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Common App Essay Prompts, Class of 2021 + COVID Prompt

New for COVID19!!!!

With so much disruption in the lives of students, as predicted, The Common App has announced an optional question in the “Additional Information” section for students to share, in 250 words or less (that’s not a lot, by the way), the effects of COVID19 on them. See the full explanation here.

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.”


Ask a senior or recent college graduate what the most challenging piece of the college application cycle is.

Number one answer, hands down, is the essay.

By starting in advance of applications opening, this does not have to cripple your application progress as it has for so many others.

Fortunately, the Common App prompts for the class of 2021 were announced early allowing for plenty of planning and writing time to craft an excellent essay over the summer.

This essay will be a different creature from all the essays you’ve written before. You’ll demonstrate your ability to write clearly and concisely and distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores?

Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words on the Common App. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so.

LEAP’s college counseling and essay team visits and interacts with dozens of colleges each year. We delve into what the colleges are searching for in your words. We know the colleges who will look at the essay more closely than others. We are experts at guiding you to tapping into the voice that needs to be heard.

Of the more than 800 colleges using the Common App most require students to have a personal statement on the Common App. However, even if a college does not require an essay, you may still submit your essay which is what LEAP recommends you do. If the essay is required, you will not be able to submit your application without an essay.

The Common App prompts for the 2020-21 cycle have no changes over the last three years. Common App polled students, teachers, college admissions staff, high school counselors and independent counselors (like me!) to decide whether they should make any changes; 95% of respondents said these”spark effective essays”.


Without further ado, these are your prompts!
Notice that lucky number 7 is a topic of the student’s choice.
That might remove pressure for some of you!

  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.

LEAP has options for essay coaching: in-person or virtual; small group or individual – there’s an option that fits everyone! Check out our essay options here. Essays are best written in June/July after school is out but before applications go live August 1. After August 1, students are likely to encounter additional supplemental essays the colleges typically don’t release ahead of time.


While this shouldn’t influence your choice of topics, for fun here is the distribution of student choices of topic. 

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