This prompt is inviting you to talk about what’s meaningful to you through the lens of a favorite book, song, or other piece of art—the operative words being meaningful to you. In other words, this essay should be about you, not so much an analysis of the artwork itself. What lessons have you learned from reading/hearing the piece that you’ve been able to apply elsewhere in your life? Did it challenge preconceived ideas or beliefs? Did it inspire you in some meaningful way?
If you have answers to any of the questions above, chances are this may be a great prompt for you. Another way to evaluate whether it’s the right choice is to consider your Common App application as a whole—your personal statement, Activities List, and Additional Information section. Is there an important side of you, a critical experience, subject, or activity, that isn’t coming through as strongly as it should? If your answer is yes, ask yourself: Can I demonstrate that in a meaningful way through a specific song, poem, speech, or novel? If so, read the example and Tips + Analysis below.
Pro tip: If you do choose this prompt, try not to write about widely popular or obvious choices—like, say, the classics or anything in the Harry Potter series. Not because they’re not wonderful reads (they’re well-known for a reason), but because other students are likely to write about them, which will make it more difficult for you to stand out.
Here’s a strong example for this prompt:
In history class, the dialogue surrounding the Civil Rights Movement often presents African Americans as a unified group fighting to resist racist policies. But James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, written in 1963, helped me understand that the nuances of African American resistance have often involved strained personal relationships within African American families.
Early in this book, Baldwin retells a childhood experience where his father discouraged him from staying in school because he thought a higher level of education didn’t help African Americans enter the professional sphere. Baldwin recalls encountering “too many college-graduate handymen,” but refuses to drop out of school, mostly as an act of defiance towards his father.
Baldwin continues to describe experiences that heightened the tension between him and his father—particularly regarding religion, parental control, and life on the streets.
Although resisting white oppression was difficult for Baldwin, resistance often caused divides in his personal relationships, which was more draining. Before reading this book, it had never occurred to me that overcoming the barriers perpetuated by racism in some cases involved taking a break from one’s traumatized community, which in this case was Baldwin’s own father.
I can relate. My father and I have differing methodologies for informing ourselves of current events and choosing to support a political candidate. My father makes his decision based on the political party, overall impact the candidate will have in the government, and major news headlines, while I believe in learning all the details about the candidate, doing extensive research on their speeches and personal history, looking at which influencers support them, and following their updates on social media. These small differences have caused my father and I to disagree in some political conversations. I used to doubt my own perspective when my father and I discussed politics, but Baldwin’s essay taught me to hold my own ground while also respecting my father’s opinion. It also taught me to critically reflect upon my own values.
Social problems play out in personal ways. The Fire Next Time has helped me find the balance between acknowledging strains in personal relationships while learning how to grow as an activist. Reading about Baldwin’s experience has helped me draw parallels to my personal struggles, and helped me combat my unconscious assumption that all African Americans have experienced the consequences of white oppression in the same way.
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Tips + Analysis
Show how the piece changed, broadened, or challenged previously held beliefs. The key to this essay is to show how the work of art you chose to write about contributed to your growth—how it gave you “insight or inspiration.” So, think about doing that in two parts: first by describing the belief or perspective you started with (the status quo), then by explaining how your viewpoint evolved. In her intro, this student starts right out with a summary of both: “In history class, the dialogue surrounding the Civil Rights Movement often presents African Americans as a unified group fighting to resist racist policies. But James Baldwin’s The Fire Next Time, written in 1963, helped me understand that the nuances of African American resistance have often involved strained personal relationships within African American families.” That’s a nice way to establish the essay’s theme from the beginning.
Make it personal. Remember, this is an essay about you, not so much the work you chose. You will, naturally, have to spend some of your word budget talking about the piece, especially as it relates to the idea or perspective that inspired or enlightened you. This student spent 100 words on Baldwin’s perspective—a quarter of the essay. We wouldn’t recommend using much more than that. But the student then quickly dives into the insight she gained, how “overcoming the barriers perpetuated by racism in some cases involved taking a break from one’s traumatized community.” Even more instrumental was showing how she related to Baldwin’s experience, through her political disagreements with her own father. But she doesn’t stop there. In demonstrating her growth, the student is clear about how she applied what she learned: “Baldwin’s essay taught me to hold my own ground while also respecting my father’s opinion. It also taught me to critically reflect upon my own values.”
Show how your growth has impacted your life in other ways. If you can demonstrate that the lessons you took away from the piece inspired you in multiple ways, all the better. For this student, in addition to having a new outlook on her political conversations with her father, she learned to “find the balance between acknowledging strains in personal relationships while learning how to grow as an activist,” while also learning to “draw parallels to my personal struggles,” and “combat my unconscious assumption that all African Americans have experienced the consequences of white oppression in the same way.”
Convey key values you want BC to see. One of the most important goals of this essay is to show BC what’s meaningful to you and why. That means conveying key values, especially those you share with BC. This essay is teeming with strong values: empathy, compassion, social change, curiosity, accountability, diversity, quality relationships, respect, love.
Consider being vulnerable. Expressing vulnerability makes the essay more relatable, allowing the reader to connect with you on a more personal level. You can show vulnerability in multiple ways—with self-deprecating humor, by revealing embarrassing details, by sharing secrets or deeply personal information. This student is vulnerable in describing some over-generalized beliefs she had about the African-American experience, which some people may be shy about revealing for fear of judgment. Sharing that perspective makes her growth, and her willingness to embrace it, all the more meaningful.