Writing the Harvard College “Additional” Essay Prompts for 2019-2020

Harvard does not tend to post their “additional” supplemental essay prompts prior to the Common Application site going live on or around August 1st of each year.

But Harvard uses two portals for applications. That second portal is the Universal Application, the latest in the competition to overthrow the Common Application. And the universal application has the Harvard prompts posted as of now for the 2019-2020 year. You will have to register and go through the usual informational drudgery to get to them, but you will eventually see those prompts and that nice rectangle in which you can drop your shiny, new and hopefully successful Harvard application essay. Have a look: Universal College Application.

About the Harvard College Additional Application Essay Prompts for 2019-2020

So the first thing of note is this: there are a lot of them. In fact, at 11 total (10 prompts plus a choose-your-own option) Harvard sets the standard for the most essay choices on any college application I have seen this year, and in fact on any that I can remember seeing. (Kudos Harvard! Though for the most difficult app statistically, that would still be Stanford for this year, but Harvard and Princeton are only lagging by about 1%.)

Speaking of Stanford, Harvard has added something that looks suspiciously like the Stanford Roommate Letter prompt as they ask you to talk about what you’d like your roommate to know about you. That is new for this year.

I have talked about that Stanford Roommate Prompt already this year, here: Stanford Roommate. My suggestions for approaching this essay will be useful on Harvard’s essay as well, should you choose it. Keep in mind, however, that this Harvard essay is not meant to be a letter per se, and that you also have a lot more space to work with. Speaking of which:

Length Requirement for the Harvard Additional Essay for 2019-2020

The word/character count limit is set at 6,000 for the Universal Applications upload box. This is far less than Harvard has suggested on the Common Application in the past, but it’s still pretty long–the average single-spaced page has about 3,000 characters on it. A typical, 650-word Common Application essay tends to be a bit north of 3,000 characters, in my experience. Rule of thumb: If you are writing two pages for an app essay, make it worth reading. Better to be at one page, or a bit over one. Consider your poor app reader.

Overview of the Harvard Additional Essay Prompts for the Universal Application in 2019-2020

And now, here are your Harvard Additional Essay Prompts:

You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel the college application forms do not provide sufficient opportunity to convey important information about yourself or your accomplishments. You may write on a topic of your choice, or you may choose from one of the following topics: 

  • Unusual circumstances in your life
  • Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities
  • What you would want your future college roommate to know about you
  • An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science, or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you
  • How you hope to use your college education
  • A list of the books you have read during the past twelve months
  • The Harvard College Honor code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty
  • The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission?
  • Each year a substantial number of students admitted to Harvard defer their admission for one year or take time off during college. If you decided in the future to choose either option, what would you like to do?
  • Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates.

I have written some how-to on most of these prompts in the past (the majority are repeats). For some advice on writing the Harvard prompts can be found in this post:

Writing the Harvard Supplement

That post has been around awhile, but its advice on the continuing prompts is solid. Note the incredibly large file size–it will be interesing to see if Harvard puts a 6k character limit on the Common App site.

For help with essay editing and development, Contact Me.

As for that essay that informs your roommate–let me make my final suggestion that you not reveal quite this much in that essay:

How to Write the Cornell CALS and Cornell Engineering College Interest Essays for 2019-2020

Cornell’s supplemental essay prompts for 2019-2020 are a mild reboot of the prompts they have been using for years. The topics are the same, but there is a bit of a shift in nuance via new wording in some prompts that suggests some fine-tuning in order to create a successful supplemental essay.

At Cornell, you write one supplemental essay aimed specifically at your chosen field of study, relating it to yourself. But this one essay incorporates two topics you need to cover–yourself and Cornell.

How to Start a Successful Cornell College Interest Essay

The place to start your supplement is with some time on a search engine.   That’s Google, to most of you, though Ecosia and DuckDuckGo are options as well (nudge, nudge). But rather than relying on external searches, it is your internal searching on the web site of Cornell and on anybody of interest attached to Cornell that will give you the best material for your supplement.

You need to click and read on through school pages, the departments within each school, associated labs that seem interesting, research pages. then research projects, then on again into what is posted by individual professors via personal profiles, blogs, and let’s not forget, “News” and press releases.

You also want to look at some of my other posts on this blog, in which I talk about researching majors and talking about why you want to go to a particular college, starting with this one, which includes some very detailed Cornell-specific information: Writing the Why University X Essay.

Some Research Links to Help You Start Your CALS Cornell Supplemental

College of Agriculture and Life SciencesClick on the link, and I suggest scrolling down to check CALS in the News at the bottom of the pageit’s press–release-type of stuff, but it starts introducing you to some of the research: be sure to click on more CALS in the News to open a full page of what’s new and sexy at CALS.

If it looks interesting, read on and find our more. It may only amount to a sentence or two, but this game is all about the margins, folks. Once you’ve discussed yourself a bit, you need to connect with Cornell and show you know something about it and have a sense of direction. Just keep in mind that this essay is not a contract that you have to abide by. It’s an elevator pitch designed to get you into Cornell.

CALS Schools Departments and Majors–Here is where you define your specific goals, through a major that defines your field of study. The emphasis and scope of majors varies by university, so be sure to select one that fits you, rather than some generic major. Try to add to your demonstrated interest in your essay by showing specific knowledge of your target school.

Links to Help You Start a Successful Cornell Engineering Essay

As we move on, I’d just like to point out that there are a number of disciplines in CALS that overlap with engineering.

Speaking of which: Cornell School of Engineeringscroll down to check out the Spotlights links, doing some reading there, then continue on down the page to The Latest News and Events and check out both.

Then check out Cornell Engineering’s 14 Majors and 20 minors. Find the one that calls to you today, particularly if you have experience and background information that fits it. As I noted above, this is an application essay, not a contract. You can change your mind. So run with what looks good now, and that should include using what you can fit in your essay and match to a Cornell Engineering major.

Finally, and still important–have a look at Research going on at Cornell; see if anything new and interesting pops up.

If you are not sure what to do with all this research, I would suggest that you go back to that Why Go to University X link and read the whole post. Yes, it’s a long and not SEO-friendly post, but a lot of what is useful and good doesn’t fit the current paradigm. Food for thought.

And if you are not one of my current clients don’t forget to Contact Me if you need help with essay development and editing.

How to Write the Princeton Engineering Essay for 2019-2020

Who should read this prompt: Anybody applying to study undergraduate engineering at Princeton. I have discussed the other parts of the Princeton supplement here: Princeton Essays for 2019-2020--so see that link if you need help with the other essays. Also scroll down to see my contact link at the bottom of this post if you need editing and essay development help. With that, on with the discussion of the Princeton Engineering Essay for 2019-2020:

Princeton has a bonus for those of you who want to major in engineering: The Supplemental Engineering Essay (Whoo-hoo. Am I right?)

Actually, I think it does have its charms. For example, it’s the closest thing to a grad school essay you’ll find unless or until you apply to grad school, and while you are primarily talking about yourself, you are focused on your interest in engineering instead of struggling to explain your culture or a time you overcame failure. So that’s the bright side of things.

Here are the key elements to this prompt: 1) your experiences per engineering. 2. Princeton, or more accurately, what you know about Princeton and its engineering program. And 3) somewhere in there your ambitions and vision for what engineering can do for the world. Don’t forget that engineering solves problems in the interest of humanity. Or it should. With that, here’s the prompt:

Engineering Essay*

If you are interested in pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree, please write a 300-500 word essay describing why you are interested in studying engineering, any experiences in or exposure to engineering you have had and how you think the programs in engineering offered at Princeton suit your particular interests.

*This essay is required for students who indicate Bachelor of Science in Engineering as a possible degree of study on their application.

Anybody who knows much about constructing a good essay knows you need to consider your audience and purpose, so before I explain how to deal with this prompt in detail, a few words on its purpose and your audience: Princeton has a problem: it needs to sort and separate a giant cohort of highly qualified students with nearly-identical looking GPA and test scores into those who are admitted and those who are not. And places like Princeton have been getting too many folks who want to be engineers, who are great test takers, super at math, good at enough other stuff to qualify, but who show up when admitted and turn out to be lacking in practical skills–starting with people skills, which are totally fundamental to working on any kind of team, engineering or otherwise, not to mention those who have been so busy mastering high-level math and physics that they have not really spent any time actually building stuff–and engineering is all about working in teams and building stuff.  

So keep that background in mind as a kind of frame for your purpose in writing the essay. The essay itself does not need to focus on your super-high social engagement, but if you have the chance to show yourself working with others, that is a plus. And if not here, then in our activities descriptions.

Of course, the voice you create in the essay itself–your writing–conveys a lot about you as well. You are using this essay to establish who you are, your ethos. Not familiar with this idea? Have a look at this linked site for a decent explanation–Tactics to Establish Ethos. As you read that link, you might wonder why I am sending you to a site on persuasive thinking–which means that need to remember that this essay actually is an argument, an act of persuasion, and the thesis of your argument, which you will never state directly in the essay, is this: (Please) Admit me to Princeton.

To assist you in succeeding in your mission, I would advise you to start by taking a step back and asking what your motivation is as a prospective engineer? If you just like gadgets and building stuff, great–authentic enthusiasm always helps an essay come alive. But now you have to ponder what things you have done that you can drop into this essay that show “why you are interested in studying engineering,” and that show “experiences in or exposure to engineering you have had.” For many, this goes back to being a kid with legos, but of course the rule of thumb is that you want long-term engagement, and while engineering stuff since you were a kid with legos definitely shows long-term interest, more recent things are also key in any college essay. Andy yes, I do see essays every year that start with legos and end with a prospective engineer, so please move past the lego state quickly.

Essays focused on activities in elementary or middle school, please: no. Of course if you were building robotic devices in elementary and middle school and are still doing that now, great, but the earlier the experience, the more it should be stated or sketched out quickly, as background for your current activities, and you want to develop recent stuff in greater detail as you (hopefully) show an expanding range of experiences and deepening commitment, and an ongoing continuing engagement with designing stuff, building stuff or just thinking like an engineer.

Which does not mean that you have to be one-dimensional. Here is one engineer’s path to and through M.I.T. to give you a look at somebody else’s learning curve: Learning to Think Like an Engineer.

So as you figure out how to build this essay, try to find a way to look engaged, hands-on (as possible), and don’t forget, interested in the welfare of others–both in terms of dealing with any team members, but also in a larger sense, in building devices or creating engineered solutions to human problems.

After all, solving human problems is what engineering is really all about:  building bridges both virtual and real, giving the rest of us tools that make our lives better, or even coming up with new technology that saves lives–which can, in the end be about pretty basic ideas, like building a hand-powered water pump that is super-durable, or even figuring a way to know when hand water pumps in isolated communities have stopped working–see what I mean here to see an example of engineering thinking that is aimed at solving a simple problem that plagues millions of people: How Do You Solve a Problem Like a Broken Water Pump. I repeat my point here: It’s about thinking like an engineer, and using that to solve problems. Get that into your essay.

Your next consideration: showing how “the programs in engineering offered at Princeton suit your particular interests.”

This calls for research into your area(s) of interest, looking not just at majors and classes, but at specific interesting research. Of course, this means you need to understand the basic structures of a university and of the school of engineering at Princeton as well as the basic understanding of majors and minors. To get you started, I am going to splice in an explanation on college majors or concentrations and the academic structure of a typical university:

Majors, Schools and Colleges

Here’s the basics of a higher-ed structure: all universities are divided into smaller units that house  specific areas of study.  These subdivisions within the university as a whole are called colleges or schools. Something like a college or school of engineering is pretty much self-explanatory, but most universities also have very broad colleges/schools, like Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences, which includes everything from a Comparative Literature major to Astronomy and Chemistry and Anthropology majors.

  Engineering departments and the hard sciences tend to be housed in more independent structures–in the case of Princeton you have the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences that will be your major focus for this engineering essay, (and that link there a first link for your research) but it helps to look at other schools and disciplines you can draw on or mention to add a bit of a cross-curricular, holistic vibe to your essay. (More on that in another post to be published on my blog, soon).

Now that you have looked into yourself and your motivations for being an engineer, you need to do some research into what is going on in the engineering school, not just classes, but research programs–who is doing them, where and how, and their results, which means you need to look for everything from press releases and blogs to individual websites for institutions, specific projects, and as you figure out who is doing the work the pages of specific professors, grad students, and when possible, undergrad students. Find something interesting and keep clicking. Oh, and of course, also look into courses that you would be particularly interested in and figure out what exactly you would be doing in them.

In looking at your potential courses, you are also looking at areas of study. Your main area of study is traditionally defined by a Major, which is referenced as a “Concentration” at Princeton and some other schools (Remember that cross-curricular reference just above? Calling your major a concentration emphasizes that it is a focus that is embedded in your studies across a range of subjects . . . ) This is, of course, where your interests and the academic structure of schools and colleges meet. And here is a link of areas of study tied to departments at Princeton: Degrees and Deparments. There are a range of “concentrations” available for engineers, so do some reading and clicking to see what seems to fit. (Keep in mind that a statement in an essay is not a contractual obligation, btw. You can change your mind later. Right now, you need to write an essay and find some stuff to put in it.)

I suggest getting to know a bit about programs other than engineering as well as taking a deep dive into the engineering school’s website and research to find things of interest. Just remember that most of the essay should be about you, and in the end tie your interests to what is on offer at Princeton.

To wrap things up, here’s a place to find some more cool stuff on current Princeton engineering stuff: Princeton Engineering Research. Be sure to click on multiple links and read, then keep clicking through linked pages for more information on who is doing work, where with whom . . . And also have a look at this: Undergraduate Engineering Research.

This discussion and the links should get you started. Contact me if you want help developing winning essays. I modestly describe my editing skills and essay development program The Best in the Business–

Contact Me for Essay Development and Editing.

How to Write the Princeton University Supplemental Essays for 2019-2020–Tips for Using Research, Finding Inspiration and Creating Winning Essays

This post covers how to write successful Princeton University Supplemental essays for the 2019-2020 application year. I include a review of the history of these prompts, the writing situation, and examples of strategies with links to key information for writing successful essays.

What is New for This Year in The Princeton Supplemental Essays? Not Much–Princeton has put up the same prompts that they have been using for several years with no real changes.

Overview for Writing a Successful Princeton Supplemental Essay

The last time Princeton made a change in their essay prompts was in 2017, when they dumped their Woodrow Wilson, “Princeton in the Nation’s Service” speech as the focus for an essay.  Unfortunately, Wilson, former Princeton as well as U.S. president, has, or had some baggage.  He was a kind of walking paradox whom  some have described as a Progressive Racist–see here for more: Woodrow Wilson’s segregation policy.

The Wilson Speech essay was replaced by another speech essay, this one by Princeton professor Omar Wasow, who spoke about social and economic disparities, on the occasion of Martin Luther King’s Birthday. Replacing Wilson with Wasow was obvious response to student concerns, but more important for defining your writing situation, essay prompts define an ethos that the university wants to represent. In that sense, the spirit of service in the old Woodrow Wilson prompt lives on, here defined by a concern with inequality and racism–and presumably a desire to change things for the better, i.e. serving the community. More about that when we get to Prof. Wasow’s essay prompt, below.

Analysis of Princeton Supplemental Essay Prompts and Key Strategies

And now for the prompts themselves: read on for an annotated discussion and how-to advice for each of the Princeton Supplement options:

Princeton Prompt Option 1–Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.– 

I have discussed this topic at length in several other posts–the person of influence is a tried-and-true subject–so click here for much more detail on this topic:  Writing About a Personal Influence (part 1) .

Princeton Prompt Option 2–“One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and point less straightforwardly to solutions.” Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University and co-founder of Blackplanet.com. 

This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.  Does this mean you need to write an essay on race or race relations?  Not necessarily–it’s more advice about what I would call atmospherics–keep in mind that our country, which was supposedly post-racial during the Obama presidency, has rediscovered its problem with race as well as with economic inequality, and the disappearance of President Wilson from the prompts roster at Princeton is one sign of that.  You might want to have a look at Professor Wasow’s background and the speech that inspired this prompt, and to delve into the online community he started, Blackplanet, as you think about this one.

If you go with this topic, keep in mind the potential pitfalls of writing about disparities and problems of race and money– looking arrogant or paternalistic or simplistic or self righteous as you insert yourself into the problems of others.  So if you choose to write about culture or disparities, try to do so without looking like some kind of imperialist in a pith helmet.

Economic inequality has been a problem since, well, forever, but it snapped into sharp focus with the Great Recession as many more people fell out of the middle class and foreclosure was the first word that popped up when you typed in “real estate.”  Here we are a decade later, and though jobs are up and Wall Street is on a tear, inequalities have only grown(while the banks have grown bigger).  If you have an interest in these matters and already have something to say on the subject that will not sound too preachy, it can help to drop informed references to the ideas of experts and social critics.

For example, you can find interesting commentaries on many aspects of inequality in the U.S. of A, in Vance’s look at white, rural poverty in  Hillbilly Elegy or in Coates’ take on the effects of racism in Between the World and Me

Keep in mind that writing effectively about  topics like poverty and race pretty much demands a preexisting interest in things like politics and race, as well as sociology and economics, and that you should have done some reading outside of class–you know, current events, topical books like those I linked above, online discussions, TED talks, etc.  And while reading books like those I link can be useful, you are writing an essay about a personal concern here that happens to be social as well’ you are not writing a a book report or an essay for class. Personal experience is key.  Keep that in mind.  

The best personal statements have a personal connection, to your experience, interests, and moral sense–as well as to your past involvement.  So don’t suddenly become a civil rights advocate or advocate for the poor just in time to write this essay.  For some more guidance on how to write about a topic like this, my old post on the service essay for Princeton actually (and perhaps ironically) works well– click to the right and scroll down to find the quote about not being a hand wringer, and read from there. 

Princeton Prompt Option 3–“Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.”

–Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and chair,  Department of Philosophy, Princeton University.

This reads like some kind of tricky A.P. essay. Breaking it down, the important things are “things’ from “culture” that will make life meaningful. Let’s start with culture itself–

Culture gives everything from a world view to food to ideas about who should wear what on their head and when; it is a kind of agreement about what is real and how to act.  And like fish in water, we do not really understand our own culture until we live in another.  For many of you, this probably happens every day, as you go from one culture at home to another at school and with friends.  This essay is probably the easiest for those who have that kind of experience.  On the other hand, as our current president argued in a speech in Poland, there are a set of ideas that may loosely be described as Western–but I don’t think that the president’s speech actually reflected ideas like empiricism, openness to new ideas . . . free thinking . . . . which I consider hallmarks of Western Civ, at least as ideals for the last four hundred years.  

Not that our civilization lived up to those ideals, but still. Certainly the Western or European culture that arose in Rome and led to the Enlightenment created a set of important ideas, one of them being expressed in the clause, “We hold these truths to be self evident,  that all men are created equal . . . ”  Notice how that piece of paper in which the colonists declared independence is basically just a set of ideas. That’s what we are.  But back to the president’s speech:  you don’t have to argue for  a war of cultures to describe the influence and nature of your culture.  

But there is also the culture of your personal background and family, which include food, values, religion, et al. If you are really into philosophy, are a Competition Civics type or Lincoln-Douglas debater, you may be better primed than most to write about the broad idea of culture I defined in the paragraph above; if not, you might start at home, and consider your culture there. Or you could start with a thing in our culture that is important to you. For me, that would be a library. Check out this for some examples of great writing on libraries: 12 authors on libraries. For you, it might be a turntable and the history of hiphop tied to that. Make it personal and avoid preaching.

Princeton Prompt Option 4. Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay.

Examples for Writing A Successful Princeton Supplement About Quotes

If you searched “Essays that start with a quote,” in addition to finding a number of college application essay books, you’ll also find web pages explaining how clichéd and terrible these essays are.  If you were cynical, you might draw the conclusion that this essay is a trap.  An optimist might argue that Princeton is trying to breathe life into a venerable style of essay.  My view is, it depends on what you do with it.  Anything which is treated witlessly can become a cliché.

The first thing to think about with this prompt:  starting with a quote can be hackneyed and the quote intro can also be used thoughtlessly or clumsily–for example, by jumping from the quote to a more-or-less unrelated idea in such a way that the quote is really an excuse to start an essay more than a true starting point.  

The idea is that the opening quote should be integrated into or lead naturally into the opening paragraph and so flow on through the rest of the essay.  It might be best to look at a few examples of folks who know how to work a quote into an essay–you might try reading some Montaigne, or for a modern idiom, you could try this link, to Paul Theroux’s the Old Patagonian Express, and read pages 3-6, which don’t begin with a quote, but he soon uses multiple quotes and you can see a good example of quote and content being integrated there..  This three-page section of the book has been excerpted as an essay and gives a good example of thought and action as Theroux looks at himself in relation to others engaged in the same activity.

I also suggest that you visit the New York Review of Books, which always has an article which discusses a series of new or recent titles and puts them in perspective. Have a look at my posts on writing about books, starting with this one, and you may find some useful passages for your purposes in this quote essay–be aware that the NYRB articles are meant largely to discuss books but many wander far afield in ways that may give you ideas on writing an essay tying your own life to what you have found in a book.

In the same vein, In the link here, you will find an NYRB discussion of Michael Lewis’ Boomerang, an especially good book and article for those of you interested in the social and economic problems that led to Occupy, back in the day, and that in part also fueled our current political fire –it’s a good model for how to discuss a book both in relation to oneself and to the larger world, which is part of what they want from you in this prompt.  Of course, you should also be able to show yourself doing something beyond simply observing.  It would help, of course, if you were a participant in some sort of action, though the author shows his own ability to think and does act on his principles by reporting on the book and the world around us.

Here are two  more specific examples from Joan Didion; both are a factor of magnitude longer than the 500-word essay, but they still give you the flavor and an example of how to work with quotes.  Notice that some of Didion’s essays could be cut down to a three-paragraph excerpt and, with perhaps a sentence or two of more direct exposition, work as a short essay, like the one you want.

“Goodbye To All That”

“On Self Respect”, in which Didion quotes from herself to get things going. Cheeky!

For those of you writing the Princeton Engineering Essay, I will be posting on this very soon, so please come back to read my discussion of the Princeton Engineering prompt–you might as well write your supplemental first and then do the research that an engineering essay requires.

The 2019-2020 Brown University Application Essay Prompts –Tips on How to Create a Winning Brown Essay, With a Bonus Look at the Stanford “Curiosity” Essay

Brown University prompts for 2019-2020 are off and running as of July. For those of you wanting to do an East Coast/West Coast Split, you will be pleased to find that you will be able to modify a Stanford essay a bit and use it on your Brown application (or vice-versa) and you will also find that all three of Brown’s questions have overlap with essays for other, elite universities. Before I explain further, here are the Brown University essay prompts for 2019-2020:

Brown Essays

First Year applicants to Brown are asked to answer three supplemental essay questions, which are provided below if you would like to begin work on your essays now.

  1. Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about an academic interest (or interests) that excites you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue it. (250 words)
  2. At Brown, you will learn as much from your peers outside the classroom as in academic spaces. How will you contribute to the Brown community? (250 words)
  3. Tell us about a place or community you call home. How has it shaped your perspective? (250 words)

This post will focus primarily on Brown’s Prompt 1; I will look at Prompts 2 and 3 in later posts, and also compmare the Brown prompts to other college admissions prompts–finding ways to reuse ideas is a key concept if you are doing ten or more applications.

Let’s start by comparing Brown’s prompt 1 to Stanford’s Prompt 1 and look at the two-birds-with-one-stone approach to writing application essays:

  1. The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.

The key difference between Brown’s prompt and Stanford’s prompt is in the wrinkle that Brown wants you to discuss the Open Curriculum as you address the question. So in addition to defining an area of intellectual interest, there is a secondary need to do some research on the Open Curriculum, which you can start now by introducing yourself to the Open Curriculum: About Brown’s Open Curriculum.

You will want to do more research on the Open Curriculum after you define your area of interest for this essay, as you explore concentration areas, classes and even professors that you could tap via both your main area of study and the Open Curriculum; you will want to be able to name-drop class names, professors, and general ed subjects based on the passion you define in the essay. This will require an hour or two or research to do well, and it may boil down to a couple of sentences or a paragraph in an essay of this length–but if you want the admit, it is worth doing.

Brown Essay for Prompt 1–Structure and Getting Started

I would recommend an essay structure that starts with your academic interest(s), then concludes with specific aspects of Brown and its Open Curriculum–though the essay does not need to be evenly divided between the two.

The next thing to consider would be what definitely piques your interest, and with only 250 words, you want either a single subject that is a passion (and that should probably be related to your application spike–the area of interest or passion that sets you apart and that hopefully also ties in with your prospective major), or you want two or three things that you can quickly define and tie together easily–the key is to create a “box” of clearly related ideas and activities, not to create a laundry-list of things you do. Let your activities take care of the range of your interests. This essay should focus on one area of interest that is particularly important to you.

Starting the Essay–

There are many ways to do this. With an essay this short, however, you should probably not use, or else seriously truncate, the dramatic narrative hook and opener that so many students use. You know the essay I am talking about–it starts with the you-are-there moment in present tense that is heavy on sensory detail and drama. This opener is used (very, very) often in college essays, because it is used (very, very) often in high school essays, which is one problem–it’s pretty much a cliche–but problem number two is that it also takes a lot of space. And 250 words does not allow a lot of space. 250 words suggests a more expository opener. (Oh, and before we look at some examples, a warning about one other opening strategy: if you are going to use a question as a hook, make it a really good one. Starting essays with questions or quotes is an overused strategy and quite often the questions asked are overly obvious or not well connected to the topic (except for those prompts that use a quote, or ask you to use one).

Example Hooks and Introductions

You could open up with a simple statement, and I will give you a few examples on the same subject:

Example 1

Saturday morning is when I catch up on sleep; Saturday afternoon is when I take my fully-charged and well-rested brain out to the garage, where, on a bench of three-quarter inch plywood, you will find my prototype for a fusion reactor.

(Before you laugh at my opener, I had a client a few year’s back who was involved with the DIY fusion reactor movement. No joke. He’d run the thing a few times and had some results though, of course, no true cold fusion. Nobody has done that.)

Most kids are into superheroes and dream of gaining some superpower and saving the world someday. And most kids give up those dreams. I have not. My dream of saving the world is taking shape in my garage. My dream takes the physical form of a heavy, steel case protruding wires–this is my fusion reactor prototype.

(I am using the subject a former client used, but I am not using his language; the examples are mine, meant to show a couple of ways to use a more expository opener that does not waste words with much scene-setting but that still allows a nice hook)

Notice how both descriptions do set the scene and provide a hook, and notice how the subject does a lot of work for you: the project itself sets up a focus on science and engineering, which can be developed through quick references to classes, to research done and contacts made in the course of constructing the reactor prototype–in the case of this essay, the student had done enough sincere work that he got the attention of a Berkeley nuclear engineering professor, who gave him some advice that he could cite. So he used the process of building this device as a way to pull in things he’d done that were not activities per se, but that could be used here to show his academic/intellectual curiosity.

It’s not likely that you, my reader, are building a fusion prototype, but if you do have some kind of project or relatable set of activities, driven by a clear central interest, use that for your essay. You could simply like books, for example, as I do, and talk about books as a kind of wormhole; each time you open a good book, you are opening a door into a new universe, a parallel dimension of an alternate mind . . . notice how even the common book becomes an object of passion and interest, both of which will make your essay stand out. Walking into Moe’s Books in Berkeley, for example, and sampling the shelves is like a combination of time and space travel . . . notice that this paragraph also offers another idea for a hook and intro, on a seemingly mundane topic made dramatic by a personal passion for it.

Returning to our fusion reactor essay, I suggested that the author dial back his enthusiasm and his claims a bit–there are plenty of folks doing fusion projects at home (again, not kidding about that) and some are pretty nutty, so I suggested that my client recognize that he was engaging in an experiment that was about personal development more than it was about realistically achieving cold fusion, and after looking at some of the stuff my client wanted to include, I had him delete a reference to a (very) eccentric fellow who had offered some advice; in the end, this applicant described how he became interested in this project (carbon-free energy=saving the planet) and he used only one specific reference, to that Berkeley prof who offered him some feedback on his experimental “reactor.” Ultimately, this essay worked in the sense that this applicant was admitted to UT Austin and Purdue. (Final word on this: if cold fusion piques your interest, read on for more: Cold Fusion DIY.)

Returning to this academic/intellectual essay as a problem: once you have defined an area of interest, written a hook and intro, and then described your interest(s) in the body of the essay, you are done . . . . for Stanford. But I would suggest that it would be a good idea to do some research on courses and profs at Stanford as well; name-dropping a program/class of interest (or two) at Stanford is always a good way to support that Demonstrated Interest, by showing that you know who, what and therefore why you are applying.

For Brown, you definitely need to do more, so it’s back to that Open Curriculum for a bit more research–no footnotes needed. Here is another link (no video testimonials, this time) for Brown’s Open Curriculum, giving some background on it: Background on the Open Curriculum. You want to look at courses that make up this liberal-studies program to see if any appeal, then select those that somehow overlap with your interests.

And I also suggest you look at this informative discussion of the Open Curriculum on Quora: How Open is Brown’s Open Curriculum?

If our friend, the fusion reactor inventor, actually got some results from his experiment, his discoveries would roll out in that broader system called modern American capitalism and society, about which a liberal studies curriculum might help our narrowly-focused engineer think more broadly as he assessed how to develop his invention further. But of course, he also wants to mention his major, excuse me, his concentration.

So next, go to Brown’s Concentrations (Otherwise know as majors) located here: Brown Concentrations. For someone with a clear science/engineering interest, like our friend with the fusion reactor project, you’d start by clicking on and reading courses of interest that are required as well as optional courses that would allow you to pursue your area of interest.

In addition to looking at courses in the major that you might name-drop a class or two and perhaps a professor you might find teaching that class, whom you could also click on to read about (for me; comparative lit: how about that prof Richter: Undergrad courses taught by Gerhard Richter, et al. Yes, at Brown you can directly access courses taught by specific profs to see if they fit you. Get on it, People.

I also strongly suggest you look into research and ongoing work at Brown in your area. To do this, just go to the main Brown page and click on the search window, top right side, and type in a suitable term; here is what you will get it you type in “Engineering Research” in that window: Brown Engineering Research.

And of course as you do all of this and closely read what you find, you are taking notes, and copying and pasting information, maybe one or two pages, all of which will boil down to . . . a couple of sentences or maybe a paragraph. But it’s worth it, to get to know Brown and to come up with solid material so that you are not writing just another generic essay.

As for Stanford, they have a general education requirement, with a useful focus found here: Thinking Matters— and if we took our same engineering/reactor guy who wrote the fusion reactor essay and searched engineering research on the Stanford page, we’d again get a juicy list of things to read on and do further research into in order to make this essay work. Take a look here for more: Engineering Research at Stanford.

Rather than researching broadly, I would suggest using some of the links that are most interesting/most applicable to define more narrow areas of interest and clicking to go deeper down the rabbit hole of your passions, as it were. And yes, it seems perfectly okay to suggest that you are inspired by the work of professor x on subject y . . . even it if is unlikely that an undergrad would actually work with professor x and y. If it fits in with your interests, you show interest in it by name-dropping.

And in your conclusion, you would love the opportunity to further pursue that professor x in area y in order to contribute to z or solving problem zz. Or something even more interesting, in which you do not simply repeat your introduction.

Finally, for help developing and editing essays, contact me.

And come back soon fore more on Brown essays and on Stanford applications.

Tips on Writing Successful Boston College Application Essays for 2019-2020

Who Should Read This Post: Anybody applying to Boston College or another Jesuit or Catholic college, like Georgetown; anyone who needs to write a supplemental essay about art or a book as inspiration; anyone who needs to write about a social justice or problem essay for College Applications. And if you do need support in writing your essays, Contact Me for world-class essay development and editing.

Overview: Beginning a Successful Boston College Supplemental Essay

Boston College is on the Common Application, so you will write one of the Common App essays (650 word limit) and choose one of the prompts below to write about, for a maximum of 400 words on this B.C. supplemental essay.

Also note that the Common App site does not go live until on or around August 1st, so you should not set up an account there until the site reopens for this year’s application cycle, but you can choose and write both the Common App essay and the Boston College essay now–the prompts are live for 2020. I do link sources of inspiration and information on multiple topics associated with the Boston College prompts below, but remember that you should seek inspiration rather than copying inspiration directly. So to speak. Many colleges do use Turnitin.com or their own, proprietary software to look for plagiarism on application essays.

Let’s start with a look at all of the Boston College prompts, then break them down one at a time:

Boston College 

The writing supplement topics for the 2019-2020 application cycle (400 word limit); prompts first, then a discussion of each prompt to follow that:

1. Great art evokes a sense of wonder. It nourishes the mind and spirit. Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration?

2. When you choose a college, you will join a new community of people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and stories. What is it about your background, your experiences, or your story, that will enrich Boston College’s community?

3. Boston College strives to provide an undergraduate learning experience emphasizing the liberal arts, quality teaching, personal formation, and engagement of critical issues. If you had the opportunity to create your own college course, what enduring question or contemporary problem would you address and why?

4. Jesuit education considers the liberal arts a pathway to intellectual growth and character formation. What beliefs and values inform your decisions and actions today, and how will Boston College assist you in becoming a person who thinks and acts for the common good?


Boston College Supplemental Breakdown and Analysis

Now let’s take a closer look at prompt #1, Great art evokes a sense of wonder. It nourishes the mind and spirit. Is there a particular song, poem, speech, or novel from which you have drawn insight or inspiration?

So first of all, they do not want an essay explaining meaning in the same mode you do for an English class, so close that essay doc that you wrote for Catch-22 or Beloved or whatever other required reading and essay you did for your English class last year. For the moment. The prompt did not ask you to write about the meaning of poem x or novel y per se–though obviously the meaning matters–instead, they want first to understand its impact on you, how you relate to it, and what this shows about you. Of course the meaning will come up in discussing that, but not in the way you would argue for or prove a meaning in an Essay for an American Lit class, though at some point you might reopen that doc from your English class to help–just be wary of directly inserting high school English essay-style content into this college application essay.

A second reason to (maybe) not write about a novel written for a class is the nature of required reading. Novels from To Kill a Mockingbird to The Great Gatsby to Lord of the Flies are required reading or commonly read novels for high school students across the country, and the typical titles are widely known among college admissions readers, both for the public schools and for those elite private schools that still take their students on the voyage through things like Moby Dick (which was a standby at one time but has largely vanished from public high school curricula, though it is still a part of some private school curricula). If a required novel had a big impact on you, okay–your passion should override the fact that you had to read the book for school. And you have the advantage of having read the book with the help of a teacher, and likely have written about it already, after class discussion.

But if you have read a novel not for a class that had a big impact on you, then maybe start there–this automatically shows that you do more than the required reading; you could and probably should also suggest your own widespread and independent reading habits, driven by your natural curiosity, by explaining how you discovered obscure but great Novel X, the subject of your essay. Perhaps you still haunt that most archaic of businesses, the bookstore and found it, or you have a habit of reading book blogs. The disadvantage of writing about this more obscure novel that was read independently is the fact that you are on your own when it comes to interpreting the book, but if it is an important book, you might find help by searching for it and/or its author in the New York Review of Books–which is s serious book and culture site, but that does not mean that they will not tackle serious YA Lit, like Hunger Games or Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series (Amber Spyglass, et al), or search for the book title on your favorite search engine with the term criticism, and you might find a stand-alone article or an article like this one, that looks at a set of YA Dystopian novels. I have written about how to write an essay on a novel multiple times before, so take a look at that as well–how to write about books.

Of course, there are many other kinds of art you could write about, and the most important thing to start with is art that impacted you, then to decide if it’s worth writing about. Even pop art is legit if you can take the write approach. Take a look at this on Lady Gaga.

And look at the work of critics for inspiration, like the pop music critic for NPR, Ken Tucker, who covers everything from country to hip hop, as seen here: Old Town Road.

And finally, consider a wide range of art to write about–from opera and bluegrass to sculpture and painting. And seek critics in these fields for examples of how to write. But write about a work of art that inspired you.

For an example of how to write about art that inspires, see this critic discuss his favorite paintings in New York: Jerry Salz takes a Grand Tour.

Now let’s turn to the second prompt:

When you choose a college, you will join a new community of people who have different backgrounds, experiences, and stories. What is it about your background, your experiences, or your story, that will enrich Boston College’s community?

The first thing I want to point out is that this prompt is nearly identical to the Common Application Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

So of course, if you have already written about prompt one for the Common Application, that nixes using Boston’s prompt two as a supplemental essay. But if your family/personal experience is unique, and you have not delved into it in depth on your Common App essay, this prompt is for you. And of course, in particular, this prompt tends to be selected by those who have some sort of personal of financial struggles in their background. This prompt is obviously a slow pitch through the strike zone for those who have emigrated to the United States under duress, or whose family has unique cultural inheritance and practices or who has just had an unusual upbringing.

However, beware of the Woe is Me essay. Long ago, students started writing essays on their suffering because they heard that their target school was trying to select students with compelling personal stories, particularly if those stories suggested some kind of poverty/minority application/personal struggle to overcome incredible obstacles angle. If this is true of you, your suffering may now provide you with something to talk about. But be wary.

If you are writing about a family member’s illness, for example, keep in mind that you are presenting this experience as a reason to admit you to college. And if the suffering or struggles are your own, beware of trying to get into a contest of suffering by suggesting that your tribulations are unique and make you a person they should admit above others (subtext: because you alone have suffered so much). If this background has involved you stepping up to work to help support your family, or to care for siblings or family members, that is always an aspect I ask to see emphasized–to show more about doing, about taking action, rather than focusing on affliction and misery as conditions. How did you respond? That is key.

You don’t need to write up a tidy story which reaches “closure” but there needs to be more than trials and woe. If you have suffered deeply, so be it, but be sure that it in some way shows who you are or explains your academic record or has shaped your view of the world.

Some examples, to make my point: I have been doing this for a long time and have edited essays for applicants who have dealt with a cancer diagnosis and multi-year treatment during high school, while staying enrolled and pulling down good grades; or an applicant who fled Vietnam on leaky boats and watched some of her family members die on that boat before moving from internment camp to interment camp, then to three different American states, in high school working two jobs at a time while pulling a nearly perfect GPA (a tale from a Valedictorian in the mid 1990’s–like I said, been doing this for a long time); or, more recently, the kid whose introduction to America was to hang on a border fence near Tijuana for several hours in the middle of the night after his sweatshirt snagged at the top and his party went on without him . . only to be rescued hours later by somebody else coming through . . . then moved from house to house with relatives while putting together an education, to finish as salutatorian of his high school class . .

If you have faced significant obstacles that have shaped who you are, by all means write about them. Just be sure to have some perspective. Writing an essay about how unfair a coach, or coaches have been, and how you overcame that to become an all-league athlete or to make some uber-competitive travel squad . . . Okay, but don’t overdo the suffering there, and let’s face it, the coaches had a perspective on things too. As a rule, avoid dissing adults, particularly teachers and coaches. You are applying to a kind of school, after all, when you write a college essay. There is always someone who has suffered more. Be sure that you did something that is remarkable rather than just suffering passively, or watched someone else suffer. ‘Nuff said.

For Boston College Prompt 3, Boston College strives to provide an undergraduate learning experience emphasizing the liberal arts, quality teaching, personal formation, and engagement of critical issues. If you had the opportunity to create your own college course, what enduring question or contemporary problem would you address and why?

I would go either philosophical or World/Society Problem. Or . . . slightly tongue-in-cheek. Notice, however, how the prompt focuses on liberal arts (suggesting an emphasis on the humanities) and critical issues (suggesting social justice, environmental issues, etc) against a background of personal formation (suggesting that old-fashioned idea that you should go to college to find out who you are and develop yourself as a human being) and it ends by looking at an “enduring question” or “problem.”

So I would look at social justice, environment, energy and the ideas bandied in ancient Greek philosophical dialogues or in Christian ethics. For example, how about this class title: “The Other and Us: Ethics and Other People, which would look at everything from migrants to those among us who have less to ethical business practices. Or: “Trash: The Ethics of Consumption” which could look at a range of issues, from consumerism and materialism to all that plastic out in the ocean.

Or maybe slightly tongue-in-cheek: Survival in the Age of Facebook ant TikTok . . . how to live in a world of constant sharing and personal revelation without sharing away your soul.

Notice how I combined the ethical and philosophical with the practical problems we face in our environment today in these “classes.” A perfect combination of the intellectual and the pragmatic, which in particular suits a Jesuit school.

Speaking of which, our last prompt for Boston College:

Prompt 4–Jesuit education considers the liberal arts a pathway to intellectual growth and character formation. What beliefs and values inform your decisions and actions today, and how will Boston College assist you in becoming a person who thinks and acts for the common good?

You should be noticing the overlap betwen this prompt and the more specific question on a class that preceded it. Boston College is among the great Jesuit colleges in the world, teaching in a humanistic, Catholic tradition, with a concern both for the whole person and for the person as part of a larger community. Unbridled capitalism and personal success at all costs are not part of their ethos. I think the easiest way to introduce this communal and ethically-driven way of thinking is to hook you up with a famous modern practitioner of this way of thinking and acting: Charles Taylor. Read that entire linked page and see the video and you will have considerable insight into Jesuit humanism.

And then you should start doing some research on the things you can study at BC while thinking about how your career could be about improving society or the environment rather than just being about making money. Start by looking at the BC Humanities Core, but be sure to check out specific classes that might tie in to your curiosity or sense of mission, and mention them, as word count and context permitsHumanities Core. Keep clicking and reading until you have more information than you need. Then start writing.

How to Write the Stanford Roommate Note “Essay”

Who should read this post: anybody applying to Stanford in 2019-2020. I will look at the writing situation of this oddly tricky prompt and summarize the approaches taken by three successful applicants as I wrap up this post. Read on for more.

Ah, the Stanford Roommate letter, excuse me, note, back for another year. It’s one of the three Stanford prompts, and it’s framed as an informal self-introduction to your roommate. But it’s still a supplemental “essay.” Go figure.

When you compare all of the other things Stanford wants you to explain, introducing yourself to your future roommate seems kind of lightweight, particularly given that it is one of three key supplemental essays Stanford requires. So why is this roommate prompt back for yet another year? Because somehow it works. For Stanford.

As the most difficult college application in the country, with an acceptance rate that will drop below 4% within three years, based on current trends, Stanford, has a big problem: tens of thousands of applications with grades in the solidly 3.9 and 4.0 range, unweighted, most with stellar test scores and a thicket of activities. The Letter to Your Roommate clearly helps them separate applicants, from one simple fact–this prompt has been on the docket at Stanford for over a decade. And it is a particularly tricky kind of “essay.”

It’s so good in fact that they have barely even changed the wording on this prompt since it launched, way before Barack Obama started a run for President. Here it is:

2. Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.

Your Audience and Writing Situation for the Stanford Roommate Essay

Let’s get one thing out of the way now: While Stanford does suggest that you can swap letters to your roommate when you first show up at your dorm to see who you will be sharing your living space with, your real audience is obviously not your roommate. It’s your application readers.

So a big challenge is how “formal” to be. Trying to write as if this really were just to a fellow student who by happenstance becomes your roommate is a mistake. But so is writing as if you are practicing a speech in front of a middle-aged judge.

To clarify your audience, most of my clients who have gotten into Stanford have had the opportunity to read their roommate’s letter, and they have also universally treated this as a bit of a joke, a slightly embarrassing moment that they quickly leave behind. For the obvious reason that one of the first things your roomie sees is part of your ploy to get Stanford admissions. It’s a “So that’s how you pulled it off” moment. They, like you, were casting about for some kind of “humanizing” details and some humor that would help them pick the lock to Stanford admissions. And then you maybe have to laugh off some personal quirk you decided to put upfront in your letter.

The best essays have some serious ideas in them, but framed and carried by some level of humor. A recent winner ended with a promise to have a My Little Pony decorative party. No doubt this was laughed off when the letter was read. And of course you can be too informal. For example, the language itself is not really the place to put to much informality, Dude. You get my drift, Bro?

So instead of thinking about this as really being to your roommate, think about it being to a hipster landlord who perhaps middle-aged but still sort of with it, and this landlord tis trying to find the smartest and most interesting people to pair up as roommates. In addition to offering some sense that you have an interesting personality and are maybe going places in a hurry, you also need to remember that part of this is what you want to share about yourself as a (prospective) roommate. If you want to discuss your frequent bouts of inspiration and in the process explain that these times tend to come late at night and that they simply must be accompanied by blasting music to drive your manic creativity, you may come across more as a self-absorbed jerk with no respect for your roommate’s peace, quiet or sleep than as a quirky and interesting artistic savant.

Seriously. I get this look at how enthusiastic/quirky stuff all the time in Stanford Roommate Letters, then have to ask the young author, Hey, how would you feel if your roommate blasted, say, some Bach organ music at 110 decibels at any hour of the day or night? Of course, I also see these very serious letters. Some are good, but few are great. After all, the performance here is about writing to somebody your age (with a chaperone) and that really, really serious take may not work out. You don’t want to come across as Stuart Smalley, for reals, folks. So if you are not someone like Greta Thunberg, with street cred like hers, try at least a bit of humor.

Feeling stumped? Let’s look at some successful examples, summarized.

Essay Ideas that Worked

So what kind of Roommate Letter does get one into Stanford? These three worked:

Essay Number One: Breakfast Cereal

I am not posting these essays in full, but here is a summary of each–please keep in mind that copying these ideas is a bad idea. These are just a representative examples of the range of ideas that I have seen be successful. Your own ideas need to be germane to you, but these may give you permission to write about things you had not considered . . . You can and should share these essays with a range of people, and dial it back, or pump it up, as necessary.

Stanford Roommate Essay 1–This successful applicant decided to write on his approach to breakfast, specifically, his experimental approach to breakfast cereal, for which he uses two bowls. He alluded to his friends’ view that his cereal obsession is truly eccentric by offering a somewhat tongue-in-cheek explanation of his drive to constantly experiment. Why should be accept cereal that is too mushy or too crunchy, and what happens if you combine a constantly evolving range of cereals? Into this approach, he was also able to drop references to digitizing information for a student-run organization at school to improve it, and doing lab experiments on polymers . . . which were successful. His refusal to accept mediocre cereal became a platform to suggest he experiments to improve everything. Obviously, this could become just a little too cute, but the applicant had a sense of seriousness as well as a sense of humor in this only slightly tongue-in-cheek essay.

Stanford Roommate Essay 2–This essay started with a homage to the refresh button on a web browser; by the end of the opening paragraph, this opening discussion of the refresh button had expanded to a kind of philosophy for life itself–his motto: refresh, renew and start over with a new perspective whenever you face a roadblock or feel a lack of inspiration in life. In paragraph two, he segued to his passion for scheduling and calendaring software. By now you are perhaps thinking, as you read this, that this is too mundane and, indeed, lame for a Roommate essay, but this applicant went on to explain how he runs a calendar for real events that are fixed to specific dates, which allows him to get tasks done on time, but that he also has an aspirational calendar, in which he imagines things he will do, and by doing so, and putting them on the calendar, makes them happen. That he in fact has several hundred calendars devoted to dreams and aspirations.

And some of these had already become successful at the time he wrote his Stanford essays, and he was able to name-drop things, like the a nonprofit he launched, bringing sports to underprivileged youth, and the trip he pulled off, solo, to Peru and the internship he landed at a financial advising firm for which he continued to work for years. And all of these activities were the subjects of other essays, so he was able to reinforce some of his activities and parts of the Common App main essay he wrote . . . gentle reminders for the reader are always a good thing. Imagine your poor college application reader in, say, hour 8 of reading data, activities, essays . . . and assigning a ranking, all in about 15 minutes. Or ten. You never want to repeat activities verbatim on your essays, but a bit of a reminder never hurts.

Stanford Roommate Essay 3–This applicant wrote about . . .rapping. And this for a prospective business major and entrepreneur who has no plans to go into the music industry. At this point.

Interestingly, rapping is very much a minor activity for this applicant, who has not really composed all that many raps. But the essay had authenticity, because this applicant had done some rapping, genuinely loves the genre, and got together with a friend to write a rap aimed at deflating tension between the applicant’s school and a cross-town rival, then made a video in which the applicant and friend visited the cross-town rival “sharing the love” as they rapped about making peace. They posted it and got some support online.

This is the background of the essay, which talks more about liking to rap and the process of creativity. This applies to the roommate essay because of rap as a private-hours activity, engaged with at home, and the activity in this case was altered on my advice from blasting rap at all hours to having a set of Beats headphones constantly on the applicant’s ears or around the applicant’s neck, ready to use at any time. . . in the dorm room. It also quoted from that peace rap in a couple of places, and the focus overall was on an interest in creative engagement with social justice topics, which allowed the applicant to bring in a mixed-race background.

You don’t have to be constantly engaged with an activity for it to work in an essay; you just need some level of authenticity, which this had. And as a person whose identity is not totally tied up in Rap or Hip-Hop, this essay also skirted the kind of insider-war about who’s the best, what is legit and what is not in the realm of Hip Hop and Rap. . .Passion is welcome, but avoid editorial content that is not lightened with humor and a sense of perspective.

And don’t forget, for high octane and battle–tested essay development and editing, Contact Me.