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Writing Your Common Application Essay: How to Answer Prompt #3

As college admissions becomes more and more competitive each year, it’s increasingly important that college applicants start as early as possible and thoroughly analyze each of their essay-topic choices. It can be challenging to decide which option will be the most valuable addition to your college application package. While there aren’t any hard and fast rules to mastering the application essay, there are some clear strategies to assess which essay topic will fit your best writing style and the story you want to share with the admissions committee.

In this installment of our series on Writing the New Common Application Essay, we’ll look at prompt #3 (if you’re not a fan of this prompt, check out our thoughts on prompt #1, prompt #2, prompt #4, prompt #5, prompt #6, and prompt #7):


Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

If you’re strongly considering tackling the third essay option, sit down and contemplate what is most important to you in life. How do you want to convey these values to your readers? On the surface, the admissions committee seeks to learn more about how you think, or even how you put thoughts into action. However, at the heart of this question is a concept that has been trending in both the corporate and academic fields… thought leadership.

Simply put, thought leaders are educated, opinionated and have influence in their communities. Many are famous and have merited attention among their peers—people listen to what they say. You don’t have to be a celebrity to think big or write a stellar application essay. It’s no surprise that in today’s fast-paced world of social media, review committees want to know how you process information, agree or contend with new ideas, and the impact your viewpoints have on your surroundings.

Admissions committees love creativity. Think about a time when you brought fresh ideas to a project or created something you were proud of. Have you started your own business? Have you ever taken a different stance on an issue and defended your position to a group? Innovators are compelled to improve the world around them (this includes projects, classes, activities, friends and family life). For example, a successful applicant wrote about his work as a teaching assistant at a local elementary school. Students were having a tough time with math, and he persuaded the school’s administration to implement the use of a video game he created to help students learn fractions. Not only did the review committee see his strong interest in information technology and math education, but they were inspired by his commitment to changing the school for the better. Brainstorm how you have made a difference and find a way to boldly tell that story.

In today’s social and political climate, the media shines light on issues (both locally and globally) that welcome a host of opinions and even organized efforts by people seeking social change. Activism is about individual participation and community engagement for a specific cause. If you have a story about how you have put your beliefs to positive action and community uplift, the admissions committee wants to hear it!

A successful applicant wrote the story of how she was bullied at a young age and became involved in anti-bullying campaigns. She wrote letters and lobbied to legislators, arguing that there should be more strict laws around cyber-bullying. Her story captivated the committee and spoke to the young woman’s persistence and character. Make a list of experiences that have shaped who you are today, and write down what you have done to ignite change because of these experiences.

What do most thought-leaders have in common? They believe what they say and say what they believe. What drives you each day? In an essay-brainstorming session an applicant was asked to create a mind map of what she was passionate about. She listed “road blocks,” or things that have tried to hold her back from doing what she loves. Her essay evolved and was noted as a review-committee favorite. She shared her high school journey to becoming a plus-size model. It was an emotional story of how she handled rejection from main-stream modeling agencies, and developed the courage to voice and challenge others when she was treated unfairly. This motivated her to encourage students with similar stories and aspirations to participate in her school’s annual fashion show, raising awareness of diversity and the problem of stereotyping. Some of the most powerful essays capture dynamic moments, and transformational leaders aren’t afraid to challenge and the status quo. Dig deep and reflect on times when you wouldn’t accept things “as they’ve always been.” Write out what you did to communicate what you believed in words and in action.

Along with selecting the best angle to take when writing your college application essay, don’t forget the basics. Prompt #3 calls for an essay that is succinct and filled with strong vocabulary and sentence structures. You’ll also have to leave some space for how these experiences have prepared you to take the next step in your academic career. Make this just as compelling and you will leave the committee excited and ready to meet you in person!

If you’re considering hiring an expert to guide you through the process, Veritas Prep offers hourly and school packages convenient for high school students on the go. Take a look at our FAQ page to find out more information about our college-admission consulting services, or give us a call or email to let us know how we can help you conquer the college application essay!