Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there and why is it meaningful to you?
My idea for an essay is about being content with achieving the best grades, and being a good person.The ever constant drive for the “A” and how “driven” I am about the hard work I put into being the best person I can be in all aspects of my life and how with that comes the sense of accomplishment but I want to use driving my car and the peace I find while driving as a metaphor for the satisfaction I get from working hard not just for my good grades but how that hard work relates to my life in general; that hard work pays off and I can use my “drive” to achieve success to ultimately reach a state of mind in which I am completely content.
This is the idea in my head but I can’t seem to get started with the wording, as you may be able to tell. I need to stay below 700 words and would like this to tell a story about me but in a light way.
I’m one of those people who have a reputation for being rather intense and always striving for perfection but in a funny sort of way. I don't mind working hard but I hold myself to a higher standard. I don't want to settle for less, I want to be the best. I feel most content when I achieve this. It doesn't always happen but I do try.
The one thing that offers a sense of balance to the intensity is when I drive my 5 speed car and listen to music. Its a way to empty my mind and just relax. I thought it would be a creative idea to combine the two.
Any advice or help you can offer would be most helpful. Also, if you think I should approach this from a different angle, that too would be appreciated.
I'm really just trying to find a creative way to capture my drive in life while achieving a balance and using my car as a metaphor.
Thanks so much!
This is some background info for the prompt.
Nearly everyone can identify a location that brings contentedness. But this doesn't mean the prompt isn't challenging. You will need to make sure you are presenting the chosen location effectively.
The tips below can help:
Choosing a "Place or Environment":
Step one in tackling this prompt is coming up with "a place or environment where you are perfectly content." You have a lot of latitude here--you can write about any specific location on the globe ("a place"), or you can be less focused and discuss the type of surroundings ("environment") that brings you contentedness. The place can be small or large, inside or outside, commonplace or extraordinary. You could also bend the question to explore imagined places--locations accessible only through your imagination.
As you brainstorm this essay prompt, think broadly about the place or environment you are going to discuss. Your options include:
- A building: Your house, church, school, tree fort, or grandma's home. A store, movie theater, café, restaurant, fitness club...
- An interior space: your bedroom, the secret room under the stairs, your science classroom, the locker room, your aunt's kitchen, the shower, the driver's seat of your favorite car...
- An exterior space: the woods, the ocean, the lake, a city street, a rooftop, a meadow in bloom, the dessert at night...
- A travel destination: Machu Picchu, the San Diego Zoo, the top of Mount Washington, the Avenue des Champs-Élysées, a food market in Shanghai, a tent in the Bad Lands...
- A performance or athletic venue: the stage of a concert hall, a tennis court, the football field, the shoulder of the road on a bike, the theater...
- An imagined place: the world portrayed in a painting, J.R.R. Tolkien's Middle Earth, Diagon Alley, the Star Ship Enterprise, Jane Austen's England, Downton Abbey...
The list could be much, much longer, and please don't let these limited suggestions steer you away from your own place of contentedness.
What Does "Perfectly Content" Mean?:
Many have interpreted this question to be asking about a place where they are at peace. Indeed, that is one way to read the question, and being in a peaceful state is one type of content state.
But the word "content" can mean much more than a state of peacefulness. It is also a state of satisfaction, and you don't need to be peaceful to be satisfied. An adrenaline junkie might be most content when skydiving, and a musician might be most content when performing a solo to a standing-room-only crowd. These high pressure situations can be magical, meaningful and "content" moments, but they are not peaceful.
Be Careful When You "Describe":
Always keep in mind that the essay is meant to tell more about yourself, and for you to demonstrate your ability to tell a story about yourself. The first task asked of you "Describe a place or environment" -- is also the least challenging part of the question. Describing, unlike analyzing, is a pretty low level form of thinking. This part of the essay has no self-analysis or introspection, so it is not saying much about you, your passions, or how well your mind works. Because of this, don't spend too many words describing. Be clear, concise, and engaging as you describe the place you have chosen, but then move on. The description should not be the bulk of your essay.
The "What" and the "Why":
The end of the prompt is most important. The question is asking you why you feel and act the way you do in your special place. Why is this place or environment meaningful to you? Dig deep. A shallow response isn't going to impress anyone. Someone who writes "I'm most content on the soccer field because I've always loved soccer" hasn't really answered the question. Why do you love soccer? Are you a competitive person? Do you like the teamwork? Does soccer help you escape from other parts of your life? Does it make you a better person? How has your time on the soccer field made you grow? What exactly makes the soccer field so full of meaning for you?
A final note: If you really explore the "why" of this question and go easy on the describing, your essay will be on track to succeed. It might help to rethink the prompt in these terms: "Tell us about a place that is meaningful to you so that we can get to know you better."
Last of all; be certain to pay close attention to style, tone, and mechanics.
College Admissions: Common Application Prompt, Perfectly Content
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Wednesday, October 15, 2014
Jodi Walder, GoLocalPDX College Admissions Expert
Photo Credit: boltron- via Compfightcc
Prompt: Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there and why is that meaningful to you?
I am five or six years old, and I am slumped down in the back of my family's Honda, holding my blue Nintendo Advance far too close to my face, furiously guiding Mario to his princess. I have no idea where my family is driving or why we have been in the car for so long, but I am very proud that I have finally learned to guide Mario over the drifting logs without assistance from my father.
I am nine or ten years old, growing up in my mother's craft room -- but nowhere near the sewing machine. No, I am engrossed in my father's full-sized video game console. It has been equipped with hundreds and thousands of retro games. My fingers fly across the blue and red buttons and furiously jolt the joystick in every direction. My knees are stiff from standing for so long, but I continue my Frogger streak, leading my small amphibian on a seemingly endless journey to just avoid oncoming traffic.
I am sixteen years old. Among the glowing neon lights and beeping consoles, there is a small-built girl with neon blue hair. She is beating middle aged men at the classic video games they grew up with. I am one of perhaps ten girls in the building, and one of three actually playing the games. I am certainly the only one today with this winning streak on Ultimate Mortal Kombat. And no, I'm not playing as the impossibly proportioned female character who uses her long raven hair to whip her opponent. I am playing as a robot named Smoke.
I hold video games very close to my heart. I'm not talking about Doodle Jump and Angry Birds; I'm talking about Tron, Q*Bert, Missile Command, and Mario Kart. New games may have beautiful graphics, impressive amounts of gore, or female characters with an incredible lack of clothing, but I will always love my old pixelated graphics, weird mistranslations, and overall-clad plumbers. Nothing can match getting a headache in the back of my parents’ car, standing in the musty craft room furiously clicking buttons, or enjoying the priceless face of an older man who has just been humiliated by a teenage girl with Manic Panic stains on her Pac-Man shirt. The drifting logs in Super Mario Brothers 2, the perpetual traffic in Frogger, my yellow chomping dot munching cherries like there's no tomorrow—they are my happy places.
Call me a geek or a nerd if it will make you feel better, but these are the places I run to whenever I need a getaway. They are not only my places of escape; they’re also a place for bonding with my father. As a little kid, if I got hurt, my dad would carry me inside and show me how to play one of his favorite games. He and I would game until I forgot I had hurt myself and he forgot that he had been quite busy working.
People will come and go, sports seasons will come to a close, and TV series will have final seasons. But these worlds and characters will always be around, just waiting for my dye-stained fingers to toggle the perpetually sticky joysticks that take me back to the backseat of my parents’ car on a long drive to a place I have long since forgotten. But spending hours journeying to get to save my princess only to discover she's in another castle? That is something I will never forget. (Miller S. Drexel University, Class of 2018).
Charlie’s feedback: Colorful language well expressed that answers the question beautifully. I have a strong sense of what makes the author happy. Enjoyable to read.
Andrea’s feedback:This essay is wonderful because it’s unexpected, it doesn’t fall into the typical essay tropes, and it doesn’t take the topic itself so seriously that it becomes falsely lyrical or philosophical. This student is her own person, and it strikes me that she’s interesting, positive, and someone I expect other students would enjoy having as a classmate, roommate, and friend. Arguably the most difficult Common App essay topic to do well.
Jodi’s feedback:Wow! This student is really a great writer. She’s focused, a bit counter-culture, and will rise to a challenge. I’d like to have her on my team for a group project, or hang out with her after class.
Charles S. Nolan, Ph.D. is the Vice President and Dean of Admission at Olin College of Engineering. He previously served in similar roles at Boston College, Santa Clara University and Washington University in St. Louis.
Andrea Hendrickson is Senior Assistant Dean of Admission at Reed College, and previously worked in admissions at Lawrence University.
Banner Photo Credit: iStock
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