You’re writing a Common Application essay.
Which prompt do you answer?
In this 7-part series I’m helping you discover which Common Application essay prompt is right for you.
For the complete list of 2018 Common App essay questions click here.
Ready for #6? Let’s do it!
Common Application Essay Prompt #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?
Is this Prompt for You? Look at the Keywords:
“Topic, Idea or Concept”…”Lose All Track of Time”…”Why”…”What or Who Do You Turn To”
Do the Keywords Apply to You?
- “Topic, Idea, or Concept” is a very broad phrase. That’s good! It means you can choose almost anything, large or small.
- “Lose All Track of Time” is self-explanatory. You’ve found yourself so engrossed in something that you didn’t realize how much time had passed.
- “Why Does it Captivate You?” The key word here is why. You need to figure out why this topic is so engaging, exciting, or thought provoking for you.
- “What or Who Do You Turn To When You Want to Learn More?” This refers to your independent learning—the times you collect information on your own. You might have asked a teacher, searched Google, read books, watched videos, etc.
What Can Colleges Learn About You From This Question?
- You’re curious. When something intrigues you, you don’t just sit there—you do something.
- You’re resourceful. You seek out new sources of information.
- You’re independent. You’ve directed your own learning.
- Colleges can picture you being an independent, curious learner at college.
- Colleges can learn about something that’s meaningful to you.
Pitfalls to Avoid
- This Question Has 3 Parts—Don’t Leave Any Out. They are: 1. Topic, idea, or concept; 2. Why it captivates you; 3. Who or what you turn to when you want to learn more.
- Don’t Shortchange “Why.” Discussing “why” is one of the most important things you can do in an essay. Through why, schools learn about you. They see how you think, what you care about, or what concerns you. After you’ve written your draft, read it again and ask yourself if you’ve explored all the reasons “why.”
- Avoid the Boring Trap!
To me, this essay prompt is missing something — it doesn’t ask you to look for that little bit of grit in your story. Most of the best essays have some grit – they’ve got an obstacle thrown in someone’s path, a problem to solve, a decision that must be made. Grit makes your story more interesting. It uncovers more of you.
So when you’re writing this essay, find that time you had to think a little harder, become a little more self-reliant, make a decision, or solve a problem. You’ll make your essay more interesting, and avoid the boring trap.
Example of Successful Essay Topic
Joanne is a an artist. She drew before she could talk. When she’s painting, Joanna loses all track of time. Art gives Joanne an expressive outlet for her thoughts and imagination and it’s helped her develop her sense of personal expression. She tries to interpret her world through her choice of colors, shapes, and setting.
In elementary school, Joanne’s teacher didn’t like her drawings of people and told her she had to draw them with the right number of fingers and toes. For a while, she did it the teacher’s way. But then she decided she didn’t have to be like anyone else and she’s been drawing her way ever since.
In her essay, Joanne wrote that she’s been influenced by two painters who use color and shapes in different ways: Grandma Moses and Georgia O’Keefe. She looks carefully at how they portray their worlds. That gives Joanne ideas about how she can find original ways to interpret hers.
Whenever she can, Joanne takes art classes at the Art Barn down the street. She reads about her favorite painters and she’s learning about new ones. Next, Joanne says, she’s going to experiment with clay. She’s not sure what she’ll be creating or what she’ll learn about herself in the process, but she can’t wait to get started.
Why This Topic Succeeds
- All the keywords are addressed. She identifies what makes her lose track of time, discusses why it captivates her, and says what she does when she wants to learn more.
- She doesn’t shortchange “why.” She digs deep to say why art captivates her.
- She avoids the boring trap. Joanne’s elementary school story is important because it was a roadblock. It made her look inward and examine her relationship to art, something she continues to do. By including this story, Joanne added that little bit of grit—this is a young lady who decided at an early age that she’s going to follow her own path.
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Sharon Epstein is a Writers Guild Award-winner and two-time Emmy Award nominee, teaching students around the world how to master interview skills, write resumes, and transform their goals, dreams and experiences into creative and memorable college application essays. I work with students everywhere: in-person, by phone, FaceTime, Skype and email. Visit my website for more info. Connect on Google+, Pinterest and Twitter.
Read the entire “How To Write” series:
How to Write Common App Prompt #1: Background, Talent, Identity, or Interest
How to Write Common App Prompt #2: The Lessons We Take From Obstacles
How to Write Common App Prompt #3: Questioned or Challenged a Belief or Idea
How to Write Common App Prompt #4: A Problem You’ve Solved or Would Like to Solve
How to Write Common App Prompt #5: An Accomplishment, Event, or Realization
How to Write Common App Prompt #6: Topic, Idea or Concept that Makes You Lose Track of Time
How to Write Common App Prompt #7: Topic of Your Choice