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Oliver Chase Norris: Common App Essay

Prompt: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Response: When stepping into an airport, my eyes instantly gravitate to the text above gates next to my own. I am always captivated, wondering why people are traveling to the Azores or Curacao; are they business people seeking new markets, adventurers seeking a challenge, or ordinary citizens returning home?

Even when I was very little and did not realize the scope of things I learned while traveling, I still loved it. I would gaze at the mighty towers of English castles, wondering at the events that had scarred their stones. I would furtively scan the Floridian swamps for gators, marveling at a creature that had remained the same for millenia. Some of my favorite subjects have stemmed from things I first experienced while traveling. Visiting my family in England and witnessing how even the run-down local pub was older than the Pilgrims’ arrival sparked my love for history. Seeing vibrant toucans in Costa Rica enhanced my interest in our natural world.

As I grew older, I began to focus on the subject that, for me, rules them all: Geography. It dictates how our societies developed and how our governments continue to function today. When I hike near home in the hills of central Massachusetts, I always spy the long stretches of broken wall that define long-gone farms, fled to the west in pursuit of better soil. When I visit my grandma in Chicago, I love to gaze across that massive lake that I still can’t quite believe isn’t a sea.

Every time I visit a new place, my thought process goes something like this: What cool critters are hiding in those bushes? Who lived here first, and what did they leave behind? How many things can I learn, and what should I spend my time experiencing, before I inevitably have to go home?

My favorite thing to discover in new places is the lives of the people. Whether that is the fact that midwesterners call soda “pop” or that the English insist on tea almost every day, I’m always learning new quirks of other areas. It’s also interesting to hear how other parts of the U.S. view New Englanders. I’ve heard that we’re rude, it’s cold, and we’re bad drivers (that last one is true.) I think about my interactions with customers at my job selling hot dogs, and don’t regard us as rude, just a little direct. I believe we have our charm.

These comments made me realize I’ve thought the same types of things about others: that the midwest is only corn, or that California only has hippies and tech giants. After you meet people from these places, you learn you never have the whole story. Midwesterners are some of the most hospitable people I’ve ever met, and California has plenty of people living normal lives (and eating great Mexican food.)

Recently I’ve been working on expanding my knowledge of geography and then sharing it with others. I established the Geography Club at my high school and took AP Human Geography to increase my knowledge further. I lead activities where club members try to draw the U.S. from memory or I teach how to read trail blazes. In Scouting, I help plan our monthly trips by suggesting locations and activities that are new to the troop and that will excite everyone, like ice fishing in hilly lakes or hiking Mt. Washington.

Now, when I enter an airport, I not only wonder about those other destinations, but consider how I can visit those places and discover something new, whether that’s cuisine, landscapes, or culture. College, for me, is going to be like stepping into a brand new airport filled with unfamiliar faces and exciting possibilities. The knowledge I absorb and experiences I have will act as a gateway, preparing me to step forward and start adventures I have not had yet, but am eager to begin.

Here’s what Oliver had to say about his Common App Essay:

The best advice I can give by far is to keep your main common app essay topic as something that isn’t what you’ll use for diversity of character/self prompts. If the colleges you’re applying to have extra essays required there is a very high chance they will ask about your “diverse experiences” or what makes you someone who will contribute to “campus culture.” (The words in quotes are buzzwords that they all use) Personally, I decided to use an experience and discussed my interests so I could save my extracurriculars and other stories for the supplemental essays.

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