As you're surely aware, the Common Application announced new revisions and essay prompts on the 2017-2018 application. And one of them... is super fun and exciting!
7. 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.
I've had several students express an interest in this prompt... but almost all ultimately decided on another prompt. Because here's the thing:
The key to this prompt is writing an unforgettably cool topic.
How you make it unforgettably cool depends on you. I'll start this post by listing all the questions/ideas I discuss in this post. Check them out, then scroll down to read about how and why each prompt works -- because not every prompt is relevant for every person, but every prompt could give you ideas and direction for how to approach this essay.
Maybe you're into STEM (science, math and engineering). Last summer, you did an internship at NASA, and this summer, you worked in a lab that explores the ocean floor. Your prompt can be:
Would you rather build a robot that communicates with you from the International Space Station, or Mariana Trench (the deepest known point in the Earth's oceans)?
And your hook sentence:
This way, you can talk about the scientific growth and discoveries you've made in a creative way. Lots of students are going to write about doing science -- but few will take the time to come up with such an interesting prompt.
(Though, of course, you'll need to follow-up with a sharp conclusion -- which is something I can help with! Check out my Rates & Services page to learn more!)
Or! Say you've got an interesting nickname. One that says a lot about you. Your prompt could be:
What is your nickname? Explain its origins.
Remember: nicknames can say a lot about you. You can go with something like:
And from there, you'd talk about how you got good at the sport or activity, and what your goals are moving forward.
But in a really cute way.
You can also be self-depreciating. People love self-depreciating. For example:
From there, talk about skills you've developed as a freakishly white person. Patience. Resilience. A sense of humor. A capacity for scathing comebacks. And, perhaps, an intellectual interest:
During Honors Biology, I learned about 23andMe, a home genetic testing service. I promptly ordered a spit kit, determined to find the gene responsible for my albicant complexion.
Or, if you've been running a blog or a website or a company, and you want to talk about that, you could go with something like:
TheHappyTalent.com is really taking off! Why do you want to go to college instead of running your website full-time?
If your business is a big part of your life and all your supplemental and short answer essays are about why you want to be an entrepreneur, admissions officers might wonder: what is this applicant hoping to get out of college. So tell them!
"They say that all of psychology research is really psychology me-search," my AP Psych teacher said on the first day of class. And this has certainly been true for me.
And then, of course, a conclusion. What are your goals for your company? How to you expect to manage it and a full course load next fall? What responsibilities will you hand off to others? After graduation, are you going to go back to this pursuit, or try something new?
As you're thinking about what prompt you want to answer, don't be afraid to be provocative. You could say something like:
Between iTunesU, Coursera, EdX, and countless other online learning opportunities -- what's the point of college? What do you hope to learn or accomplish on campus that you couldn't do online?
A prompt like this is a great way to demonstrate purpose. It's a great way to show you've done your research, and you understand what you want to get out of your college education.
Another advantage of a prompt like this is that one thing admissions officers want to be able to envision is you on a college campus, instead of as a little high school student. Paint yourself on this campus. What are you doing? Where are you?
(For help answering this prompt, Contact Me or check out The Two Biggest Mistakes Students Make on Their College Applications and Going to Stanford Doesn't Mean You'll Get a Stanford Education.)
Another essay topic:
What is your spirit animal?
This would be a great topic for someone who is artistic, silly, spiritual, or outdoorsy. Make sure that you're authentic, though. If you're serious and analytical, this might not be the prompt for you. You could do something like:
100% of my friends would tell you that I'm a dolphin, and I can see why they'd think that: I love scuba diving, I move through the water like a torpedo, and I have an extremely playful, mischievous personality.
Or... you could write something completely different. Think about some of your greatest accomplishments. Think about some of your silliest quirks or deepest interests.
Now, what's the most interesting way to possibly frame that?
Other ideas I've brainstormed:
Just remember not to let yourself get distracted by the prompts. It's fine to use Sansa and Arya Stark as a framework or setup for your essay, but the essay is about you. Focus on the qualities you and the Stark girls have in common, or what you would have done differently if you were them.
It's fine to talk about "Old" vs. "New" Taylor -- but you're still trying to impress me. Show off your deep knowledge of pop culture. Show off your understanding of production techniques like gated reverb -- and tie it into your own musical accomplishments.
It's fine to show off your prose and creativity -- especially if you've indicated an interest in a creative major, like English or Comparative Literature. But you still need to be in these essays.
Questions or comments? Check out my Services page, then Contact Me!
Eva Glasrud completed her B.A. and M.A. at Stanford. She is now a college counselor and life coach for gifted youth.