Blog 🍎 School 12th March 2024

How to Answer the 2024 Common App Essay Prompts

Common App Essay Prompts
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Rebecca Hambery Schools Content Writer

If your international school students are looking to study at a university in the US, then there is a high probability they will need to answer one of the Common App essay prompts. After all, the Common App is the most widely used admissions platform for US university applicants.

In our updated guide to the Common App essay for the 2024/25 application cycle, we’ll explore the Common App essay prompts and discuss how you can support your students as they write their applications.

Download your Common App essay prompt worksheets

Use our free worksheets to help your students plan and write a truly original and individual Common App essay.

Tips for students brainstorming the Common App essay prompts

Before your students start answering their Common App essay prompt, it’s worth encouraging them to make notes on how they can demonstrate the core qualities which admissions officers will look for in any application. Students need to think about how they can demonstrate the following.


The ability to collaborate, and demonstrate teamwork is something which university admissions staff will be looking for. Encourage your students to think about a moment when they learned the value of teamwork.

Work Experience & Extracurricular Activities

Ask your students to make a note of any extracurricular activities which may connect with their academic passions and interests. Extracurricular activities are a great way for students to demonstrate relevant leadership and organisational skills and reflect on any experiences or challenges which they have overcome.

Leadership & entrepreneurial activities

The Common App essay prompts allow your students to demonstrate leadership, or entrepreneurial drive, and help them illustrate that they can be innovative and forward-thinking. Encourage your students to make notes on the following:

  • Can they demonstrate the ability to put an idea into action?
  • Can they name a time when they’ve started something (a business venture, a club, a creative project), and pushed it to be bigger and better?
  • Have they achieved something noteworthy or unusual?

Community service 

Students should think about how they can demonstrate care for the wider community or the welfare of others, whether it’s through volunteering or any of their other extracurricular activities. 

Top tip: Community service is a great way to demonstrate citizenship and a sense of social responsibility.

Global perspective 

Students writing their Common App essay will be asked to demonstrate an understanding of other cultures, or the ability to speak another language. Encourage your students to think about any travelling or time abroad which might help them answer the essay prompts. 

What are the 2024 Common App Essay Prompts?

Now we’ll talk in more detail about what to expect for the Common App essay prompts for 2024/25. Each is designed to allow students to explore who they are, what they want from a college education, and their core beliefs and values. 

Each of the Common App essay prompts encourages students to explore their background and personality. 

So, let’s explore each in more detail.

Common App Essay Prompt 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.”

This is a wonderfully open Common App essay prompt. 

What’s it asking? In short, it’s inviting students to talk about any aspect of their culture, experiences or education that they feel is deeply meaningful to them. 

Specifically, college admissions committees want to know how student’s experiences have shaped and defined them. Let’s break up each section of this prompt, and look at how students can approach this essay.


In short, this is anything about a student’s background that they feel has shaped them. It could be information about their family history, background or lineage. Or they could write about a sport, interest or talent they had when they were younger that has shaped their personality as a teenager. 


This could be racial identity, sexual orientation, or even a religious belief. Students shouldn’t be afraid to expand their definition though. Being a member of a sports team, a band, or even an online community could constitute an ‘identity’ for some of your students. 


Again, a student’s interests can cover all manner of things. What’s most important when writing about interests is that it has to be something without which their application would be incomplete. 

For example, you may have a student who is an avid bookworm. This is quite a general interest, so you could encourage your student to talk about something specific about it. What have they learned from their favourite books? How has reading shaped their worldview, or their sense of self?

Common App Essay Prompt 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?”

This prompt, fundamentally, is trying to get students to think about how they overcome adversity and how they learn from their mistakes. There are several ways your students can approach this prompt. They could talk about one, big challenge they faced that completely redefined who they are, or a series of smaller, hurdles that can be linked. 

Some examples of ways that students could answer this question are by talking about a class they failed, or a subject at school they had to work hard to master. 

Alternatively, you can encourage your students to think about a more social or emotional struggle. Maybe they’ve had a falling out with a friend or family member because they didn’t consider the other person’s point of view or feelings.

Again, the key here is specificity. Students who opt for this prompt shouldn’t spend a lot of time sweating what they choose to discuss – they need to focus on what they learned from the experience, and how it changed them as a person. 

Did You Know? – BridgeU is integrated with the Common App

BridgeU’s integration with the Common App allows for an easier transfer of data, enabling counsellors to more easily send supporting documents, via BridgeU, to Common App institutions. This will help to smooth the application journey for students wishing to study at a Common App university.

Common App Essay Prompt 3

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

As with all of the Common App essay prompts, this is an invitation for a student to talk about a more personal, singular worldview. 

There are two popular ways for your students to approach this prompt. 

  • By discussing a time they took a minority view against the majority opinion.
  • By reflecting on a time when their own deeply held belief was challenged or placed under scrutiny. 

Again, you should encourage your students to look for detailed, real-world ways that they can answer this question. 

For example, if they have done some voluntary or community work that has affected how they feel about political issues like homelessness or care for the elderly. They might have completed an internship that has taught them something about how to run/operate a business. They could even have run a social media campaign for a school event, and learned something about the power of marketing! 

But here’s the most important thing to remember: this prompt is about the writer going on a journey. In a relatively short space of time, a student needs to tell a story of change, reflection and growth. 

Common App Essay Prompt 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?”

This prompt is designed to encourage students to think about the role gratitude has played in their lives!

As per usual with Common App essay prompts, you should encourage your students to be creative in their definition of something they’re grateful for. 

For example, it could be a physical gift or an act of kindness, support or selflessness from someone. They could have learned a valuable or life-altering lesson from a significant person in their lives – and this person could be someone they’re very close to or a stranger who has shaped their life in some way. 

It’s important for any of your students tackling this prompt to remember that the ‘something’ or the ‘someone’ of their story isn’t the point of the story. Instead, they should reflect on how that unique moment of kindness or inspiration has affected their personal growth. 

And don’t forget that the prompt asks students to reflect on a moment that made them “happy or thankful in a surprising way”. The key word here is ‘surprising.’ So encourage your students to think about a story that’s really unique to them.

Finally, remember that this story, whatever it may be, has to relate back to the sort of person that your student is today! How did this unexpected moment of gratitude impact their life? 

Common App Essay Prompt 5

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

This prompt is designed to encourage students to talk about a key milestone in their life, and how it affected them.

Again, situations that are as specific and meaningful as possible will really help an essay stand out. Some examples of useful milestones your students can write about include: 

  • Voting for the first time. 
  • Passing an important test or exam. 
  • Becoming an older sibling. 
  • A religious ceremony or rite of passage, e.g. a baptism or Bar-Mitzvah. 

It doesn’t have to be a big milestone either. Students could equally write about a small, but significant moment in their lives, such as the moment that a parent or family member taught them to cook, or even just a memorable birthday.

Common App Essay Prompt 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?”

This is a great prompt for your students to share their intellectual passions and interests. After all, it’s important to remember that US universities and colleges are interested in students who are intellectually engaged! 

It’s important that, if your students choose to answer this prompt, they approach it from an intellectual perspective.

Your student could write about their love of the Star Wars universe if they want to –  they just need to explain why they find this intellectually stimulating or engaging and relate it to their university application. 

Common App Essay 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.”

This prompt gives your students their own space to show how they’d be a great fit for their chosen university.

If you are working with students who want to use this as a topic, then make sure that they are linking their essay back to their intellectual interests, personal achievements and background. 

It’s important to remember some of the secrets to success in Prompts 1-6. Students should keep their answers specific, personal to them and, most importantly, find a way to tell a good story. 

FAQ’s about writing the Common App essay

  • What is the word count?

Your student’s essay should be between 250 and 650 words. However, we recommend you encourage students to write between 500 and 650 words to ensure they explore their topic sufficiently.

  • Does your essay have to be related to your major?

Your students’ Common App essays don’t need to exclusively focus on their chosen major. Admissions officers are mostly looking for insights into their personal experiences and values. Make sure your students tie their essays back to their skills and show how they’ll contribute to the university.

  • Do the Common App essay prompts change every year?

The Common Application essay prompts typically remain the same for several years, but they can occasionally change. The most recent change was in 2023, and they will remain the same for 2024. It’s a good idea for students to check the most recent version of the prompts when preparing their application essays.

  • Are Common App essays and personal statements the same thing?

Common App essays and personal statements serve similar purposes but are used in different educational systems. Both aim to allow applicants to showcase their qualities, experiences, and aspirations to admissions officers. A personal statement is focused on your student’s educational achievements, while the Common App essay is more focused on personality. 

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