You and the Common Application Essay (Part 4)

We’re fast-approaching the fifth and final essay prompt for the newly-revised 2013-2014 Common Application, but I’d be remiss if I got in a rush and skipped over the fourth topic – in particular because it’s a great option.  (So are the other four because the whole point of the Common Application giving you such diverse choices is to give you the best opportunity to let your prospective colleges and universities know key characteristics that you possess and that make you a tremendous fit for their institution.)

And what is the mystical fourth prompt? you ask.

Prompt #4 for 2013-2014:  Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?

Equestrians, it’s like they tailor-made this one especially for you, isn’t it?  Talk about a nice, easy pitch that comes straight over home plate and connects with your bat for a grand slam home run!

But in your enthusiasm, don’t lose sight of the primary question the prompt asks!  As in Prompt #3, which asked about a belief that you challenged and if you would (or would not) make the same decision again, the place is merely context for your essay.  It’s a setting and an image for the reader to envision.  It is not the star of your essay – you are!

Let’s say that you pick one of the two obvious choices that a rider can choose in this situation – the saddle (which is indeed a place!) or the stable.  Either one presents a wonderful image for the admission staffer reading your essay – the ideal of setting out on the trail on a crisp, fall day with the creak of leather and clomping of hooves to accompany you or a tree-lined drive that travels between what seems like acres of board fence around paddocks filled with glossy, happy horses as you approach the barn for your afternoon lesson.

Beautiful, right?  But where are you in the middle of all of this?  The saddle and the barn aren’t applying to college, are they?  In this case, then, they need to be relegated to the back seat (despite their prominent placement within the prompt itself).

Your task as a writer, then, is to briefly (Briefly!  Remember – you only get 650 words in total!) describe the place so that you have laid the scene for your reader.  As soon as that’s done, you must then introduce yourself into the scene.  Why are you so content here?  What makes this particular place so special to you?

The second part of the prompt also gives you clues as to what your reader is looking for; be sure to talk about what your experience in this environment is like.  What does it feel like just before take off when you’re going over a 1.3 meter fence?  Where does your mind go while you’re performing a canter pirouette?  And when you experience these sensations, why are they meaningful in your life?

In fact, if it helps you to think of this prompt in a somewhat backwards manner in order to get the creative juices flowing, ask yourself, “Where would I spend my time if I weren’t _____ (fill in the blank) and what would my life be like without that place?”

(And – as always! – if you need help with the creative process, contact me!)


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