Featured Stories

Other Pamplin Media Group sites


Prompted by the Common App

Editor’s note: The Common Application (Common App) is a nonprofit organization that provides college applications students may submit to any of the group’s 500 members. Members are colleges and universities that, according to the group’s website, promote “access by evaluating students using a holistic selection process,” which is a consideration of the whole application, not just data such as a GPA or SAT score.

My school’s college counselor had us write essays according to Patricia Torvaldsthe Common App’s prompts. I read them over every once in a while, like maybe they’ll change the prompts just for me or if they get enough clicks from one user they’ll reveal the secret “Topic of Your Choice” that they just wanted to hide from less-dedicated kids.

So far no luck. And it kind of feels like I’m just out of luck in general with these essay topics.

“Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story,” reads the first prompt.

This one is probably my least favorite. I bet there’s a whole bunch of kids who could write the absolute best essays ever with this topic and talk about all their rich heritage and get accepted on the spot, no questions asked. I never really know what to write for this one. It scares me with the intensity of its wording. I mean, I have Finnish heritage. I like that about myself. But it doesn’t define me. It’s not that central to my identity. I have to move on.

“Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?”

I actually like this one a little bit. If I had ever majorly failed, I bet I could crank out a neat little essay about it. But somehow I don’t really think schools would be too impressed to hear about the thousands of times I’ve killed any plant that has ever been entrusted in my care. Or about when I tried to make a cake and my little sister almost cried when she had a bite. The thing is, usually I’m pretty good at damage control. And I have some pretty awesome resources if a project is heading downhill. So my essay now would just make me look like a wuss who never tried anything new. I guess I still have some time to mess something up. Ah, junior year.

“Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?”

I wrote about this one. I mean, all I do is challenge beliefs or ideas. That’s the whole point of my feminism. However, my college counselor told me, in the nicest way possible, that my aggressively feminist essay was probably best for women’s colleges. She’s right. A lot of the admissions reps for Oregon that I’ve met have been surprisingly conservative. If I’m trying to put my best foot forward I should do my best not to freak anyone out. But still. I had a topic, man!

“Describe a place where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?”

I wrote about this topic last year. It’s nice and all, and I wrote about my dance studio. I just don’t dance as much as you would think based on that essay. There’s a girl in my class, and she’s an incredible ballerina and spends probably 20-plus hours a week at her studio. I spend five, usually. I’m not going to major in dance. I like ballet, but it’s not what makes me me. There’s a whole host of things that do, more so than dance, but I can’t figure out how to squish them into these bizarre topics.

“Discuss an accomplishment or event,” reads the final prompt, “formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family.”

This one is a joke. I mean, I’m sure it isn’t for many people. But I’m definitely still some dumb kid who complains about college essay topics and goes shopping for jeans instead of contacting professors before college visits on the East Coast. (The jeans are really cute, by the way.) I was under the impression that college turned you into an adult and that I could put off thinking about that until I had to pay taxes or something horrible like that.

I guess the issue isn’t so much that the topics are bad. And all kidding aside, I don’t think it’s all my fault either. I’m just hesitant to point fingers at one single thing that could possibly define me. I’m Patricia. I’m a mix of weird experiences and ideas, not just one activity or failure or belief. And apparently I’m not getting into college.

Patricia Torvalds is a junior at Riverdale High School, and she writes a monthly column for the Review. She can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..




Local Weather

Light Rain

40°F

Lake Oswego

Light Rain

Humidity: 93%

Wind: 3 mph

  • 29 Dec 2014

    Partly Cloudy 40°F 24°F

  • 30 Dec 2014

    Sunny 32°F 22°F