Essay Prompt #1: 2016/17 Common Application

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.


Prompt one, along with prompt four, is one of the most open prompts to manipulating and writing what you want.


This can be a blessing and a curse. It’s a curse if you stretch the prompt and go off topic. It’s a blessing if you use it as an opportunity to be original and unique within the confines of the prompt.

To do this essay well, you have to respond strictly to the prompt, but show enough of yourself to catch the eye of the college.


Let’s break it down.


“A background, identity, interest or talent”


These six words could be the entire prompt. This is what you are here to write about. Write about anything else, and you’re out of luck as far as the admissions office is concerned.


Thankfully, there’s a lot of room within the prompt to talk about almost anything. Start with your upbringing, some part of your identity, or maybe just an interesting activity or hobby. From there, you can guide the conversation in any direction you want.

You will have to walk a fine line here. Colleges receive thousands of applications every year about students learning lessons from the sport they play, or what they’ve learned from volunteering.


You don’t want to write an essay that is just like the essay everyone else wrote, but you also don’t want to be different for different’s sake. You don’t want to get too personal in your essay, but you want it to show more than just what they can see from your application.


“[Your] application would be incomplete without it”


If you’ve talked about a topic at length somewhere else in your application, then it’s not the topic to write the essay on. Read through the rest of your application and ask yourself: What parts of my life are missing, or underrepresented?

This portion of the prompt invites you to give the reader a fuller picture of yourself, and you need to take advantage of opportunities to personify yourself in your application.

“If this sounds like you”


These words aren’t really even part of the prompt. Instead, they’re a warning.

If you don’t have a “background, identity, interest, or talent” that is both “meaningful” to you and well suited for an original and captivating essay, this might not be the prompt you should write on. Take this qualifier into account.

Share your story”

These are the final three words in your instructions. They may seem like throwaway words, but they point to something important about what you need to do with your writing.


The end of the prompt is a reminder that this essay shouldn’t just be a recounting of your past accomplishments. You’re telling a story to the admissions staff that read it.

To succeed with Prompt 1, you need to tell your own story. Add a little bit of voice, and make your discussion into a narrative.

Jeremy Baxter

Jeremy is a rising freshman at Cornell University. He graduated in the top 10 of his 500-member high school class and scored a 35 on his first sitting of the ACT. He is a recovering procrastinator who wants to share the methods he uses to get work done and succeed.