3 Tips To Choose The Right Common App Essay Prompt

Select the essay question that works best for you!

Photo of Lisa Mortini
Girl watching America neon sign

Summer is here! It’s time to start preparing your application to NYU. If you’re wondering how to choose the right prompt amongst the seven offered by the Common Application, then keep reading.

TIP 1 – Which YOU are you presenting to NYU?

Diverse lego heads

Don’t just jump on the first prompt you read and start writing. Before you choose a prompt, you may want to ask yourself: are you excited to talk to us about a specific achievement? Do you want to give us insight into a hardship you faced and conquered? Are you keen to tell us about how you challenged the world around you? Are you so passionate about something that it’s all you can talk about these days?

Each of the seven essay questions in the Common Application will highlight and reveal a different facet of your personality. Do your research on NYU to truly understand why we are the school for you. Use your findings to decide which of your own qualities, skills, and character traits show that you are a good match for NYU. Then choose the prompt that will help us best understand that you are indeed the right fit for the school.

TIP 2 – Are you sure you’ve read this right?

piles of books

While the seven prompts from the Common Application seem straightforward, are you sure you’ve really understood what they are asking?

Do read each question—and especially the one you will choose to answer—very carefully. These prompts are not as simple as they appear. Many of them have layers and sub-questions. Do not latch only on one key word and run away with it! You want to make sure you are actually understanding the question before you answer it fully.

I heard this tip from a colleague once and it never left me. To make sure you’ve actually answered the question, ask someone you trust to read your essay draft but remove the question first. Ask them afterwards what they think the questions was. If they get it, bingo! You’ve answered the question. If they are off-base, then you may want to rework your answer to make sure it covers what is actually being asked.

TIP 3 – Trust your instinct

lightbulb

Many of you will already have, in the back of your mind, an interesting story about your life that you’d like to share with NYU. It’s an interesting anecdote that would accentuate your fit within our student community. But then, you hesitate. You’re unsure if you should choose this story or another one. Or another one. Maybe this other one would do?

Bottom line is trust that you know yourself.  If you feel a specific story would represent your personality well and convey your fit to NYU better than another, then choose that one. Don’t debate forever. No time to waste!

BONUS TIP

woman jumping yellow wall

Many of you might consider choosing 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.

While great personal statements can come from this prompt, my application reviewer experience tells me it’s not always the savviest choice. As this question is very open, you may be tempted to use an essay that you’ve already written for a completely different reason. These essays tend to be more impersonal. They often focus on a school subject, a project or activity you were a part of. They don’t really tell us about YOU. What makes you interesting, unique, and a good fit for NYU. My recommendation would be to write your application essay for this purpose specifically and choosing one of the six other prompts will ensure that you do just that.

EXTRA BONUS TIP

shoes on yellow dot

As we are still navigating uncertain times, you may be tempted to use prompt 7, the open essay, to write about recent events and how they have most certainly affected your life. “How I survived the Covid-19 lockdown” might well be on its way to become a recurring essay topic this coming year.

Before you chose this particular subject for your main essay, do ask yourself: What have I lived through that thousands (if not millions) of other high school students around the world have not also gone through? What is my angle on this? How would choosing this subject help me differentiate myself from others and help reveal my true personality? If you are struggling to find satisfying answers to these questions, another topic may be more appropriate.

Additionally, don’t forget that the Common Application has given you a dedicated space in the ‘Additional Information’ section to talk about your experience. This should give you ample space to share with us any Covid-19 details that you deem relevant.

Finally....

dog with wolly hat
There is no hidden meaning behind this pooch photo. He fits the yellow scheme of this post and he's just too cute.

If you are still unsure what to do with your essay, let me refer you to my earlier post about writing a great application essay. While written with international candidates in mind, it should prove useful to all who apply to NYU. Another great article about strengthening your writing is my colleague David’s post about how to proofread your college essay.

Happy writing! We really look forward to reading your essays very soon.