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Ladies and Gentlemen, Start Your College Essays: The Prompts for 2015-2016 are Ready and Waiting

In College Admissions 2015-2016, Common Application Essays 2015-2016, Georgetown University Application Essays 2015-2016, University of California Application Essays 2015-2016, University of Chicago Application Essays 2015-2016, University of Michigan Application Essays 2015-2016, University of Pennsylvania Application Essays 2015-2016, University of Texas Application Essays 2015-2016 on July 6, 2015 at 12:40 pm

Or at least some of them are, and I will post the major prompts available as of July 6th, 2015, below this short introduction to college applications for 2015-2016.

For two of the major systems used by West Coast students and many others, the news is good–the Common App has tinkered with its prompts in a way that improves them, and the U.C. system will not change its prompts at all, so you can start these essays any time.   And you should, in my opinion, start very soon if you mean to apply to the 10-15 colleges that are on the average applicant’s list these days.

A word of caution, however:  Just because the prompts are up does not mean that the application portals/websites are live.  The Common App, for example, posted its new prompts in a blog post, but if you went on the Common App site early to register and fill in all those irritating boxes of information that are required to set up an account, your diligent efforts will have been for nought–the Common App site will go offline on July 26 and all information on it at that time will be erased. Including yours, if you already set up an account for the 2015-2016 application cycle.  When the site comes back online–supposedly on August 1st, and we trust the Common App people have learned their lesson and will be reliable this year–you can open your account.

Your takeaway:  Expect many essay prompts to be release before application portals are up and running, and go ahead and start your essays, but hold off on setting up accounts for now.  And when in doubt, check with a reliable source, like Yours Truly.

Confused by this?  Let me explain:  updating websites costs money and diverts resources. Despite better economic news and so better funding in most states, the public schools are not flush with money–in California, Prop 30 stabilized funding but did not restore it to the levels prior to the economic crisis that started in 2007-2008–and the U.C. system is in relatively good shape, compared to other systems around the country.

This quote from University of California President Janet Napolitano, from this past spring, sums up the situation for most large, public schools:

“Public universities require public support. On a per-student basis, the state is paying far less than it did in 1991 – from about $18,000 in 1991 to $8,000 today, in 2014-15 dollars. The university is receiving $460 million less in funding from the state than it did in 2007, even as it educates thousands more California students.

Most schools and application portals leave their old stuff up until a date (un)certain because it is cheaper and creates fewer headaches (for them) than creating an interim page between application cycles.  As for  the insanely well-endowed schools who could easily afford to create more transparent application pages, why should they spend money that their competitors are not spending?  They just follow the herd, for the most part, and keep the change.

So expect the majority of  schools to open their application portals August 1st, this year–while separately and unevenly rolling out parts of the application that you will need to complete, like the essays.

So go ahead and get started on any of the essays below–I will make this experience easier later this week by creating in-page links to speed the process, but for now scroll down to see your schools of interest.

Here is a list of  most of the major prompts currently available; scroll down below the list to find the full prompts and requirements:

Common Application–Choose one of five prompts and write your single C.A. essay.

Georgetown University–Four essays, varying lengths.  Clearly a commitment required to apply here, people.

University of California–Write two essays of up to 1,000 words. I suggest doubling one of them with the Common App.

University of Chicago–One required essay, one optional.  You should write both.  500 words each.  I have multiple posts on past U Chi prompts, and one option is to choose an old prompt to write about.  Check out more on that by searching my site.  Wild and wacky.

University of Michigan–250 word essay, then a 500 word essay for Freshmen and a 500-word essays for transfers.

University of North Carolina–a Common App essay and a second supplemental essay of 400-500 words

University of Pennsylvania–a Common App essay and a supplemental of similar length addressing your academic interests and the school you will apply for–majors are situated within specific schools in universities, like Engineering, Arts and Sciences, etc. Plan on doing some clicking and researching here.

University of Texas, Austin–Two essays required and a third optional essay encouraged (by me–when in doubt, write more, but do so with a clear strategy).

University of Virginia–Common Application essays plus two shorter essays and other responses.

University of Washington–Write an essay of 600 words, a shorter essay of 300 words and a couple of (optional) short essays.

Full Essay Prompts and Guidelines:

Common Application Essay Prompts, 2015-2016

From the Common App blog, updating for this year:

We are pleased to share the 2015-2016 Essay Prompts with you. New language appears in italics:

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

University of California Essay Prompts

Personal statement

Your personal statement should be exactly that — personal. This is your opportunity to tell us about yourself — your hopes, ambitions, life experiences, inspirations. We encourage you to take your time on this assignment. Be open. Be reflective. Find your individual voice and express it honestly.

As you respond to the essay prompts, think about the admissions and scholarship officers who will read your statement and what you want them to understand about you. While your personal statement is only one of many factors we consider when making our admission decision, it helps provide context for the rest of your application.

Directions

All applicants must respond to two essay prompts — the general prompt and either the freshman or transfer prompt, depending on your status.

  • Responses to your two prompts must be a maximum of 1,000 words total.
  • Allocate the word count as you wish. If you choose to respond to one prompt at greater length, we suggest your shorter answer be no less than 250 words.

 The U.C. essay prompts

Freshman applicant prompt

Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

Transfer applicant prompt

What is your intended major? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had in the field — such as volunteer work, internships and employment, participation in student organizations and activities — and what you have gained from your involvement.

Prompt for all applicants

Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?


 Georgetown University Application Prompts, 2015-2016

Georgetown University Question #1

Required for all applicants

Indicate any special talents or skills that you possess.

Georgetown University Question #2

Required for all applicants

In the space available discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.

Georgetown University Question #3

Required for all applicants

As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.

Length

Approximately 1 page

Georgetown University Question #4

Required for all applicants (based on particular school)

APPLICANTS TO GEORGETOWN COLLEGE: Please relate your interest in studying at Georgetown University to your goals. How do these thoughts relate to your chosen course of study? (If you are applying to major in the FLL or in a Science, please specifically address those interests.)

APPLICANTS TO THE SCHOOL OF NURSING & HEALTH STUDIES: Describe the factors that have influenced your interest in studying health care. Please specifically address your intended major (Health Care Management & Policy, Human Science, International Health, or Nursing).

APPLICANTS TO THE WALSH SCHOOL OF FOREIGN SERVICE: Briefly discuss a current global issue, indicating why you consider it important and what you suggest should be done to deal with it.

APPLICANTS TO THE MCDONOUGH SCHOOL OF BUSINESS:  The McDonough School of Business is a national and global leader in providing graduates with essential ethical, analytical, financial and global perspectives. Please discuss your motivations for studying business at Georgetown.

Length

Approximately 1 page

 

University of Chicago Essay Prompts. Et Al

2015-16 UChicago Supplement:

Question 1 (Required):

How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

Question 2 (Optional):

Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.

Extended Essay Questions:

((From U Chicago FAQ: Is there a word limit or suggested word limit to your essay responses?

We suggest that your essays stay around 500 words each. While we won’t as a rule stop reading after 500 words, we cannot promise that an overly wordy essay will hold our attention for as long as you’d hoped it would. Please be kind to your poor admissions counselor, who reads 1,000+ applications per admissions season, and stick to our suggested limits.))

(Required; Choose one)

Essay Option 1.

Orange is the new black, fifty’s the new thirty, comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll, ____ is the new ____. What’s in, what’s out, and why is it being replaced?
—Inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015

Essay Option 2.

“I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” –Maxine Hong Kingston. What paradoxes do you live with?
—Inspired by Danna Shen, Class of 2019

Essay Option 3.

Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story.
—Inspired by Drew Donaldson, Class of 2016

Essay Option 4.

“Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” –Paul Gauguin. What is your “art”? Is it plagiarism or revolution?
—Inspired by Kaitlyn Shen, Class of 2018.

Essay Option 5.

Rerhceseras say it’s siltl plisbsoe to raed txet wtih olny the frist and lsat ltteres in palce. This is beaucse the hamun mnid can fnid oderr in dorsdier. Give us your best example of finding order in disorder. (For your reader’s sake, please use full sentences with conventional spelling).
—Also inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015. Payton is extra-inspirational this year!

Essay Option 6.

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.

Essay Option 7.

In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions.

University of Michigan Essay Prompts

U-M supplemental essay questions for the 2015-2016 Common Application:

Essay #1 (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words.)

Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.

Essay #2 (Required for all applicants. 500 words maximum.) FRESHMEN APPLICANTS

Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?

Essay #2 (Required for all applicants. 500 words maximum.) TRANSFER APPLICANTS

Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?

 

University of North Carolina Essay Prompts

2015 Application Essay Prompts

After much discussion among the admissions committee, we’ve now selected the essay prompts for the 2015 application. We hope they will inspire you to write an essay that will help us understand who you are, how you think, and what you might contribute to the University community. Keep in mind that your essays will be evaluated not only for admission, but also for possible selection for merit-based scholarships and Excel@Carolina.

First-Year Applicants

You’ll submit two essays, the first of which is from the main part of the Common Application. These prompts are common to all schools who accept the Common Application and you can view both the prompts and instructions here.

The second essay will be specific to the UNC application. You’ll choose one prompt and respond in an essay of 400-500 words. Here are the questions:

  1. Why do you do what you do?
  2. You were just invited to speak at the White House. Write your speech.
  3. What one thing should all students know before their high school graduation?
  4. What concerns you about your world? What do you hope to do to make it better?
  5. UNC Professor Barbara Fredrickson – an expert in positive emotions – has defined love as “micro-moments of connection between people, even strangers.” Tell us about a time when you experienced a “micro-moment of connection.” What did you learn?

University of Pennsylvania Essay Prompts

Penn Writing Supplement on the Common Application for Fall 2016 entry:

How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania?  Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying.

The essay should be between 400-650 words.
*For students applying to the coordinated dual-degree programs, please answer this question in regards to your single-degree school choice.  Interest in dual-degree programs will be addressed through those program-specific essays.

Coordinated Dual Degree and Specialized Program Essay Questions for 2015

Huntsman: The Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business

  1. In light of your personal interests in language, business, andinternational affairs, please discuss a current global issue and explain how the Huntsman Program would allow you to explore it in greater depth. (500-700 words)
  2. Please indicate how many years and how extensively you have studied the language you selected for the Huntsman Program.

LSM: The Roy and Diana Vagelos Program in Life Sciences and Management

LSM seeks students who are enthusiastic about combining science with management. What excites you about this combination? What advantages and opportunities does the combination provide, and what does it address? Be as specific and original as possible in addressing these questions. (400-650 words)

M&T: The Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology

Please complete both prompts.

  1. How will the Jerome Fisher Program in Management and Technology help you pursue your specific interests in both engineering and business? Please address in depth engineering fields, areas of business, and their potential integration that you plan on pursuing through this Penn program. (400-650 words)
  2. Please describe a time in which you displayed leadership. (250 words maximum)

NHCM: Nursing and Healthcare Management

Discuss your interest in nursing and health care management. How might Penn’s coordinated dual-degree program in nursing and business help you meet your goals? (400-650 words)

VIPER:  The Roy and Diana Vagelos Integrated Program in Energy Research

Describe your interests in energy science and technology and your previous experiences (academic, research, and extracurricular activities) that have helped you to appreciate the scientific or engineering challenges related to energy and sustainability. If you have previous experience with research, consider describing your research project at a level appropriate for an educated non-expert, outlining the goals, hypotheses, approach, results, and conclusions. Describe how your experiences have shaped your research and interests, and how the VIPER program will help you achieve your goals. (400-650 words)

NETS:  The Rajendra and Neera Singh Program in Networked and Social Systems Engineering

Describe your interests in modern networked information systems and technologies, such as the Internet, and their impact on society, whether in terms of economics, communication, or the creation of beneficial content for society. Feel free to draw on examples from your own experiences as a user, developer, or student of technology. (400-650 words)

Seven-Year Bio-Dental Program

  • Please list pre-dental or pre-medical experience.  This experience can include but is not limited to observation in a private practice, dental clinic, or hospital setting; dental assisting; dental laboratory work; dental or medical research, etc.  Please include time allotted to each activity, dates of attendance, location, and description of your experience.  If you do not have any pre-dental or pre-medical experience, please indicate what you have done that led you to your decision to enter dentistry.
  • List any activities which demonstrate your ability to work with your hands.
  • What activities have you performed that demonstrate your ability to work cooperatively with people?
  • Please explain your reasons for selecting a career in dentistry.  Please include what interests you the most in dentistry as well as what interests you the least.
  • Do you have relatives who are dentists or are in dental school?  If so, indicate the name of each relative, his/her relationship to you, the school attended, and the dates attended.

University of Texas Application Essay Prompts and Supplemental Writing (Including Plan II)

The Essay Prompts for Fall 2015 Applicants

All essays, scores and documents that are submitted to the University of Texas Undergraduate Admissions via mail or electronically submitted via BeALonghorn (which is the preferred method of submission) will be visible to all honors programs and colleges to which the applicant has applied.

Essay C (required of all UT Austin applicants):

  • Considering your lifetime goals, discuss how your current and future academic and extra-curricular activities might help you achieve your goals.

Essay of Choice:

Application to Plan II Honors requires submission of Essay C and either Essay A, B or D.  Plan II will review the same two essays the applicant submits to complete application to the University of Texas at Austin.  There are brief additional writing requirements that are part of the honors application, but there is not another essay required. The applicant does not submit multiple versions of Essay C and Essay A, B or D.  Plan II Honors and the University of Texas Office of Admissions review the same essays.

  • Essay A: Describe a setting in which you have collaborated or interacted with people whose experiences and/or beliefs differ from yours. Address your initial feelings and how those feelings were or were not changed by this experience.
  • Essay B:  Describe a circumstance, obstacle or conflict in your life, and the skills and resources you used to resolve it. Did it change you? If so, how?
  • Essay D:  Submit this essay if you are applying to architecture, art history, design, studio art, or visual art studies/art education.  Plan II will accept Essay D, along with Essay C, as one of the two required essays.
    Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (architecture, art history, design, studio art, visual art studies/art education), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space effected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?

Please be sure to read what Plan II says about essays.  That information CAN make a difference to your Plan II evaluation.

Special Circumstances Essay Topic:  Essay S:  There may be personal information that you want considered as part of your admissions application. Write an essay describing that information. You might include exceptional hardships, challenges, or opportunities that have shaped or impacted your abilities or academic credentials, personal responsibilities, exceptional achievements or talents, educational goals, or ways in which you might contribute to an institution committed to creating a diverse learning environment.

*Special Note on Essay S:  Essay S should NOT be used simply as another opportunity to submit a third writing sample, to emphasize interest in the program or to demonstrate motivation to be part of Plan II.

Letters of recommendation, as well as the optional “Essay S” are NOT required by Plan II and really should only be submitted if the circumstances warrant submission.  We actually prefer that applicants do NOT write a third essay or submit letters of recommendation unless there is a compelling reason to do so.  If the applicant has to ask if he or she has special circumstances, then the answer is no.  The same is true with letters of recommendation.

In most, although not all, special circumstances that would indicated that the applicant should submit an “Essay S” or obtain a letter of recommendation would include some kind of challenging situation in the family, personal life, health, family financial or personal experiences—circumstances that are out of the ordinary high school student’s experience (which might include, but certainly are not limited to the loss of a family member, major family crises/upheaval and/or family financial issues; immigration issues; an applicant’s or an applicant’s family member’s health issue that affected the family; moving multiple times throughout the student’s lifetime, especially multiple times during high school; a parent deployed in the services, etc.).

Special circumstances that warrant an “Essay S” submission or a letter of recommendation could certainly also include special beneficial circumstances such as educational travel experiences, a special school experience (charter school, home school, performing arts school, health professions high school, etc.) research experiences, work or internship experiences that give the applicant a different perspective, qualification, maturity etc.

Requirements on the Honors Application:

The Plan II Honors writing requirements on the on-line honors application include the 5 sentences we consider your Personal Statement.

If an applicant is applying to more than one honors program, all the requirements for each honors program will be contained in the single honors application.  The application will NOT submit multiple honors application, even if applying to multiple honors programs.

The Plan II Personal Statement

The applicant completes the following short answer prompt in the required on-line honors application.  The on-line honors application is accessible once the applicant has completed and submitted the ApplyTexas application and it has uploaded into the system.  The applicant will receive a confirmation email from the university when ApplyTexas has uploaded successfully.

  • Please write five sentences describing yourself, your life, and your experiences that taken together form an accurate view of who you are.  Be creative!

Do not list information provided in your résumé or in your essays.  This is not a rehash.

These five sentences should be little nuggets of information that give us insight into who you are.  It’s information that you couldn’t work/sneak into an essay or onto your résumé, but information you feel is really important in showing us just who you are, “where you come from” and how you are “Plan II-ey.”  The sentences should not simply reiterate information from your résumé, but they may enhance information mentioned on your résumé.  Smart applicants will make good use of this little “application gift,” and make each of the five sentences about something different.

Think of these sentences as showing us “FACETS” of who you are, including what you do, what you love, your favorite things, your deepest desires, your most grandiose dreams…..  These are snapshots, not short stories, that give us a view of you and your unique perspective.  What five important things would you want to make sure you were able to include if you were in an interview for Plan II.  (Since we do not offer interviews as part of the admissions process, this is your big chance.)

  • Please number the sentences 1 through 5.
  • The personal statement has a maximum 1000 characters total.  Spaces DO count as characters in the 1000 limit.  But our honors application pages are very flexible when it comes to character limit. We don’t have a very strict character count system so if the applicant goes over the limit, our system will retain a good quantity of characters past the 1000 limit, to a certain point. If the applicant is worried about the limit, we advise the applicant to type as many characters as he/she needs and press the “save” button before submitting. If the applicant goes over the limit, our system will cut off the extra characters and the applicant will know it.  On the other hand, if after pressing the “save” button all the characters appear, then he/she knows that all the characters will be transmitted.
  • From the Plan II Honors admissions point of view, these should not be long and wordy.  These are NOT meant to be “short paragraph” sentences.
  • If you use more than 1000 characters, you are probably going on too long.  You do not have to be especially pithy or clipped.  But if you drag these sentences out, you are not helping yourself.  We have already seen many applicants who have made wonderful use of this opportunity in well-under 1000 characters.

 

University of Virginia Application Essay Prompts

2015-2016 First Year UVA Application Essays

Towards the end of every reading season, we gather to talk about which essay questions elicited great responses, which ones could be tweaked to be better, and which essays we’d like to retire. We often pull students into our discussions to get their perspectives. There are some questions on our application that prompt students to write interesting essays year after year, so we don’t feel the need to change them. Conversations we have at Days on the Lawn and other admitted student events sometimes come into play as well.

You’ll write one essay for the general Common Application and then you’ll write two short responses to these prompts along with other questions that are specific to UVa. The Common App folks posted the main essay questions a while ago. Here are ours:

2015-2016 First-Year Application Essay Questions

  1. We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists.  Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words.
  • College of Arts and Sciences – What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
  • School of Engineering and Applied Sciences – U.Va. engineers are working to solve problems that affect people around the world, from our long-term water purification project in South Africa to continuing to research more efficient applications of solar power. However, most students start small, by using engineering to make a difference in daily life. If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make your everyday life better, what would you do?
  • School of Architecture – Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
  • School of Nursing – Discuss experiences that led you to choose the School of Nursing.
  • Kinesiology Program – Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
  1. Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.
  • What’s your favorite word and why?
  • We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
  • Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the U.Va. culture. In her fourth year at U.Va., Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
  • U.Va. students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message?

A note about word limits:
We aren’t counting words on these. The word limits are there so you know that we are expecting short statements, not term papers. The boxes where you paste in your essay will cut you off at some point, but there is a little bit of leeway. Be concise and thoughtful in your statement statement and try to convey your voice and style in your words. This is the one spot on your application where your personality gets to shine, so don’t treat this like a formal school assignment.

 

Vanderbilt University Application Essay Questions

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150-400 words)

University of Washington Essays and Short Responses 2015

The Writing Section is a required and important part of your application for admission.

A. Personal Statement (Required)

The Personal Statement is our best means of getting to know you and your best means of creating a context for your academic performance. When you write your personal statement, tell us about those aspects of your life that are not apparent from your academic record. Tell us about the experiences that don’t show up on your transcript:

  • a character-defining moment,
  • the cultural awareness you’ve developed,
  • a challenge faced,
  • a personal hardship or barrier overcome.

Directions

Choose either A or B. Maximum length: 600 words.

  1. Discuss how your family’s experience or cultural history enriched you or presented you with opportunities or challenges in pursuing your educational goals.

OR

  1. Tell us a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

Tips

  • Some of the best statements are written as personal stories. We welcome your imaginative interpretation.
  • You may define experience broadly. For example, in option B, experience could be a meeting with an influential person, a news story that spurred you to action, a family event, or something that might be insignificant to someone else that had particular meaning for you. If you don’t think that any one experience shaped your character, don’t worry. Simply choose an experience that tells us something about you.

B. Short Response (Required)

Directions

Choose one of the following two topics and write a short essay. Maximum length: 300 words.

  1. The University of Washington seeks to create a community of students richly diverse in cultural backgrounds, experiences, and viewpoints. How would you contribute to this community?
  2. Describe an experience of cultural difference or insensitivity you have had or observed. What did you learn from it?

Tip

  • You may define culture broadly in Topic #2. For example, it may include ethnicity, customs, values, and ideas, all of which contribute to experiences that students can share with others in college. As you reply to this question, reflect on what you have learned — about yourself and society — from an experience of cultural difference.

C. Additional Information About Yourself or Your Circumstances (Optional)

Directions

Maximum length: 200 words

You are not required to write anything in this section, but feel free to include additional information if something has particular significance to you. For example, you may use this space if:

  • You are hoping to be placed in a specific major soon
  • A personal or professional goal is particularly important to you
  • You have experienced personal hardships in attaining your education
  • Your activities have been limited because of work or family obligations
  • You have experienced unusual limitations or opportunities unique to the schools you attended

D. Additional Space (Optional)

Directions

You may use this space if you need to further explain or clarify answers you have given elsewhere in this application, or if you wish to share information that may assist the Office of Admissions. If appropriate, include the application question number to which your comment(s) refer.

E. Activities & Achievements (Required)

Directions

Using the grid provided below, identify up to five of your most significant activities and achievements during grades 9-12. In a few bullets or sentences, indicate your contribution.

Maximum length: 50 words for each activity.

You may include activities, skills, achievements, or qualities from any of the following categories:

  • Leadership in or outside of school-e.g., athletics, student government, cultural clubs, band, scouting, community service, employment
  • Activities in which you have worked to better your school or community
  • Exceptional achievement in an academic field or artistic pursuit
  • Personal endeavors that enrich the mind, e.g., independent research or reading, private dance or music lessons, weekend language/culture school

Format for the Writing Section

  • Content as well as spelling, grammar, and punctuation are considered.
  • If you’re applying online, compose in a word processing program such as Word, then copy and paste into the windows provided. Double-spacing, italics, and other formatting will be lost, but this will not affect the evaluation of your application.
  • We’ve observed that most students write a polished formal essay for the Personal Statement yet submit a more casual Short Response and Journal of Activities & Achievements. Give every part of the Writing Section your very best effort, presenting yourself in standard, formal English.
  • Proffreed, proofreed, PROOFREAD!

Tip

  • Write like it matters, not like you’re texting. This is an application for college, not a message to your BFF. Writing i instead of I, cant for cannot, yr for you’re: not so gr8.

 

 

How To Get Into College: Or, How To Write The Essay That Will Get You There, Including Essay Examples

In common application, Princeton Application Essays, Stanford Application Essays on September 20, 2013 at 10:07 pm

Oh, and what not to do.  For starters, don’t try to imitate too closely (and definitely do not copy) your older sibling/friend/acquaintance/college essay guidebook’s foolproof example essay.  Have a look at them, sure, but for true inspiration, we’ll go to the pros.  More on that in a moment.

Because, before I get to essay examples, I want to share a “must hear” link to help you out.  Read on for more.

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To begin with,  I’d like to say that the title of this post is a nod to one of the Great American Things, a little radio show called This American Life.  Created by and featuring Mr. Ira Glass and company, one of TAL’s recent shows was entitled, How I Got Into Collegeand, at the least, you should listen to the prologue and Act One (linked below).   In it,  an admissions officer talk about dumb things people do as they try to get into college, including dumb things that are done with essays (like using the same essay for multiple schools, but not getting the school names right on each essay . . . ).

Topics addressed include parental support/intervention/obnoxious interference in e-mails and elsewhere, demonstrated interest,  and,  most important for our purposes, the admissions officer talks specifically about why most admissions essays he reads are boring.  The admissions director talks about  the same problems I talk about (e.g., the same basic essay, over and over, as in the My Mission to South America, essay).  This admissions officer also admits that he and his colleagues are part of the problem; he does not, however, specifically discuss the repetitive and self-focused essay questions that are required, again and again (Common App, I’m lookin’ at you )  or why this has come to pass, something I explain here:  Common App.

So I recommend that you go to my link to TAL’s  College App show, and listen before you read on.  After listening, you can continue reading to find links to examples of good essays, below.  More on that later; for now, here it is:  This American Life:  How I Got Into College.

Before moving on, I would suggest listening to the whole thing by continuing with Act Two–for a number of reasons.  First among these, it may put the troubles in your own life into perspective.  Second, as you embark on a journey to write about your own life, it is a fascinating study of the malleability of memory . . . as the  protagonist of the rest of this TAL episode, Emir Kamenica, who escaped the Bosnian genocide and is now a rising star at the Booth School of Business, at the University of Chicago, tells his story . . . then hears a different version of things.

As a follow-up to this show, a listener wrote a hilarious Worst College Essay Ever (my title for it). Read it here:  Prank Admissions Essay

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Welcome back, and now we move on to some essay examples.

By now you all know about the Common Application essay prompts, which are all 1st person, Let Me Tell You About Myself essays.  The Common App has dumped the open question and eliminated the possibility of writing directly about a book or intellectual experience.

So my first advice for the Common App is this:  Find the Unexpected ; do the Unexpected.  (I capitalize Unexpected by way of emphasis, not to imitate German capitalization conventions.)  This does not really require anything radical or crazy.  It’s all about how you look at things, even the mundane.

The next point I’d like to make is this:  none of my essay examples below will be student examples.  The reasons are multiple, but two will do as an explanation:  if you want to learn something, from chess to tennis to football to whatever, you don’t usually go study, well, your peers.  You pick out somebody you think is outstanding, if not the best in their field.  Somebody with proven chops.   It’s in that spirit that I offer the examples below, where  I will offer essays by people I admire or essays which I think are really good.  Note that, as examples, most are also too long for our purposes, but you should not be reading to copy exactly–you should read to find ideas, phrases and structures.  My caveat:  you can imitate, borrow, riff off of . . . but do not copy anything more than a quote.  Thanks.  Now on with the show.

Essay Examples

After the first example you will find an annotated list with links; this post is planned as one of those that expands over the course of the app season, so check back–I will add material and links as I find them.  I also have plenty of examples with earlier posts, incorporated into discussions of specific topics and topic types, so browse the archive for material that looks like a fit for your topics.

Okay, here we go:  to show you what I mean about finding the unexpected, as well as how to look for examples, I will start with a link to an essay and then will give you a little editing exercise that will cut this essay down from being about three times the length of a Common App essay to being about 40 words too long, which is a minor overrun, in my world.  I am very serious about the editing exercise–it is short but will teach you a lot about how to look for examples, and how to take apart a longer piece of writing and put it back together–a very educational  exercise in how to read as well as how to edit.

So go to this  long essay about a young immigrant who found a home, of sorts, in the uber-suburban show The Wonder Years.  Read the whole essay first, then come back for this exercise, below.  The exercise doesn’t take much time and will show you something important about the art of the cut in editing, as well as how to read and how to look for material and ideas that might be useful to you in writing an application or any other essay; here is your link:  My Wonder Years.

And here is your brief and painless editing exercise:  copy the essay, splice it into a document, then number the paragraphs.  After you number the paragraphs, delete all paragraphs except these paragraphs: 1, 4, 6, 9, 11, 12 and 18.  Yep, all the rest of the essay is deleted.  Then delete the first word in paragraph 12 and capitalize the next word.   Then read this “compact edition” as an essay in itself, which it is.

You have a very different essay, of course–this shorter version leaves out an important focus in Ms. Nguyen’s  original essay, but notice how it does show her own sense of being an outsider in the United States, as well as her “place” of comfort and connection, a virtual world reached through a television screen.  Yes indeed,  a  nice example of a place you feel comfortable topic.  And this is, in its full form or in my shortened edit, another good example of the Unexpected.

Example 2: Cooking is Freedom–About a middle school rebellion against sexism and its reverse, by a boy who wasn’t quite fitting the stereotypes of his time and place.  The problem our essayist faces is very much a problem of the early ’70’s, but he writes in a clear and charming way and he absolutely challenges an idea–and he writes  with humor, which is an awfully good thing to have  in an essay that might be number one hundred and ten, on a Wednesday afternoon, for a tired and cranky app reader.

Example 3: Why Department Stores Are Vital  This essay would also be a great fit for the prompt on a place that you feel comfortable–Here   the author take a place which has most often been used to show what is wrong with America and argues for it not only as a place where she feels comfortable but which she thinks is necessary for our culture–another  great example of the Unexpected, in point of view  and attitude.  The topic is an old one, but the picture we get from the author surprises and charms.

Example 4: An Essay by M. Allen Cunningham, on the theme of how the Oregon landscape has influenced his work–this is a superb, rambling essay and another essay on place, which also examines the influence of technology in an interesting way and excerpts from the author’s own novels as it develops.  The first two sections could stand as essays by themselves, with a tweak or two, so keep in mind my little editing exercise from Titi Nguyen’s essay, above.  Or just  skip to section #2, for an essay within an essay on place, perception and much more.  Good stuff.

Example 5 (Multiple Examples): This I BelieveThis link will actually take you to a page with multiple essays.  The writing quality is not always exceptional–I would rate them from excellent to decent in their prose quality–but all have something interesting to say about beliefs and acting based on beliefs, or about how their beliefs developed–and they fit any of three of the current Common App topics.  The beliefs here are from the full spectrum–for a taster, this selection includes an opening essay by Penn Gillette, the magican/performer, on why he is an atheist, and if you look further down the page, has an essay under the title My Brother’s Keeper, which starts as the author leaves Sunday school with his kids.  The latter essay is both humanistic and religious, and both the atheist and the believer are sincere and trenchant in discussing their own beliefs.

I do have one warning for this collection:  this specific  essay topic became really popular in the last decade, primarily because of the This I Believe  project, which was frequently featured on National Public Radio.  So if you write an essay on belief, please don’t start with the clauses I believe in x, or  This I believe: x.  An app reader or officer may start rolling his or her eyes, (Not this again). But even with that caveat, this page, and at least a few of these essays, are definitely worth a visit and may inspire great ideas, even if you do not use any of them now.  Oh, and be sure to be good to the pizza guy.

As noted above, I plan to expand on this list over the coming months, so you might want to check back on this post in  few weeks, scroll down, and see what is new down here.  Thanks for dropping by.

And remember:  Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but copying somebody else and claiming that the work is yours is  . . . theft.  Just say no, or this may happen to you, a la Dante:  Wages of Sin.  Hey, man, don’t mess with the Dante.

LADIES AND GENTLEMAN, START YOUR ESSAYS: THE 2013-2014 PROMPTS ARE OUT EARLY

In Common Application Essay Prompts, Common Application Essays, University of Chicago Application Essays, Yale Application Essays on July 1, 2013 at 12:00 pm

Or at least some of them are out early.  

This post will introduce some of the essay prompts for Ivy League and elite universities this year.  We are off to an earlier than usual start for this year’s prompts, probably due to the increased number of early applicants; many of the important schools are not, however, posting yet, but I will introduce some of those that are online now, below, with a quick overview and a few of the new prompts themselves spliced in below that.  Keep in mind that this post is being written on July 1st, and the application scene will change rapidly over the next two to three weeks as many of the colleges get their sites up to date.  Some will not put up prompts until the beginning of August, speaking of which . . . 

The Common App is planning to open for business on August 1st.  If you visit the Common Application site before August, you will find last year’s downloads and pdf’s.  However,  the Common App’s new essay prompts have been released as a “beta.”  Unlike beta software,  these Common App prompts will not be modified and you can start working with them.  This split presentation, with both an out-of-date website and an early release of up-to-date essay prompts can be a bit confusing, but it’s their way of helping applicants start the essays early while not opening up the website itself until they are ready for business.  

I have the Common App essay prompts for 2013-2014 here:  Common Application:  What’s New for 2013-2014.  Then read on below in this post for information on U Chicago, Yale and others, including the complete U Chicago, Yale and UC  essay prompts for this year.  

As a threshold matter, let’s establish our position in the calendar: if you are a rising Senior, you are going to be applying for the 2013-2014 cycle, as a prospective member of the Class of 2018.  I say this because of the volume of page views I am getting in recent weeks on my posts about last year’s  application essays; last year was the 2012-2013 application cycle.  I know, it should seem obvious, but it can get confusing as old posts linger on and many universities have the old prompts listed under “2013.”  It’s also true that some of these old prompts are going to still be in use this year–I have one example below, with the U.C. system–but most will be changed, so be sure that you are working with the right prompts before investing any time and effort.  And no, I do not believe in practicing with old prompts.  This is not the SAT.

So now let’s turn to this year’s prompts: U Chicago got an early jump on some of its Ivy League competitors, having posted its prompts before June even ended, but  Yale has also posted its essay prompts and UPenn has, um, publicized its prompts. Harvard, Columbia, Brown, and  other Ivies are  still stuck in last year as of this post on July 1.  Princeton is with the rest of the Ivies who are not yet up to speed, but I expect to see information on their new essays in the next couple of weeks, given their history.

Let’s start with  UPenn.  The Quakers had this year’s Common App prompts up, but directly below this, Penn still had last year’s supplementary essay . . . The Ben Franklin prompt.  (Yep, that’s their mascot:  a Quaker; and yes, the Ben Franklin prompt is from last year.)  But wait, Penn Admissions Dean Furda put the new prompt up on Penn’s Insider’s blog . . .   Confusing, Penn.   To clear up the confusion, see below in this blogpost for this year’s UPenn admissions essay.

And Penn is not the only school with a blog by the admissions office that is more up to speed than their official admissions portal.  This has to do mostly with the rise of the Common App itself and with the move to electronic submissions.  The Common App effectively sets the date that admissions start for its colleges, and there is a disconnect between this date and when students try to start working on applications–the Common App itself advises starting early on the essays it requires, both in its prompts and in the supplements that the universities post on the Common App site, but August 1st is not really very early, given that more and more students use early applications and some students will be done with apps as of October 1.  In steps the blogs and insider pages for many universities, to fill that gap and help you get going before August–which is what Penn offers, but they should also take down the Ben Franklin prompt.    

Over on the left coast, the University of California is using the same prompts as last year, so you can get started on those now.  I will also copy their prompts into this post, below, and I wrote about these prompts last year.  The Stanford prompts and short writing responses are not yet up–you have to go through the Common Application website to get their supplement,  but I will be perusing their admissions blog and will put up their prompts as soon as I see them.  In the meantime, I’d get working on the Common App prompts and any others I post below that interest you.

As for the Common App itself:   forget about registering and setting up your account on the Common App website before August 1st; they will delete any accounts that were set up before they go live on August 1st.  I would suggest that you  visit the Common App to check out the site format and to search for information on the schools, which will include variables that each school considers when it evaluates applicants.  Go here to search for application information, by school:  https://www.commonapp.org/SearchEngine/SimpleSearch.aspx

( I repeat, do not register.  Yet.)

In my upcoming posts, I will begin addressing and evaluating specific application prompts, with advice on what to do and what not to do, but be warned:  I offer in full only some posts on specific prompts here, on the CollegeAppJungle.  Full access to all of my analysis and posts, including my advice on individual essay prompts, is only available by subscribing to my private blog or by retaining me to edit your work or to help you with a full package, including college application advising.  I offer quite a bit of general advice as a public service, but this is also a business.  Business requires payment, which is a point that has become somewhat obscured in the age of the “free” download.

If you want access to my private blog, or you want to inquire about editing services and college advising,  e-mail  me with either “college advising/editing” or “subscription” as a heading and send it to this e-mail address; I will send you an invoice and grant access to my private blog after you give me a payment:

wordguild@gmail.com

And now, here is a look at some of the prompts that are already up for this year, including U Chicago, Yale and the University of California (Expect to see me start writing about how to approach the U Chicago later prompts this week):

U Penn Essay Prompts for 2013-2014Penn Supplement Essay Prompt for entry Fall 2014:

“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; 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

Clearly, Dear Reader, UPenn expects you to know something about their programs; get started on your research . . . before writing. 

University of Chicago Essay Prompts for 2013-2014

The University of Chicago has long been renowned for its provocative essay questions. We think of them as an opportunity for students to tell us about themselves, their tastes, and their ambitions. They can be approached with utter seriousness, complete fancy, or something in between.

Each year we email newly admitted and current College students and ask them for essay topics. We receive several hundred responses, many of which are eloquent, intriguing, or downright wacky.

As you can see by the attributions, some of the questions below were inspired by submissions by your peers.

2013-14 essay questions:

ESSAY OPTION 1.

Winston Churchill believed “a joke is a very serious thing.” From Off-Off Campus’s improvisations to the Shady Dealer humor magazine to the renowned Latke-Hamantash debate, we take humor very seriously here at The University of Chicago (and we have since 1959, when our alums helped found the renowned comedy theater The Second City).

Tell us your favorite joke and try to explain the joke without ruining it.

Inspired by Chelsea Fine, Class of 2016

ESSAY OPTION 2.

In a famous quote by José Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher proclaims, “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia” (1914). José Quintans, master of the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division at the University of Chicago, sees it another way: “Yo soy yo y mi microbioma” (2012).

You are you and your..?

Inspired by Maria Viteri, Class of 2016

ESSAY OPTION 3.

“This is what history consists of. It’s the sum total of all the things they aren’t telling us.” — Don DeLillo, Libra.

What is history, who are “they,” and what aren’t they telling us?

Inspired by Amy Estersohn, Class of 2010

ESSAY OPTION 4.

The mantis shrimp can perceive both polarized light and multispectral images; they have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Human eyes have color receptors for three colors (red, green, and blue); the mantis shrimp has receptors for sixteen types of color, enabling them to see a spectrum far beyond the capacity of the human brain.

Seriously, how cool is the mantis shrimp: mantisshrimp.uchicago.edu

What might they be able to see that we cannot? What are we missing?

Inspired by Tess Moran, Class of 2016

ESSAY OPTION 5.

How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.

Inspired by Florence Chan, Class of 2015

ESSAY OPTION 6.

In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun

Yale University Application Essay Prompts for 2013-2014

Yale Writing Supplement – Essay Topic

Please note that the Yale freshman application will be available on the Common Application website sometime in August. The Yale-specific questions will include one additional required essay for all applicants, and one optional essay for prospective engineering majors. The essay prompts for the 2013-2014 Yale Writing Supplement are as follows:

Yale Writing Supplement required for all freshman applicants:

  • In this second essay, 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 interests to intellectual pursuits.We ask that you limit your essay to fewer than 500 words. Before you begin, we encourage you to go to http://admissions.yale.edu/essay, where you will find helpful advice.

Optional essay for prospective engineering majors:

  • If you selected one of the engineering majors, please write a brief third essay telling us what has led you to an interest in this field of study, what experiences (if any) you have had in engineering, and what it is about Yale’s engineering program that appeals to you.

University of California Application Essay Prompts for 2013-2014

As you respond to the essay prompts, think about the admissions and scholarship officers who will read your statement and what you want them to understand about you. While your personal statement is only one of many factors we consider when making our admission decision, it helps provide context for the rest of your application.

Directions

All applicants must respond to two essay prompts — the general prompt and either the freshman or transfer prompt, depending on your status.

  • Responses to your two prompts must be a maximum of 1,000 words total.
  • Allocate the word count as you wish. If you choose to respond to one prompt at greater length, we suggest your shorter answer be no less than 250 words.

The essay prompts

Freshman applicant prompt

Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.

Transfer applicant prompt

What is your intended major? Discuss how your interest in the subject developed and describe any experience you have had in the field — such as volunteer work, internships and employment, participation in student organizations and activities — and what you have gained from your involvement.

Prompt for all applicants

Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?

That’s it, for now.  Get a notebook and start scribbling ideas.  I recommend doing some writing every day, as ideas occur to you and also just to record where you are at or just what you are doing.  This will give you a large repository of information to fall back on as you begin to write your essays.  You would be–or may be–amazed to discover how easy it is to forget a good idea if you do not write it down promptly.

College Counselors, College Application Services and Test Prep Companies: An Overview and Evaluation

In Brown University Application Essay, college essay, Common Application Essays, Harvard Application Essay, Princeton Application Essay on June 20, 2012 at 9:16 am

There are four main categories of individuals and businesses currently offering college advising and application essay  services.  I will take them in order to describe what they offer and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

The first category is individuals and companies offering themselves as “College Counselors” or “College Application Advisers.”  Many of the individuals running these businesses have degrees in Psychology and credentials in counseling.  In general, their focus is on the application process as a whole and essay development is generally left largely to the applicant, beyond some brainstorming and a generalized response to the final essays.  In some cases this is because the counselor feels that the essay should show the student’s own skill level and thinking without significant editing help; more often, in my opinion, the student is largely on his or her  own because most college counselors don’t have the writing chops to be of serious use.  This doesn’t mean that the overall package offered by your typical college counselor lacks value, but I have worked with many students who already pay a college counselor but who still need more help with their essays.

I include my own services in this first category because I offer college advising and selection services, but I also focus on developing persuasive and superior supplemental materials, particularly in working with supplemental activities and in developing superior essays.  This is partly because of my background, which  is academic and editorial and which gives me a highly pragmatic approach,  and partly because most of the people I work with are Juniors or have completed their Junior year, and  by that point, your GPA has taken shape and so has the trajectory of your coursework. You can’t make a big improvement in your grades other than finishing strong as a Junior and maintaining your GPA as a Senior, but you can still make a big impact through supplemental materials, particularly your essays and any activities associated with the essays.

A second category of service providers is the large test prep companies, such as Kaplan, which focuses on standardized test prep but which has, over the years, developed a college advising package.  The overall quality of the services they offer is decent to very good, but again the essay and supplemental materials side of the application is more an add-on to the services they traditionally offer and you will be in a setting more like a distance learning  or on-site class for most of their services, rather than in a truly individualized setting–unless you want to pay a lot of money, that is.  The quality of instruction varies quite a bit and there is a fairly high rate of turnover as they often hire folks who are recent graduates or may be picking up money while completing an advanced degree.

In addition, these are generally for-profit companies, and their college prep packages, even those offered in a class setting, can run into the thousands of dollars.  While they are cheaper than the more pricey college counselors in the most expensive places, like New York, these companies are still an  expensive option and can be unsatisfactory due to varied instructional quality and  those looking for a program which is individually tailored.

In addition to these, you can find plenty of cheesy sites promising an essay “review,” which will amount to about a paragraph offering an overall evaluation and a few suggestions for improvement,  supported by what amounts to some margin notes.  They are not personalized services but are businesses which farm your essays out to low-paid and usually inexperienced editors. If getting a cheap review is your only concern, go ahead, but you will get what you pay for here.   Some of these same sites also offer ghost writing “services,” which is the final category I will discuss.

Ghost writers do have a place in the world, such as when a ghost writer helps an inarticulate celebrity put out a biography, but ghost writing has no place in the writing of college application essays.  The business model of ghost writing sites involves offering essays, often very cheaply, (as little as twenty dollars, in some cases) written by someone else who pretends to be you.  This is, of course, unethical.  While nobody will put you in jail for  this kind of fraud,  you would be kicked out of school if this were ever revealed and your life could be badly damaged if not ruined.  But the main reason you should avoid these people is that it’s just bad for you to fake your way through life, and it’s bad for those around you, too.

Turning back to the legitimate businesses and individuals, my main criticism  is that they give the most help in easiest areas of the college application process and the least help in the most difficult.  Sure, a traditional college counselor  can save time and family strife in walking parents and students through college selection, but they generally treat the application essays as a kind of adjunct project, largely up to the individual inspiration of their clients.  It is my view that your college application essays are too important to be left for the last stage of the application.  You should be developing them no later than the summer prior to your Senior year, and you should seek help in shaping and reshaping them.  They can sway a reader if you are in the gray area created by the rubrics which admissions officers use to judge you–for a detailed explanation, see this link–and as admissions become increasingly competitive,  essays have increasingly become  the deciding factor in whether many are admitted or not.  And if you are put into a classroom setting, be it online or at a physical location, you are another face in the crowd–it’s not a waste of time, but it’s also not optimal.

Don’t forget, the holistic universities (those who require essays)  are intentionally emphasizing subjective factors and human judgement–the gut reaction of your admissions reader does matter.  So don’t settle for a merely decent effort in your essays or for someone who sees their duty as complete after making a few margin notes or giving you a simple thumbs up or thumbs down on your essays.

I will close this post by presenting a simple comparison.  Below I will show you both an example of my editing and compare my package of services to one of my current competitors–Brown University, which has decided to make money off its own college applications process by putting the college application essay into an online class for which it charges a lot of money.  (Is this cynical of Brown?  I don’t know, but it does suggest that they have accepted the reality that most students who apply to Brown use professional editing help, and are using that fact to promote their own general essay writing class to high school Juniors.)

My clients’ essays are always kept confidential, but I offer here an example of how I can edit as I take a long and somewhat convoluted essay by a well-know contemporary author, paring it down and focusing it so it is a 500-word essay suitable for a college application.  Have a look at what is on both links to see how I can reshape a piece of writing into something that fits into the five-hundred word limit imposed for most undergraduate applications.

The editing I will do on your essay will be even more detailed–you will  find considerable commentary along with suggested additions, corrections and deletions.

In order to make a more detailed comparison of what’s on offer and what it will cost you, let’s have a look at Brown university’s online class in preparing for college writing, where they include the college application essay; go here for the tuition and then use the tabs to look at the course description.

This is Brown, so this is a good class, but  they want well over 1,000 dollars for this course  and only one college application essay is included in the curriculum, which is primarily meant to prep you for Freshman English and writing research papers at Brown.   Read the course description closely, using the tab at the top, to see this for yourself.  Keep in mind another important difference from the personalized services I offer:    the instructor will be dealing with the equivalent of a huge lecture hall, so your essays will generally be graded either by a graduate assistant or an adjunct, and the detail and quality of their responses can vary widely.  I edit all of your work personally and communicate with you directly.

And most of you will want to write three to five essays for your college applications, not one, yet you will finish this 1,395 dollar class with only one college essay ready to go.  This is not a terribly efficient or cost-effective way to approach your college essays this summer.

In contrast, if you use my services, you will end up with multiple essays, each of which I have edited line-by-line, with detailed commentary, and each essay edited through three total drafts, ending with a polished final product that is ready to submit; in addition, everything we do is specifically tailored to you.  In fact,  for a little over half what Brown charges you in their online course, I will help you write five application essays to Brown’s single application essay, and I will take you  from your first draft through a third, polished draft.  If you want to write fewer essays and spend less money, I can work with you on a single essay at a time.   I assist you step-by-step, and you can be proud of an excellent final product that really represents you.

If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area, I am available for personal consultations and assistance, or we can use Skype if you live further afield from me but want a more conversational approach.  Othwerwise, we will use e-mail and phone communication as we develop and exchange drafts until you are satisfied.

Send me a draft of a college or other essay for a free sample edit.  My calendar will fill rapidly from July on, so don’t wait too long.

E-mail to:  wordguild@gmail.com

College Application Success: The Seven Rules

In college admissions, college application, common application, Common Application Essays, Harvard Application Essay, Researching Colleges, Stanford Application, UC Santa Cruz Application, University of California Application, university rankings on March 29, 2012 at 11:46 am

College App Jungle’s  Rules of College Admissions:

1. There are no secrets to admissions though each university does have priorities which shape admissions. Beyond looking at the information colleges provide about how they evaluate applications, spending time trying to figure out if there is a “secret handshake” which will give you admittance is a waste of time.

This doesn’t mean that all things are equal and no strategy is necessary.  I strongly recommend that you carefully research universities and craft your application to match the schools which you want to attend–more about this below.  But those who spend hour after hour on the chat threads on College Confidential, hoping to find something guaranteeing them an acceptance letter from their favorite school,  should instead spend the time working on their essays.

Maybe you know a guy who knows a guy who knows that U.C. Berkeley is looking for engineering students who are the first in their families to go to college, but . . . so what?   Even if this is true (and it was recently) this kind of “fact” changes each year. Every university has dozens of priorities for admissions, priorities which are revised both before and during the admissions process each year; as students are admitted and categories fill, numbers  like the SAT average and ethnicity  for applications and admits also change.  Early on, the college may be looking for students who fit a particular profile, but once that fills or starts to fill, they can shift the priority to a different category .

Why?  The universities have one eye on you and another eye on things like their ranking in the U.S. News and World Report.  The take away is that you can’t spend time worrying about things which will change even as apps arrive at the college.

As an example of an admissions priority which is changing, San Jose State is currently embroiled in a controversy over giving preference to students coming from Santa Clara County, where the university is located.  For this year, they have backed off from eliminating this preference, but facing 60 million dollars in budget cuts right now, they are likely, within another year or so, to eliminate it.  Why? You could say that,  to be fair to all applicants in a statewide university system,  they can’t act like a local school, but more realistically  this move seems designed to allow more space for students who will pay more–foreign and out-of-state students, for example.  This will also increase their selectivity and so tend to improve their national ranking.

And this is only one of many preferences facing evaluation and possible revision this year for San Jose State alone, which like the rest of the Cal State schools  uses the supposedly simple objective admissions process; add to this the priorities assigned to various schools and majors within the university,  and you have some idea of how complex the calculus is for every school.  Do the same for a holistic admissions university and it’s even more complex.

See my last post for more information on how universities assess applications and what a holistic versus objective evaluation entails, and look below for my link to the U.C. Santa Cruz evaluation to see a detailed list of factors considered–keep in mind that these vary to some degree from school to school, even within the U.C. system.

2. Grades and test scores are the most important factors in evaluations of college applicants.

You can count on grades and scores to be the first but not only consideration as your application is evaluated.   If you are a top student in a good school, if you have excellent SAT/ACT scores, a broad set of activities and a clear area of specific excellence  and passion, you will be admitted to most schools you apply to.  If you do not fit this description, you may have fewer options, but fear not:  there is a college with a spot for every student in the country with decent grades and test scores.  You may have to go further afield, of course, but you are not forever doomed by a few C’s and B’s.  As for GPA, it’s your unweighted average that is directly compared and which is used in the averages the universities publish with their profiles of admitted students; your weighted average does matter as it establishes your class rank, and can be used as an additional factor in direct comparisons, but the unweighted GPA is the first thing assessed, along with SAT/ACT test scores.

3. Some things do trump grades and test scores, but these tend to be very specific and very obvious exceptions.

Your favorite university is, in fact, looking for you if  you show a clear ability or potential to excel at something of value to the institution– if you are a recognized musical talent with decent grades or a mathematical prodigy or a 6’4″ All-CIF high school linebacker running a 4.5 second 40 yard dash and bench pressing 350 lbs, for example.  But even with exceptional skills in some area, such as tackling other large, fast people, you must still show that you have the academic chops to survive as a student at the specific school, though some entities, like athletic departments, may supply assistance in the form of tutoring.

If you want this quantified further, a 2008 study showed that players on top 25 football and basketball teams had SAT scores 220 points below the average for the rest of the student body at these schools.  Obviously elite athletic programs get priority at many schools.

Unfair, you say?  Not from the institution’s point of view.  It has its own priorities, with money and reputation near or at the top of the list, and sports are important both to boosters and to most students.   So are many other talents.  If you doubt my claims, see my entry about admissions stats for early 2012 and scroll down to my discussion of Stanford for further details on the importance of athletics.  It seems that the football team is important even at an intellectual paragon like Stanford.

The next rule is for the vast majority who  do not fit the exceptional niches that most universities set aside and who do not have a perfect academic record.

4. It’s okay to be human.  A few B’s and a  C will not kill your chances of admission to any but the most competitive universities, especially if you show a desire to push your limits by taking challenging classes in which you are not always perfect.  As you create your application portfolio, your  essays and extracurriculars can  reveal important and valuable aspects of you that can offset relative weaknesses in your grades or test scores.  Good recommendations are also important.  For an example of a the kinds of additional factors, see the U.C. Santa Cruz website, where they list fourteen factors used in making evaluations–they are, for example, giving  California residents preference (at least as of this year’s applicants), something that other U.C.’s  are moving away from (as I pointed out above, they get more money from a nonresident. . . )

My advice:  Try to keep things in perspective as you prepare for college.  I have known a few Valedictorians who were really living miserable lives in order to “win” academic honors.  I think it’s better to be less than perfect and to enjoy your life rather than to live in torment over every grade point.  There are many schools you have not heard of where you could be perfectly happy and be well educated.  If you are a resident of a western state, see my post here for more information on finding a good university in the West and potentially saving a lot of money as an extra boon.

5. The college application process starts early.  In fact, it should begin no later than the Sophomore year in high school.  Even the Freshman year in high school is increasingly important, if not as part of your GPA, then as part of your overall academic trajectory (they want to see increasing difficulty and challenge in your class selection from year to year). I think this is unfair and unwise–many people struggle to adjust in the first year or two of high school, and there are myriad examples of successful people who did not excel early–but this is the way things are going as competition for admission to selective universities increases.

On the other hand . . . a student who stumbled early should not give up.  The holistic schools will look at other aspects of your application that may explain or offset some academic    shortcomings.

You should make a serious effort to establish relationships with counselors and cultivate relationships with teachers, for you will need recommendations.  Try to develop these relationships early and in a sincere way, which requires something from you as well as from them.  When dealing with teachers, show interest and be helpful when possible–and show an interest in the academic subject of the teacher,  not just in yourself and your opinions.

By your Junior year, you want your counselor to know your face, your name and your important interests.  If you are a Junior and haven’t talked to your counselor, there is no time like the present.

Be straightforward about your desire to work with your counselor as part of your application process.  Ask them for their advice–they are usually knowledgeable  if not expert, and people like to share what they know, so let your counselor talk.  If your counselor seems less than eager, on the other hand, it might have to do with budget cuts that have loaded them with 500–or more–students.  Be polite and persistent.

6. Essays are Important and can separate you from your competitors.  And in the essays, as in your activities, authenticity matters.  Your application self and your real self need to have a clear relationship.  If your verbal score on the SAT was 550 but your essays read like Zadie Smith wrote them,  your app will not do well, even if your SAT math score was perfect.  Most experienced admissions readers can predict your SAT verbal from reading your essays, and if you farmed your essays out to one of the ghost writers offering their services on the internet, you are most likely doomed,  not just for a lack of academic skill, but more importantly because you lack integrity.  Getting editing help and reader input on your essay is fine; faking it is not.

This can be a gray area when you seek editing–as an example, I do detailed, line-by-line editing and suggest better phrasing as well as offering more holistic evaluations of essays, but ultimately my client’s essays are theirs.  My job as an editor is to give them ways to reshape the clay that they provide, but the essays are and must be student material.  Any editing help provided must be both sensible and sensitive as well as honest.

For a holistic school, like all of the Common Application schools, authenticity means more than your test scores and class rank.  In general, the admissions readers genuinely try to construct a full picture of you from your materials, from grades through essays.  Many students try to create a false self in their essays, just as these same students may be dabbling in many activities just to get them on the “resume.” Find a way to say something authentic in your essays–this can take time and will involve reading for some of the recent prompts for supplemental essays.

7. Activities are important, especially those that show a long-term interest and commitment, but for authentic intellectual development, reading widely is the best approach.     Reading is one of the best ways to add authentically to your general knowledge and to deepen your understanding of the world, and many college applications recognize this in their essay prompts, which either ask for or allow books as topics.  This does not mean that you should start reading the most serious possible literature immediately.  In fact,  I link you here to an excellent essay by Michael Chabon, one of our best contemporary writers,  on his love for comic books, with a vigorous defense of their value. Yes, reading comic books is –oh, excuse me, I mean reading graphic novels– is intellectually respectable, or at least it can be.    So go ahead and start with the supposedly lightweight, but be sure to move onward and outward from there.  You might try going from comics to Chabon’s The Adventures of Cavalier and Clay, for example, or from Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels to his, well, novels, like American Gods.

In addition to being generally useful, a good reading program will pay off in the application essays.  Your life will most likely have a few important episodes that might work in an autobiographical essay, but the number of experiences available to you through books is relatively limitless.  With the Common App and most holistic universities using essay prompts which directly address books or for which books are a good topic, reading is a good place to put in some time.

I have previously discussed writing about books, and will be addressing this again in future posts, but you can’t do a good job writing about books if you do not start reading early.

If you are already a Junior, and don’t read  beyond what is assigned in school, it’s a bit late but not too late.  I will have some suggestions for reading programs over the summer for all types of students in a later post.

Those are my rules, or guidelines, if you will.  Look for more posts in the near future on writing about books and other application matters.

The Significant Experience Essay: More Ideas

In Essay on an Important Experience, Essay on Books, Essay on Intellectual Development, First Person Application Essay, personal statement, Significant Experience Essay on July 12, 2011 at 7:47 pm

In my last post, I discussed what is know as The Significant Experience Essay, which appeared, among other places, in Prompt 1 of the Common Application Personal Statement for 2011-2012. Possibly you’ve done the prewriting exercise I recommended in the last post, and you may even now have an essay in hand and are looking for further assistance. I do provide proofreading and editing services through Mr. B’s Flying Essay Service (rush jobs) and Wordguild Writing Services, both remotely (via e-mail) and in person within a limited geographical area. See the About section of this blog site for more information on those services.  In this post I will discuss how to continue developing ideas for this Significant Experience Essay and will suggest a couple of places to look for examples of Significant Experience essays or descriptions.

In this post, I will offer some suggestions for those who may want to write about a significant personal experience  but have trouble coming up with much when asked to list their achievements, risks or ethical dilemmas. Refer to the last post for the details of this exercise.

I will restate the prompt and then examine each area it defines:

Evaluate a significant experience, achievement, risk you have taken, or ethical dilemma you have faced and its impact on you.

These three areas could, of course, be discussed in a single essay. Perhaps you did face an ethical dilemma, took a risk to deal with it and achieved something worthy as a result. This would be a nice trifecta.

On the other hand, you might have struggled to get more than a few things listed in the prewriting exercise (e.g, made soccer team, learned to swim butterfly, reached level 10 of Kill Corps, read the Grapes of Wrath despite myself). Perhaps feel like you’ve never experienced something like a real ethical dilemma. If so, this post is for you.

You may feel that your experiences are pretty limited, but by the age of four or five, have something to say about each of the topic areas raised by this prompt. By the time you’ve even reached kindergarten, you’ve already had the important human experiences: you’ve had to decide whether to tell a lie or not (ethics), conquered many challenges (Learning how to tie your shoes and to float in a pool are both pretty big achievements) and taken many risks.

So start by considering yourself: what things in your life make up your strongest memories. What matters to you is what matters here.

For you, reading the novel Grapes of Wrath when your Junior English teacher inflicted it on you might be a great accomplishment. But surely, you say, this is not worthy of an essay.

Why not? Other writers have, in recent years, produced books about reading the French author Marcel Proust and the the Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy. You don’t even have to have read Proust or Tolstoy to enjoy these books (Find How Proust Can Change Your Life, by Alain de Botton, and Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading, by Nina Sankovitch, for examples of books about reading specific books).

But is this not an essay about books, then, you ask?  Of course it is, which makes it also suitable for something like the Harvard Supplemental Essay for 2011-2012, which asked for an essay about books, as did the Stanford 2011-2012 application.   Look for a post soon which examines how many different prompts overlap or can be addressed by the same essay–this is something you should note if you are applying to more than a few colleges.  One essay may be used to address several different prompts for different college applications, with little or no tinkering.  Of course, you will probably need several very different essays to start with–you should never turn in two essays on the same trip or the same readings, for example.

To continue with the Significant Experience essay prompt, risk topic:  perhaps you feel that you haven’t taken any real risks. The issue in this topic is defining what a risk is. Most people immediately think of physical risk, but psychological risks are everywhere, as you know if you’ve been turned down when you asked someone to a dance or you flubbed a line of a play in front of an audience. And any physically risky activity carries with it a psychological risk as well as the obvious chance of physical injury. Have you ever dropped an easy pass that would have won the game for your team and then had to deal with the disappointment–or anger–of teammates or coaches? Talk about a risk to your ego. In fact, your response to a defeat or an error you made when you took a risk is a good area for you to explore. Triumph is great, but tumbling into the pit of failure and climbing out again can be even more interesting and revealing in a college application essay.  Risk is everywhere.  Use it.

Another topic area is the ethical dilemma.  It should be relatively easy to come up with an experience for this one–ethical dilemmas present themselves every day. Ethics is a field of philosophy, but it is also a practical activity engaged in by every human living in a community. When have you had to decide between something you were taught–or felt instinctively–to be right or wrong? Small children know about this and make these decisions every time they are asked who made the mess or who broke the glass or who took the cookie. Not to mention the decisions students make about whether to study hard or to cheat on a test or assignment.

The trick in an essay on ethics is to discuss the matter with a sense of perspective and, hopefully, even humor. You may have chosen to do something unethical and then had to rectify it, which adds an element of drama to your narrative but which also adds an element of risk. You want to show, ultimately, that you are ethical. You also want to avoid appearing too uptight or self-righteous. Keep that in mind if you decide to write to this topic. A serious ethical breach may not be a wise topic here, unless you can show how you’ve changed.

Take some time to doodle on a piece of paper now if you were unable to work with the three column exercise in the last blog post and see what comes to mind when you explore your memories of risks, achievements and ethical dilemmas.

Starting Your College Essay Step 1

In college application, college essay, Uncategorized on June 16, 2011 at 6:36 pm

Step 1 is to get something–anything–on paper.   For those high school juniors—or parents of juniors–who are facing the final push to college admission, now is the time to start thinking about the college essay.

Most students who plan to apply to a university will be facing a heavy workload come September, so putting off this very important requirement is not going to make the process easier. And, might I add, you should not be viewing this as “an” essay. You should, like a professional writer seeking the best story, write multiple essays.  If you think it is too early, that the prompts for next year are not out, I would point out that there are a few prompts which, with minor changes in wording, appear over and over in college applications.  I will summarize them at the end of this post.  This post goes on to discuss exercises for getting the college essay started, and it includes the most commonly used  prompt types for the last five years.  To get full access to this post, copy or type into an e-mail “subscription please”  and your name.  Send the e-mail to:  

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 You will receive in response an invoice from Google Checkout/Wallet.  After payment, you will get full access to all articles and college essay analysis appearing on this Site.    The subscription for this year is 15 dollars.  This includes all future entries through January of 2013.  I will be writing 2-4 new posts per month and will include detailed analysis on all new prompts for the Common Application in 2012 as well as numerous Ivy League and other application prompts, including Stanford and  and the most popular “elite” schools  for the 2012-13 application period.   I do write posts addressing specific prompts when multiple clients/subscribers express interest; feel free to contact me with your requests after subscribing.