The Common Application Prompts: Number 2

By Ryan Hickey + updated on November 25th, 2009

Yesterday we provided an overview of the Common App essay prompts and an in-depth look at the first of those prompts. Today, we’ll continue with this series and dissect Common App prompt number two.

2. Discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern and its importance to you.

Like the first prompt, this one has two distinct components: discuss something, and tell us why it matters to you. Each is important and your essay won’t succeed unless you address both.

Let’s focus on the first component to begin: discuss some issue of personal, local, national, or international concern. Once again, this is extremely open ended and allows you to choose virtually any “issue,” from your school’s dress code to world hunger. Many students make the mistake of thinking that it’s better to write about a large-scale issue (poverty, hunger, climate change, war, etc.) than something more intimate. This simply isn’t true. In fact, it’s often better to write about something less grandiose, as it will then be easier to clearly describe why that issue is important to you. Moreover, those large-scale issues show up quite often in essays written for this prompt, which makes it harder to write an essay that will stand out from the crowd. Think of it like this: world hunger and climate change are important to a vast number of people. Unless you can find a way to explain why the issue is important to you in a unique way, you may be better off focusing on something more personal.

If you’re thinking of writing on a large-scale issue, try finding a way to focus on one particular aspect of that issue. Look at the following examples:

Climate change –> emissions regulation –> lobbying against a proposed coal-fired power plant near your city.

Hunger –> improving crop yields –> promoting genetic research that creates heartier strains of cereal crops

With just a bit of thought and planning, you can transform a broad topic into something just as powerful but much more focused. Doing so will also make it easier for you to explain why the issue is important to you, which is just as important as discussing the issue itself.

I want to draw your attention to one particular word in this prompt: discuss. Note that the prompt does not ask you to simply “describe” an issue; instead, it asks you to discuss that issue and why it’s important to you. Keep this in mind, as your essay will not succeed if you simply describe. “Discuss” conveys the idea that the essay should include a substantial number of your own opinions and thoughts on that issue. Remember, admissions essays are meant to help the admissions committee get to know you better. Thus, this essay needs to be heavily colored by your own opinions and thoughts about the issue on which you decide to write.

If you write your essay with an eye toward “discussing” the issue rather than “describing” it, you’ll likely have no trouble fulfilling the second part of the prompt, which asks why the issue is important to you. There are many different ways of going about this – try one of the following tactics if you’re stuck:

-         Take a stand – explain your perspective on a contentious issue

-         Show how it’s affected you. If you have personal experience with the issue, incorporate that into your response.

-         Connect the issue to your own interests/aspirations. If you are discussing the importance of developing more fuel-efficient vehicles, you could connect that to your personal desire to study engineering.

Lastly, always remember that the professionals at EssayEdge are here to help if you need advice with any aspect of your essay. Consider our Grand Service if you’d like the chance to bounce ideas off an editor and have unlimited interaction with him or her for a full week.  You also get two full edits of your essay draft!

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Ryan Hickey

Ryan Hickey is Managing Editor of Peterson's & EssayEdge and an expert in many aspects of college, graduate, and professional admissions. A graduate of Yale University, Ryan has worked in various admissions capacities for nearly a decade, including writing test-prep material for the SAT, AP exams, and TOEFL, editing essays and personal statements, and consulting directly with applicants. He enjoys sharing his knowledge to aid others in achieving their educational goals and, when he gets a break, loves hiking and fly fishing with his wife and two border-collie mixes.

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