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Dr. Jennifer B. Bernstein

(516) 362-1929

“Perfectly Content” College Application Essay Topic

IMPORTANT UPDATE: The Common App got rid of this topic, but there’s a new essay prompt for the 2017-2018 admissions cycle that will allow you to respond to it. The Common Application now gives you the option to “share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.”

CLICK HERE to get my guide to the new and revised Common Application essay prompts for 2017-2018.

One of the college application essay topics asks you to describe “a place or environment where you are perfectly content” and to share “what you do or experience there and why it’s meaningful to you.”

I was really happy when the Common Application published this topic because it signaled a huge change from the old essay prompts, which often required you to focus on people other than yourself. One topic asked you to “indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you” and to “describe that influence.” Another option was to “describe a character in fiction, an historical figure, or a creative work (as in art, music, science, etc.) that has had an influence on you” and to “explain that influence.”

The problem with these old essay prompts (that are no longer being used) is that admissions officers often wound up wanting to admit the person or character who influenced the student—not the student herself. Why? Students focused too heavily on the other person and not enough on themselves.

The new Common Application essay topics are much more focused on you—on your experiences and their significance in your life.


#1  Colleges want to make sure that the intellectual, social, and even physical environment at their school is a good fit for you.

You’re not supposed to customize your Common Application essay for specific schools, so don’t write about an environment that cancels out any of the schools to which you’re applying.  If you want to focus on how you feel most content in an intellectual environment where you get to be in lots of small classes and engage in dynamic in-class discussions, you need to make sure that all the schools to which you’re applying actually offer this kind of environment. Of course, if you feel most content in an environment that is completely unlike anything you’ll experience at a particular school, you might want to rethink why you’re applying there!

#2  Colleges are interested in learning about your favorite environments because they’re really curious about you!

It really is that simple.

Admissions officers are trying to get to know you without just saying something really general like “tell us about yourself.”

They’re giving you hooks—they’re providing you with a range of ways you can tell them important things about yourself. You can tell them about something that’s central to your identity, you can tell them something about yourself by focusing on a specific time when you experienced failure or a setback, and you can tell them something about yourself in relation to how you challenged a belief or an idea. You use the external details of those instances combined with your internal perspective on them to help admissions officers get to know you.

The same goes for the environment essay.

Sharing with admissions officers a description of your favorite environment and your perspective on this environment reveals interesting and important things about your awareness of yourself and what feels right to you.

As always, you need to keep in mind your audience.  You’re writing for admissions officers, so you have to think about why colleges might find your particular environment and perspective on it useful in terms of making an admissions decision about you.


Approach this essay topic with a creative, open mind, so you can find a unique angle that no one else is writing about.

Looking closely at key terms in the essay topics can help you get your creative juices flowing.

In this video, I open up some new ways of thinking about the word “content” and give you two examples of surprising times and places where students feel most content.  It’s not just the external angle that matters.  In your application essay, you need to strike a balance between external and internal details.

When you’re watching this video, you’ll see how these environments provide valuable insight into one student’s level of motivation, ability to persevere, capacity to stretch past her limitations, and handle setbacks.  You’ll learn how another environment sheds light on how another student comes up with innovative ideas.  These are all qualities that matter to colleges.


If you feel like the “perfectly content” essay might be the right one for you, spend some time coming up with your unique angle and figuring out why it’s useful for admissions officers to know that this particular environment is ideal for you.

Want even more detailed tips about all the Common Application essay topics? Check out the online Get Yourself Into College™ program.

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