5 Final Checks for Common App Prompt #6: Engaging Topic, Idea or Concept

December 11, 2018

A relatively new addition to the Common Application, Prompt #6 allows you to showcase an intellectual interest that you may not be committed to studying. Put another way, it’s your chance to demonstrate an as-of-yet unhighlighted intellectual component of your candidacy.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

In this blog post, we’ll look at how zoez317 (Brown University, Class of 2022) took on this prompt with excerpts from her essay about how playing pretend eventually evolved into a love for history and its cast of characters and pivotal events.

Here are the questions you need to ask about your essay response before you hit submit:

  1. Is the subject you chose sufficiently academic?

    Make sure your essay addresses an academic topic / idea / concept that reflects a more cerebral interest. A passion project or activity that you love to spend time on that doesn’t comprise an academic component probably isn’t the right fit for this prompt. This doesn’t mean you write about this subject in an academic way—in fact, that’s probably the wrong way to approach this essay—but the reader should have some insight into what gets your brain to light up.


    In my mind lies a plethora of facts, dates, and names. Slivers of time are shoved into every cranny of my brain. I can hardly close my eyes without seeing scenes of ancient battles and historic moments flicker on the back of my eyelids.
  2. Despite the academic subject of the essay, do you draw the reader in with a great intro?

    This is your chance to craft a story that gets the reader invested in a subject you love isn’t just a straightforward response to the prompt of: “I love ____ because…” Be creative with the intro so you can focus the rest of the essay on explaining how your interest came about.


    A large blue storage bin still sits on the top shelf of a closet in my house. An outsider wouldn’t given much thought to it - they probably wouldn’t ever see it at all. But if you stood on your tippy toes and reached to the top shelf, took down the bin and blew off the decade of dust, you’d find the remnants of a world that exists only in the very limits of my imagination.


  4. Do you show rather than tell?

    How do you lose track of time with this subject? Don’t just affirm that you lose all sense of time when you’re exploring this topic. Explicitly show the reader how you lose track of time. Walk us through your love of this concept. What motivated your interest? Do you read books about this subject or watch explanatory videos or conduct research or participate in conference or organized discussion sessions with like-minded people? Tell us how you spend your time.


    I don’t count sheep at night anymore; now I recite the names and dates of things that would generally only matter to you if you are older than 200.
  5. Have you applied enough examples?

    An extension of showing rather than telling, your essay should contain vivid examples that support your love for the subject. Whether they’re examples of the activities you’re involved with that demonstrate how you apply your interest in this subject to your life, or they’re simply explanatory case studies of this subject, create a nuanced picture for us of your depth of interest. If you read about this subject, what’s your favorite book about it? If you are a club member, what projects do you work on?


    Every person that I study once had a favorite color, loved someone, hated someone, lost something they just put there, watched the clouds in the sky, and had an infuriatingly catchy song stuck in their head. Robespierre once wrote an ode to jam tarts and Aaron Burr splurged on the purchase of a coconut.

  6. Have you addressed the latter parts of the prompt: Why and How?

    Have you given a reason for your interest? This can often be a backstory to how your interest was sparked. What are the expert sources you turn to when you want to learn more? Is this a mentor, a particular author, a crowdsourced group, an online forum, or a book or TV series? Make sure you fully address all parts of this prompt.


    As I moved through high school, something in me shifted, prompting me to think differently about the made-up characters. They had always been manifestations of solely my own imagination, but then some undefinable thing drew me to instead look to the stories of real people who lived on this earth, people who had their own narratives to tell.


For more profiles that feature essays addressing an intellectual curiosity or academic subject matter, unlock a package. The Stanford supplemental essay also asks about “Intellectual Vitality”!


About The Author

AdmitSee Staff
AdmitSee Staff

​We remember our frustration with applying to college and the lack of information surrounding it. So we created AdmitSee to bring much-needed transparency to the application process! Read more about the team here.

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