Essay Prompts

English teachers, June Miles and Joel Tallman, offer the following prompts to assist Sturgis juniors in generating ideas for their Common Application essay:

Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

  • A specific incident from childhood
  • A blended family and the logistics of how you made the adjustment
  • An extended/chronic illness or medical condition that helped you view health differently
  • Conscious dietary decisions that you make that define strong beliefs
  • Your genealogical past: any traditions/individuals from your ancestry that you model your life after and why
  • A special award that you received that changed your perspective on achievement
  • Starting a club/organization, or raising awareness about an issue of importance to you
  • A difficult situation and how you coped and/or overcame
  • An external incident that caused you to gain inner strength
  • Concerns surrounding a family member (illness, disappointment) that called forth a stronger appreciation/awareness from within
  • Travel to another country and/or special appreciation for another culture

Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?

Failure to:

  • Tell a truth
  • Uphold a promise
  • Live up to a challenge
  • Do something because of fear
  • Appreciate what you had, until you lost it
  • Accomplish a goal you set for yourself
  • Listen to advice of a guardian or parent
  • Obey a rule and having to suffer consequences
  • Be a friend when someone needed you
  • Stand up for something you believed in
  • Forgive someone and regretting it later
  • Hold onto your principles when you should have

Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

  • Challenging an authority figure, even if you did not succeed in the challenge
  • Challenging the plans of a friend -- perhaps preventing a poor decision
  • Standing up to a friend when he/she bullied or put someone else down
  • Asking your boss for a raise, or asking for respect when feeling demeaned by someone at work
  • Taking the less popular side in a power struggle between two people you care about
  • Standing up for a sibling in a situation where you felt he/she was threatened
  • Any aspect of human rights (race, gender, sexual orientation, age discrimination, religious intolerance, physical or mental disability, national origin or culture) that you took a stand for/against

Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

  • A meaningful vacation spot
  • A special summer retreat with a grandparent/relative/friend
  • Your own home/family -- be very specific on this one and only tap into the unique qualities that make your home/family stand out from others
  • Fishing/hiking/biking/skateboarding/or another out-of-doors activity -- if you take this route, make sure you hone in on something very particular about the activity or environment
  • Reading a good book -- this one is only for those who truly enjoy a good read, you know who you are and what this “exercise-of-the-mind” provides
  • Helping other people -- maybe you serve at a soup kitchen or do some other volunteer work where you find solace in the actual environment
  • A place or activity in which you excel or are a “natural” -- computer programming, drawing, music, the stage, etc.

Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

  • This may be more significant if you are part of a community where this is a marked achievement
  • Perhaps a special birthday party celebration
  • Playing an instrument in a public venue (individually or with a group)
  • Going to your first day on the job or your first interview -- how you felt going, during, and after
  • Obtaining your driver’s license -- this should be told with very specific references to feelings/events/etc. that offer some kind of unique twist on a very common experience for teens
  • Going on your first official date -- using the family car or attending a dance
  • Planning a trip or going somewhere alone (without your family) for the first time and the feelings this can trigger
  • Being responsible for an event (planning/organizing/managing) that gave you a sense of pride
  • Earning your own money to buy gifts for the holidays, your own clothes, a car, etc.
  • Formal religious/cultural rite of passage (Bar/Bat Mitzvah, quinceañera, etc.)

For Further Thought:

  • What sets you apart from everyone around you?
  • Admission Officers look for stories from the heart filled with meaning and focus on a very telling moment in your life -- this offers something of your character.
  • Use your own voice: tell your story without censoring it, then re-read it looking for the NUGGET of truth/honesty/purpose or core idea and expand this into a more centralized story. Don’t ramble and offer wasted verbiage.
  • Be candid and honest. Steer clear of statements that are forced and not real.
  • Don’t tell another sports story unless it has a very definable impact. Too many students revert to this.
  • If you decide to write about a place where you feel content -- do not write about playing video games, or hanging out with friends -- try to find something that actually fosters growth/thought/reflection.