Making a Change: Common Application Removes ‘Topic of Your Choice’ Option


Jamie Wheeler-Roberts

The Common App will no longer accept the “topic of your choice” option for the personal essay, a change that has been met with disappointment from students.

Being disgusted at a perceived air of sexism on a trip to Israel.

Journaling daily as depression therapy.

Adoring chocolate chip cookies for their stability as a delicious snack.

These college essay topics, as dissimilar as they are, have one similarity: when submitted through the Common Application, they required the “topic of your choice” bubble to be checked off by the applicant.

The Common App is an undergraduate college admissions application used by 488 colleges. It creates a standardized application, with an additional supplemental essay unique to each college.

On Oct. 5, however, Common Application officials announced that the application, colloquially known as the Common App, will be removing the “topic of your choice” option for the personal essay beginning on Aug. 1, 2013.

“This is 100 percent a step in the wrong direction,” Sam Jones ’13 said. “There’s only so much you can do when specific topics are given to you. It’ll make for a lot of boring essays rather than the creative ones that can come out of making your own topic.”

At the National Association for College Admission Counseling conference in October, officials from the Common App said that instead of the “topic of your choice” option, applicants will be offered four or five topics that will change annually.

Although some students have expressed disapproval about the change, others believe that the new topics given each year will suffice.

“I don’t think it’s such a big deal that they are taking away the ‘topic of your choice’ option since they give plenty of good options,” Ryan Moran ’13 said. “In fact, I started writing my essay under the ‘topic of your choice’ option, but found it fit nicely under one of the other given topics.”

Another imminent Common App change is a stricter enforcement of the 250- to 500-word essay length requirement. If the essay is a few words too long or too short, rather than accepting the essay like it does now, the application will display an error message.

Along with the length limitation, the Common App is expected to become web-exclusive. In prior years, applicants have been allowed to print out the actual application and mail it in to colleges.

Although students have taken note of these other changes, the one resoundingly met with discontentment is the elimination of “topic of your choice.”

“I was definitely planning on creating my own topic for my college essay,” Cassie Feldman ’14 said. “I’m disappointed that I won’t be able to be as creative as I was hoping.”

Apparently, a large percentage of students have wished to pursue their own topic in the past. According to Scott Anderson, Common App Director of Outreach, 36 percent of college applicants using the Common App chose the “topic of your choice” option—one of the six total topics provided.

Ultimately, some students believe that such an essay option is an appropriate way of culminating the skills acquired as a Westport student.

As Jones said, “At Staples, writing about your own topic is the norm.”