College Essays

Common Application

Prompt (Common Application)

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.


Winnie the Pooh, Yogi Bear, Paddington. It’s weird how we see bears as these cute, cuddly creatures. After that night in the Adirondacks, I sure don’t. It’d been days of on-and-off rain and hauling food to my troop’s campsite. For an experienced camper like me, it was just how life outdoors worked, taking it day by day. We’d just had a delicious meal of hamburgers, one that I, a vegetarian, had cooked for our patrol. My friends had a saying about me: “He won’t eat it, but he sure as heck can cook it!” 

Sitting in my tent, I was thirsty. My troop had been sent back to camp early because of bear sightings nearby and I hadn’t been able to fill up on water for the night. I took the risk, leaving my tent’s safety for water. I could have gone to the pump close by, but instead I chose to get the cleanest, coolest, freshest water in camp. Unfortunately, that pump was half a mile from our site.

So, I threw on some flip flops, grabbed my stuff, and headed out on my little midnight odyssey. As I approached the pump, I heard a loud cracking sound in the dark. I whipped my flashlight towards the sound, only to see a colossal mass of black fur with piercing eyes staring back at me. As I stood twenty feet from an agitated black bear, my mind ran wild with useless facts: black bears can weigh up to 600 pounds and can stand up to seven feet tall. They’re also expert tree-climbers and can run up to thirty miles per hour. Frozen, I thought, “Maybe it didn’t notice me,” but as the bear turned around to face me, I feared the worst.

I stopped breathing for ten straight seconds as I processed the situation in front of me. Getting mauled to death by a bear because I wanted cold water would be a stupid way to die. Finally, I started thinking rationally. I remembered the bear horn I brought with me when I left—I felt it in my pocket. If I reached for it quickly, I’d startle the bear and I’d be dead, so I reached slowly. I also knew I needed to make myself look bigger, so I raised my arms and puffed my chest. My only defense, I squeezed the horn and the bear ran away. I stood in place, my mind blank from shock. Closing my eyes, I took a deep breath, my lungs filling with a cool mountain breeze, and I smelled the crisp, pine-scented air. In a weird way, I felt alive. 

Then I snapped back into reality. All at once, the gravity of the situation hit me. I had my first coherent thought in minutes: “Yo. That was a bear.” I bolted back to my campsite, the light from my flashlight zipping through the dark like a scared firefly. When I got to camp, I filled up on water at the nearby pump like I should’ve done anyway. I silently returned to my tent, drank, and sat there, thinking about how things could have gone differently. Scenarios, good and bad, played over in my mind, as I thought, “What if I didn’t have my bearhorn? I probably would’ve still scared it away by acting tough. What if the bear ate me, though? Would I go quickly? Yikes, I don’t wanna think about that.” 

I had learned about bear safety from one of my merit badge counselors. This chance encounter seemed like the universe gave me a pop quiz on living in the moment. I’m an overthinker—I plan ahead and consider every outcome, but what could’ve prepared me for a bear attack? “I guess sometimes I should take things as they come,” I thought as I shut off my flashlight and fell asleep. I can never look at cartoon bears the same way again. 

Tips for Writing

The way I approached this essay was balancing uniqueness with being genuine. I also focused on creating a cohesive story throughout my application.

Think about it this way: college admissions officers go through thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of applications every day. Assuming they look at applicants for six hours a day, and they need to get through a thousand applications, these college admissions are looking through your application for 3 minutes at the maximum. This means that being an applicant that instantly stands out from the crowd has lots of value in the college application process. At the same time though, you shouldn’t try too hard to be unique, as these admissions officers can tell when you’re trying to be quirky and weird on purpose. I chose a story that’s very unique to my life, and incorporated elements of humor and my own personal writing style without overdoing it.

Furthermore, the college essay needs to show a side to you that the other aspects of your application don’t. This is a major reason why I recommend you DON’T write a whole essay on one of your extracurricular activities, as you’ve probably already described them when you listed them. Instead, choose an anecdote or idea that reveals a different, more interesting side of you; one that takes the numbers and words of the other parts of your application and forms them into a human being with a story for your admissions officer to understand.

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