My wife is a wonderful Asker of Questions. Her questions turn me inward, inviting me to discover my own truths, and I’ve always thought of her questions as gifts. This prompt was no different. And it was such a simple, eloquent little thing:

I love the openness of the word “world”–as in “Describe the world you come from…” But I didn’t find it to be open in an impossible, abstract way. It helped my students conjure images, colors and differences. And it actually affirmed that students came from a “world” that was different from other students’ worlds-–something that many students hadn’t considered until they began to write for this prompt. Then it invited the writer to describe those differences. Not explain or itemize, but to describe. What a simple, beautiful request: describe your world.

The second part invited students to not only describe their dreams and aspirations, but to make connections between how who they’d been would inform who they would become. Granted, many students don’t at 17 years old know what career they want to pursue or (like me) will change their major in college, perhaps more than once. But “dreams and aspirations” was open enough to allow for a variety of answers.

I also loved that, by asking students to make connections, to search for causes and effects, the prompt invited a meaning-making process that was, at its best, be therapeutic.

Can writing provide therapeutic benefits? Absolutely. Can college essay writing? You tell me. Try writing this prompt for yourself, whether you’re a student, parent or not. See what happens.

You know what, though? In Faulkner’s words: 

The past isn’t dead. It isn’t even past.

That’s true here too.

Why?

Because the former UC1 prompt still works as a replacement for several other prompts. Take, for example, the Common App prompt #1: 

(Former) UC Prompt #1: Describe the world you come from – for example, your family, community or school – and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

(Current) Common App Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.