Common app activity essay samples and suggestions

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The Common Application short answer essay prompt states, "Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below or on an attached sheet (150 words or fewer)."

In response to the common application's short answer question, Doug writes about a lawn-mowing business that he founded:

My freshman year I founded Beat the Joneses, a lawn care company. I was a kid with a hand-pushed mower, a second-hand weed whacker, and a desire to build a successful and profitable company. Three years later, my company has four employees and I’ve used the profits to buy a riding mower, two trimmers, two hand mowers and a trailer. This kind of success comes naturally to me. I’m good at advertising locally and convincing my customers of the value of my services. I hope to use these skills in college as I earn my business degree. Business is my passion, and I hope to be even more financially successful after college.

Critique of Doug's Short Answer Response

What Doug has accomplished is impressive. Most college applicants haven't started their own business and hired employees. A college business program would probably be impressed by Doug's accomplishments.

Doug's short answer response, however, has some problems. The most significant issue is that Doug comes off sounding like a braggart and an egotist. The phrase "this kind of success comes naturally to me" is likely to rub the admissions officers the wrong way. Doug sounds full of himself. While a college wants confident students, it doesn't want obnoxious ones.Also, Doug comes across as someone who doesn't think he has much to learn in college. Why exactly does he want to go to college if he already thinks he has all the skills he needs to run a business?

The overall message that we get from Doug's essay is that the writer is someone who thinks very highly of himself and likes to make money. If Doug has any ambitions more noble than "profit," he hasn't made those goals clear in his short answer response. Doug does not sound like someone who will be a charitable and contributing member of a campus community.Colleges hear all too frequently that students want to attend so that they can get a great job and make money. However, if students have no passion for learning and participating in college life, the road to that degree will be fraught with problems. Doug's short answer doesn't succeed in explaining the connection between his lawn care company and his desire to spend four years of his life studying business.


The short answer essay prompt on the Common Application states, "Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below or on an attached sheet (150 words or fewer)." Christie wrote the following sample short answer essay to elaborate upon her love of running:

It is the simplest of movements: right foot, left foot, right foot. It is the simplest of actions: run, relax, breathe. For me, running is both the most basic and the most complex activity I perform in any day. While my body adjusts to the challenges of gravel paths and steep inclines, my mind is free to drift, to sift through whatever needs sorting or disposing -- the upcoming day’s tasks, an argument with a friend, some nagging stress. As my calf muscles loosen and my breathing settles into its deep rhythm, I am able to release that stress, forget that argument, and set my mind in order. And at the midway point, two miles into the course, I stop at the hilltop vista overlooking my little town and the surrounding woodlands. For just a moment, I stop to listen to my own strong heartbeat. Then I run again.

Critique of Christie's Short Answer Essay

Christie has focused on a personal activity, running, not any history-making achievement, team triumph or world-changing social work. As such, the short answer essay does not highlight any kind of remarkable accomplishment or personal talent.

But think about what this short answer essay does reveal -- Christie is someone who can find pleasure in the "simplest" of activities. She is someone who has found an effective way for dealing with stress and finding peace and equilibrium in her life. She reveals that she is in tune with her self and her small town environment.

This one little paragraph gives us the impression that Christie is a balanced, thoughtful, sensitive and healthy person. These are all dimensions of her character that will not come across in her lists of grades, test scores and extracurriculars. They are also personal qualities that will be attractive to a college.

The writing is also solid -- Christie's prose is tight, clear and stylistic without being over-written. The length is a perfect 148 words.

Tip: This student wrote the essay below when colleges asked her to describe her most significant extracurricular activity. She also used it in modified form to address such essay topics as personal value and personal activity, among others. The key is to interpret the questions creatively and apply them to your own personal characteristics.

I am known as an “elegant klutz.” Despite the obvious oxymoron, this label fits me well and has in no way prevented me from attaining my various achievements in the performance arts. I began dancing before I was able to walk. I would wriggle my arms and legs as I lay on my back in the crib and infuse my movements, so says my mother, with a rhythmic motion that was part primitive, part graceful. I took my first dance class when I was four at Ballet Academy East. My ballet career blossomed when they asked me at the age of six to perform overtime in both sections of the reindeer cast in the production of The Nutcracker. But after these performances, I defiantly explained to my mom that I hated wearing tights and would not put them back on. That form of dance was truly too “tight,” too restrictive. I needed something more expressive and liberating, so I quickly moved on to modern, jazz, tap, musical theatre, and African dance at Chapin. I have been choreographing, dancing, and performing my work in Chapin’s Dance Club since eighth grade and currently am the club’s Vice President.

I’ve always loved bringing dramatic facial expressions and text to dance. I also love the study of drama on its own. I’ve participated in five shows at Chapin since seventh grade, and from eighth through tenth grades took classes outside of Chapin at the Acting Academy of Dramatic Arts. My experience in theatre helped me open up personally and become more vocal than I used to be. My interest in blending my passion for dance with my love of drama inspired me to mix the two art forms for my Senior Honor Project this upcoming trimester.

It is difficult to separate dancing and acting from one another, and from the music that accompanies them. Music is so personal and meaningful to each individual, affecting the moods of dance numbers and theatrical scenes. My connection to music has motivated me to be a member of chorus since fourth grade and of our a cappella group since eighth grade.

My longtime dedication to these three performance arts culminated in my unexpectedly receiving last year’s Wellesley College Book Award of the Fine Arts, or the “triple-threat award.” True to form, I tripped walking up the aisle to receive my award, proving that even oxymorons can succeed.

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