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Tips for Common Application Prompt No. 4

By Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer
Lee Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte.

Bliss is boring! That’s my favorite cautionary line I’ve heard about Common Application Prompt No. 4: “Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?”

It’s true. Just how much can you say about the majestic mountains or the peaceful ocean waves? This is a tougher prompt than you might think.

Part of the challenge associated with Prompt No. 4, also known as “The Zen Question,” is that it is so broad. The place or environment is virtually limitless; it could even be a locale in a student’s favorite book. Remember that being content is different for everyone. For some, it might be watching a scary movie, and they might be bored to death watching a sunrise. That’s the beauty of this prompt.

How to approach No. 4

Figure out where you’re happiest. What does being content mean to you? Where do you find peace? When are you truly content? Where are you when you’re feeling that way? When are you truly yourself and feeling comfortable in your own skin?

Determine WHY you were so happy there. What were the circumstances that made you happy?

Try to think of an anecdote that happened in that place. Who were you with? What was going on? What do you do in your favorite place? Why did you feel so happy/content?

Use your sensory details. The first part of the prompt asks you to describe your place. This is not where you’re providing analysis but rather a straightforward description with significant details. This is not the focus of the essay.

Be introspective and reflective. The second and third parts of the prompt are inviting you to be analytical. This is the part of the essay that college admissions professionals are most interested in reading. This is where you will need to dig deeper and talk about how this place has influenced you.

Here’s another way to approach the prompt. Think about a time when you were unhappy. Where did you go to “get happy”? What is your “happy place” or your recovery place? Why do you go there? What’s special about that place?

If you can’t discuss why this place is meaningful to you with some level of maturity and reflection, you are probably better off selecting a different prompt.

Bierer is an independent college adviser based in Charlotte. www.collegeadmissionsstrategies.com

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