Jul 28, 2023

Common App Essay Prompt #3: Challenging a Belief or Idea


The college admissions essay gives you the opportunity to share aspects about yourself not otherwise reflected through grades and test scores. Who are you? What are your values and dreams? Are you the type of person who will thrive in an academically and socially challenging environment as you transition into adulthood? The Common App Essay is the perfect place to show admissions officers what you’re made of.

To help you along, we’ve prepared a series of overviews to help you understand the various question prompts asked by the Common App. The following guide focuses on the Common App essay prompt #3! For additional resources regarding other Common App essay prompts and the college admissions process, generally, feel free to visit our Resources Page and view our proofreading services, including our Application Essay Editing Services, which are tailored to college essays like the Common App Essay.

Common App Essay Prompt #3

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

If you’re strongly considering tackling the third essay option, sit down and contemplate what is most important to you in life. How do you want to convey these values to your readers? On the surface, the admissions committee seeks to learn more about how you think, or even how you put your thoughts into action. However, at the heart of this question is a concept that has been trending in both the corporate and academic fields… thought leadership.


Admissions committees love creativity. Think about a time when you brought fresh ideas to a project or created something you were proud of. Have you started your own business? Have you ever taken a different stance on an issue and defended your position to a group? Innovators are compelled to improve the world around them (this includes projects, classes, activities, friends, and family life). For example, a successful applicant wrote about his work as a teaching assistant at a local elementary school. Students were having a tough time with math, and he persuaded the school’s administration to implement the use of a video game he created to help students learn fractions. Not only did the review committee see his strong interest in information technology and math education, but they were inspired by his commitment to changing the school for the better. Brainstorm how you have made a difference and find a way to boldly tell that story.


In today’s social and political climate, the media shines a light on issues (both locally and globally) that welcome a host of opinions and even organized efforts by people seeking social change. Activism is about individual participation and community engagement for a specific cause. If you have a story about how you have put your beliefs to positive action and community uplift, the admissions committee wants to hear it!

A successful applicant wrote the story of how she was bullied at a young age and became involved in anti-bullying campaigns. She wrote letters and lobbied to legislators, arguing that there should be more strict laws around cyber-bullying. Her story captivated the committee and spoke to the young woman’s persistence and character. Make a list of experiences that have shaped who you are today, and write down what you have done to ignite change because of these experiences.


In an essay-brainstorming session, an applicant was asked to create a mind map of what she was passionate about. She listed “roadblocks,” or things that have tried to hold her back from doing what she loves. Her essay evolved and was noted as a review-committee favorite. She shared her high school journey to becoming a plus-size model. It was an emotional story of how she handled rejection from mainstream modeling agencies and developed the courage to voice and challenge others when she was treated unfairly. This motivated her to encourage students with similar stories and aspirations to participate in her school’s annual fashion show, raising awareness of diversity and the problem of stereotyping. Some of the most powerful essays capture dynamic moments, and transformational leaders aren’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Dig deep and reflect on times when you wouldn’t accept things “as they’ve always been.” Write out what you did to communicate what you believed in words and in action.

common app essay prompt 3 tips

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