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Common App – the Engaging Topic Prompt


What engaging topic, idea, or concept captivates you? College admissions officers want to know the things that interest you.  We sometimes call these “passions,” but I really don’t like that word much.  Rather, consider the interests you have that keep you engrossed for long periods of time.  You aren’t watching the clock, and suddenly you realize that the time has flown by.  These interests can change from time to time, and a person might have one or more of these all-consuming interests.  What are yours?  More important, ask yourself why you enjoy it so much.

Here is the prompt from the Common Application.

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?

Topic, Idea, or Concept

This prompt gives you broad latitude to discuss pretty much anything you’d like to discuss. However, it’s important to remember that colleges and universities are places where the focus is academic and intellectual. It would be entirely possible to write an essay on something as seemingly silly as “Hello, Kitty” or model airplanes or even on multiplayer computer games (my students have written successful essays on all three of these topics in the past). Notice, however, that the prompt does not use the word “activity.” As we will see, certain activities are related to the topic, idea, or concept, but the prompt asks you to keep your description focused on the academic or intellectual foundations that underlie the things you do.  Your chosen focus for this essay could be just about anything, but what matters is the thought that may lead to the activity—and not on the activity itself.

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Even as you get excited about the social aspects of college, don’t forget that the primary focus is on learning. This phrase also keeps the focus on an intellectual or academic plane. Colleges and universities are communities of learners, first and foremost, and this is your opportunity to demonstrate that this is your first priority in going to college.

Need a Hook for your College Essay

Engaging and Captivating

The topic, idea, or concept you choose implies some sort of action that demonstrates your interest. What do you do to activate or express your interest? The prompt sets a high bar: you find this interest so appealing that you sometimes get lost in it. And this is your story for this particular prompt: give an anecdote that demonstrates the depth of your interest, that shows the reader that you can become completely engrossed and lose track of time.


This word is the key to the essay. You need to justify—in some way—your devotion to this particular idea, topic, or concept. If you have chosen the right subject for your essay, your level of interest is so high that it is infectious. Your aim, then, is to explain the reasons for your interest, and to convey the reasons for that interest to your reader. You will have done your job well if your reader comes away with a newfound appreciation for an idea, topic, or concept that she has never considered to be so engaging or captivating. Share your enthusiasm by explaining the why behind your interest.

Need some help with your college essay?  Whether you are aiming for the Ivy League or you want to look your best for the college of your dreams, our expert advisors can help you brainstorm, structure, and edit an great college essay that will help you stand out from the crowd.   Give us a call.



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