The Common App Short Answer Question

Colleges want to get to know you as a whole person, and the essay is clearly the key to standing out during the application process, and revealing who you are. Questions about extracurricular activities, commonly seen on college applications, are a great way to demonstrate who you are beyond the academic picture. In fact, the Common App short answer question, which the majority of students will be filling out, is about just that. It asks applicants to "briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences." Below is a sample essay in which a student describes her passion for singing and how it has helped her in her everyday life:

The alarm clock sounds. I open my eyes, and deep from under my covers I think, “What do I have to do today?” I think about the vocab quiz and the words tumbling through my head. I think about the paper on King Lear I crammed in the night before, the intricate ideas still fresh in my mind. I think about having to walk my dog, and do the laundry. I think about how I must read 20 pages of Speak, Memory on the bus to school. I think about the list of terms that I must memorize for my Economics test. I realize I had a dream about Alan Greenspan wearing leotards and think about that, too.

But amidst all the thinking and working and studying, there is something else—a vacation for my mind where my soul can unfurl itself and just breathe. I’m talking about my singing. I sing as often as I can. I sing in school, I sing in my shower, I sing along to my favorite songs every night in my room. I’ve sung all over the world, from the stage at the Metropolitan Opera House in New York City to the Cathedral in St. Mark’s Square in Venice.

Someone recently asked me what I think about when I sing a song for an audience. I searched my mind, trying to remember the thoughts that filled my head at a recent appearance. But nothing came to mind. I concentrated on what I must’ve been thinking, and even looked back to all the other times I’ve sung. Still, nothing. Then I realized, that’s precisely it: Nothing comes to mind when I sing. I simply don’t think when I’m onstage and the sounds are pouring out of me.

When I sing, my mind is totally blank, no worries and no thoughts, save a few points on keeping my pitch up and remembering the lyrics. Don’t get me wrong, I work very hard at singing. It is something that comes naturally to me, but I study the songs I sing, and I learn different techniques, and sometimes it takes a long time to get them down. There are, however, no tests—only the personal ones I set for myself onstage, and those are emotional experiences that cannot be compared to taking an exam in a classroom.

Just as all my built-up mental energy fuels my singing with intensity, my singing in turn feeds my mind, allowing it to cleanse itself through this physical and emotional artistic catharsis. I suppose this yin-yang cycle is what allows me to function throughout the day in relative harmony with the world and myself. Singing is something I am proud of, something I will continue to do for the rest of my life, personally and I hope professionally. Just as I have no memory of when exactly I started singing, I never want to have a memory of when I stopped.