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Let’s Look at the Third Common Application Essay Prompt

Written by CB Experts

The third essay choice for college applicants on the Common Application is about a challenge of an idea you have had or a belief you have held. Here it is:

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

This question is vague, but do not let it intimidate you. Think of it as an opportunity to write about almost anything! What you write about could be personal or world-shattering. For example, in your personal realm, you might wonder why you are asked to make your bed every day. On the world stage you may have questioned why world peace doesn’t seem achievable.

The choice of a topic for this essay is important, though. You want a good essay and something you can write about. It should be interesting to you to be interesting to the reader. You also need to let the reader for admissions know about you so it should reveal you: your ability to think, what you care about, how your thinking identifies you as an individual.

The belief you choose to write about could be a belief of your own – Why do I want to go to college?, a belief of your family’s – Why do we always need to eat together?, a friend’s – Why should we skip school?, or it could be a national or cultural belief – Why is free speech so valuable? or Why are women treated as second class citizens in Afghanistan?

There is a caution to be had here: This may not be the time to push the buttons of your readers. Some hot issues like abortion or religion can be too emotional to tackle.

You may not be writing about a success in your campaign or your discussion to challenge a belief, even for yourself. You may have boycotted the evening dinner with your family and the result may have been too disruptive, or you may have thought making your bed was not a worthwhile condition of living in your house only to come to understand it is after all.

When you have finally chosen the right topic, you must think about writing the essay. You must do so in such a way that you answer all parts if the prompt.

  • The prompt asks you, What prompted you to act? This requires that you describe the belief and why you questioned it. It also asks you to explain what you did to challenge this belief.
  • But, as you write, the prompt also wants you to Reflect. This is a key word in the prompt. It means you must think about and share what you were thinking, whether or not, as you look back on it, it was appropriate, what you learned from making the challenge or exploring the belief more, and how this might have helped you grow.
  • Finally the prompt asks you, Would you make the same decision again? You must evaluate and share what you got out of this experience and if you believe it was right or not to make the challenge and why.

Remember going to college is about growing and not accepting everything rote. When you choose to write to this prompt, you are showing how you learn and grow.

If you would like to read more about how to write to the other prompts for the personal college essay on the Common Application, go to College Basics.

About the author

CB Experts

Content created by retired College Admissions consultants.