2018-2019 Essay Prompts and Tips to Get You Started

Essays can be a key piece to your college application that not only allows an admission officer to get to know you beyond your academics, but help differentiate you from other applicants. Take a look at the 2018-2019 essay prompts below for the Common Application, UC Application and Coalition Application. Also check out a really cool platform called Zeemee that’s like an Instagram for connecting with colleges.

But before you begin, create an achievable, balanced list of colleges that you’re planning on applying to so you have a clear idea of the amount of essays expected and prioritize deadlines.

Quick tip: Set a timer for 25 minutes to work on essays. Turn off all other distractions (TV, phone, etc.) and just write for 25 minutes. When the time is done, walk away! 

2018-2019 Common App Prompts

Choose 1 to respond to, max word limit 650

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

2018-2019 University of California Personal Insight Questions

Choose 4 to respond to, max word limit 350 each response

  1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes or contributed to group efforts over time.  
  2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.  
  3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?  
  4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
  5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
  6. Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. 
  7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?  
  8. Beyond what has already been shared in your application, what do you believe makes you stand out as a strong candidate for admissions to the University of California?

Bonus: Download the UC Personal Insight Brainstorming Worksheet HERE

2018-2019 Coalition Essay Questions 

What is the Coalition? Now over 90 member colleges which are dedicated to access and meeting greater demonstrated financial need. There are a small handful of universities exclusively using the Coalition and colleges that accept the Coalition as an option. Remember, build your college list first and view your options for submitting an application to see if this is required and/or a good fit for you. More info HERE.

Choose one essay to respond to, no set word limit, however they suggest a 500-550 word length

  1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
  2. Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
  3. Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
  4. What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

Supplements and Why Us

Universities may ask for a shorter additional essay, which vary university to university. As you research online and get to know your colleges more, take notes on what you value and like about the university. You’ll be able to answer these questions more efficiently

BONUS!! Check this really cool interface that allows you to connect with colleges.


This one is not an application, but an interface that a number of colleges are allowing students to add to their application. Think about Zeemee like a professional Instagram that you can link to a university. Just like Instagram you’re able to create stories, upload videos, add albums about your qualitative characteristics like extracurricular activities, etc.

Answer video prompts from colleges and upload them to your account. There is also a really cool feature where they can watch videos from students currently on campuses so a great resource really to explore and connect with universities. Download the app or check it out online here: https://www.zeemee.com/. 

Published by Casey Barneson

Author of The College Wellness Guide. Beverly Hills High School College Counselor.

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