Posts Tagged ‘Avoiding college essay doom’

Big Changes for the University of California Application: What, Why and What to Do (Part 1)

In Berkeley Application, Changes in College Admissions, College Application Essay, Personal Insight Questions, U.C. Berkeley Application, U.C.L.A. Application, UC Santa Cruz Application, University of California Admissions Data, University of California Application, University of California Application for 2016-2017 on September 7, 2016 at 2:49 pm

Who should read this post: anybody who is now or will be in the near future applying to any University of California campus; any parent of anybody applying to the U.C. anytime soon; anybody interested in what is going on in higher education.

 Our major topics: The U.C. Application Essays for 2016-2017; Some Current Data on U.C. Applications, From Admit Rates to G.P.A.’s; A Brief History of U.C. Admissions

 Our friends at the University of California have finally made their break from the Common Application.

But wait, you say—they never were in the Common App system. And you’d be right.

But the old, two-essay format for the U.C. pretty much guaranteed that a majority of applicants reused their Common App essay; with one thousand words total, you’d upload your very polished Common App essay, then write (or reuse from somewhere else) a shorter essay of about 350 words, after which you could click on as many U.C. campuses as you liked and call it a day. For the last few years, the U.C. has been like a satellite orbiting the Death Star known as The Common Application.

So much for that.

What exactly they want now is four essays, each of 350 words (maximum) and you are to choose from eight prompts to do so. If you are a junior college/transfer applicant, you are required to write about your major, then to choose three of seven remaining prompts. I link the new U.C. prompts for everybody here.

This is the biggest change in years at the U.C. and the biggest change I have seen yet this year in any of the major applications—so why are they doing this, now? And why should you care? Isn’t it enough that you have to write the bloody things?

Well, yes it is, but knowing why can help you understand what they want. And the why has three reasons.

Reason number one: The U.C. is having trouble figuring out who the best applicants are. More on that below.

Reason number two: The U.C. has too many people applying. To a large extent this is due to the fact that it’s easy to apply to all the U.C.’s once you’ve done the app for one: you write the essays, fill in the rest of the application, and then just start clicking to send it to as many U.C.’s as you want. Sure, you pay for each campus you target, but the fee is relatively small against the upside benefit of a seat at a U.C. campus. But you already knew that.

Reason number three: Essay recycling. Clearly this is tied in to the large number or apps, partly because the U.C. was a default backup to a range of super-selective Common App colleges (the Ivies, etc); most U.C. applicants were (and still are) applying to a selection of Common App schools as well—and being able to reuse the Common App essay made it all the more easy to add a set of U.C.’s to your average HYPSM application.

I know I already mentioned that, but it’s an important point because, well, they don’t want to feel like your fallback date for the big dance if your true love turns you down, and you can see how the new application is a direct response to essay recycling when you look at the length and at the number of essays now required for the U.C.: very few universities have a 350-word limit for their essays, and very few require this many essays written specifically for them. Of course, the number and range of questions also require you to do a lot more writing about yourself, and they hope that this will help them do a better job figuring out who to admit.

Think about it: if you are at a typical suburban high school, you probably need two hands and both feet to count the number of people at your school who have a 3.8 or above GPA and a 2100 SAT (or 32 ACT). But would you want to share a dorm with all of them? Are some of them not indistinguishable from robots?  U.C. truly believes in building a “learning community” and, like all schools, want people who themselves really want to attend, and who have more experiences in their lives than were defined by ten years at Kumon and four years of college counseling.  Therefore, the essays, which make it harder to fake it as you show who you are.  Though not impossible.

The takeaway is that it’s become much more difficult to reuse another essay directly on the U.C. application—or to use their essays directly on somebody else’s. Stanford, for example: they want 250-word supplemental essays, and while some clever editing might allow some crossover, a 350 word essay cut down to 250 words is a whole new essay.

On the other hand, a school like Harvard has some overlap through their “optional” extra essay (which is not really optional for most students) because it is so open-ended. And there is a degree of overlap between select UC prompts and prompts for a number of U.C. analogs as well as for some excellent, lesser-known choices across the country. So I will address the opportunities for multi-use essays directly in my next post.

For now let’s leave the essay prompts behind and turn to the details on how this came to pass, and on some current data for the U.C. admissions (3.91 average GPA at the two most popular U.C. campuses, for example) read on.

How We Got Here (And Where We Are)

To get a broader picture of where we are,  let’s start with a quick look at the ancient past: By the middle of the 20th Century, the U.C.’s stated mission was to provide higher education to all California students who qualified. For some perspective on what that meant, prior to 1960, the top 15% of all California students were admitted to the U.C. system, and until 1964 the system admitted all students who met its requirements.  And this without needing an SAT test.   Then, in 1968, a paradigm shift began as Ronald Reagan, governor of California, defined higher education as a privilege that should be defined by the practical and limited to the “deserving” (have a look here for a quick summary of Ronald Reagan’s role in changing the postwar educational paradigm: The Day the Purpose of College Changed).

Flash forward to the early 1980’s and Berkeley was denying admissions to roughly 50% of applicants; by 1990, that number had grown to around 2/3.


Some Current Admissions Data for the University of California

That seemed like tough news in 1990, but it seems fantastic compared to last year’s Berkeley admissions: for the incoming class of 2020: 14.8% of all freshman applicants were admitted to U.C. Berkeley, this coming out of 82,558 freshman applicants. And, oh yes, that average Berkeley SAT of 2093 and ACT of 31 for this year’s incoming freshmen, in addition to that 3.91 average GPA (Which was 3.94 for out-of-state and international students—though there are seats set aside for them which might still result in you getting bumped by an out-of-state student, Oh 3.9 GPA Californian).

Of course, you already knew that U.C. Berkeley and U.C.L.A. were both a bear to get into (No, I could not pass up the chance for a bad pun).

But now, even the so-called second tier campuses appear increasingly difficult for admissions, partly because the ease of spamming applications to all campuses, noted above, but also for the very good reason that the education is superb, and the chances of getting into other big-name university brands is even more brutal—just under 5% last year for Stanford, for example, and 6% admit rate for the tougher Ivies—and, well, Mr. Reagan, who attached the idea that education was special and argued that education should take cuts like everybody else when the budget needed to be balanced, and since the early 1970’s, it’s been about balancing budgets more than addign seats—I add only that this is a short summary but fully factual. You can add whatever politics you like to the facts.

But it could be worse–and there is plenty of room for the top 10% of students in California, at the least, if you are flexible in your U.C. target list. So before you panic, consider a wider field, starting with my favorite dark horse, Santa Cruz, which had an average admit GPA of 3.85 and an overall admit rate of 56.9% last year (with a California admit rate close to 80%). This from a university that the Times International survey has ranked in the top two in the world for research influence over the last couple of years (measured by how often U.C. Santa Cruz researchers were cited by others). Yep, U.C. Santa Cruz, at the top of world rankings for research citations.

As for prestige, in ten years, having a degree from U.C. Merced will be gold to a U.C. Berkeley or U.C.L.A. platinum.

It’s true that the pressure is not going to go away, but the new four-essay admissions strategy is likely to have a dampening effect on the total number of applications, and the additional 5,000 or so California students that the U.C. has agreed to add over the next two years will also have an effect on the chances that a California student will be admitted, as well as on the average GPA and test scores. And let’s look past my Dark Horse to a couple of other options.

In fact, let’s look in the San Jouquin Valley, where Merced’s middle-range GPA’s for students arriving this fall ranged from 3.37 (25th percentile admitted) to 3.88 (75th percentile). Which means that Merced looks like Berkeley did when Reagan was governor, in terms of getting in (Historical fact:  1967 was the first year that the SAT was required for U.C. admissions)—though I hasten to add that Merced will also be a large construction site for the next 4-5 years as they build it out into a truly world-class campus.

If construction dust (and valley fever) sound like bad news, have a look further south at U.C. Riverside, which for students enrolling this fall, had a mid-range GPA of 3.52-4.0, a mid-range ACT composite of 27-29 and a mid-range SAT composite of 1490-1915.

And Finally, Back To Those Pesky Application Essays

 So what should you do as you begin your U.C. application? Let’s start with Reason 1 for the change in the application: at the most selective U.C.’s, they are having a tough time figuring out who is a robot as they sort through reams of applications containing the life accomplishments of kids who have had fully programmed lives, going to Kumon since age four and starting college activities in 8th grade.  So view the essay as a chance to show them why you are unique and would be a real addition to whatever campus(es) you are applying to. But before you do that, compare the U.C. prompts to those used by the other schools you are applying to. Or better yet, wait until next week, when I do some of that for you, as well as analyzing prompts.

See you soon.





Scoop! The Cornell University Application Essay Prompts for 2015-2016

In Application Essay on Why You Want to Attend, Applying to Cornell, Cornell Application 2015-2016, Cornell University Application Essay on July 28, 2015 at 10:57 pm

If you’ve been waiting to start the Cornell essays, wait no more.  They’re Baaack.

Like many schools,  Cornell has posted a form with the prompts for this year ahead of the official unveiling when the Common App goes live on August 1st.  The “2016” application has been posted for those who will use a paper application with the Universal App.  The essay prompts are the same no matter what format you use, paper or eletronic, Common Application or Universal Application, so you can start writing now.

And the news for this year’s Cornell prompts is good:  only one important change has been made, and that change eases confusion and lessens the pressure on you to write a Swiss-army knife of an essay.  I will post the prompts in full, below my brief explanation here:

Alternate College Option is Gone

The big change for Cornell in 2015-2016 is this:  as I reported earlier this year, Cornell is dropping the alternate college designation on their applications.  Cornell used to offer applicants the option to write one supplemental essay, but to aim it at a primary college and a second, alternate college option.  So in the past you could choose the alternate option and then you wrote an essay for your dream college that was also supposed to work for another college, just in case.  Thus the Swiss-army knife allusion.

However, unlike a Swiss-army knife, which actually works pretty well based on my experience, an essay written for one specific college is not likely to work very well for a second college–this observation also based on my experience.  In writing an essay that might work for a fallback subject of study, you are more likely to hurt your chances of creating a good essay in the first place.  Given the low number of admits to alternate colleges, Cornell has (mercifully) killed this option.  Thanks, Big Red.

Confused by all this talk of colleges when you only want to go to that place called Cornell?  Here’s the gist:  Universities are subdivided into smaller units.  Usually this is done by dividing the university into less broad units called colleges, and then dividing those colleges into more specific schools, which house one or a limited number of majors.  I  talked about this in my earlier post on Cornell as well, and detailed how Cornell specifically divides itself into various colleges, et al, so if you did not click and read above, click and read now:  Cornell’s schools and colleges.  This earlier post also ties into looking at majors, and I link you to some specific example material at Cornell to get you started, so it’s worth a read as a broad introduction to subjects of study (college majors, in other words) and to Cornell specifically.

It’s also a good place to start thinking about the kind of application essay that asks you to explain why you want to attend the university, or how you plan to use your education at the university, or what attracts you to the university, or what about the university engages you intellectually . . . I could go on, but these are all basically the same prompt.  And this prompt will require you do do some research on the university, narrow down the schools of interest, then start digging deeper, into and including looking for research of interest that is going on at the university and within your target college, then into specific people doing the research, as well as looking for facts and video material, up to and including lectures, and anything else that is pertinent–and what is pertinent includes anything that is authentically interesting to you and that might also be useful in an app essay. 

Just avoid that mistake of confusing the options for an undergrad with those for graduate study only.  Some stuff you find online will not be available to you as an undergrad, and it would sound either ignorant or pretentious  to write as if you were going to be a (graduate) assistant for Professor Bigshot–as an incoming freshmen.  T.A.’s and G.A.’s are almost always grad students.

If you are looking at an M.B.A. program page online, for example, you are in the wrong place.   Go back to the undergrad programs (and try the M.B.A. again in four or more years).

I will write again soon about how to research subjects within a university (provided the application editing I do does not turn into a deluge earlier than planned).  In the meantime, Oh Future Big Red, read the prompts below, and start clicking and reading on the Cornell website–and taking notes.  Keep in mind that you should be talking about Cornell as much as yourself.  And in the process, you may make up or change your mind about what it is you want to study. Good luck and e-mail me (soon–space is going) if you need editing help.  Here are the Cornell prompts for 2015-2016–and yes, they are the same as last year, except for dropping the alternate college:


College Interest Essays
The primary focus of your college interest essay should be what you intend to study at Cornell. Please respond to the essay question below (maximum of 650 words)  that corresponds to the undergraduate college or school to which you are applying. Be sure to include your full legal name exactly as it appears on passports or other official documents and date of birth, and attach the page to the back of this form. (Special note here:  the Cornell Application pdf linked below states the max words at 500, the Common App site on 8/9/15 stated a max wordcount of 650 for the same essays–as it has since 7/1/15.  Which leads me to question if Cornell is penalizing those who submit a paper app (the pdf with a limit of 500 words) or if this is a bureaucratic snafu–anybody at Cornell or elsewhere can use the comments at the bottom of this prompt to let me and everybody else know.  In the meantime, submit electronically to evade this odd 500 word limit on the paper app–even if you have to walk miles from your cabin in the woods to go online, I guess.  Okay, back to Cornell’s instructions):

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences:

How have your interests and related experiences influenced the major you have selected in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences?

College of Architecture, Art, and Planning:
Why are you excited to pursue your chosen major in AAP? What specifically about AAP and Cornell University will help you fulfill your academic and creative interests and long-term goals?

College of Arts and Sciences:
Describe two or three of your current intellectual interests and why they are exciting to you. Why will Cornell’s College of Arts and Sciences be the right environment in which to pursue your interests?

College of Engineering:
Tell us about an engineering idea you have, or about your interest in engineering. Describe how your ideas and interests may be realized by—and linked to—specific resources within the College of Engineering. Finally, explain what a Cornell Engineering education will enable you to accomplish.

School of Hotel Administration:
The global hospitality industry includes hotel and foodservice management, real estate, finance, entrepreneurship, marketing, and law. Describe what has influenced your decision to make the business of hospitality your academic focus. What personal qualities make you a good fit for SHA?

College of Human Ecology:
How have your experiences influenced you to consider the College of Human Ecology and how will your choice of major(s) impact your goals and plans for the future?

School of Industrial and Labor Relations:
Tell us about your intellectual interests, how they sprung from your course, service, work or life experiences, and what makes them exciting to you. Describe how ILR is the right school for you to pursue these interests.

And finally, for those who want it straight from the font, here it is:

Cornell University Supplement for 2016 (UCA version in pdf format)

(Note that Cornell dates their application forms by the year of admission–you will be entering in the fall of 2016, thus this is the 2016 application.  Other colleges use other systems (e.g. the class that enters in 2016 is usually called the class of 2020, and some schools will call you that.  Optimistic, that’s what they are.  Cornell apparently doesn’t look that far down the road.)  Good luck, come back soon, and contact me if you need editing.

Example Post from 2015-2016 Essay Analysis–Yale Application Essay Topics for 2015-2016: A.K.A. Tell Us Something About Yourself That is Not on Your Application

In Applying to Yale, Yale Application Essays, Yale Supplemental Essay on July 15, 2015 at 1:44 pm

Keep in Mind that this post was written for the class of 2020 application–if you are graduating high school in 2017, you will be applying for the class of 2021.  While some or even most of the information below may be true when you apply, I won’t know for sure until July or August, 2016, at which time my Yale post will update.

The Yale essay is ready for you.  Are you ready for the Yale essay?

For most of you the answer will be, I am not ready.  The reason is simple:  most of you will need to have a pretty good grip on the rest of your application–and will need to have written a more-or-less decent draft of your Common Application main essay–before you will know what to write for this Yale essay.  For this year’s Common Application Essay Prompts, see   Application Prompts for 2015-2016.

For the Yale topic and more on writing for the Yale prompt this year, including a roughed-out example essay, continue below:

Yale Essay Topic
Please note that the Yale freshman application will be available on the Common Application website sometime in August. (Note from WordGuild:  The Common App goes offline July 23rd and erases all accounts on the site at that time; when it goes live again on or just before August 1st, you can open an account and upload essays.  My advice:  start essays early and upload late, to give yourself plenty of time.)

The Yale-specific questions will include one additional required essay for all applicants, and one optional essay for prospective computer science and engineering majors. The essay prompts for the 2015-2016 Yale Essay Questions are as follows:

Yale’s essay question is required for all freshman applicants:

Please reflect on something you would like us to know about you that we might not learn from the rest of your application, or on something about which you would like to say more. You may write about anything—from personal experiences or goals to interests or intellectual pursuits. (Please answer in 500 words or fewer).

Yale Essay Prompt Analysis and Advice:

As you can see, it’s tough to say what they might not learn from the rest of your application before you have at least roughed out the rest of your application–remember that you are creating a kind of holograph of yourself composed of basic data (G.P.A., SAT/ACT scores), a list of activities and some short descriptions, accompanied by odds and ends like letters of recommendation–and your essays, which can make or break your application.  I talk about this at more length in this post–how college applications are evaluated.

To add a metaphor, you should look at each part of your application as being a chapter or entry in a book about you.  So write your Common App essay, complete your activities list/descriptions, then write this essay with an eye on filling in the blanks and/or pulling things together.  You want to humanize yourself and, if possible, reveal a passion or strong interest that may help your application.  And when you do write this essay, do NOT simply repeat your activities–but also do not assume that you cannot slide them in somewhere.  Think of this essay as  either  . . .

A Network or a Walkabout

There are two basic ways to approach this question–one is The Walkabout, in which you present a stand-alone activity that you think is interesting enough or humanizing enough to merit a solo, one-off focus.  More about that in a few moments.

The other way is to write a Network Essay–use an interesting or important activity to connect disparate parts of your resume, or to remind the reader of some aspects of you that you think are important (or persuasive as admissions factors). Let’s say you are into math and physics in school, with some connected activities including a robotics team, while outside of school, you like to go fishing and camping  (which you likely cannot do too often as you are an oversubscribed high school student trying to get into college, but let’s say for the purposes of an example essay that you go fishing one or two times a year and are into math and physics and the robotics team).

These do not seem to be connected, but this is a matter of focus–that is the key to and the purpose of a Network Essay.  For example:  Fishing involves physics in a number of ways, starting with putting a lure or a fly where you want it, and getting its parameters right (depth of bait, etc).  This is applied physics and the use of empirical knowledge (How to cast to get the lure to point x, how deep the fish are . . .).  So you might start the essay with a focus on fishing and camping, then use it as a network to connect this unknown part of you to the other parts of you that are clear in the application.  The person described above might do the following, for example, to get this Yale essay started:

Network Essay Example–The Fishing Physics Fan

Whenever I can, I like to pack up the car and disappear for a few days.  I like to cut the electronic tether, escape the ping of texts and pong of e-mail, and go to any one of several locations I cannot disclose. 

I cannot disclose these locations specifically because they are the best places to catch fish in the (pick a region).  And fisherman may tell a lot of tall tales about the one that got away, but no real fisherman ever gives away his Secret Spot to Catch Fish.  And I am a true fisherman.

This might seem an odd thing for a person who spends most of his other free time sitting at a computer coding so that an x can do y (examples not included in this example essay intro) or fiddling with a robot’s arm so it manages to do a instead of b (examples not included in this example essay intro)  but in a way it all fits together–fishing is all about physics and trial and error.  Trying to get a lure to that spot by the sunken log across the mouth of the stream is a matter of telemetry, a problem with many factors–the wind, the current, how deep the water there is . . . (You would expand somewhat here, using concrete detail.)

When I am out in nature fishing, I am really living in the moment in a way that I do not in my daily life at home, but nature  is also really a collection of things we call physics.  Take the lightning storm that was approaching Twin Lakes (sorry, can’t tell you which Twin Lakes) the last time I was there . . . . (Again, you would expand here, but notice how I am tying fishing to  your other interests, to physics . . .)

And then you might end the essay by literally and figuratively coming home (refreshed and refocused) to your more formal experiments in applied physics).

Notice how I am introducing other activities or interests beyond fishing, but they are put into this essay as context for the fishing focus, while simultaneously reminding the reader of specifics in terms of interests and knowledge from your activities sheet and from your academic life.  So the essay emphasizes one thing but shows others by connecting them.  This is what I mean by the network essay–it focuses on something new, on an activity that is either not in or only mentioned in the rest of your application but in the essay on this activity, you touch on other things that it does not hurt to remind the reader about.  All your many features are somehow included.

Here’s why this network approach can be useful:  It does not hurt to remind the reader about some other aspects of your resume or activities because, on average, the app reader will spend about 3 minutes reading each of your app essays–sometimes less–and this rapid reading will come after the app reader has scanned your activities, and is meanwhile thinking about your GPA, etc, and figuring out how to boil it all down to a single number, appended by some comments.

And the app reader is doing this at some point in a day in which he or she has read dozens of other applications and multiple dozens of essays if your application comes up late in the day.  So things will tend to get blurry as the app reader takes notes and assesses you, and the artful reminder of things you want them to remember can help your evaluator–and so help you.  Thus, the network essay which uses an interesting aspect of yourself to connect other, known aspects of your application in an interesting way can be an ideal add to your application.

Oh, and if you think something like fishing (or whatever it is that you do) is not an interesting topic, it depends on what you say about it.  And how you say it.  Contact me if you have something you like to do but think it will look boring in your essay, and I will help you develop your words and do so in a way that works with the rest of your app.

The Walkabout Essay

A walkabout was a rite of passage for a young Australian native, a time spent wandering the bush alone and surviving independently–the word has taken on other meanings, but the walkabout was originally a personal journey for the experience to be had on the journey.  It was also seen as something necessary and transformative, shaping the person who experienced it and propelling him into adulthood.

If you have an activity that is like this, a stand-alone that is also an important part of who you are, something that you do for its own sake,  then you can write a Walkabout Essay exploring this activity.

As an example, are you into math, programming and classical Indian Dance?  The closest you could come to a network essay with these would be to say they are all possible areas of creative expression.

But classical dance is embodied, is a way of knowing that is shown by doing in a way that is not true of math and programming, for your physical self is fully engaged, and it might best be explored as such, as a unique activity that humanizes and adds an interesting dimension to you–and that really offers little connection to your other, more purely mental activities.  Though you may still mention some other activities with the excuse of showing how different this activity is (and so reminding the app reader, however briefly, of those other aspects of yourself.)

The Key to the Walkabout Essay:  Become a Knowledgeable and Interesting Guide

So some level of networking/connection is always a good idea, but the Walkabout essay will really focus on the glories of the activity in the essay.  Classical Indian dance, as an example, embodies much of traditional Indian culture: its gestures are symbolic, and it is influenced by or on a continuum with other specifically Indian activities, like what we now call Hatha Yoga, as well as traditional Indian martial arts–if you become a guide, showing things like this in some detail to the app reader, and so showing your passion, you will have a good  essay–you want your app reader to have that look of surprise and interest that comes when someone learns something interesting, as you reveal the philosophy and history of the dance through some well-chosen examples, while inserting close description about the people and dances you have done and perhaps an amusing anecdote or two.    Inform without lecturing, show by examples and close description instead of simply telling.

And finally–if you are “Saying something more” about an activity or concern that is already on your application/activities, my advice here still applies.

That’s it for now. Get started on your Common App essay while thinking about this essay.  And contact me if you would like some professional editing.  N.B:  Sooner is better than later as things really pick up from August 1st on.

How To Write the Princeton Application Essay in 2015-2016

In Essay About A Quote, Essay on Books, Princeton Book Essay, Princeton Quote Essay, Princeton Service Essay, Princeton Supplement on July 14, 2015 at 12:35 pm
The post below contains information from the 2015-16 admissions cycle–some of it still applies, some of it does not, depending on which prompt you will use.  For posts on this year’s Princeton application prompts, check these out as well:

Princeton Essay on a Quote (from an essay)

The 2017-2018 Princeton Application Prompts

I have written about several of these prompts before, for the simple reason that the prompts are the same this year (class of 2020) as they were for the class of 2019.  The  Princeton prompts fit into some general categories that I have analyzed, both in posts about more general topics, like Writing About a Quote, or in posts about writing about books as a whole, like How to Write About Books I or in How to Write About Books III, as well as in analysis on the individual prompts–see below for more.
I broke down the Princeton Essays from last year in specific posts, below–and what I said last year applies to the same prompts this year, though some specific references may need updating, like those mentions of the Occupy movement for use on the “disparity” prompt, (Prompt 2).  Last year, Occupy still seemed relevant.  This year, not so much–at least the movement as such.  Of course, the themes and concerns of Occupy are still relevant now, and just wait until the presidential campaign gets out of its warm-up phase–everybody from Hillary Clinton to Jeb Bush claims to be concerned with economic inequality,  largely because  pay has been flat or down in real dollars for going on decades now for most Americans.
Since it’s a hot topic, this also means it’s also an excellent essay choice, so long as you do not come across as preachy, lecturing, etc, et. al. Showing a personal connection to or concern with a problem like this is best, while avoiding bathos, as well as avoiding a patronizing tone.  If you have never taken any interest in inequality, now might not be the best time to start.
On the other hand, a little research might make you genuinely concerned.
Best bets for this topic are those who are majoring in or interested in:  Business and Econ, sociology, psych, politics/government and those who see themselves as innovators with a mission.
For more on the specifics of writing about the Princeton supplements, click below to read my analysis of each prompt:
 I hope this helps you get a good start.  Contact me if you need some editing help–I have a reasonable amount of space as of mid-July, but will my available slots will fill rapidly as the deluge of August 1st application releases approaches.

Scoop! Princeton’s Application Essays for 2015-2016

In Essay on Intellectual Development, Princeton Application Essay, Princeton Book Essay, Princeton Moral Obligation Essay, Princeton Supplement on July 10, 2015 at 2:03 pm

Otherwise known as application essays for the class of 2020.

I cannot resist scooping my peers and competitors by getting the Princeton prompts up first, so here they are.

While Princeton has not officially released its prompts, they have updated their pdf’s for those filing paper applications, and here’s the deal:  Nothing has changed.  The PDF is for the class of 2020, but the prompts are unchanged from those for the class of 2019 (That’s last year’s applicants, for you).

To save you the search, here are the prompts, followed by a link to my analysis of how to write about them:

Princeton Essay: Your Voice
In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application, please write an essay of about 500 words (no more
than 650 words and no less than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point, write about a person, event or experience that helped you define one of your values or in some way changed how you approach the world. Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application.

1. Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.

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; 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

3. Princeton in the Nation’s Service” was the title of a speech given by Woodrow Wilson on the 150thanniversary of the University. It became the unofficial Princeton motto and was expanded for the University’s 250th anniversary to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.”

Woodrow Wilson, Princeton Class of 1879, served on the faculty and was Princeton’s president from 1902-1910.

4, 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, chair of the Council of the Humanities and director of the Program in Humanistic Studies, Princeton University.

5. 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.

July, 2014 Update On College Admissions Essays (With Current Listing of Available Essay Prompts)

In 2014-2015, Boston College Application Essays 2014-2015, College Application Essay Example, Mantis Shrimp Essay Prompt, Penn Application Essay, Penn Supplemental Essay, University of Chicago Application Essays 2014-2015 on July 21, 2014 at 11:31 am

Update and How to Use this Blog

First a caveat: my blog has detailed entries on college admissions going back about five years, at this point.  My current policy is to keep most of my posts up, as a kind of archive of college application information and also because there are only so many essay types that the colleges can offer. Certain kinds of prompts show up every year, and in many cases, I have already written about the prompt type.  This kind of analysis continues to be useful.

I mention all of this because I can see what people are reading on my blog, and there are a number of you, Dear Readers, who are reading last year’s essay prompt from, for example, the University of Chicago, on the mantis shrimp (Note:  unlike the NSA, I do not see your metadata, cannot access your e-mails, am not storing information on you, and can only see the number of people who look at my posts, per day.  So no, I am not spying on you.  I just know, in aggregate, what you are reading.)

I think the mantis shrimp  is a fun prompt, and if I do say so myself, my  post on the mantis shrimp is also informative and high-quality; it just doesn’t have anything to do with this year’s University of Chicago essay prompts.  I have started discussing this year’s Chicago’s essay prompts in the two posts that precede this one, so have a look at those here:

U Chicago Essays 2014-2015: Post One on Essay Prompt Two

U Chicago Essays 2014-2015: Post Two on Essay Prompt Two

We are currently in the 2014-2015 application cycle, so use caution when visiting college admissions websites–at least for the next two weeks (I am writing this on July 21st, 2014; August 1st, 2014 is the date most app sites go live, with this year’s prompts and information).  Only a limited number of universities have so far posted this year’s prompts, or have confirmed that they will be retaining this year’s prompts–look below for more on these.

On the other hand, I have dozens of old posts on topics like writing about books, or on how application essays are evaluated or on how to write essays that don’t look like the typical, boring, five-paragraph essay format taught in high school.  These posts are still useful, so they should be read, by anybody who has to deal with an essay on a book or idea that interests them, or who wants to know how essays were and still are evaluated, or who wants to write a good essay that isn’t a rote exercise.  By all means, read and use posts like these; just don’t send Chicago an essay on the mantis shrimp this year.

Developments in Application Portals–Universal vs. Common App

The 900-Pound Gorilla Tag-Team of College Admissions includes Naviance and the Common Application.  This is due to the large number of colleges using both, and the fact that Naviance currently operates in coordination with the Common Application.  This tandem has become somewhat controversial, partly because it starts to look like a racket when so many students are directed to third-party organizations when they apply to college–organizations that take a cut of application fees–and partly because the Common Application web portal was such a disaster last year.  I hasten to add that I am sure the Common App people have their act at least somewhat better organized this year, but the trouble last year went on, literally, for months, and forced a number of big-name colleges to extend application deadlines.  In a way, this actually benefited some students, who were able to keep working on essays and other information, but at the cost of considerable stress.

One side effect of last year’s Common App fiasco has been an increase in the number of colleges adopting the Universal Application, which has the advantage of being simpler to use and generally easier to navigate.  Unfortunately, Naviance has not yet incorporated the Universal App into its system, and the Universal App does not have as many colleges using it as the Common App does–but many more have signed up in the last year, and I expect Naviance to adopt the Universal App by the 2015-2016 application season.  Here is an example of a college that adopted the Universal App this year:

Published February 18, 2014

uchicagCollege applicants next year will have more application options as the University of Chicago is joining the Universal Application.

“We decided to announce we will join the Universal College Application for the next application year now because we want applicants, families, recommenders, and the Higher Education community to know of our commitment to providing them with an application option that is easy to use, reduces stress, and simplifies the process,” said Jim Nondorf, Vice President for Enrollment at the University of Chicago. “We have been very happy with how easy it has been to work with the Universal College Application team.”

And here is a link to the Universal Application:  Universal Application Portal

Getting Started Now:  Some Application Essay Prompts are Already Available

The Common Application is using the same essay prompts this year as last year, which I will link below; some schools have posted early or are keeping last year’s prompts–University of Chicago has posted new prompts and Penn, for example, will be using last year’s prompts, so there are essays that can be worked on as of right now.  I also e-mailed Berkeley and was told that they will be using the same prompts (though, in a typical bureacratic maneuver, my contact also said that if anything changed,  I should see their website?!  Because this seemed a bit equivocal to me, I will not link the U.C. application portals yet.)

Links to some essay prompts that are already available below:

Common Application Essay Prompts, 2014-2015

Penn Essay Prompts

University of Chicago Essay Prompts

University of Georgia Essay Prompts

Boston College Essay Prompts

These are all prompts for this year, which is the 2014-2015 application cycle–this is your application cycle if you are a rising senior/will be graduating from high school in 2015.

That’s all for now.  I will be back soon with some thoughts on application trends and will be posting on a variety of essay prompts for popular colleges in the coming months.  If you need college advising or essay editing help, I am currently fully booked from roughly August 1st-15th, but will have editing slots open in the second half of August.  Good luck and good writing.




The University of Chicago Application Essays: Prompt 2, Part 2

In Application, University of Chicago, University of Chicago Application Essay, University of Chicago Application Essay Example, University of Chicago Application Essay Prompt Two, University of Chicago Application Essays, University of Chicago Translation Essay on July 10, 2014 at 10:53 am

I gave background to U Chicago’s Application Essay Prompt 2 in my last post; in this post, I will provide some more specific suggestions and sources for essay inspiration.  Before I do, here is the prompt, again:

Essay Option 2.

In French, there is no difference between “conscience” and “consciousness”. In Japanese, there is a word that specifically refers to the splittable wooden chopsticks you get at restaurants. The German word “fremdschämen” encapsulates the feeling you get when you’re embarrassed on behalf of someone else. All of these require explanation in order to properly communicate their meaning, and are, to varying degrees, untranslatable. Choose a word, tell us what it means, and then explain why it cannot (or should not) be translated from its original language.

Inspired by Emily Driscoll, an incoming student in the Class of 2018

Alrighty.  So my first suggestion is not to accept Ms. Driscoll’s argument that some words are untranslatable, because they are all translatable.  However, even once they have been translated, a foreign person still may not really get it.  One reason:  culture, which includes language but also history, philosophy, geography, weather, technology, etc, etc, etc.  A concept like the Chinese idea of Chi is actually pretty easy to translate but not so easy to fully understand–it can best be translated as energy but also can have to do with a person’s temperament and mood, with the weather and time of year and its influence on the person, with the “energy” or nature of food a person eats–and the chi of food alters as well, depending on the way food is cooked.  A fever manifests a disturbance in chi, but is also  a kind of chi in itselfand a martial artist of skill will use a person’s chi against him.

Notice that much of this does not fit the western concept of energy, though electricity is a also a kind of chi.  A nonnative speaker of Mandarin can become fairly fluent in the language but would need to, for example, study some martial arts under a master, maybe do some qi gong and learn about Chinese cookery, architecture and art in order to have a decent grip on Chi, on its meanings and manifestations in Chinese thought and experience.  So looking at language as an expression of culture, and at culture as a kind of closed room that must be entered and explored before many words–many concepts–can be fully understood . . .  is a good way to approach this essay.  There are also personal and familial reasons why a person may not be equipped to understand a word–even a native Mandarin speaker may not have the understanding of Chi that, say, a Taoist master who is also an acupuncturist and painter would have.

My second suggestion is to look at idiomatic expressions.  You might want to start with your own language, Oh Native English Speakers. Of course, given the different varieties of English, it can be argued that we Americans are speaking a foreign tongue to those Brits.  Or vice-versa.  A famous Brit whose name escapes my data banks once claimed that American speech is slang.  Contrasting the Queen’s English and the Colonies’ English is a fun exercise in itself–you can start with those slang and idioms that do translate, pairing them, then find idioms that do not translate at all; for example:

American English/Queens English

a dust up/argy bargy

cock up/snafu

biscuit or bikky/Cookie


technical expert (or geek, in some uses)/boffin


opportunist, schemer or swindler/chancer

chat or gossip/chinwag

reconnoiter or check out/dekko

old man or boss or old and the boss (and dreary and annoying)/gaffer

The next step is not just to look at what the equivalent expression is, but to try to figure out why/from what the term came.  Again, notice that they are translateable, but there is a cultural flavor and flair with many slang expressions.  A good example is dekko, which is not English in origin; it comes from  British military slang and derived from the Hindustani dhek/dekho meaning “to see”. It is also less commonly decco, deccie, deek, deeks.  It is also an example of what I mean about language and culture.  The British Empire ruled over India for well over a century, and in the process of garrisoning India, it brought back more than chutney and curry. It brought back many words and forever altered British culture.   Given that many of British soldiers were also working class, you find quite a bit of this new language entering through more street or slang dialects, like Cockney, which also has a lot of Romany (these people are commonly called gypsy) words.  Like this: Put up your dukes, pal.  Look the last two words up for more.  They are Romany in origin.

Cockney itself would be an excellent place for you to look for inspiration, though you should keep in mind that Cockney has just about died out–the last true Cockney speakers were fading away by the 1990’s, pretty much as the East End of London faded as  a stronghold of working class whites/Cockneys.  Notice how slang evolution is tied into history and slang, as well as “proper” language evolves over time.   So slang and idioms are a great source for an essay like this, and you can use the wonders of the internet to look for ideas,  making lists of words and looking for ways to connect words and concepts that say something larger about culture.

To start working with idioms, try British slang, Cockney, and American slang as search terms and give it some time. There are many sites and posts devoted to this, and quality varies.  Make lists and double-check definitions against other sources and sites–I will provide some good dictionaries and other sources for looking up and crosschecking, below.  What makes you laugh would probably also make your essay reader laugh, which is a good thing (as long as they are not laughing at you.)

To recap and add an example:  the history of language and word meanings, whether they are considered idiomatic or otherwise, is  a great place to look for essay ideas and content–words do change meanings over time, just as words are born and words die.  In the 13th Century, the word gay   meant bright (brightly colored), cheerful, et al.  It had nothing remotely to do with sexual orientation.  Then, in 1890’s America, it gained a slang meaning–a gay lady was a prostitute (I guess somebody was happy.)   Then, in the 20th Century, the term, which already had a double meaning associated with being happy or bright, and with suspect or illicit sex, was assigned to homosexuals, then adopted by the homosexual rights movement; but this change in meaning then led to suburban youth by the 1990’s referring to something suspect or bad as “gay” –a change that illustrates the adolescent fear of being different,  especially sexually, and conversely, of punishing those who are different.  This is an example of a  psycho-sociological effect that is reflected in the change in a word’s meaning.  Words change all the time, but not always this drastically–fear and prejudice are powerful influences, even on words.  When you write your essay, your focus might be on how the history of language is closely tied to sociology and psychology.  Our words say a lot about us.

To close things out, I am going to recommend some source materials, and as part of that paste in a recent article that shows a good way to open an essay like this . . . Hello loyal readers.  This is the second post on this Chicago prompt, and you have to pay a subscription to my private blog to get full access to this post and quite a few other posts, past and future.  You have about half of the post available in this sample.  If this seems unfair, that’s probably because you have been taught to disrespect the value of written work, due to the parasitic nature of most of the big internet companies, which offer creators little compensation while essentially giving the creative work of others away for free.  A subscription for full access to all of my posts is available for the small price of $15.  You send me an e-mail, with the subject heading “subscription, please,” and I will send you an invoice for $15.   After you pay it, I will give you access to my private blog, which has all of my posts available in full, including the rest of this post.

One more thing–a caveat emptor–I do not delete old posts from other application years, partly as a matter of historical record, but also because many universities repeat the same prompts, or use prompts that are similar to prompts used in the past.  If you see that a post was put up during the last application season, you need to double-check to be sure about the prompts for this year’s applications at your specific universities–we are currently in the 2014-2015 application season.  The software of this site will link “related” posts, but they are sometimes from previous years.  Be sure to visit the university website to check on application requirements and timelines for this year.

Speaking of which, I am still accepting some college advising and application essay editing clients.  E-mail me soon to inquire and to secure a spot.  As of this writing, July 10, 2014, I am fully booked in early August, but can accept college application editing business in July and from the latter part of August on.  This will change in the coming weeks, of course,  as new clients take up existing space in my schedule, so it’s better not to wait too long.  I only have so much time. . . See you soon.

P.S.  The ads you sometimes see below some of my posts are inserted by the WordPress people.  Allowing them to advertise allows me to save expenses on this platform, and by keeping my fixed costs down, I am able to offer not only the most effective editing service you are likely to find, I am also cheaper than all those big operations you may have heard of.  I myself do not see the ads unless I access my own site via an outside search.  If you do dislike one of the ads, please let me know at the e-mail above, and I will have a look and contact WordPress, if necessary.  Thanks.

Ivy League Round Up: The Brown, Penn, Columbia, Dartmouth And Amherst Supplemental Essays For 2013-2014.

In Amherst Supplemental Essay, Columbia Supplemental Essay, Dartmouth Supplemental Essay, Essay on Literature, Essay on Science, Penn Supplemental Essay, Why Brown on December 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm

This will be my final update for the 2013-2014 application season.  With the early rush over, I have a few editing slots open going into the last weekend of December; if you have one or more application essays that you wish to have reviewed and closely edited, splice the following address into an e-mail and contact me with the subject “editing request:”  wordguild@gmail.com.

Include your name, geographical location, and a basic description of what you need.  I’ll be asking you to provide me some additional information to help me edit, but all information and work is kept strictly confidential.  My prices for a three-round editing package, with the last edit ready to submit, are $100-$150, depending on the essay length and prompt.

As for the Ivies, here we go:

The Ivies are using the Common App and a variety of questions in their supplemental sections; what they share, beyond the Common App essays, is one or more supplemental responses that are best restated by the question “Why do you want to go to school here?”  This is a question which you can and should research.

What you should not do is write an autobiographical incident or short essay on some experiment or program you were in–it’s fine and in fact necessary to talk about yourself and your specific  academic interests, but you should also be talking about and showing knowledge of the university itself.  Don’t just recycle part of a Common App essay.

Things To Research For The “Why Us” Prompt


So let’s start with Brown as an example; their prompt is pretty simple:  Why Brown?  You probably already knew that, but my advice–again, repeated throughout this post, with some different links and information about each school– is to do some research, specifically in the areas in which you are considering majoring.  The essay should be about your experiences and interests, but not just about you.  It’s about the school as well, and not just about how the school will be useful to you.  How will you be useful in the world?  To other people or creatures or the environment?  What will your contribution be?

Please think about that.  The admissions officer will be looking for it–it doesn’t need to be completely explicit and specific, but they won’t be impressed by an essay with a whole lot of “I’s” and “me’s” in it, or by an essay that is all about how they can do things for you.  See the Dartmouth admissions officer, below, and his comments on the self-absorbed.

Look outside yourself.  Study the university.  Find out about programs, then about professors as well as classes.  Know something about the research or work being done at Brown in your field of interest.  Follow links and information on the work of specific professors and schools or institutes or centers.

Be able to name drop with knowledge, but not just as a list of names the app reader already knows; this should be shown as something that fits with you and your plans, as something you can use, with a little explanation, in a meaningful way.  Be able to explain how Brown can help you achieve whatever it is you want to achieve–which hopefully has something to do with helping other people out in some way, whether through innovation or services.  Then write efficiently and without hyperbole.

I recommend reading this article on the changes to Brown’s supplementals for this year :  Changes to the Brown Supplement.  And don’t forget to have a look at their mission statements, motto, and that kind of thing.

Brown is one of the Ivies that views public service as more than lip service.    Don’t forget:  Sincerity is a must, but avoid being preachy or a hand-wringer, and don’t come off as self-absorbed. See my links below to how to evade the cliché, et al.

Know What Your Major Entails/Understand the Hierarchies

To repeat:  research all things related to your major or to areas you think you may want to major in–you hopefully have already done some research and know the basics, but a quick recap here:  Majors are taught within a  “division,” “school” “program” and/or “department” and, in recent decades also within “centers” and “institutes.” Some of the latter have different structures than a traditional school or department, but for the most part the name game with centers and institutes  is a way to set up  funding, often around one or more rock star figures (they are not always professors by trade, but possess advanced degrees and outside experience that applies to the field in question) or around some hot, usually interdisciplinary new “field.”  There is a constant turf war for attention and funding which has driven this in recent years and this also reflects developing areas of study and technology–new stuff can create new disciplines.

Back To Brown

One example at Brown is the department of Cognitive, Linguistic and Psychological Sciences, formed in 2010.  How linguistics has joined Cognition and Psychology is a bit convoluted but will illustrate a point I want to make about the contemporary, interdisciplinary approach to education.

Modern linguistics really starts in the early 20th Century, with structuralism, and was  a field within philosophy and sociology and later within various language departments.  As the early Linguistics departments were founded at universities in the 20th Century, structuralism was superseded by new fields within linguistics, like generative grammar, and today everything from probability and game theory to computer science  and brain science plays a role within linguistics  (voice recognition software, anybody?).

The result of these developments (as well as politics and funding competition) is this new department at Brown.  It’s worth comparing majors and departmental structures at different schools–have a look at the Penn Linguistics Department, for example, which has a much less flashy website and which is embedded in a different structure– but you should also be looking at individual teachers, learning something about research and specialized programs you might be interested in, as well as about particular professors and their work.

There are many other interesting developments over the last ten-fifteen years in “cross curricular” programs–check out the Brown sociology page, where you can see their links to things you would expect, like the Social Science Research Lab, but also their links to the program in Commerce, Organizations and Entrepreneurship.

The message is that there is no time like the present to start defining a course of study for yourself, and these newer institutions do offer many opportunities to craft your own program and not to be stuck in a narrow field of study–this may also help you get a job.  On the other hand, I always argue that you should study what you love, and research the major that is in the area that most interests you, then look for ways to make it “practical,” if you do not want to stay in academia. An English major who can search databases with his own algorithms, for example, would be very employable; you could get there with a major in English and a minor in a computer discipline, or a minor in psychology, or sociology, or philosophy, with computer classes added to learn how to construct databases and mine data.   I’ll come back to that later.  For more at Brown, start here:

Brown Majors, Departments and Programs

For more ideas on things to research and write about on the “Why Us” prompt, read on.


Penn wants basically the same thing as Brown; here is the prompt:

“The Admissions Committee would like to learn why you are a good fit for your undergraduate school choice (College of Arts and Sciences, School of Nursing, The Wharton School, or Penn Engineering). Please tell us about specific academic, service, and/or research opportunities at the University of Pennsylvania that resonate with your background, interests, and goals.”  400-650 words

As with the Penn or any “Why Go To Our School” prompt, you want to drill down to find specific information–and maybe to find out what you want to do, as well.  Here is Penn’s Majors page:  List of College Majors. In one example, if you are interested in both business and international relations, you’d want to check out the Huntsman program (listed on the Penn Majors page) and start following links on the Huntsman home page:  HuntsmanThe point is to become informed and follow information that interests you.

Columbia has three prompts that roughly translate to “Why Us,” or why you fit them.  Here they are:
  • Tell us what you find most appealing about Columbia and why.
  • If you are applying to Columbia College, tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section. If you are currently undecided, please write about any field or fields in which you may have an interest at this time.
  • If you are applying to The Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science, please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the field or fields of study that you noted in the Member Questions section.
As with all of these questions, this prompt is a good place to mention a campus visit.  The people, both students and faculty,  and physical setting of the school are, hopefully, something that has influenced your decision, and this is the time to express your enthusiasm.  Specifics help, but don’t get carried away in your descriptions of the ivied walls and eager scholars.
Back in the day, research was the purview of grad students, but these days undergrads are often involved in the cutting edge stuff– as I pointed out above, “even” an English major might be doing research, and the cutting edge there might be looking at evolving responses to a work of literature over time, Huckleberry Finn, for example, using those databases of, say newspapers and periodicals  I mentioned and writing algorithms to define searches that reveal how attitudes toward  Twain’s magnum opus have changed, or looking at the incidence of a word and how its meaning has changed, and thus engaging in a kind of English-department driven sociology.  This is quite a bit like market research, by the way, and the same basic skills can be used on other databases, looking at health in various human populations, for example.
So what I am saying is, you could use this required app essay to start thinking in an innovative way about your own future, and you might even find a way to convince your parents that the apparently impractical subject that you love could actually be practical, after all.  With a little tinkering.
Have a look at the research opportunities in the school of psychology at Columbia, here, and start clicking for some examples of the interdisciplinary possibilities offered in one field:
Or go to the general research page, which has links to various fields and institutions within the university and find the sites that you need:
As you probably know, Dartmouth uses the Common App and a College/Major specific essay.  So everything I said above about Brown, et al, still applies, but I’ll add a bonus:
an excerpt of some quotes from an interview with a Dartmouth admissions officer, published on Business Insider; the “insider” tips offered by BI are not really anything new, and officials who are quoted as unnamed sources always have some kind of ax to grind–this guy sure offers some complaints as well as reveals some of his own biases– but his statements  on the admissions essay itself are worth perusing; here they are:


“The essay is very important. It’s when you get a sense of what the kids about. We’re looking for creativity, self-awareness. The biggest mistake is when they aren’t very self-aware and write standard sports essay where they talk about the big game and that hurts them in the end. Not standing out is a big mistake for kids who are from demographic groups that are historically well represented.

But even an amazing essay can’t save a bad application.

“It’s difficult to see an app like that because every aspect of the application needs to be pretty strong, especially in the numbers driven game, it’s hard for a kid to stand out if not strong academically even if he writes this amazing essay. It’s a question of the marginal case.”

“Many kids write adversity essays. Some cases are more contrived than others. I remember one essay about a girl who struggled with a broken family in the ghetto, who lacked nuclear family structure at home. It was well-written, not case of pitying herself, but written matter of factly, very powerful.”

Most essays are not very memorable. I think people should be willing to take a larger risk with essays. There’s a way to do that and still be tasteful. You don’t want to highlight a negative personality trait. Like if you’re a complete narcissist, if that comes across in tone even though the essay is creative it will put off admissions officer. I do think kids need to think more about what they want to present.” (My addendum to this:  use good judgement if you want to be daring.  Many “risky” essays actuall do come across as self-absorbed or in poor taste.  So be wary of what I would call stunt essays.  Notice also that the app officer specifically liked the simply factual essay by the girl from the broken family in the ghetto.  Notice in addition that he uses the word ghetto, which sounds quaintly like what those suburban middle class kids, whom he seems to both pity and sneer at in the article, might say. Instead of ‘hood, for example.  It’s additionally interesting, because these days the “ghetto” is more a pocket neighborhood than the vast and largely, to the middle class and upward,  unknown area of a city where poor people and immigrants live.  We often have urban professionals and hipsters on the same block or a block away from what this app officer would think is a “ghetto” neighborhood.  So, he sounds a lot like an older version of the kids he seems to address most directly here.  I’m just sayin’).

You can read more at the link below, though I hasten to add that some of this unnamed admissions officer’s complaints deserve a response from somebody, and a good journalist would have gone and asked other Dartmouth officials, on the record, for responses.  A really good journalist would probably capitalize the personal pronoun “I” as well, even in a blog format article.  Having offered those qualifications, here’s the link:   http://www.businessinsider.com/secrets-of-dartmouth-admissions-office-2012-10#ixzz2nwiWxswn

I like Amherst’s supplementals the best of this bunch, so I saved them for last.  I won’t discuss all of them, but there are a couple that I think are worth looking at; here they are, so you don’t have to go back and open another page up:

1) “Rigorous reasoning is crucial in mathematics, and insight plays an important secondary role these days. In the natural sciences, I would say that the order of these two virtues is reversed. Rigor is, of course, very important. But the most important value is insight—insight into the workings of the world. It may be because there is another guarantor of correctness in the sciences, namely, the empirical evidence from observation and experiments.”

Kannan Jagannathan, Professor of Physics, Amherst College

This prompt is interesting on a number of levels in its definition of what a good physical scientist is like–that’s what it is, in essence.  And since the topicc is about the workings of the world, human artifacts and ideas like ethics can also be featured in this essay.  I think the best source of inspiration for this prompt that I can give you this late in the game is a podcast from a wonderful radio program, Radiolab–listen to this episode, about the scientist Fritz Haber, who was brilliant, made amazing discoveries, but who also . . . caused great harm.  Showed a certain lack of foresight, of some degree of common sense and personal responsibility.  Here it is:  Fritz Haber.  

In all of the Ivies, there has been some soul-searching due to things like the financial crisis and recent Great Recession–most of the major players in finance responsible for this fiasco came out of the Ivies, the best and the brightest, as it were, and while Professor Jagannathan seems to intend a more specific emphasis on empirical common sense, ethics itself, forseeing the potential outcomes of scientific work, in every sense, is also important.  As the Haber episode I linked shows.  So don’t write an essay focused entirely on some experiment you did; try to have a wider view into which your experiment might fit, a view of how your work might be of wider benefit, of an ethical dimension as well as a practical dimension.

2) “Literature is the best way to overcome death. My father, as I said, is an actor. He’s the happiest man on earth when he’s performing, but when the show is over, he’s sad and troubled. I wish he could live in the eternal present, because in the theater everything remains in memories and photographs. Literature, on the other hand, allows you to live in the present and to remain in the pantheon of the future. Literature is a way to say, I was here, this is what I thought, this is what I perceived. This is my signature, this is my name.”

Ilán Stavans, Professor of Spanish, Amherst College. From “The Writer in Exile: an interview with Ilán Stavans” by Saideh Pakravan for the Fall 1993 issue of The Literary Review.

Well, there’s nothing like reading the interview as a whole to prepare for this question; here it is: Ilan Stavans Talks.

Then you might read my posts on writing about books, some of which are linked in my previous post, on the Princeton prompt.

As for the third prompt for Amherst, I think you could also  look at my post on the Princeton prompts for insight–here is the Amherst prompt:  3) “It seems to me incumbent upon this and other schools’ graduates to recognize their responsibility to the public interest…unless the graduates of this college…are willing to put back into our society those talents, the broad sympathy, the understanding, the compassion… then obviously the presuppositions upon which our democracy are based are bound to be fallible.”

John F. Kennedy, at the ground breaking for the Amherst College Frost Library, October 26, 1963

And, to conclude, If you have a Social Justice class, or personal experience with stereotypes and overcoming obstacles, prompts four and five might work for you–notice my excerpt from the interview with the Dartmouth admissions officer, above; he seems to be advising you just to tell your story, if you do have one, without all those autobiographical narrative tricks designed to pump up the suspense and excitement (starting with a dramatic quote or scene, for example).  Straightforward is probably better for those with real drama in their essays.  You might also want to visit some posts I wrote long ago about ways to get prompts like these wrong.  I’ll put those links below the final Amherst prompts; here they are:

4) “Stereotyped beliefs have the power to become self-fulfilling prophesies for behavior.”

Elizabeth Aries, Professor of Psychology, Amherst College. From her book, Men and Women in Interaction: Reconsidering the Difference.

5) “Difficulty need not foreshadow despair or defeat. Rather achievement can be all the more satisfying because of obstacles surmounted.”
Attributed to William Hastie, Amherst Class of 1925, the first African-American to serve as a judge for the United States Court of Appeals

General Advice/How Not To Blow It On Your College Application Essay

How to Evade the Cliche In Your Application Essay

Evade the Cliche Step 2

How College Applications Are Evaluated

Seven Rules For College Application Success (They Aren’t Really Secrets)

Princeton Essays for 2015-2016: Getting the Job done

In Essay About a Problem, Essay About Culture, Issue of Concern Essay, Princeton Supplement, Woodrow Wilson Essay, Writing an Essay about a Book, Writing an Essay About a Quote on December 14, 2013 at 5:39 pm

This post specifically discusses the Princeton Supplemental Essay prompts used in recent application cycles (2015-2016 and 2014-2015) and in the process also addresses essays about or based on quotes, as well as addressing essays about national problems, essays about ethical matters, essays about culture (and food) and essays about personal beliefs.  Much of the content is, therefore, germane to these topics in general.  

Numerous links to examples and additional reading are included.  This is an update to last year’s post on the same prompts, with some new links and other changes to make your essays relevant for this year.  It is also a very long post, because I address all the Princeton prompts in it, in detail, so you might want to scroll down to the one or two prompts that most appeal to you–or you might read the whole post and find an idea you had not yet considered.

If you need editing, contact me soon to guarantee yourself and editing slot:  Editing Services.

I will address the Princeton Supplement prompts one at a time, repeating each prompt so that you do not have to look it up again. After you have written a draft, you can send it to me as a Word attachment, to wordguild@gmail.com. I will give you a free sample edit and a price quote–but serious inquiries only, please; I’ll give you enough for you to judge what I can do for you.

Note well that the Princeton Supplement begins with this admonishment:  In addition to the essay you have written for the Common Application, please select one of the following themes and write an essay of about 500 words in response (no more than 650 words and no less than 250 words). Please do not repeat, in full or in part, the essay you wrote for the Common Application.  The underlining is mine.

Many people are choosing a “second string” Common App essay because of the way some of Princeton’s prompts overlap with the Common App prompts, and because of the very obvious way that the word count requirements fit the Common App this year.  Using an essay you opted not to use is okay only if you think it’s equal in quality to the one you chose or if you can work some more on it to improve it.  If this app matters to you, of course.  If it’s just a lark, don’t sweat it too much.

The rest of this post is for people who want to put in some work to have a great essay.  If that’s you, read on.

Princeton Supplement Prompt 1

Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.

I really don’t have anything to say about this prompt beyond what I have already said about the same prompt on the old Common App, which I discussed over the last two years–you can see my archives, or to save time,   use this link to see what I gave you on Prompt Three of the Common Application, which is in the same topic zone, and have a look at my second entry on the same subject here: The Demons are in the Details.

Princeton Supplement Prompt 2

Using the statement below 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.

“Princeton in the Nation’s Service” was the title of a speech given by Woodrow Wilson on the 150th anniversary of the University. It became the unofficial Princeton motto and was expanded for the University’s 250th anniversary to “Princeton in the nation’s service and in the service of all nations.”

Woodrow Wilson, Princeton Class of 1879, served on the faculty and was Princeton’s president from 1902–1910.

Let me begin by suggesting that the Princeton admissions officer might be a bit more impressed by an applicant who actually showed that she had read the speech.  Try this link and give it a few minutes; I recommend taking notes:  Princeton in the Nation’s Service.

I will pause for dramatic effect while you read the speech.

Welcome back.  This speech will feel archaic  to most of its modern readers in its vocabulary and in its Anglo-Saxon, Protestant ideals, but I would say that this is the point.  Hopefully you read all the way to the bottom of the page and read the footnote about the fact that Wilson had suffered  a stroke and struggled physically to finish rewriting the speech on a typewriter.  There is a moral message of a sort right there, folks, about Wilson’s grit as well as  his  sense of duty.  Compare the person making the speech and the content of the speech to many of our politicians and much of what passes for political philosophy today. The contrast is clear.

At the risk of sounding preachy, I would point out that  the last few decades have been notable for material excess and personal aggrandizement, often at the expense of others–the upper echelon of Goldman Sachs, for example,  has been wildly successful in the terms of our culture, meaning they made incredible amounts of money, but it’s hard to argue that much of their work has been a boon to our society or to the world financial system in general.  A quick review of their role in the European debt  crisis–they enabled Greek currency manipulation–and their simply fraudulent actions in the derivatives market in the United States makes this clear.   I would suggest to you that Princeton is taking a strong stance against the attitude embodied by people who act in the interest of short-term and personal profit over the long-term good for all.

You don’t have to be Anglo-Saxon or Protestant to have a sense of duty, of course–go look up Dharma if you have any questions about that–but clearly Wilson himself in his speech and in his physical situation while writing and giving the speech was embodying a certain spirit of sacrifice.  This is  important because a prompt like this tells you  what your university is looking for in its prospective students:  a future Lord of Wall Street needs not apply.

If I may quote from Wilson’s  essay, this section, by establishing what Wilson saw as the purpose of the university, also reinforces what the university still sees as its purpose:

“Princeton was founded upon the very eve of the stirring changes which put the revolutionary drama on the stage, –not to breed politicians, but to give young men such training as, it might be hoped, would fit them handsomely for the pulpit and for the grave duties of citizens and neighbours. A small group of Presbyterian ministers took the initiative in its foundation. They acted without ecclesiastical authority, as if under obligation to society rather than to the church. They had no more vision of what was to come upon the country than their fellow colonists had; they knew only that the pulpits of the middle and southern colonies lacked properly equipped men and all the youth in those parts ready means of access to the higher sort of schooling. They thought the discipline at Yale a little less than liberal and the training offered as a substitute in some quarters a good deal less than thorough. They wanted “a seminary of true religion and good literature” which should be after their own model and among their own people.

 It was not a sectarian school they wished. They were acting as citizens, not as clergymen . . .”

It’s not an accident that this speech tweaks one of its rivals, Yale, and Princeton clearly sees itself as a liberal institution in the traditional sense of the word, producing people of wide-ranging  knowledge and overall excellence who will practice the Aristotelian virtues of service and thought.   So may I strongly suggest that your essay for this prompt show you as a thinking and active member of American society who is concerned with the state of the world and the welfare of his or her fellow citizens.  (To be fair to Yale, I think Harvard has more suspects behind some of our recent economic troubles.)

On the other hand, you don’t want to come off as a hand-wringer or platitude fabricator as you demonstrate your sense of duty and your awareness of the Big Picture, and your essay should not fall into the trap of being too self-referential; its focus should be more on what you observed than on what you felt, on what should be done rather than on how to point fingers.

You should also not offer simplistic solutions to the problems which you  discuss–just look at the Occupy movement, which morphed into all kinds of weirdness, especially in places like Oakland, as various violent elements like the so called black-maskers and so-called anarchists infiltrated the scene–they were not always the same people– and caused trouble.  Seriously, smacking with a hammer a waiter who’s trying to stop you from breaking the window in the restaurant he works at is not fighting the Man, and the  Eat the Rich slogans do not have a lot of traction as prescriptions for change.

Anger isn’t a solution, nor are platitudes.   Though anger is necessary to get a movement for change started.   It just has to be channeled into something other than violence.  Ask Nelson Mandela, or Ghandi or Reverend King.  So try to avoid both overt anger and platitudes  if you write about economic justice and social well-being.  And keep in mind that in this country, having a shot at a decent income and quality of life is intertwined with that line you likely  memorized about the pursuit of happiness.

I would add to this that if you are writing about  social and economic justice, you wouldn’t want to appear as if you suddenly noticed the income gap last week.  A sense of commitment should be clear in your essay, and not just clear in the nice things you say. Hopefully you have either a track record in some sort of work or volunteering, and the best thing would be if it were in addition to your required community service hours.

For recent background on economic justice and its history in the last few years, I would start with this month’s fast-food strike, in which workers in hundreds of cities walked out of their jobs or took their day off to ask, en masse, for a living wage.  Start here, for information:  Fast Food Strike.  Then there is the Walmart food drive–for its own employees.  Probably you have heard or read about it, but here’s a decent summary:  Food Drive.  

I must add at this point, that these two items would be nice examples for an essay, but they don’t offer much in the way of solutions to the bigger problems, though I would say that a higher minimum wage would be a good start.  I add that I am aware of the argument for inflationary effects, but many economists see no problem for the greater economy with a national minimum wage somewhere between twelve and fifteen dollars an hour.  I don’t have time to get into the whole we-are-competing-with-the-whole-world/race to the bottom thing in this post, though you might want to bring it up in your own essay.

Did I mention that many fast food workers have trouble getting a second job because  fast food joints–the big corporate ones–expect their workers to work a varying schedule, filling in wherever they are needed in a given week?  Makes it tough to fit a second job in when you can’t schedule time more than a week in advance.

It is also worth looking at the Occupy movement in its early days, for the spirit of the thing and the reasons for anger–have a look at this link in the New York Review of Books for a good discussion of Occupy if you are interested: In Zucotti Park

A few other things to remember about this speech involve  Woodrow Wilson himself.  He was an internationalist who believed strongly not just that the United States participate in international affairs, but that we be, well, a bit Arthurian, a leader yet seated at a Round Table–he did want a League of Nations, after all . . . so if you are an isolationist or  tend to speak like the more hysterical members of the Tea Party movement, Princeton seems to suggest in presenting Wilson’s speech that you might want to go elsewhere for school.  Yale, I guess.  Or tone it down.

In concluding our discussion of this prompt, I mention my view that the Tea Party and the Occupy people share a fundamental American concern for fairness and equality, and that I look forward to some sort of shared agenda arising from these populist movements, especially if things get worse.  If you do prefer tea to coffee, so to speak, you might explore that kind of common value, which would prevent you from coming  across like, well, Sean Hannity.  Woodrow Wilson would not have been a fan of the Tea Party; in using his speech, Princeton is taking a stance that is both principled and political.  Keep that in mind.

Princeton Supplement Prompt 3

Using the quotation below as a starting point, reflect on the role that culture plays in your life.

“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, chair of the Council of the Humanities and director of the Program in Humanistic Studies, Princeton University

Pretty stuffy-sounding phrasing, but this is a great prompt, and not just for people from specific and clear ethnic bacgrounds.  Music, architecture, dance, literature, all the artifacts around us represent culture.  Cars are culture (and also capture the often paradoxical nature of it, the good and the bad:  with the car, independence and mobility, really the entire American way of life, set against urban sprawl, traffic deaths, pollution and climate change.)

Clearly, culture is an enormously   broad subject, so I am going to focus in this post on one area of culture everyone shares:  food. (I’ve already written about books–about writing about books, about books as culture–elsewhere, both in my links for Princeton this year and in other examples in my archive).

Whether your mother (or father–things have changed) makes saurkraut or brews beer or has kimchee fermenting away or simply cooks anything with regularity, you are in touch with culture as food.  Just look at holiday meals, how they are used to  pass on traditions, and not just in the form of recipes.  This is a rich source of personal experience for essays.

I’ll start my links with Roi Choi, who is a pioneer of the new-wave food truck industry, and who recently published a cookbook that is more autobiography than recipes; here’s an interview with him:  L.A Son.  The early part of this interview pretty much shows what I mean about food and culture as Choi talks about kimchi and how his native Korean culture is, for him, rooted in food.

Also roaming the greater L.A. area is one of the great food writers of today, Jonathan Gold, food critic for the L.A. Times and fanatical hunter for cheap and interesting ethnic food.  Here are a couple of appetizers that give a good taste of his writing–pay close attention to his use of detail and the casual but tightly written style he has evolved:

Jonathan Gold on Tacos

Jonathan Gold on Udon

And consider your own family’s food traditions as an expression of culture and get writing.  I recommend starting when you are just a bit peckish, to stimulate your descriptive skills, dining only after the first draft is done.


Princeton Supplement Prompt 4

1.Tell us how you would address the questions raised by the quotation below, or reflect upon an experience you have had that was relevant to these questions.

“How can we unlearn the practices of inequality? In other words, how do we increase our capacities not just to act without racism but to actively promote racial equality?”Imani Perry, Professor, Center for African American Studies, and Faculty Associate, Program in Law and Public Affairs, Princeton University.  

This prompt asks for a very personal response.  I am revising this post in the week after the death of Nelson Mandela; though imprisoned when I was in high school and college, he was still a presence in my life, here, in America, and in addition to your own experience, I’ll just add that there is no better model of how to address this prompt than Nelson Mandela.

The book Conversations with Myself is a good introduction to his life, and if you have seen the recent movie, you really should also read this, which shows even more clearly  how he lived the idea of racial equality, moving from his involvement in often violent resistance to apartheid to his stance against revenge and violence when he left prison.  It shows both his incredible will and discipline and his humanity, his quirks and foibles.  A good, quick  introduction to the book and to Mandela’s life is in this review, from The Guardian: Conversations With Myself.  

Princeton Supplement Prompt 5

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 at the beginning of your essay.  

Michel de Montaigne, the guy who developed the essay as a literary form, also initiated many of his essays with a quote that conveyed an idea which he would develop throughout the essay, and he would weave in more quotes as he went, so this essay prompt harks back to the beginnings of the form.  Too see some stuff from him, I send you now to another link in which I mention this hero of letters, where I also provide a second link to a good article about his life and essays,.  Montaigne himself is a great source of quotes.  By the way, if you read an essay, say, today, and really liked it, and could use it, that fits the prompt’s requirement that you have read this in the last three years.  That’s called inspiration and it’s totally authentic, if you do it right.

Now to the central problem of 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.  And don’t force the book and your experience together.   You can write a great essay which references your life to knowledge found in a book, but it is vital that the quote–and the book–relate somehow to your experience in an honest way.  See my discussions of writing about books which may help you with the thought process, though rather than finding a way to link a book to a book, you look for a single book to relate to your life.  Be sure that the quote you used is not taken out of context, and that you deal with the essay or book as a whole.

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.

Alternatively, you can write a quote-based essay that is more obscure than an 8th Grade Confessional Poem Using Only Adverbs.  Be sure not to  make your reader have to figure out what the quote has to do with everything else in the essay and if you use multiple quotes, be sure that they are suitable and relate to what is around them.

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.  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 who believe in the idea of economic justice, or even if you think our financial system should be run in a more ethical or simply open and clear way–the article linked here is 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.

That’s all for now, folks.  Good luck and good writing (and reading).

The Harvard Application Essay for 2013-2014: Back to the Future

In Harvard Application 2013-2014, Harvard Application Essay, Harvard Supplement, Harvard Supplemental Essays, Intellectual Experience Essay, Ivy League Application Essays on December 11, 2013 at 2:29 pm

Or to the past, because Harvard’s prompts are a blast from the past, especially if the past is the old Common Application Prompts.

The prompts that Harvard has up this year are a mix of old Harvard prompts and the prompts that your older friends or siblings wrote for the Common Application if they applied in recent years.   I’ll analyze the prompts separately, in order, right after this message:

Editing Update, 12/26/13:  I have a few editing slots open going into the last weekend of December; if you have 1-3 essays that need editing for a final app, contact me by splicing this address into an e-mail, with the heading “editing request” and a brief description of what you need:  wordguild@gmail.com

Final requests taken on Sunday, 12/29/13.  

And now, here is my Harvard analysis: 

1. Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (Required, 150 word max, Paste in).

150 words is not much space, which reinforces that this “essay” prompt is meant as a chance either to elaborate on material you (hopefully) already listed for them, or to describe an interesting aspect of your life that merited essentially a footnote in your application or that is not visible at all.  Choose wisely, by which I mean, look first for ways to offset weaknesses and next for ways to play up strengths that may be apparent in your application, and choose a topic  that shows a person who truly  is curious instead of a person who is merely trying to look as if he or she is curious .

If you appear to be a stereotypical asocial math and computer whiz, try to find a way to talk about something else–your stats and classes should already show your prowess in these fields, supported by your transcript, so maybe you should talk about your love of windsurfing or (harmless) flash mob organizing.  If you are weaker in math, find a way to offset that–your love of philosophy and logic, through your sideline, studying Zeno’s paradoxes, or perhaps your organizing skills or ability to find your way in the dark without a compass.  Be creative.

It’s fine to repeat things that are prominent on your “resume” so long as you are truly and deeply enthusiastic about the topic you choose.  You can sneak in some other things by showing, for example, how your interest in Topic A lead you to Topic B, the subject of your essay here (or paragraph, probably).

As for essays on work, I wouldn’t necessarily say not to write about your job flipping burgers, but you might want to give it some heft.  Try reading or at least perusing Barbara Erenreich’s Nickled and Dimed for some ideas on how to add depth to an essay on your fast-food/entry-level side job.  Internships will hopefully also provide fodder for an intellectual experience essay.

Now let’s look at the remaining prompts as a group, with links to topics that can be used to address the prompts:

2. You may wish to include an additional essay if you feel that 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 (Optional, 1300 word Max, Paste In) 

Unusual circumstances in your life
– Travel or living experiences in other countries
– 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 books you have read during the past twelve months

My first advice is this:  You should, of course, write this extra, “suggested” essay.  You do want to avoid overlaps with whatever common app essay you choose to use.

Turning to new developments for this year, Harvard  has for the most part just  rearranged some words  from last year’s  prompts.  The prompt asking you to write a  letter to your future college roommate was introduced last year, and is either borrowed from recent Stanford supplements or great minds really do think alike.

This year’s prompt on an intellectual experience was added as a word change to a similar, earlier prompt and  is  much broader than that earlier prompt  on an academic experience, which it replaced in 2012.  Academic limits you to school and maybe that internship or research project you did.  Intellectual does not limit your topics as much. Music, film, rock climbing, almost any serious human endeavor or experience can have an intellectual aspect to it, if you look at it the right way.  Books, of course,  are an ancient source of intellectual experiences and these will be a specific focus in this post.

I will start you with  links to some of my earlier posts which specifically address Harvard or relate to the prompts for 2013 that relate to or could be topics for this years prompts.  These posts will help get you started as you generate ideas.

I  address the list of books essay  in a separate post–this essay can take various forms, but avoid just making it a list of book blurbs; find a way to tie the books together, based on some sort of shared idea or other connection.  The posts below should help you get started with a book, travel/experience or letter essay:

Writing About Books

Writing About Books II

Writing About Books III

Writing About Books I

Travel or Living Experiences

My main warning is to avoid the stereotypical “My Trip” essay, which takes three forms:  1) shallow travelogue 2) travel experience with a “life’s lesson” forced upon it 3) Patronizing description of people with odd habits living in an exotic place/poor people living in an exotic place.   It’s incredibly easy to sound patronizing when writing about other countries and peoples and you should never forget that, in writing about another place, the subject of an application essay is still you.  Be aware of what you are revealing about yourself.

How to Write About  a Trip While Not Tripping Over Stereotypes:  Evading the Cliche II

College Essay No-No’s

Writing a Letter to Your Roommate

Consider Your Audience Before Writing Anything:  So You Want to Write a College Essay

Stanford Essay 2011, including brief advice on Writing a Letter to Your Roommate

My full-package college application clients are all done with their apps, so I will have some space for new editing work from today on through the 28th of December, 2013.  You can e-mail me at wordguild@gmail.com to inquire.  Good luck and Good Writing.