How will you write your essay for the Common App about a belief or idea?

The Common Application prompts give you a chance to answer an interesting question, tell an important or revealing anecdote, and reflect on the the ways in which the anecdote reveals something about your character, your beliefs, your values, or your personal priorities.  This prompt, especially, focuses on the beliefs that are fundamental to who you are.  But sometimes beliefs come into conflict with the beliefs or ideas of others.  And sometimes those conflicts are what reveal our character.

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Let’s pick apart each phrase or idea of this prompt for your essay for the Common App.

Belief or Idea

This prompt hinges on some belief, idea, or value that you hold dear. At the core of the story, you must be able to identify this closely-held belief or idea, and explain why it is important to you.

Questioned or Challenged

Writing your essay for the Common App about a belief or idea that conflicted with others' beliefs or ideas? Get Great College Advice.

At various times in our lives, we are called upon to defend our ideals or our principles, either because others don’t share these beliefs, or because you may hold a view that is unpopular or out of the ordinary. Your story in this essay revolves around a time when you were called upon to defend your belief or idea against some countervailing force. This force could come from a particular person, a small group of people, or maybe even a very large group of people. What animates this essay, then, is the tension between your belief or idea and the beliefs or ideas of others.

Your Thinking

The “story” that is at the heart of this essay is the genesis of the tension, how you came to realize it, and how you came to a decision to do or say something in response (or not). Given that your values were under fire, did you do or say something to defend those values? Why or why not? When writing this essay for the Common App, you want to make the effort to explain your thought processes that eventually led to some sort of decision, action, or realization.

Outcome

The decision, action, or realization you made is the outcome of the story. You want to be sure to describe the outcome. Don’t stop there, however: explain and analyze that outcome. Was the decision the right one? Did you act to defend your values, and if so, what was the result? Or, perhaps, you acted in a way that did not defend those values, and you later regretted your inability to stand up for your beliefs. Either way, you are asked in this prompt to reflect upon what you did (or did not do) to defend your beliefs or ideas, and to determine whether you would approach a similar conflict of beliefs or ideas in the same way in the future.
So at the center of this essay is a conflict of ideas.  You need to share your ideas and beliefs with your reader, and demonstrate how your defense of those ideals may have led to personal growth.

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Need some help with your essay for the Common App?  Give us a call.  Whether you’re aiming for the Ivy League or you’re just trying to look your best for your top choice school, we can help you brainstorm, structure, and edit an essay that makes you stand out in the admissions process.

And if you’re looking for help with the Coalition App essays, check this out!

Want to know how to respond to the other Common Application prompts? Here are some more helpful links.

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Mark Montgomery
Educational consultant and admissions expert

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Published by Mark Montgomery

Mark is a leading educational consultant. His experience as a professor, college administrator, and youth mentor help him guide students from around the country and around the world.

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