College & Beyond

Common App 150

Common Application Question

“In the space provided below, please elaborate on one of your activities (extracurricular, personal activities, or work experience) (150 words or fewer).”

First Draft:

Hands interlocked, ring finger tapping steadily on its opposing knuckle. The girl ahead of me is almost finished with her piece; I only have about 30 seconds before I perform. Beads of perspiration find each other on a common string and form a veil over my forehead. No, I’m ready. I’m ready. I force the fear into adrenaline. I know my piece is as close to flawless as it is ever going to be. The last reverberations of her piece still echo as she takes a short bow and a quick smile, and proceeds down the steps. My turn.

This is the senior’s first draft. I notice that she has a great command of language, and yet what do we really get to know about her? If I were reading this as an admissions director, I would learn that she’s nervous, anxious…that she perspires profusely…and that she is trying to talk herself into being confident about her performance. The only person actually playing the piano is another girl because the essay stops short, ending with “My Turn.” This student is a brilliant pianist, who plays in audition-only performing groups. She just needed to begin her 150-word answer with “My Turn” instead of ending with it.

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Final:

The last reverberations of the pianist’s piece echo as she bows and proceeds down the steps. My turn. I picture in my mind the chromatic scales, the appoggiaturas and arpeggios I have worked tirelessly to perfect. I strike the first chord. From there, it is effortless – my fingers have memorized the rhythms and patterns of the composition: every fermata and trill come to life in a flourish of hand motions and quick phrasing. I hunch over the keys to play the soft and slow exposition, before bursting into a full bodied power scale: head tilted back, elbows to the sides, arms stretched like wings to accommodate the sheer force needed to perform the thunderous march. As the last notes approach, I play faster, louder; the music races, whirls, strengthens— suddenly, a breath; I lift my hands for a silent beat before placing them for the last, lingering chord. I close my eyes, still absorbed in the music—the applause just a buzz.

What I love about the final version is that it captures the artistry of her music and her talent. She doesn’t tell us directly that she is passionate about playing the piano; by showing us, the reader feels her intense emotion. When I read her words, I feel as if I am playing right there alongside of her because the word choice and the placement creates a rhythm of its own. For instance, she is playing a flurry of notes with increasing strength, and then the dash slows the reader down: “suddenly, a breath.” The reader pauses with the pianist, ready for the last chord. As the pianist is absorbed in her world, not playing for audience approval, but for her own soul, the reader is left breathless.