Ranking the Most Common College Application Prompts

Alexander Ursu

College application has ended for most seniors, and as we anxiously wait for admission letters to come in, I thought it would be a good time to reflect on some of the essays we have written. Which ones were you most excited to see when you opened a common app? Which ones caused the most pain? Today, I’ll take you down memory lane to rank the 7 most common supplemental essays you have to write for college, from the worst to the best.


  1. Why College X?

The “Why College X” is one of the most frustrating essays for me to write. Unlike other essays, you have to write an entirely new essay for every college you have to apply to. For your dream schools, this isn’t too bad. It even feels refreshing to be able to talk about why you have been dreaming of this college for years. However, when you get down on your list to your safety schools, this essay can really become a drag.


  1. Leadership

Most colleges these days require you to write an essay demonstrating your leadership. For some people, the club leaders, the socially-involved people, this is a breeze. However, for many others, this essay requires some soul-searching. The key here is to broaden your view of what a leader is. Maybe you didn’t run a club or start a movement, but think of times when you created a family tradition or a small event with some friends. If you are the first type of student, though, don’t think you are off the hook. Most of these essays require you to describe how you grew from these experiences, so no matter how you slice it, you are going to need to dig deep for this one.


  1. Community

Like the leadership essay, talking about communities may come easy to some students and not so easy to others. You, again, have to broaden your definition of a community and see how you changed from that experience. However, many people enjoy writing about a community they have been a part of more, warranting this spot on the list.


  1. Passion/Extracurricular activities

Many schools want you to expand on an activity on our outside your activity list. Talking about things you are passionate about is usually a very pleasant experience, and unless you are void of passion which (I hope) very few students are, you usually have a topic to write about. You also have to explain what this activity or passion means to you, which can be a bit tedious at times, but usually, this essay is a breeze.

  1. Lists/Short questions

Nobody dislikes these prompts. They are to be answered usually in three to fifty words, and are generally nothing to stress over. These are typically questions like “what books do you like to read” or “describe yourself in three words” or “what is something that is important to you.” The best thing to do here is to just be honest. They are not very impactful for your whole application, but it gives the reader an opportunity to find out a little bit more about you. Short and sweet.


  1. Creative essay

This is probably the most controversial pick on my list, as I know many students absolutely loathe creative essays. However, I really enjoyed writing mine. The University of Chicago, a college many students at Whitney Young apply to, writes some of the best prompts, and thinking of creative ways to answer them was really fun for me. For this essay, you really have to let your mind go free and try to think of unorthodox ways of answering the question. If you can do that, you are bound to write a good essay without much pain.


  1. Why your major?

On the top of my list, we have the “why your major essay?” This supplemental is my favorite. First off, it allows you to talk about subjects that you truly are passionate about. Nearly all Whitney Young students have something to write about without too much thought. It also lets you talk about moments which got you interested in the field of study you want to pursue, which are often fun to write about. Finally, this essay is nearly the same for all schools you apply to, so you don’t have to spend lots of time writing and rewriting, merely adopting the same narrative to different prompts. It’s easily one of the easiest essays to write, and if you do it right, it can help your application immensely. 


Links and Resources for Juniors:

Ms Pasulka’s youtube channel (this helped a lot)

Past UChicago creative essay prompts

Naviance (do this stuff early!)

Common App (also do this stuff early!)

Rejection letter simulator (to manage the pain)

College essay writing website

Another college essay writing website