All about college essays: Tips on answering the “Issues important to you” essay question

Post By: COYD Staff

common application essayThe full question on the 2011 Common Application is: “Discuss some issue of personal, local, national or international concern and its importance to you.” Below are few things you should take into consideration when writing this essay:

What is the purpose of the question?

Like I said in my previous post, the admissions officers want to find out additional details about you from this question more than they want to hear additional details about the issue itself. They want the following questions answered: 1) What are your values? 2) What are your passions? 3) What does this applicant do with what they are passionate about?

The focus of the question is you. Admissions officers aren’t looking for a history lesson or a political commentary. Discussing the “issue of importance” is a vehicle in which the admissions officers can find out what is important to you and how it has affected your life.

Passion is action.

Top colleges want to admit proactive students, students who are constantly challenging themselves and who are challenging the student body. In this essay, you should show that when something is important to you, you do something about it. Admissions officers don’t want students who just know how to regurgitate famous authors and famous quotes over a dinner table. They want to admit students who are passionate about something and take some kind of action.

To illustrate my point, I’ll give you a simple example. Let’s say you are an avid viewer of American Idol and this past year you were a huge Lee Dewyze fan. Lee winning the competition and becoming the next American Idol was important to you. If this was the case, wouldn’t you have voted for him during the competition?

Many students write an essay about a particular concern but fail to show how it has actually impacted their lives. When something is important to you, there should be some action that takes place.

Action doesn’t always have to be something that you have done and finished. It could be something that is a work in progress. Let’s say your concern is sustainable housing in the inner cities. Your action could be how you volunteered with a local organization that built sustainable housing and are applying to XYZ school to be a civil/structural engineer with an emphasis on sustainability so you can contribute to this cause.

Admissions officers want to admit future leaders into their university. They want a student who will be passionate about an issue and one that will try to do something about that issue, whether by spreading the news to make people more aware of it or learning the skills necessary to contribute to the cause. Whatever it might be, the essay should show maturity, responsibility and leadership.

Focus on specific things even if the concern is general

Idealism is great but naiveté is not. The more general the essay, the more it shows that this concern is very removed from you. With that said, you don’t have to talk about grand topics like global warming or the crisis in Darfur. You can talk about something that’s closer to home. In fact, I would encourage this if you don’t have specific details on what you’ve done in your life in response to one of the grand topics.


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