September 7, 2019

The Common Application Essay 6

Common App

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you losetrack of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Admissionado’s Analysis of The Common App, Essay #6

Ooh, this is a tasty one. But it’s also a little dangerous. Lots of applicants will get very excited about running wild on something they find engaging, but their reasons for why it’s engaging (or captivating) somehow fall flat. Unlike some of the other ones, the actual content here DOES matter. You CAN tell us a passion that strikes us as … uninteresting. Or it’s a passion that feels obviously written to impress. Or, it’s something YOU think is common, but isn’t, and your unawareness of that can almost serve as a strike against you. So, yes, on the one hand the open-endedness does create some opportunity here, but at the same time, that same open-endedness comes with some risk. Our recommendation here is this: if you’re feeling inspired, take a huge swing and try to sell us on it. But be open to the possibility that it’s not your best essay topic choice. In other words, realize there’s a very good chance we’ll say “valiant effort, friend! But your winning application essay resides in a different topic.” If you’re cool with that, we’ll cheer you on with gusto. No shame in taking a swing, but ultimately deciding on another topic (or prompt).

So, what’s the secret to passing OUR test for a cool topic here? (Because our test is the same as the adcom’s test, naturally.) Hard to say in a practical, actionable way, but let’s at least drop a few ideas here:

  • A take on something common, that’s UNCOMMON. So, maybe there’s a standard debate in politics and the majority of folks believe X. Perhaps you have a CONTRARY/CONTRASTING take on it. Or it’s a popularly held idea in regular life, or in pop culture, or in the arts… and you have a take that goes against the grain.
  • An area of study, a field, a hobby, an interest, a whatever… that we’ve never heard of. Humans like learning, and we often feel indebted to those who teach us, so if you can pull of “teaching” your adcom reader something, it can pay off. (Just be sure it’s actually as unique and weird as you think it is.)
  • You’ve taken an interest that normal people take to maybe a 5… all the way to 11. So, most people like potato chips. Fair enough. But you like them so much, you’ve figured out a way to create 50 variations on the classic potato chip. Or, you’ve found a twist to making a potato chip that even “Big Agri” hasn’t caught onto yet. (Common/Uncommon theme, again, here.)

These are just some frames to get your juices flowing. The trick is to find some “edginess.” Something borderline extreme, pushed to the limits, to make it interesting. It can’t just be that you really like reading Twilight books, like a lot-a lot. It has to border on some kind of obsession that’s also cool to hear about. Extremes are your friend here.

Now for that end part, “What or who (whom! Damnit CommonApp!) do you turn to when you want to learn more?” The coolness here has less to do with what or whom it is, and more HOW you’re utilizing that person or thing. “It’s not the tool, it’s the carpenter.” Not quite the way that expression is normally used, but the idea here has more to do with how you approach resources at your disposal. We wanna see evidence that you are a CLOTH-WRINGER, you’re the guy that juices the orange until it’s bone dry. You know how folks in other cultures don’t just use the fine cuts of meat and then toss the animal carcass away forever, but instead, find ways to use every single part of the animal? Meat for food. Hide for furniture coverings. Wool for cloth. Etc., etc. “Cloth-wringer.” We want to see evidence of that kind of ingenuity in you, when driven by a passion. Where do you turn, and how do you wield that thing to your advantage? Thinking of it THAT way will help you worry less about “talking about your grandma” because you think it’s going to be inspirational to hear about that, and more, how you learned Spanish because that’s the only language your grandma knows, and that’s what it took to hear HER stories about the great depression because that era fascinates you, and you weren’t satisfied with the history books version. That’s… cloth-wringing.

So pick a killer topic (that’s passes the Admissionado cooooooolness test), and show us you can wring cloth until it’s so dry it’s a fire hazard…


Check Out Admissionado’s Analysis of ALL SEVEN of The Common App’s essay prompts:

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