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It may seem like application season is far off in the future, but did you know that the Common App has already confirmed its personal statement prompts for the 24-25 cycle?

Beginning to work on the essays over the spring and summer is a smart idea, and it can actually take much of the stress out of its preparation and lessen the work students have to do in their fall semester. 

First and foremost, college essays, including the personal statement, are meant to help the colleges learn more about who the student is. Admissions officers want to see thoughtful personal statements that help them better know a student, in addition to making sure that the student has the ability to convey ideas in the written form. In order to produce a thoughtful essay, of course, students need to reflect on what they want to say in their essays. 

What prompt should I choose?

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

A very common choice for students, this prompt is asking students to be reflective about an important element of themselves – and demonstrating that ability to reflect is often more important than the background, identity, interest, or talent itself!

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?

Many students assume this is what all personal statements are about, but it’s worth noting that it is only 1 of 7 options! If this is a student’s choice, the emphasis of the essay should really be in answering the two questions about what happened as a result of the obstacle vs focusing on the obstacle itself.

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

A great choice for students who like engaging with intellectual and abstract ideas and want to demonstrate that passion in an essay.

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 newest prompt, added during COVID – this is a chance to demonstrate some of the positive personal attributes that admissions counselors are always on the lookout for, including gratitude and community-mindedness.

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

An opportunity to highlight change or growth during high school – this can be particularly helpful for students who may have had a rockier start to high school and want to highlight an intentional change in focus, study habits, etc.

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?

Like choice 3., this is a great chance to show off a bit to admissions counselors about something – a topic learned in class, a concept introduced through a favorite book, an idea regularly discussed with friends – that presents the student as genuinely engaged and a lover of learning.

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.

What I call the ‘escape hatch’ essay – this prompt allows students to write about really anything, though we should take a clear lesson from the other prompts that the essay always needs to communicate something important about the student that wouldn’t be communicated elsewhere in the application, as well as that capacity for thoughtful reflection.


Which essay questions call out to you the most, or bring to mind qualities or stories that you’d like to share with colleges? It can help for students to jot down some bullet points or reflections for what thoughts come to mind with each of the prompts, and see which question produces the most writing or invokes the most emotion. And note that the final prompt is “share an essay on a topic of your choice.” In other words, students do not need to feel locked in to a particular question, and in fact should feel free to write about whatever they choose!

College essays can be stressful, especially if students do not leave sufficient time to reflect and revise their work. But writing essays does not have to be a painful experience. In fact, if students start early on their essays, they can remove much of the stress from the process while laying the foundations for a thoughtful essay.

Feeling like you could use some extra support getting started? Get help from our team of experienced essay coaches here at Galin, either by registering up for one of our summer College Application Camps or by calling our office at (608) 841-1053 to arrange a one-on-one meeting with an essay coach!

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