How to Respond to Prompt One of the Common Application

Common Application Prompt 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.

This is perhaps one of the most popular prompts to respond to on the Common Application — and for good reason! At its essence, it is asking students to spend time writing about something that is absolutely essential to understanding who they are and what they’re about.

As with all the prompts, it casts a wide net with its language in order to encompass a variety of topics that students might wish to write about. This allows students the flexibility and freedom to write about topics that are genuinely pertinent to their lives. The key words to be paying attention to are “background,” “identity,” “interest,” and “talent.”

One way to begin to approach this prompts is to ask yourself, is there something about me that must be known? This prompt in particular lends itself to narrative story-telling about an important aspect in your life and how it has come to be so. Consider as well what in particular about you might help to set you apart from your peers or might help to highlight aspects of your application the further strengthen it.

As you brainstorm potential topics, consider:

What are some of my most important values in life and how did I get them?

How did I develop a passion for something and how has that shaped who I am and my aspirations?

What is a piece of my identity that is vital to understanding me?

What about my background has shaped who I am and my viewpoint?

What am I most interested in and passionate about?

What am I good at and enjoy doing?

How are those things key to understanding me, and how have they developed over time?

Upon brainstorming potential topic ideas, you might then consider which of them you are most strongly pulled toward. Often this intuition points you to something that is deeply important to you, that you are passionate about and care about, and because it has the most energy behind it from the beginning, it may end up being a good topic to go with.

For further contemplation, I also have my previous post about How to Choose a Topic that can be useful in considering additional factors in ultimately how to choose what you will write about.

The key here is keeping it focused and specific, no matter what you choose. This prompt should not be a catch-all for every life event that has ever happened to you. Focus on a particular theme, event, or topic to elaborate upon. Choose key anecdotes or details that are useful to make your narrative more concrete and support what you’d like to accomplish within the essay. As with all essay topics, you will want to provide substance and depth as opposed to shallow breadth. As you explore your topic, consider how and why questions like — Why is this important to me? How did it come to be so? What does it matter? — as these will often help you get to more depth, especially when you might feel stuck.

Here are some examples in response to this prompt:

How has coming from a multi-cultural background shaped your mindset, more specifically explored through food, language, and exchange at the dinner table?

Why do you make your own clothing to wear and use it as an artistic expression and mode of communication?

Why are you are deeply passionate about the environment and use your writing as a way to inspire and advocate for change?

How did a visit to a Frank Lloyd Wright house spurred your curiosity for how design can integrate natural elements and your aspirations to become an architect?

How has being a caretaker for an ill parent shaped who you are and impacted you?

These are just a few examples of how one might approach these topics. Each question posed gets at something that is below the surface, responding not only to the what, but the how and the why. Many people may respond at the what level, but in allowing yourself to go deeper into the depth of the matter, the essay will become more personal and specific, and thus, become more likely to be an essay that is not only good, but stands out.

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