For months plenty of people (myself included) worried that the advisory board of 15 counselors in charge of revising the prompts were going to recommend killing off Option 6, which encourages applicants to write creatively.
Sure enough, Option 6 that allows applicants to write on the topic of their choice is unfortunately dead even though it has been the most popular essay prompt.
Here are the five new essay options for students who apply to the hundreds of colleges that use the Common Application:
In December I wrote a long post about the prospects of ditching Option 6 and if you want to read my arguments against the ill-conceived move, here is my post:
Some people have suggested that the new No. 1 option is almost as good as Option 6, but I disagree. Students still must write about something “central to their identity.” I think the new prompts are likely to encourage canned responses. I’d love to know what you think.
An Explanation for the College Essay Change
So why the essay changes? I haven’t seen any clear-cut reasons for the changes. I speculate in my previous blog post if you’re interested.
Coincidentally, Chris White, my son Ben’s high school counselor, is on the Common Application’s board of directors and he was also one of the counselors on the essay committee. I emailed Chris, an excellent counselor who is more plugged in with colleges than any other counselor I know, to get an explanation. Here is what Chris wrote in an email to me yesterday:
Topic of your choice is helpful within the context of the current prompts because the remaining ﬁve may not be broad enough to allow students to tell the stories they are compelled to share.
At the same time, the open-ended nature of “topic of your choice” can be an obstacle for students since it forces them to write in the absence of a framework. Therefore, the goal of the new prompts is to maximize the best of each approach: the ﬂexibility that comes with broad questions and the focus that comes with speciﬁc prompts.
The Outreach Advisory counselors and board–which currently includes 3 CBO counselors, 4 urban charter school counselors, and 2 rural public school counselor– feels that this goal has been reached. The Outreach Advisory counselors have taken great care to ensure that all students will have signiﬁcant ﬂexibility in what and how they choose to write, regardless of background and interest.
Recent articles from members of the school counseling community such as this one has reaffirmed that we’ve reached this goal.
In the Future
Here is my hope going forward:
Rather than censoring what students can write about in their college essays, I wish the folks at the Common Application would explore ways to educate teenagers across the country about how to write a proper college application essay. Now that would be extremely helpful.