Want to get a head start on your personal statement for college applications?

REview and plan your strategy for the commonapp prompts

The CommonApp Prompts Are Out!

  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. Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  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.

When making admissions decisions, some colleges consider the applicant’s ability to pay for college, and others do not. “Need-blind” schools, such as Brown University, admit students without considering their finances. They often commit in advance to provide scholarships to any admitted student whose family cannot pay the full tuition, and some even make it possible for all students to graduate without loans.

Unfortunately, not every school has the endowment funding to be so generous. “Need-aware” schools rely more heavily on tuition to fund their operations, and make admissions decisions that take into account how much each student is likely to pay. They may still offer generous financial aid to some students, but they also need to balance it out with plenty of students who can pay most or all of the fare. 

External scholarships tend to consider either need or merit, but not both. Remember, though, that these terms can be broadly applied. Given the high cost of college, even relatively high-income families can be eligible for at least some need-based aid, and there are a dizzying array of merit scholarships celebrating a wide range of achievements. Learn more about merit scholarships at Road2College.

Time is of the essence as your high school junior builds, researches, and narrows down their college application list. This might sound easy, but good research takes time. This winter and spring are the optimal times for juniors to tour colleges that they’ve already researched online. 

To make the most of your time on campus, be sure you and your student both know a college’s general offerings before you arrive. For example, if you have an avid skier who’s likely to study math or physics, they should know if there’s a ski club and have a general idea of the structure of the math and physics majors. 

Over a single vacation, we recommend visiting an area in which several potential schools are located. If you visit Pennsylvania, for example, you could visit Lehigh, Drexel, UPenn and Swarthmore, but only if they all offer the program in which you are interested. We find that it’s most effective to visit no more than two schools per day, because each info session and tour can take upwards of two hours. Taking in the information during the info sessions and walking around campuses is more tiring than you might think!

The information sessions are the college sales pitch. Listen carefully to what the guides say, and what they don’t say. Do they mention student life, study abroad, the diversity of the student body? Be prepared with specific questions to ask the guide, based on your interests and on research you’ve done about the school’s programs. As you walk around the campus, get a feel for the vibe. The college students are likely to be on their campuses during the high school winter and spring breaks. Try to talk to them — it’s entirely fine to ask them questions like “what do you like most about this school?”

Think about the size and location of the school. Is it walkable? Is it too flat or too hilly? Is there enough of a town or city around? What happens if you are studying late and want a snack? 

Above all, we recommend that you keep a journal or record of which school you visit, your thoughts and reflections on your time at that school. Take photos and tag the locations, and after each tour, make more notes or dictate voice memos. We have a journal template that we give to our students to help them stay organized with their reflections.