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"Reflection in the Darkness": Common App Essay

djgvolt 3 / 4 1  
Sep 18, 2014   #1

This is a rough draft I came up with for the 3rd common app essay (the prompt is listed below). Any suggestions, feedback, and advice is appreciated.


Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?


3 years of physics has told me that darkness is the absence of light rays in an environment. In the very same optics chapters, I've learned that reflections are caused by light bouncing off surfaces. Yet, I find it most surprising that I do my best self reflection in the dark.

The time is 9:00, and my students are just filling in. "Good evening, class. I hope you all had a fine day. Today's lesson is going to be on the various functions of the cell. But first let me take attendance". I scan and see Sirius, Betelgeuse, and Polaris all shining brightly at me. In the corner, Aldebaran looks like he's going to fall asleep.

Throughout the day, teachers dump upon me an amount of knowledge that is near impossible to absorb in such a stressful environment. Now, however, I am ready to go back and tackle the information that was given to me.

I settle back in this uneven plastic chair that rocks back and forth on the pavement, tipped by the gentle breeze that surrounds the night. All of a sudden, I am back in the classroom; this time, as the teacher. I take a moment to collect my thoughts and begin lecturing to the stars. Hydrolytic enzymes. Microfilaments and their effect on cell motility. As I teach biology to these giant balls of gas, I find the gaps in my own knowledge. My attempts to describe cellular movement fail, as I realize that my understanding of the extracellular matrix and interactions with the cell isn't as strong as it ought to be. Yet, after attempting to explain it, I find that I have actually found the explanation. I am not the student in this class, yet still I learn.

My class is quiet, but is attentive. I talk to them about my research, how my clash with cancer angiogenesis proceeds. My developments in mathematical modelling haven't been the result of days of algorithm coding and equation solving, but these simple 30 minute sessions, when I sit back and think about my project so far. Even as I complain to Polaris about how my surface area algorithm for the cancer modelling is slow, I find new ways to make it faster. Orion's Belt reminds me of Linkin Logs, a visual that allows me to tackle the algorithm in a whole new way.

People often see my session with the stars much like a Unix programmer piping their output to /dev/null, as a fool's folly. Yet behind all of it is a purpose. The stars might not receive my sound waves for 2 billion years, yet in that short 30 minutes I sit outside,I learn productively, discover different methods, and make new connections.

By now, the ambiance is darker,the stars glow brighter, and the crickets have started chirping in unison. A quick glance at my watch tells me that my class has ended, and ceremoniously, I get up from my rickety lawn chair and make an exit from my lecture hall. As I make the journey, I think about the new algorithm that I'm going to code and the new journey that my research will take me. They say it is darkest before the dawn. For me, I find my dawn in the darkness.
vangiespen - / 4,136 1449  
Sep 19, 2014   #2
While you tell a very nice story about finding comfort and learning in the dark, you did not really set up the story properly in my opinion. Darkness is a state of the absence of light. That is true. But where exactly do you find this state of learning in the darkness? The darkness of your bedroom? The park at night? Perhaps sitting in your car or in a darkened cinema before the movie comes on? You see, the prompt is not asking you for a state of mind or well being, it is asking for the specific place. Darkness is good, but you need to anchor it to a physical place such as your bedroom as you doze off to sleep in order to make the rest of your essay sound connected to your introduction. I would probably go with "The darkness of falling into sleep on my comfortable bed brings me to a higher place of learning and imagination in my dream state..." then continue with the rest of your narration. You can end it with the sensation that you begin to feel as you start to wake up and how content and comfortable you feel after a good nights rest. The meaningfulness comes from the fact that you are able to sort out your thoughts while you dream.

If you would be willing to revise your essay, I'd be more than happy to help you develop its content :-) You can actually mix my ideas with yours and come up with a pretty solid answer to the prompt.
nicolezmh1997 6 / 30 8  
Sep 20, 2014   #3
After reading it, I discover that you mainly focus on some abstracted notion or reflection.
I think you chould detail your reflection process and how the reflection in the darkness builds up your unique identity.
You could further dig out your transition after you pondering in the darkness.
In this way, college admission staffs could really learn about who you are.
Good luck!:)
godlover 2 / 7 1  
Sep 21, 2014   #4
Yes I agree with him. I think that the essay doesn't say as much about you as its supposed to. For the common app essay, you are supposed to use it to bring out the best qualities in you; i would pick a different place or make the darkness one less abstract

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