The college application season is, in one sense, year-round, with different cohorts of students as well as counselors at high schools and colleges always working on some part of the admissions process. But in early August, when the Common Application goes live, as it has just done, the new season seems to shift into gear.

The Common Application was developed in 1975 to help reduce the number of separate applications and essays a student applying to numerous colleges and universities would have to complete. It is accepted by more than 500 colleges and universities, and used by more than 800,000 students. It was initially created to make college admissions easier by allowing students to submit the same form to multiple colleges, but many colleges still request additional information, including extra essays. The Common App is believed to have sparked an increase in the number of colleges to which high school seniors apply, in turn increasing the number of applications that many schools receive.

This year the Common App changed its essay prompts for students. Here they are (the italics come from the Common App):

  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 failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  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 or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family.