We've all been anticipating that the 2021-2022 college admissions cycle will look different from the past years given the coronavirus pandemic. With SAT Subject Tests being made obsolete, extended test optional application policies and even changes in the amount of financial aid available to applicants, we have been preparing our students to formulate different strategies for the 2021 college admissions process. And with the Common Application's release of their essay prompts in early 2021, it seems there is another slight change to take into consideration.

Usually, the Common Application essay prompts are an exact repeat of the prompts from the previous year - this has been the trend for the past 4 year at least. But it seems with all the other changes in the 2021-2022 college application, the Common Application decided to jump on the bandwagon as well.

For the past four years, the fourth Common App essay prompt has always read like this:

"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."

At AIM, we tend to focus on getting the student's story out first before choosing a prompt. But it cannot be denied that sometimes looking at the prompts first provides some well needed inspiration to students who seem to be stuck in the brainstorming process. Prompt 4 was a favourite among STEM oriented students as it gave them an opportunity to showcase research experience while highlighting things they've done outside of the classroom.

Instead, the Prompt 4 we've come to know and love has been replaced by the following:

"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 new Prompt 4 isn't surprising given the recurring theme of kindness, gratitude, care and respect that has been brought even closer into the college application due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Out with the old, in with the new it is!

As predicted by AIM's expert college counselors, the optional COVID-19 essay prompt introduced in 2020 is here to stay. Colleges are urging students to become more mindful about their interactions with their community now more than ever. Simultaneously, they want students to be given a specific space to discuss the disruptions that may have seemingly interrupted their lives.

The prompt reads as follows:

"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 student spaces (250 words).

- 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.)"

It is important to note that although everyone on Earth has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the COVID-19 optional essay is not required. In fact, it may be one of only two essay prompts throughout this process that we recommend to avoid unless you have something significant to say (the other being the Additional Information section). If the only impact that this pandemic has had on you is that you can no longer go out with your friends, consider selecting "No" for this question.

All college applications submitting a Common App must submit a main essay for their application to be considered complete. Here are all the prompts for the 2021-2022 application cycle:
  • 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.
  • 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?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • 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?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • 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?
  • 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 Common App essay can be incredibly overwhelming. Why? Because for most students, it is the first time that they are being asked to write an essay about themselves. You want to produce an essay that's scholarly and memorable while showing who you are and what you'll bring to a university... and AIM can help with that.

There's no one way to go about a good Common App essay. We've helped students write essays about:

  • Life lessons from Candy Crush
  • Personal confrontations with Christianity
  • The comparison of Game of Thrones to teenage development
    (this one got into Harvard)
  • The complicated relationship between race and identity
  • Defining your superpower
The AIM method to writing a memorable and powerful essay is by starting with a brainstorming session with our students. We talk about what you love, what intrigues you, what excites you. Then we go into drafting and editing until it's the best representation of your story possible.

The AIM College Advising Program includes essentially unlimited essay help (until the prescribed date outlined in the CAP Contract) to help you every step of the way - from Common App essays to Supplemental essays to Scholarship essays. You can also get essay help by the hour in our A La Carte 1 Hour Essay Sessions. Here you can dictate exactly what you need - brainstorming help or editing an already existing essay. Feeling more confident in your writing abilities? The AIM College Navigator is equipped with Masterclasses on the best tips and tricks to writing a phenomenal essay... and you can always book those 1 Hour Essay Sessions if you need it.

We're certain that we can help your essay to truly shine and showcase who you really are and why you're a unique fit for the schools you are applying to. The prompts are out early, so start brainstorming early! We're always ready to help.

Author: TJ Chung
TJ Chung is AIM's "essay guru" and has been editing college essays for the past 3 years. She has helped numbers of students showcase their best selves through essays to get to the school of their dreams.
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