The 2018-2019 Common Application essay prompt #6 reads as follows:
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?
This is the final specific prompt that the Common Application provides. It's a prompt that especially appeals to daydreamers and more creative and artistic students. If you have often found yourself browsing the Internet for hours, getting sucked into a vortex of Wikipedia, BuzzFeed, or YouTube links, then this might be the prompt for you. It's a fun topic to choose, but be careful of pitfalls. Here are some tips and advice to optimize your essay if you choose prompt #6:
1. Showcase your scholarly qualities.
This prompt is dangerous because the things that make you lose track of time may be somewhat frivolous and silly. For example, maybe you lose track of time thinking about video game strategies, dating tips, cat videos, etc. I'm sure all of these topics could be really fun to write about and really engaging for you during your free time, but these are not very fruitful topics to choose for your college application essay. Thus, the way you should approach this prompt is to maintain a scholarly and academic mindset. Remember that colleges are ultimately schools where you live, study, eat, and play with others for an extended number of years. At their core, colleges are still academic institutions, and they want to see that you possess the academic qualities and curiosity that will make you an excellent addition to classrooms, laboratories, discussion sections, etc.
Whatever topic, idea, or concept you choose, make sure that there is a scholarly or academic side to it that you can discuss and flesh out. Even seemingly frivolous and silly things may sometimes have academic merit to them, and maybe other scholars have begun exploring particular issues. Ultimately, you want to show that the topic, idea, or concept that you obsess about and that causes you to lose track of time has substance behind it. That it's not just a useless topic, idea, or concept, but that it has practical value beyond just amusing you or entertaining you in your own head. Don't just write about something that merely entertains you. Write about something that has depth and engages your mind beyond just titillating your sense of humor.
Especially when you explain why this topic, idea, or concept captivates you, take the opportunity to explore the multiple dimensions of this topic, idea, or concept that make you lose track of time. This is your opportunity to show that you are a serious student of not only academic subjects but also the world. You see things, you notice things, you can "closely read" and analyze the world around you. Demonstrate that you are academically curious and that you do things for the sake of learning sometimes. You don't just do the bare minimum required at school and just try to get good grades. The more colleges can see that you take initiative of your own learning and growth, the more confident they will feel in admitting you. Colleges are often huge environments where your hand will not be held by someone. They need to feel comfortable that you will take responsibility for your own education and will be able to handle your independence. In college, you will often lose track of time because of flexible scheduling, interesting conversations, oversleeping, partying too hard, and engaging extracurriculars. Colleges want to see that you will be engrossed in your work and activities but also be responsible.
2. Don't get lost in the idea--keep it personal.
When discussing a topic, idea, or concept, it's easy to fall into the trap of just dedicating your essay to showing how amazing, engaging, and extraordinary this topic, idea, or concept is. However, always keep in mind the ultimate purpose of your essay. Your essay is ultimately supposed to help your reader get to know you as a person better to see if you would be a good fit at a specific college. Colleges are not using this prompt just to find interesting topics, ideas, and concepts out there in the world. There are countless things that admissions officers could search on the Internet to keep themselves entertained and amused ad nauseum. Make sure that you connect the topic, idea, or concept to yourself in some way and use the topic, idea, or concept to reveal interesting things about yourself, your background, your personality, and your dreams and aspirations.
For example, let's say that the topic, idea, or concept that really interests you is prime numbers. In your essay, you could dedicate a lot of paragraphs to talking about how interesting prime numbers are and educate your reader on the amazing facts about prime numbers that lay people may not be aware of. That's fine, but if you stop there, your essay is not as compelling as it can be. Why do prime numbers interest you so much? How did you get interested in this? Did you join a math club that sparked your interest in this? Was there a particular math class or teacher that got you hooked? Did you attend a summer camp or program that challenged you in some interesting way? How have you continued to pursue this interest in prime numbers? Have you begun an independent research project with a teacher at school or with a professor at a local college? Are you working on publishing something? As these questions reveal, you want to show how prime numbers have affected your life personally. Not just that prime numbers are interesting.
Even the last part of the prompt asks you to discuss what or who you turn to when you want to learn more. This is a great opportunity to show that the topic, idea, or concept that you are writing about helps you get connected with the world around you--with research, academia, teachers, professors, mentors, peers, and others who are interested in the same topic, idea, or concept. Show that this interesting topic, idea, or concept helps you build relationships that are not only scholarly and academic but also deeply personal and grounded in mutual interests in fascinating things. In this way, you will be able to show off your personal traits that make you a fascinating individual that others want to be around.
3. Maintain your sense of humor.
This is a great essay topic to insert some humor and show that you are relatable and likable. Yes, you should showcase your scholarly qualities, but also take this opportunity to showcase the humorous and dynamic sides of your personality. Especially as you describe how this topic, idea, or concept makes you lose track of time, be self-deprecating and acknowledge how ridiculous it is sometimes to be obsessing about this topic. Whatever topic, idea, or concept you choose, some people will find it to be boring. But they may find your obsession with it to be fascinating and entertaining. So seize the opportunity to gain some personal points with your reader. Embrace your inner nerd if you want and geek out about whatever topic, idea, or concept you are writing about. Embrace yourself fully. Your reader will appreciate your authentic interest and curiosity and be absorbed by how absorbed you are.
Humor is always difficult to insert in an admissions essay, but in my opinion, showing that you have a sense of humor is vital. You are not just a robot who studies well and does a million extracurricular activities in a superhuman way. You are a teenager who also has fun and has a vibrant personality. You have hobbies and interests outside of school, and you don't take yourself too seriously. You obviously want to be careful not to offend anyone with your humor--this is where tact and good judgment come in. And if you can exercise that good judgment and entertain your reader while educating her about a topic, idea, or concept that is really interesting, then you have hit the grand slam.
As you think about maintaining your sense of humor in your essay, think about the tone of your essay and think about how you can achieve balance not only within an essay but also among your essays. Your main Common Application essay is just one among many essays that you will write. In fact, you will probably spend more time writing numerous school-specific supplemental essays. Strive for balance among your essays. For example, if your main Common Application is really funny, lighthearted, etc., then maybe in your supplemental essays, spend a little more time showing a different side of your personality. You want to show your reader that you are a multidimensional person with depth of character, personality, and values. Each sentence, paragraph, essay, etc. is another opportunity to reveal a different side of yourself. Seize each opportunity, and do it with grace, humility, and a sense of humor.