What prompt does my common app essay belong under?

I’m currently a rising senior, and for my common app essay, I’ve been planning to write about my summer experience in a research lab.

I wanted to talk about how working in the lab made me realize truly how important my education was (we used biological terms in the lab, I needed to think critically about analyzing data, etc). A lot of what I learned was applied to the lab. Essentially, I wanted to talk about how this lab really put the importance of my education into perspective.

I also want to mention how I’ve been inspired to work in research, since I feel like it’s very exploratory. Which prompt below would fit my essay best? Also, is talking about my lab going to make for a good essay in general?


  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? (For this, I was considering talking about bumps in the lab, since some data didn’t turn out well. I think it would be good since I could show how I dealt with ‘failure’)

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

  4. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

  5. 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.

Number 4.

Number 2 is talking about your response to serious adversity, not a bump(s) in the road in research which are really to be expected.

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Thank you. But would talking about my lab make for a decent essay?

Depends. The Common App essay is there to give you a platform to make yourself unique/stand out from similar applicants in stats and interests. Writing about lab work could be a formulaic piece that reads like “what I did over the summer” (not what you want), or it could be the backdrop that you use to tell the reader something about yourself that would make you attractive, e.g. intellectual curiosity, persistence, self starter, teamwork, humor, etc…

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