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College Admissions: Common Application Prompt, Perfectly Content

Wednesday, October 15, 2014


Photo Credit: boltron- via Compfight cc

The intention of this series is to show readers a sample of a good essay in response to each of the Common Application prompts. This essay is an actual college admission essay, written and submitted by a real student. It is followed by comments from admissions professionals about what makes this personal statement effective.

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.

Jodi Walder is the founder of Portland, Oregon-based College Admission Coach LLC www.collegeadmissioncoach.com which helps students identify and gain admission to right-fit schools where they will thrive academically and personally. Contact her at: [email protected].

Banner Photo Credit: iStock 


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