Common Application Essay Option 6: Losing Track of Time

Learn Tips and Strategies for this 2019-20 Application Essay Option

Common Application essay option #6 asks you to explore a topic that makes you lose track of time.
Common Application essay option #6 asks you to explore a topic that makes you lose track of time. Innocenti / Getty Images

The Common Application added essay option number in 2017 and it seems like the prompt will stick around. The prompt reads:

Prompt 6
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?

Read over all of the prompts before deciding which one you will be able to respond to most effectively. Prompt 6 is appealing because it allows you to explore nearly any topic of interest but, like the other prompts on the Common Application, it can be difficult to answer.

To come up with an effective strategy for responding to this question, break it down to understand what it is really requesting.

What Does It Mean?

The central focus of this question is losing track of time and the purpose is to find out what excites you most. The question is asking you what subjects or activities you find so intriguing that you become entirely absorbed in them to the point of being able to think about nothing else. If you've ever found your mind wandering off thinking about something you love only to discover that an hour has gone by, that's the kind of topic this essay prompt wants you to explore. If you aren't sure of anything that you are that enthusiastic about, you should consider selecting a different prompt.

This essay option overlaps some with other options, especially option 4 about a problem you'd like to solve. For some people, the subject they most enjoy contemplating or researching is a solution to a problem. It is up to you whether you choose option 4 or 6 to talk about this topic.

Describe, Justify, and Explain

This essay prompt wants you to do three things with your topic: describe it, justify why it interests you, and explain how you learn more about it. While you should not spend the same amount of time in your essay on each of these areas, you need to put a good deal of thought into all three parts—thoroughly responding to every part of the prompt ensures that you have given college admissions officer the answers they are looking for.

Describe

Describing your topic, idea, or concept should be one of the first things you do in your essay. Clearly and concisely tell your readers what it is that you find so captivating and be as specific as possible.

Don't get carried away with your description. Give a brief summary of your topic to prepare your readers but remember that the introduction of the topic is not the meat of the essay. Introduce your topic neatly to demonstrate your ability to be succinct—your readers will be looking to the rest of your essay, not the description, to learn the most about your personality.

Justify

Justifying why your chosen subject captivates you will tell your readers the most about your personality, so be sure that this section is strong and takes up the largest portion of your essay. Set yourself apart from other applicants by thoughtfully explaining why your passions are your passions. Rather than trying too hard to choose something that will make you seem unique, choose to write about something that you genuinely care about and speak from the heart.

Becoming so captivated in something that you lose track of time is significant and the things that excite you like this say a lot about you. Make a lasting impression on admissions committees with good writing and zeal and welcome the opportunity to talk about the thing that you love.

Explain

The purpose of explaining how you study your topic is to demonstrate your research abilities and motivation to learn. Show your readers that you know how to gather information and seek out knowledge beyond a quick internet search. Describe your deep dives—where do your searches lead you? How do go about finding further reading? Do you consult any professionals about the topic? Write enough so that your readers fully understand how you pursue knowledge but keep in mind that explaining your research is not the most important part.

How to Choose Your Focus

The best topic to write about depends entirely on the individual. Choose something for which your passion or interest is sincere and make sure that there is enough substance to your topic that you can explain why it deeply affects you.

The essay prompt is so broad that it may seem daunting. To get started, think about the things you care most about and narrow your options down to only those that you can honestly describe, justify, and explain.

Examples of Prompt 6 essay topics include:

  • The way humans grieve
  • A scientific theory such as the big bang, quantum theory, or genetic engineering
  • The implications of reef collapse

This essay is your chance to be personal and true to yourself so take time to find the perfect topic.

Topics to Avoid

When choosing something to write about, consider whether you would be proud to tell an admissions board that the subject causes you to lose track of time—not just any topic will make colleges want to admit you. Video games, romantic pursuits, and watching movies are all examples of topics to save for another essay.

Also remember that the prompt is asking you to write about a topic, idea, or concept, not an activity. Avoid talking about hobbies or pastimes such as sports, playing an instrument, and socializing.

A Final Word

The colleges you are applying to want to know as much about you as they can before admitting you as a student. Data from grades, SAT scores and AP scores will all be looked at but do not tell much about your character. This essay is your opportunity to introduce yourself to what will hopefully be alma mater someday and frame the rest of your college career.

Decide how you want to come across to college boards and admissions officers and use this to inform your writing. A strong essay will show that you are passionate and eager to learn, and that is exactly the type of student all colleges are looking for.