Shantanu Garg (CMC '14) shares tips on writing the Common App short answer

For 75 years students at Doon have been waking up at 6:00 am everyday for Physical Training, a prestigious tradition, practicing rigorous drills in search of perfection, while wishing for 1 more hour of sleep.  We had not won in 15 years, but I, as a PT leader of Jaipur House, was determined to change that. So I designed a non-traditional formation. Not only did I change the exercises, but also the various technical structures to create an outline of an eagles wing (the symbol of our House). I remember our PT in-charge's words – "Shantanu, this will never work, it is too risky."  But the risk paid off. The judges were mesmerized by our performance and we won all the trophies that day.

Why did you choose to write on this topic?

While brainstorming for this activity essay, I wanted to write about an activity that would add substantially to the profile that I was trying to establish. Now I believe that the whole application process is about showcasing a profile to your colleges that would make you the best fit student for them or at least bring out personal characteristic that you want your college to be aware of. I felt that my leadership profile was the one that could get me into the colleges that I was applying to and therefore I choose an activity which illustrated this aspect of my personality very vividly.

Moreover I also felt that my achievement in the following activity was something rare and exemplary, something that would hopefully directly catch the admission committee’s attention. Therefore I really did not have much hesitation in choosing to write on this topic.

Which other activities did you do while in High School that you could have written about?

Well being a sportsman I could have written about a sport, mainly tennis or cricket. I could have also written about some social service projects, my mountaineering expeditions, my prefectorial duties, MUN or other smaller activities. But I decided against writing on them simply because either they were personal achievements which really did not add to my leadership profile or as leadership roles they were not as significant as my role as a P.T leader. In any case any other significant leadership roles or even individual achievements that I had, I tried to convey them in other parts of my application, for example my C.V or my personal essay or my extra attached essay.

Which parts of the short answer do you like?

I like the part where I add the personal comment of my teacher (I remember our PT in-charge's words – "Shantanu, this will never work, it is too risky.") This was actually an honest warning issued by my teacher, though I have to admit that I had to keep it short because of the brevity of the essay. I feel that it really brings out the enormity of the risk taken and the success that was achieved, making the essay more impactful.

Looking back how would write this differently? Which parts would you change?

The activity essay being a relatively very short essay, does not give one much opportunity for change. So I do not really see myself making much change, but if I could make the part where I try to explain the exercises a bit more comprehensive then I would. I wish I could also put in some more background information  but again the brevity of the essay makes that almost impossible, allowing only for facts to be mentioned.