2015-2016 Common App Essay Prompts

2015-2016 Essay Prompts

We are pleased to share the 2015-2016 Essay Prompts with you. New language appears in italics:

  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 failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  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 or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Practice ACT

Screen shot 2015-01-19 at 10.17.29 AMScreen shot 2015-01-19 at 10.16.57 AMACT Practice Test

Date: Saturday February 7, 2015   Time: 9:30-12:30

Location: Fairfield Woods Library 1147 Fairfield Woods Rd. Fairfield CT.

Registration Fee: $38

Space is limited/Registration closes 2/2/14

Why take the test?

  • Gives first hand experience on the exam
  • Practice is the first step to successful prep
  • Report includes score along with answer sheet
  • Pinpoints the topics and concepts that need attention
  • Helps create a road map for excelling on the actual exam

 To pay by credit card: Click Here to Enroll Now! 

          To pay by check: email admin@yourkeytocollege.com

SAT/ ACT where can they get you?

where_scoresSAT/ ACT where can they get you?

These test results represent the average score for admitted students for fall 2012—50% score below and 50% score above these numbers. We’ve also listed the percentage of applicants admitted in 2009 and 2012 to give you a sense of the trend of each school’s selectivity.

The most important year of high school in the admissions process…

I often hear parents and students say that the most important year in high school is the junior year. The truth of the matter is the most important year in high school is the year that you are currently in. It does not matter if you are a freshmen or a senior you want to be sure you are performing your best. In my more than 20 years in education I have met with hundreds of college admission representatives and never once did they ever request of an applicant just their junior year grades. High Schools are required to send a transcript which includes grades from freshmen year through junior year along with a list of courses the student is enrolled in for their senior year. The GPA that is sent on to schools is calculated using 6 semesters of grades. So every year counts equally.

I meet with my freshmen students within the first two weeks of school starting and tell them the college process begins now. All your grades counts so always try your best. From the time a student starts high school they begin to build an academic and co-curricular resume that all schools will review closely. If you start off high school on a rough note a student will need to make up for it in the sophomore year and then the junior year better then sophomore year and so on. Admissions representatives look for patterns over time and so if a student has one poor semester the other five should make up for it to give a better understand of the student’s true potential. First semester senior grades are also sent on to schools so they can have a look at how the student is performing just prior to starting college. A final transcript is then sent to the one school the student is planning on attending. Senior year is just as important and not the time to lose focus.

Take advantage of each year, do not wait till next semester or next year to do better. Start to challenge yourself early on in your high school career as reps look at the rigor of your schedule as compared to others in your grade. Become involved in some kind of activity as a freshman and stick with it and eventually aspire to take on a leadership role within that activity. The activity does not have to be sports or community service related, it could be something entirely different that you are passionate about. Every application has an area where you can talk about something that may not have been covered in the application. This is an opportunity for you to discuss that semester with poor grades and clarify it, or to talk about your unique interest and why you had pursued it in high school. Your application is a culmination of all four years of high school so take advantage of each one.

The lucky number is…

A new school year is just around the corner and for seniors and the question remains “How many schools should I be applying to?” Truth be told there is no clear right or wrong answer as it is truly up to the student, but if you have been doing your homework on schools all along and you have a good idea of a potential major and what you like and do not like on a campus the choices should settle in around 7-9 schools. The Common Application just released numbers of last years class and the average number of schools that a student applied to using The Common Application is 4.2 and even if you take away ED students and transfers the number is 4.6 as a national average (the average for students in New England is 5.6 if you are curious).

The information from The Common Application can be found here: https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/Docs/DownloadForms/2013/AppLimitResolutionFinal.pdf


Now clearly not all schools are on The Common Application, but a good number are, so taking that into consideration the number does tend to settle between 7-9 schools for students in our area. So how should the list look in terms of chances of being accepted? I am not one to start to divide a list into Reach, Probable, and Safety schools because I believe in doing your homework first and finding schools that pass the three “F” test: Fit, Feel, and Finance.


It not just about putting on a dog and pony show to get in; it is about having the ability to stay in past the first semester. So finding the school that you can succeed at based on your academic strengths and challenges to me is more important then getting into that “Reach” school with slightly higher academic standards and struggling to keep your head above water for the next 4-6 years of college without parents standing over you reminding you to do your homework. Just as important to the academic fit is how you feel on the campus, because unlike high school you cannot go home when classes are over. This is a life style decision that you need to be prepared to commit to 24-7. This brings me to the final “F” the finances. With this uncertain economic time comes the realization that the investment hopefully will payoff sooner rather then later so be careful not to accumulate debt unnecessarily, especially with schools now reporting graduation rates for 5-6 years instead of the historical four years parents were use to.

The reason I like to have 7-9 schools on a well complied list is so when the acceptance letters come in a family will be able to make a decision with several options to consider, all the while having the ability to compare the financial aid packages that come along with them.

So in the end the list should reflect schools that you will be successful at while enjoying the time there, and not having to worry too much about paying for it all.  One more thing to keep in mind for every application there is a fee so the price just to apply can be just as shocking as the price of tuition. Best of luck!!!

How to un-blank a page

Now that the Common Application and all other electronic applications for schools are live for the 2012-2013 school year seniors everywhere should be hard at work writing their college essay.  It is hard enough for many students to write an essay, let alone write one that will have significant impact on their future and keeping it to 500 words or less. According to all of the college admission counselors I have spoken to, the essay is very important and as such they recommend putting in time, care, and effort to craft your best work. This is designed to get a sense of the writer so be careful not to have too much outside influence on the writing. Having a good proofreader and editor is fine, but relying on another to do the majority of the work is not.


I often hear from students the hardest part of this process is getting the essay started. Often times students will spend hours sitting in front of a blank screen agonizing over how to start. Here are a couple of things to do to get started. Colleges will usually give you a few topics to choose from or allow you to write on a topic of your choice.


-Take time to free write; just write about anything to get the juices flowing.

-Write on a couple of topic and see which one flows more easily.

-Brainstorm and have fun with it, do not take it so seriously at first, there is plenty of time to revise and edit later.

-Make a bulleted list of things you feel should be included in the essay.

-Organize your time and pace yourself this is not race. Establish work sessions with definite begin times and end times, this way you do not get frustrated. Writing is a process and there is plenty of time this month to get this task done.

-Listen to some background music.

-Use technology. The Google Chrome browser and programs like Dragon Dictation are speech to text applications where you can just talk and have the words appear on the screen. I have seen many students have the ability to express what they want to say verbally but have a hard time in writing or typing the ideas down. Once you are done dictating you can go back and revise and edit.

-If you do not have the ability of using the technology above have someone sit with you and just type what you are saying.


Remember no matter which topic you chose to write on be sure the essay is appropriate to your audience and shows the reader something about you that might be seen else where in the application or strongly supports who you are and why you would be a great choice for their school.

Consider your application strategy

Consider your application strategy

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I received a call the other day from a mom wondering what she and her son, who will be senior in September, should be doing at this point of the summer. The one thing I suggested is that she and her son sit down and start to think about his lists of colleges he will be applying to and consider his application strategy. The New York Times recently released a great list of 2012 admissions statistics (http://bit.ly/NaLn3l), which laid out the number of applicants and the percentage accepted under their regular and early plans. For those of you who may not know there are several options to consider when applying to college. The options are: Early Decision (ED), Early Action (EA), Regular Decision, and Rolling Admissions, each serve a purpose and should be considered wisely.  The National Association of College Admissions Counselors has put together a nice document that explains each plan, http://bit.ly/MLGB2f, two of these options merit further discussion.

Over the past several years the number of students applying ED has increased. Looking at the numbers colleges do seem to like students more who apply ED and for good reason, it is a binding agreement between the student and the school so it is money in the bank. The student agrees if accepted they will withdraw all other applications and attend the ED school. When considering ED a family should be prepared to pay the tuition regardless of the financial aid package they receive. Decisions are mailed out by the end of November/early December, which is before aid packages are offered.  If by chance a family cannot afford the tuition after they receive their financial aid award letter it puts the student in a very difficult situation. Often schools will let a student out of the ED agreement but it will most likely notify you closer to the end of the school year and at that time the student would need to start the application process all over again.  ED is a great option if a student fits the schools profile and it is their clear #1 choice and tuition is not a concern. If a student is not sure in any way, wants to keep their options open, or are unsure if finances this is not a good choice.

EA is a great option if a school offers it, and as a result the number of students applying under this plan has risen as well. Like ED, a student will receive notification by the end of November/ early December. The highlight is that this plan is not binding so students can keep their options open and wait and compare all financial aid packages. Colleges do like to accept EA candidates, as they tend to be motivated and on the ball and have demonstrated interest early on in the process.  Choosing the right school to attend can be difficult and having a couple of more months to decide can make all the difference in the world. The down side of this plan is that a student needs to be organized and ready to have their application and essay ready to be sent out by early to mid November. Also, schools will be making decisions based on grades earned over the first three years of high school. Students hoping their senior years grades will help their GPA should consider the Regular Decision option.

Using the remainder of the summer to really look at the list of schools you will be applying to and working out an applications strategy will be time well spent.

SAT vs ACT / Coke vs Pepsi??

“Which test to take SAT or the ACT?” That is kind of like asking do you prefer Coke or Pepsi? There is really no one good answer as it is really a matter of preference. Looking at the two tests there are many similarities and differences. Here is how the two compare so you can make an informed decision for yourself:


SAT: Consists of 3 sections Writing, Critical Reading, and Math (grid-in answers require you to write answers in)

ACT: Consists of 4 sections English, Reading, Math (no grid-ins), and Science (the science section is based on applying knowledge and interpreting data)


SAT: Scoring is based on a 200-800 point range per section. All three sections are combined for a highest combined score of 2400

ACT: Scoring is based on a range on a 1-36, sections are averaged together with the highest composite score of 36


SAT: Essay is required

ACT: Essay is optional and is offered on specific test dates (many colleges require the essay)


SAT:  Arithmetic, Algebra, & Geometry

ACT: Arithmetic, Algebra, Geometry, &  some Trigonometry


SAT: Multiple choice questions have 5 answers to choose from

ACT: Multiple choice questions have 4 answers to choose from


SAT: Lose points for wrong answers (better to skip a question if you do not know the answer)

ACT: Do not lose points for wrong answer (OK to guess)


Visit the College Board (http://www.collegeboard.org) and ACT (http://www.actstudent.org) websites to learn more and experience the sample test questions to see which you feel most comfortable with.