

For the final open prompt, you can return to the beginning for brainstorming. What are your responses to some of the above questions that I have posed? They might dip into some of the other six prompts, or they might be entirely novel. Approaching it either way is appropriate.

While the essay itself is open, you should still keep in mind some of the important aspects of what is generally desired of this type of essay. Generally, because it is a personal statement and the one way on the application they really get to hear about you the person, it is important to still keep this essay revolving around you as a subject. Think about important things, people, events, ideals, etc., in your life. How have they shaped who you are today? How might they inspire you? What are your dreams? Because admissions officers want to get to know you through this essay, keep it essentially a narrative essay about you.

Try not to stray too much into an academic or argumentative style essay, or something of that nature. Typically, these essays do not read like an essay you might turn into English class on symbolism in 1984 or into Physics on the creation of black holes. They would see your interest in these subjects, but likely, you would be missing from them. Instead, you would want to write about how 1984 inspired you to become a novelist and you completed NANOWRIMO last year or how learning about black holes or other phenomenon in our universe fuels your curiosity. Similar topics, but different focus. The latter version would allow you to open an essay about yourself, your thoughts, your actions, your values, and an admissions officer reading it would be able to not only learn more about you but also how you might enrich the campus community.

That said as a general guideline, my best advice about all with these essays is have fun. When first approaching what to write about and brainstorming, relax. Spend some time with your ideas seeing what you might have in mind and how each topic idea might come to fruition. Use the prompts as helpers to get started, but not strict guidelines. Choose the topic that you feel the most passionate about.

Even in talking with students, I can tell when there is a topic they feel they should write about, which they general feel a level of hesitation and uncertainty about, versus what they are truly excited about, which lifts their mood and voice. If you’re talking with people about your topic and it feels like a drag, maybe that’s not your topic! If you get enthusiastic thinking about it and start to feel a lift, that could be it!

Give yourself time to think of ideas and what feels the most essential to you. More often than not, your gut knows. And once you feel set about your topic, then you can get into the nitty gritty of brainstorming details to include, outlining, writing, and editing!

Hopefully this post has given you some permission to have fun and experiment with your essay topic! My other blog posts detail the specifics of the other Common App prompts and how to approach them. In my future posts, I’ll be discussing more on how to make the most of brainstorming, writing, and editing to ensure that your essay shines on your application!

Want to make sure your essay leaves a strong impression? I’ve worked with dozens of students throughout the essay-writing process to ensure their best possible work. For one-on-one guidance, check out Essay with Ease offers individualized essay programs. Set up a free consultation today!