These are the current essay prompts. Both the Common App and the Coalition have added an optional question to address Covid-19’s impact on the class of 2021. Scroll down to below those prompts to find short-answer prompts from Emory, Georgia Tech, Cornell, and Pitt.
Common App Essay Prompts
The word limit on the essay is 650.
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.
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?
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
4. 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 that is 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.
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
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?
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.
Optional Covid-19 Question:
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 study spaces.
- Do you wish to share anything on this topic? Y/N
- Please use this space to describe how these events have impacted you.
The question will be optional and will appear in the Additional Information section of the application.The response length will be limited to 250 words. The question will be accompanied by a more detailed FAQ to help students consider the kinds of impacts they may wish to report, including illness and loss, housing and employment disruptions, and shifting family obligations.
Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success Essay Prompts
The University of Maryland uses the Coalition prompts but also started accepting the Common App for class of 2021.
From the Coalition: “In general, we have found that concise, straightforward writing is often the best for college essays, and that good essays are often 300 to 400 words in length. While there is no perfect length for an essay, most application readers find college essays are rarely improved when they are longer than 500 to 550 words, and we strongly recommend you stay within that limit. For more information on specific application requirements, please consult the website for each institution to which you are applying, as requirements often vary.”
The prompts are:
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
- Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
- What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?
- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
Optional Covid-19 Question:
Natural disasters and emergency situations like the COVID-19 pandemic have impacted the lives of many students and their families. While entirely optional, you may share information here regarding how any of these events have affected you or your family circumstances.
Check all of the following that apply to you:
☐ I had inconsistent or unreliable access to home internet and/or a computer, laptop or tablet.
☐ At least one parent/guardian lost their job or was unable to work.
☐ I lost my job or was no longer able to work.
☐ At least one parent, guardian or caretaker was considered an essential worker (e.g. healthcare worker, grocery store employee, public transportation driver, first responder, sanitation worker) and was required to work.
☐ I was considered an essential worker and required to work.
☐ My community had a curfew affecting the hours I could travel, use electricity, or access the internet.
☐ My home responsibilities (i.e. childcare, elder care, etc.) substantially increased or changed.
☐ My health was affected.
☐ A member of my household’s health was affected.
☐ None of these apply to me.
☐ I would like to provide additional information. (Text box appears providing for 300 words max)
Emory Essay Prompts
We are pleased to announce Emory University’s short answer questions for the coming application cycle.
In addition to your Personal Statement, please answer two (2) of the prompts below. Choose one prompt from the “Reflections” category and one prompt from the “Tell us about you” category.
We encourage you to be thoughtful and not stress about what the right answer might be. We simply want to get to know you better. Each response should be no more than 150 words.
Respond to one of the following.
- Share about a time when you questioned something that you believed to be true.
- If you could go back in time, what advice would you offer yourself at the beginning of secondary/high school?
- Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.
“Tell us about you” Category
Respond to one of the following.
- Which book, character, song, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) represents you, and why?
- If you could witness a historic event first-hand, what would it be, and why?
- Introduce yourself to your first-year Emory University roommate.
For advice on answering both the short answer prompts as well as writing your personal statement, read our Strong Personal Statements writing advice blog series. You will find last year’s standout personal statements from students who enrolled at Emory University. Accompanying the essays is writing advice from the counseling team that read the application. We hope you find it helpful!
- Read Part 1 from the 2019-2020 school year (read Part 2 here, Part 3 here, Part 4 here, and Part 5 here).
The 2020-2021 writing advice series will be published this September with new examples of personal statements from enrolled students. We look forward to getting to know you better through your application writing. Enjoy the process, and feel free to post any questions or comments below.
Georgia Tech Essay Prompts
Georgia Tech Essay Questions for 2021 Applications
Both prompts below are required of all applicants.
- Essay Prompt 1
Why do you want to study your chosen major specifically at Georgia Tech?
- Essay Prompt 2 All applicants must choose one of the two questions below
- Georgia Tech is committed to creating solutions to some of the world’s most pressing challenges. Tell us how you have improved or hope to improve the human condition in your community.
- If you feel that your personal or community background can provide additional insight to your application that we have not already seen elsewhere, please take this opportunity to share that information with us.
What We Are Looking For
Essays are evaluated for both content and writing/grammatical skills.So, before submitting your application, you should take the time to edit and review your essay thoroughly. The traits of a strong essay include ones that:
- Demonstrate authenticity & self-awareness
- Demonstrate thoughtfulness
- Display attention to topic, style, and grammar
- Demonstrate a student has thought about why Georgia Tech, specifically, is a fit for them and how their goals align with Georgia Tech’s mission statement: The Georgia Institute of Technology is a public research university established by the state of Georgia in Atlanta in 1885 and committed to developing leaders who advance technology and improve the human condition.
Our advice for completing this portion of the application
- Get started early. Don’t wait until the last minute to complete your essays!
- Write and edit your essay in a document editor. Once you have the final draft, you can cut and paste it into your online application.
- Don’t write what you think we want to read. Write what you want to say!
- Don’t blow off the essay! We wouldn’t ask you to write it if we didn’t find it to be an important way to get to know you, and what you have to bring to Georgia Tech.
Cornell Writing Supplement
Please see the instructions on Cornell’s Admissions website at admissions.cornell.edu/apply/first-year-applicants prior to completing the Cornell University Questions and Writing Supplement in the My Colleges section of the Common Application.
The primary focus of your college interest essay should be what you intend to study at Cornell.
In the online Common Application Writing Supplement, please respond to the essay question below (maximum of 650 words) that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying.
Cornell’s College Interest Essays
College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. Specifically, how will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) and Cornell University help you achieve your academic goals?
College of Architecture, Art, and Planning: What is your “thing”? What energizes you or engages you so deeply that you lose track of time? Everyone has different passions, obsessions, quirks, inspirations. What are yours?
College of Arts and Sciences: Students in Arts and Sciences embrace the opportunity to delve into multifaceted academic interests, embodying in 21st century terms Ezra Cornell’s “any person…any study” founding vision. Tell us about the areas of study you are excited to explore, and specifically why you wish to pursue them in our College.
Cornell SC Johnson College of Business: What kind of a business student are you? The Cornell SC Johnson College of Business offers two distinct business programs, the Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management and the School of Hotel Administration. Please describe how your interests and ambitions can be met through one or both of the Schools within the College.
College of Engineering: Tell us about what excites you most about Cornell Engineering and/or studying engineering at Cornell University. How do you see yourself becoming a part of the Cornell Engineering community?
College of Human Ecology: How has your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology been influenced by your related experiences? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future?
School of Industrial and Labor Relations: Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should show us that your interests align with the ILR School.
University of Pittsburgh
The following questions are optional, but strongly encouraged. Your answers may increase the likelihood that you are considered for scholarships, guaranteed admission to graduate or professional school, or given special consideration due to extenuating circumstances. You may choose to answer any or all of the following questions.
1. Tell us about something you have read/watched/listened to that made an impact on you. Tell us why it made an impact.
2. If you could create a new product, process, business, or organization, what would this entity look like? (We especially encourage applicants interested in the College of Business Administration or the Swanson School of Engineering to respond to this question.)
3. What else should we know about you? Take this opportunity to tell the Admissions Committee anything else you think we should know as we review your application for admission.