Shruti Dusaj (Georgetown U ‘11) had submitted the following activity short answer as part of her CommonApp:
"Writing, particularly for competitions, has most certainly been the most significant of my activities for me. Writing has been a passion for me since I was in junior school. Composing essays, stories or poetry for myriad competitions, several of them on themes I had never contemplated earlier, made me think each time I would sit down with my notebook, or as is more likely now, my word-processor. Having to write about means of resolving the farmers’ crisis in India, or the perpetual conflict between science and religion, or laws and their moral correctness, compelled me to deliberate carefully over each essay I wrote. I cannot feel satisfied with what I write unless I feel strongly about the issue; therefore I would attempt to understand the subject as well as I could, looking at it from different perspectives, before arriving at an independent viewpoint. Therefore, no matter how perplexing I may have found some of the topics, eventually each one, in its own way, was a learning experience for me."
Now read Shruti's comments about this short answer.
I remember I chose to write about writing (ha!) because I'd had the most tangible "achievements" in writing competitions until then, with some national-level awards and perhaps an international commendation or two. Other major activities I had been involved with in school included our UNESCO Club and Africa Club, and related exchange programs through those clubs. I didn't have many other substantive extracurriculars because I made the foolish choice of taking coaching for engineering entrance exams (one of my worst personal decisions). Had I actually structured my applications around my interest in international affairs, as I now believe I really should have to have a coherent application that fit well together, I would have highlighted my experiences with one of the clubs.
In case of this particular short answer, I think writing about writing is a very risky example unless each of the writing samples in the application also show stellar writing. I don't think my writing stood up to those lofty expectations. That said, I do like that this short answer moves away from just writing to telling the adcomms more about why I enjoyed writing and why it was meaningful to me. It begins to indicate key things like "independent ideas", "different perspectives", research, analysis, all of which are essential for a successful college career. However, this piece fails to SHOW how those important qualities were developed, it just TELLS the adcomms that they were, giving them no reason to actually believe my claims.
As for what I would change, if I were not changing the entire approach to my applications altogether: 1. I would write about something, possibly UNESCO Club, where it would be easier to SHOW the qualities mentioned above through a short narrative. Long/run-on sentences are still something I have trouble with (as is evident here), so I would make sure to tightly edit the short answer to make sure it said the most it could in the 150 words. There are also several awkward turns of phrase and wording issues that editing should have resolved. Phrases like "has most certainly been" are not only entirely superfluous but also too strong for what I was writing about. There're also loose threads that need to be tied up. I said "I cannot feel satisfied with what I write unless I feel strongly about the issue", but I didn't follow up with HOW just learning more about the issue would lead me to actually develop strong feelings about it. I think a strong editing eye was what this short essay most sorely lacked, in addition to the sense of coherency that my entire application lacked.