Common application for college essay questions


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This wide range of questions, meant to inspire candidates in their search for compelling personal stories, is ideal for exploring essay topics of all tones, styles, and subjects. Because we are committed to getting you the most timely and comprehensive essay advice on the interweb, we have made a guide to help you navigate the ins and outs of all seven prompts. Before you dive or cannonball! In fact, in our instructional writing course and private advising , we encourage applicants to root around for their most meaningful stories first and consider the prompts later.

This is a process we call the Backwards Brainstorm, and you can learn more about it here. What matters is the story you want to tell. And that you floss at least every other day—trust us, it will pay off in the long run. We are as sure as ever that every single one of you has a valuable story or two or twelve! All it takes is ample time for reflection and a little writerly elbow grease to find it. So take a peek at what the application has in store for you, absorb what these prompts are really asking, and then forget about them really! What about your history, personality, hobbies, or accomplishments might be worth highlighting for an admissions officer?

It can be something as small as seeing an episode of a television show are you living life in the Upside Down? We have always believed that essays about overcoming obstacles are most effective when they focus more on solutions than problems. Applicants should aim to showcase qualities like resilience, determination, and humility. The obstacles you choose to explore can vary widely in nature, especially with the recent additions that allow students to explore challenges and setbacks in addition to failures. They can be as serious as being tormented by bullies, as ingrained as the financial issues that have plagued your family for years, or as seemingly pedestrian as a mistake that costs you a tip while waiting tables.

Still, if you can isolate an incident of trial in your life and illustrate how you learned from it, this can be a rewarding prompt to explore. Overall, try to keep these stories as positive as possible. This prompt requires a student to speak passionately about beliefs and ideology, which are often onerous subjects that can be difficult to mold into compact stories. It can be one of the hardest questions to steer in a positive, productive direction without traveling into preachy, overly didactic territory.

This is also a more precarious prompt than most in that students need to carefully assess the risks of espousing beliefs that might be polarizing for the readers of their applications. Applicants who can articulate their thoughts and feelings while showcasing malleability and willingness to thoughtfully consider the ideas of others will likely stand out as valuable additions to any campus. If this prompt jumps out at you because you have a very specific story to tell or opinion to voice, run with it!

Your essay does not have to be focused around a fundamentally serious or groundbreaking issue see the horror genre example above.

19 ACCEPTED STANFORD COMMON APP ESSAYS!

What matters most when responding to this prompt is that you have strong convictions about the belief or idea you are trying to convey, and that you examine the personal effects of this ethos on your life and world. For this reason, Prompt 3 can be a great vehicle for showcasing your consideration, persuasive skills, and passions to admissions. We love Prompt 4, which asks students to talk about a problem and how they have solved or are planning to solve it.

Students should think about everything from more traditional obstacles they have had to overcome to the small predicaments that have inspired them to think about what they really value.

Essay Questions | Undergraduate Admissions

Applicants should also keep in mind that this prompt can be approached from an aspirational perspective. Please be aware that Duke is not required to approve any accommodation that would change the fundamental nature of a course or a curriculum. For additional information about accommodations and resources at Duke, we encourage you to contact the Student Disability Access Office at this email address. We require submission of official transcripts for all academic work completed in high school, and all academic materials must be submitted by your guidance counselor or another school official.

Self-submitted transcripts are not acceptable for our review. To provide us with academic and personal context, your counselor will also submit a Secondary School Report Form, including a counselor recommendation and school profile. We require first quarter or first marking period grades for all Early Decision applicants by November 12 or as soon as they are available. If your school will be unable to provide us with official midterm grades by mid-November, you should request an unofficial progress report to be sent by a school official.

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A student's senior year academic work is often a critical component of our review. We require midyear grades for all Regular Decision applicants and all Early Decision accepted and deferred applicants by February 15 or as soon as first semester or trimester grades are available. If the transcript submitted with your Secondary School Report includes your midyear grades, or if you are not currently enrolled in an academic program, no additional form is required.

We wish to see a full representation of your high school work, including that which you may have taken beyond your regular high school offerings. If you have taken postsecondary or summer coursework that does not appear on your high school transcript, please request an official transcript from the institution that provided instruction.

We understand that most colleges and universities do not provide midterm grades and we do not expect to see first-quarter grades or midyear progress reports from colleges. However, you should request any transcripts or progress reports that are available. Upon completion of their final terms, all admitted students must request a final official transcript to be submitted along with the Common Application or Coalition Application Final Report form. Although all student application forms must be submitted online through the Common Application or Coalition Application website, schools may send hard copy materials to us via fax at or postal mail at Box , Durham, NC They may also submit materials via email to undergrad-admissions duke.

Your online checklist may show these items as missing, but—since the information we need is already included in the materials your school submitted—that will not affect your candidacy.

What Is the Common App Essay? Overview

The ACT. Students must submit their scores by the application deadline, but may submit additional scores taken after the deadline before decisions are made. We will review applications using official, school-reported, or self-reported scores that appear on the application. Official scores are required for admitted students if they choose to enroll. For students who choose to submit the ACT, Duke will consider the highest scores on each section, regardless of test date, and will create a new composite score by averaging those scores.

The writing score will be considered separately for students who choose to submit it. Our school code for the ACT is Students who have taken the test multiple times may choose which scores to send to Duke. Duke will use the highest available scores in each section, plus the two highest Subject Test scores, regardless of the date those tests were taken. Our school code for the SAT is How does Duke consider multiple scores? We will always consider your highest score regardless of test type or test date, and you are welcome to send us SAT scores, ACT scores or both.


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We do NOT require applicants to submit all of their test scores--just the ones necessary to fulfill the testing requirement. Although we do not require or expect SAT Subject Test scores from candidates who take the ACT, we do accept them and will consider them as an additional demonstration of subject proficiency.

Will it hurt my candidacy to take standardized tests multiple times? However, standardized testing should not become one of your extracurricular activities! We'd rather see you spend your time pursuing your curiosities and interests, and most students don't see significant score improvements beyond their second or third sitting for a given test. Only testing that is taken in high school will be considered in the admissions process. If I have taken Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate examinations, what role do those scores play in the admissions process?

Should I report those scores officially? We value those scores when available as demonstrations of subject mastery to complement your academic transcripts. You should self-report these scores in your application.

We will require an official score report from students who matriculate at Duke who wish to use those scores for credit or placement. I had my test scores sent to Duke before I applied. Why don't I see them in my Duke Application Checklist?


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  • If your test scores were released to Duke prior to submitting an application, and you only recently applied, please allow several business days for us to connect your scores to your application materials. If after that point your scores are not displayed on your checklist, and you have verification from the testing agency that they've been received, you may call our office or send us an email.

    We will investigate and then respond to your inquiry. We strongly recommend that candidates take all required SAT or ACT exams no later than the month prior to their application deadline, and applicants should self-report or submit all test scores necessary to fulfill the testing requirement by the application deadline November 1 for Early Decision; January 2 for Regular Decision.


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    Tip: you don't need to rush report scores to Duke, but if you are taking any tests after the application deadline, you should request a score report to Duke at the time you sit for your exam. Applicants who do not use English as their primary language must demonstrate the ability to undertake a rigorous, fast-paced academic program in English. As Duke students must have the ability to read quickly and to express themselves clearly both orally and in writing, applicants must be fluent in written and spoken English at the time the application is submitted.

    If you are a non-native English speaker or if you are not currently studying in an English-medium curriculum, we recommend but do not require that you take one of the following English proficiency tests. If you take the tests more than once, we will use your highest scores. We do not have any preference among the four tests. We will consider all of your test scores along with the essays, recommendations, and other parts of the admissions application to evaluate your proficiency in English.

    You can submit short writing with or after the other student portions of the application, no later than the application deadline. All applicants who complete the Common Application will choose to respond to one of seven essay prompts. The personal essay length is capped at words. All applicants who complete the Coalition Application will choose to respond to one five essay prompts.

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    Undergraduate Application Essay Prompts

    We would like to understand more about you and your academic path. Why and how did you choose your current or most recent college or university? What has changed since then, and what has led you to consider transferring? Please respond with an essay of between and words. Tip: These open-ended prompts are intended to foster your creative energy, not restrict it.

    SAT / ACT Prep Online Guides and Tips

    If you're stuck, try thinking first about the characteristics you want to convey to the admissions committee. Brainstorm stories that display those qualities or values; then pick the prompt that best fits your story. Is there something particular about Duke that attracts you? The following questions are optional for all applicants to Duke University. If you'd like to share a perspective you bring or experiences you've had to help us understand you better—perhaps related to a community you belong to or your family or cultural background—we encourage you to do so.

    Real people are reading your application, and we want to do our best to understand and appreciate the real people applying to Duke.

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