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How to approach the fourth prompt on the Common Application

The fourth prompt on the Common Application asks you to describe a place where you are perfectly content.

This is a popular option with many students. However, you cannot answer this prompt effectively if you do not know what ‘perfectly content’ means.

Many students believe that this prompt asks them to write about a place where they are peaceful. Of course, that is one possibility. But the word ‘content’ can mean much more than that. Content means satisfied. This is the feeling that you experience when you do something as well as you can.

A person can feel content even in stressful situations. So, for example, if you are a soccer fanatic, playing for your national team may be the most satisfying experience in your life although this can be quite stressful. This is an important angle that you need to explore.

Of course, writing about a place where you are peaceful and happy is fine, but that is not the only possibility.

As you may have already noticed, this prompt asks you to describe the place. You don’t need high level thinking to describe something. So don’t spend too many words on describing the place. What you need to do is to describe the place in a clear, concise and engaging manner. Make sure that the description does not form the bulk of the essay.

The ‘What’ and the ‘Why’:

The most important part of this prompt is the ‘what’ and the ‘why’. It asks you to explain why you feel content in this special place.

This is the crux. Dig deep. You can’t answer this part without introspection. And most importantly, a shallow response won’t impress the admission folks.

A student who writes ‘I am most content when I am playing the piano because I have always loved it’ does not answer the prompt.

In order to satisfy the admissions officer, you have to explain why you love the piano. Why do you enjoy playing it? Does it help you escape from other realities of your life? Does it make you a better person? Does it help you relax? Does it help you connect with your inner self?

If you can answer these questions, your essay will be on the winning track.