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

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

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

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

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

Alternate College Option is Gone

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cornell

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

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

 

Princeton Essays for 2015-2016: Getting the Job done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Princeton Supplement Prompt 1

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

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

Princeton Supplement Prompt 2

Using the statement below as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Princeton Supplement Prompt 3

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

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

Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy, chair of the Council of the Humanities and director of the Program in Humanistic Studies, Princeton University

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

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

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

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

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

Jonathan Gold on Tacos

Jonathan Gold on Udon

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

 

Princeton Supplement Prompt 4

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

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

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

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

Princeton Supplement Prompt 5

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

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

Now to the central problem of this prompt:  starting with a quote can be hackneyed and the quote intro can also be used thoughtlessly or clumsily–for example, by jumping from the quote to a more-or-less unrelated idea in such a way that the quote is really an excuse to start an essay more than a true starting point.  And don’t force the book and your experience together.   You can write a great essay which references your life to knowledge found in a book, but it is vital that the quote–and the book–relate somehow to your experience in an honest way.  See my discussions of writing about books which may help you with the thought process, though rather than finding a way to link a book to a book, you look for a single book to relate to your life.  Be sure that the quote you used is not taken out of context, and that you deal with the essay or book as a whole.

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

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

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

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

In the same vein, In the link here, you will find an NYRB discussion of Michael Lewis’ Boomerang, an especially good book and article for those of you who believe in the idea of economic justice, or even if you think our financial system should be run in a more ethical or simply open and clear way–the article linked here is a good model for how to discuss a book both in relation to oneself and to the larger world, which is part of what they want from you in this prompt.  Of course, you should also be able to show yourself doing something beyond simply observing.  It would help, of course, if you were a participant in some sort of action, though the author shows his own ability to think and does act on his principles by reporting on the book and the world around us.

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

“Goodbye To All That”

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

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

What Is Wrong With The New Common Application Essay Prompts and What To Do About It: Part I

In Common Application 2013-2014, Common Application Essay Prompt Three on July 10, 2013 at 10:41 am

Howdy reader.  This is an update for 2015-2016: The Common App has once again changed its prompts, but this time they have largely tinkered with them, and the results are an improvement.  To see this year’s prompts, look here: Application prompts 2015-2016.

What follows below remains here as a historical artifact that covers the politics and nature of changes to the Common App between 2012-2013.  If that interests you, read on.  If not, stick with my posts on this year’s prompts and look at my posts on topics of general interest, like how college applications are evaluated or how to write about a book

This was my original subtitle for this post:  How The Education Wars and Bureaucracy Wrecked a Pretty Good Thing.

The Old Common App prompts weren’t perfect, but they did offer a variety of choices, some of which were meant to look outward as much as inward, and the open choice prompt was a great way to inject some creativity.  

But, as Heraclitus said, All is Change.  Or Change is All.  Either way, it’s time to start dealing with reality:  in this post I will review the political forces behind the changes to the Common App essay prompts and begin my examination of the new prompts at the end of this post, with a discussion  of the prompt on “a time you challenged a belief or idea,” with links to examples of this kind of essay, both in a long form journalistic style and in a short form, edited example  on this topic, in the 500-word range.  

I am already finding that my clients tend to dismiss this essay out of hand, because they have an image of people climbing up on the barricades and waving a flag or staging a peaceful takeover of the principal’s office as a protest.  Not so, my friends.  You don’t have to protest to challenge an idea.  Read on through this post, to the end, to see what I mean.

In the natural world, variety is a good thing, generating both complexity and unpredictability.  But in the world of the bureaucrat, unpredictability is a curse and  monotony is a  virtue.

Enter the new Common App prompts, which represent a massive die-off in variety both of subjects and skills explored in college  application essays.  These prompts are going to drive up the number of memoir-style, Woe is me, Look what I have overcome, My Life Lesson, Aren’t I a moral person kind of essays.  At least this is the takeaway that many critics are offering, and I agree with it, for the most part.  To understand the criticism, you should turn now to  the new Common App Essay prompts, which, if you have not yet seen them,  I have posted in this discussion: The Common Application:  What’s New For 2013-2014.

As you can see, the topic choices may be summed up thusly:  my identity; I failed (but learned from it); I rebelled (or at least resisted); I’m happy here (or there); I succeeded (and how).  There is no more option six, which was basically to make up your own prompt and which, obviously, allowed for a lot of creative license.  There is some good news in the midst of this, starting with the increase in word length, to 650, but keep in mind that this is a firm length–the process will be entirely electronic, and if your essay is 651 words, you will have to cut it down to submit it–just like all those corporate autofill forms that give an error message when you go over the character count.  In addition, you must write at least 250 words–not much of a problem for most applicants.

Before I examine in more detail the  bad aspects of the new Common App prompts, I’d like to put them in perspective and perhaps even offer them a word or two of praise–for their intent.  In my view, this change in the prompts is not just to simplify essay evaluations .

Of course, it is a bureaucratic nightmare to evaluate and process anywhere from a few thousand to a couple of hundred thousand essays, and with fewer essay topics, theoretically it will be simpler to process the essays.  But this is not the only motivation for the change in prompts.  There is a political struggle  going on as we speak, over what students should learn and how it should be tested.  And the current trend is against both reading fiction and writing autobiography.

The first thing I would say for the  Common App is that they do seem to be making a statement about the value of writing on personal experience, and I have a lot of sympathy for that position.  We call works like those that will be elicited by the new Common App prompts “autobiography” or “autobiographical incident” or “memoir.”

But these are forms of writing that are held in very low regard by two of the other colossuses of the education landscape:  The College Board and the Common Core movement.  Or should I say they are held in low regard by the Common Core movement, led by David Coleman, and by the new president of the College Board, who is also David Coleman.  Until last year, Coleman was primarily known as an educational consultant and entrepreneur and also as  the primary architect of the new Common Core standards. But  Coleman’s “reform” efforts  denigrate the teaching of fiction in high schools and the writing of 1st person narratives in high schools.  His dislike of autobiographical writing and of fiction in our classrooms has a common thread–I will address the value of fiction when I deal with supplemental prompts on books,  focusing in this post on writing.

Here is what Coleman himself has said about autobiographical writing in high schools, quoted from an interview here:

David Coleman, president of the College Board, who helped design and promote the Common Core, says English classes today focus too much on self-expression. “It is rare in a working environment,” he’s argued, “that someone says, ‘Johnson, I need a market analysis by Friday but before that I need a compelling account of your childhood.’ ”

I happen to think this is kind of dumb and reductionist–first of all in assuming that education is purely vocational, and secondly in assuming that everybody is going to be writing reports for a living.  I add to that the fact that 1st person writing is a superb and respected way to process and analyze experience, dating all the way back through Augustine’s Meditations to Julius Caesar’s account of his military campaigns, and it can make you both more thoughtful and better at analysis.  It can be narcissistic and trite, but that’s where the good teacher should be stepping in.

On the other hand, the Common App’s new and entirely 1st person topics, which are pretty much a rasberry in Coleman’s direction,  are also a dumb move, a narrowing of the field that was not necessary and that, rather than making the processing of essays easier, will actually make it harder as so many essays will be both undistinguished and nearly indistinguishable.  The trick for you in this situation, Dear Reader, is to avoid the narrow lanes that most application writers will take as they pour out their souls, (or perhaps make something up and pretend to pour out their souls).  Try to think outside the cage they have created for you with these prompts.

So in that spirit, let’s start by looking at option three, A time when you challenged a belief or idea.  This seems like a topic only suitable for rebels with a cause, but I disagree.  As with any kind of essay, it is a good idea to have a look at some examples before attempting to write the essay–so I think  we should turn first to an essay I linked last year, about a (mostly internal) dispute with a rabbinical teacher over the meaning and value of cartoon superheroes.  It’s clear the author resisted the teacher’s condemnation of comic books and their heroes, but the protest is registered as a thought process.  It’s an indirect form of resistance, in which he is showing how his world view was shaped, but he wasn’t  standing up and calling somebody out publicly. You can, indeed, show yourself working through an idea and taking a stance against it without having to go out and pick up  a protest sign for the sake of an essay (But hey, if you do want to go to a protest in order to write about it, go for it.  Hemingway went off to war pretty much for the same reason.  Just be sure you do have a preexisting commitment to the cause or it will show in your essay).

Have a look at the  essay to see what I mean about indirect resistance.  This is far longer than what you would write, but I discuss and analyze this and show how a long essay like this one can be cut down to fit the format you will deal with–See this:  Superheroes. (If you can’t open this link it’s because you do not have a subscription to my private blog, which costs 15 bucks for the full application season, from now through April.  Splice this address into an e-mail and contact me if you want a subscription and are willing to pay my minimal fee: wordguild@gmail.com )

Then read my edit of this  essay–I cut it down massively as an editing exercise in a way you will need to if you tend to write long essays:  An Exercise In Editing.  Notice how the author  sits through this class, but outside of it dons his batman cape, all the while sharpening his own thoughts and strengthening his own beliefs in a campaign of  unspoken resistance to his narrow-minded teacher.  No barricade, no protest sign, no organizing.  But a wonderful essay.

I will return to the Common App prompts and to this specific prompt again soon, with more advice and examples.

 

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.

Early College Admissions Statistics For 2013-2014: What It Means For You

In applying to college, college admissions, College Application Essay, College Application Statistics, Harvard Admissions, Ivy League Admissions, Princeton Admissions, Stanford Admissions, Yale Admissions on May 22, 2013 at 4:58 pm

College admissions results this year show that competition for spots at selective and super selective universities is, once again,  increasing.   With yet again a lower ratio of admits to applications at most of the selective schools,  it’s a good time to broaden your list of college application options.

To be more specific, I have traditionally advised that qualified students apply to 8-10 carefully selected schools, using a list that includes a calculated mix, from “reach” schools to  sure thing schools.  If you are applying in 2013-2014,   I think you are going to need  a longer list, something more like 12-15 schools, including some out-of-state and at least a couple of international schools–particularly if your short list includes the highly selective schools.  Even if looking outside the U.S.  sounds unappealing now, you may change your mind–and if you don’t prepare, you won’t apply (and if you don’t apply, that door won’t be there to open if you do change your mind later).

Before I get to specific results on some of the most competitive schools, here’s the gist:  the top 10-15% of the high school class across the country are applying to the most selective colleges.  Some students below this cohort do apply and get in, but usually because they are in some sense an exception, whether through athletic or other talents.  When we shift to the super selective colleges (top-tier Ivy League, Stanford, et al), the top 10% of students are applying, and of that top 10%, less than 10% are accepted.  In other words, getting a seat at the most competitive schools has become a bloodbath primarily between the top 1% of all students in the country.  Hyperbolic?  Well, no real blood is shed, but even accounting for the gamesmanship among universities as they try to increase the appearance of selectivity, the trends are sobering.  Here’s some specifics:

Columbia’s overall admit rate for 2013 was 7.42%; Princeton came in at a 7.29% overall admit rate; Yale reported 6.72%; Harvard 5.79% and Stanford, 5.69%.  Looking at another good, public option, in the University of California system, Berkeley accepted 20.83% and UCLA 20.10%,  still pretty selective numbers, but compared to the top Ivies and Stanford, almost comforting.  Almost.

Ouch.  But in addition to checking out this year’s results, you also should be looking at the trends.  Here is a three-year sample of results, at a wider selection of the selective schools:

Overall Admissions Rates by Year

Columbia– 2011: 6.93%; 2012: 7.42%; 2013:  6.89%

Harvard– 2011: 6.17%; 2012: 5.92%; 2013: 5.79%

Northwestern– 2011: 18.03%;  2012: 15.27%; 2013: 13.90%

Princeton–2011: 8.39%; 2012:  7.86%; 2013: 7.29%

Stanford–2011:  7.10%; 2012: 6.61%; 2013: 5.69%

University of Chicago–2011: 16.29%; 2012: 13.24%; 2013: 8.81%

U. C. Berkeley–2011:  25.54%; 201221.13%; 2013: 20.83%

U. C. L. A.–2011:  25.28%; 2012: 21.27%; 2013: 21.10

Yale–2011: 7.35%; 2012: 6.81%; 2013: 6.72%

Yep, Stanford is looking like a good bet to drop below the 5% admit rate first, and will do so next year or the year after, given the trend, with Harvard right behind them.  (All those tech start-up wannabes, perhaps.)

What to do in response to these daunting stats?

My preliminary response is:  By all means, apply to your dream school(s),  even if some of them seem improbable; just be sure, as I suggested earlier, that you widen your net and look outside your early list, in particular adding some of those  international options, like the University of British Columbia, McGill,  et al.  There are hundreds of thousands of students around the world having a great experience and getting their money’s worth at non-brand name universities.

Of course you should always compare your own stats to those of the schools you are looking at to get an idea of what’s a reach and what seems a sure bet as you make a balanced list of schools.  But just as important as stats in making a good list of schools is a clear understanding of your own needs and motivations, your goals and what you will need to reach them.  Reassess yourself, particularly why you want to attend any of the more selective schools.  Then reassess the schools themselves, particularly by looking at the programs you are interested in–note that the specific programs or majors should be the main reason you want to attend school x or  school y.

I will, in future posts, be unpacking all of these aspects of the college search in more detail, for they are each becoming more  complex every year.  In just one example of what I mean, I find it harder and harder to offer specific advice about the job market of the future to my clients.   Things are changing fast as everything from outsourcing to automated and robotic systems  impact the traditional white collar professions.  You might want to think about these things as you consider possible majors.

Algorithms aren’t just driving experimental automobiles–they are sorting and analyzing more and more information in areas that once required  highly intelligent–and college-trained–humans.  It won’t just be taxi drivers and truck drivers who will wonder what happened to their professions in ten or twenty years.  From the grunt work of legal searches to patient assessment to you name it, the jobs of middle class and upper middle class professionals are also entering a period of enormous change, and not just from automation.  Plenty of highly skilled, English-speaking people overseas can process and analyze the files and data that are the jobs of many people here today.

These and other trends are clear, and choosing a specific profession these days is starting to seem like picking stocks, with fewer and fewer sure-bet blue chips available.  So I encourage you to think more in terms of developing a knowledge base and some skill sets as you consider programs and schools.

In terms of selecting  specific schools, one thing I can say with certainty is that too many of the college applicants that I have been dealing with in recent years are buying too much into  marketing and imagery.   Many feel that only by  going to school x or y  will  they get the special training and connections they need to succeed.   Sure, Harvard, Yale, Stanford have great programs, and there are networking advantages that arise in some programs in these schools, but for every Zuckerberg, there are 10,000 others struggling to pay down student loans while also holding down a couple of jobs–they would have had a lot less to pay off if they had gone to a cheaper school with less marquee appeal. (I’ll be discussing expenses in a later post.  Other discussions, such as the overblown college is a waste of time for young genius entrepreneurs  meme can wait for much later).

There are, of course, a variety of strategies you can consider once you’ve done that thorough self assessment.

But first, here’s a few other stats to consider–let’s start with the University of British Columbia, generally considered the #2 university in Canada and ranked #30 in the world by the Times World University Rankings.  UBC has an average GPA of about 3.6 on recent admits and about half of domestic applicants were admitted;  McGill, the top university in Canada, had an average GPA in the same range– I hasten to add that these Canadian schools do use a sliding scale based on the specific programs you apply to; some programs will be more difficult to get into than others, and they look for different kinds of preparation.  For an example of what I mean, go to this link for McGill, where a table will lay out basic application requirements:  McGill Admissions.   You’ll pay about as much at these universities as you would in state at some of our public schools, and they match or are cheaper than out of state tuition for most American schools.  I’ll offer more analysis on costs in future posts.

If you are open to an international setting, also consider  Great Britain–universities like St. Andrews and the University of Edinburgh have been accepting increasing numbers of Americans.  Edinburgh, as an example, looks for a GPA over 3.0 and solid SAT scores–at 1800 or above. Compare this to, oh, Princeton, with an average GPA of 3.9 and a lower range SAT score around 2100–your chances of getting in with 2011 and a 3.9 are very iffy–or look at Stanford, where 50% of the students have a 4.0 or better, with the SAT  scores similar to Princeton.    Not to mention the price tag for tuition.

A 3.7 with a 2000 SAT, on the other hand,  is a shoo-in at many excellent international schools. In fact, I had several 3.5 range clients very happily accept admissions to Canadian and English universities this year.   And these are bargain in many other ways as well.  More on all of this soon . . . And on getting your essays started.

Check back in with me periodically over the coming months; I will be adding posts,  once a week, on average, well into the summer.   In addition, you may e-mail me with specific questions–I do develop blog topics as a result of client and public requests.  Do keep in mind, however, that as I begin to offer more specific advice, particularly on essay development for some of the more challenging, university-specific prompts (Chicago, anyone?), that some posts will be fully available only for a (small) fee, on my private blog, though you will be able to read an excerpt here.  You can also contact me to subscribe to my private blog, with full access to all posts for this year and in the archives.  Cheers.

The Common Application: What’s New For 2013-2014

In Changes for the Common Application, common application, Common Application 2013-2014, Common Application Essay Prompts, personal statement, The Common Application Essay on March 8, 2013 at 9:59 am

The Common App folks are set to release Version 4.0 for the 2013-2014 application year.  They have promised to make things more user friendly, and they have changed the essay prompts.  Most important, from my point of view, is the increase in essay length–you have up to 650 words; you need to write at least 250. This is up from the 500 word limit of recent years, which is a great thing.

They have also dropped the prompts that I grouped together as the “intellectual development ” prompts–such as the prompt that asked you to talk about an intellectual experience or influence.  On the other hand, there are still ways to use the new prompts to discuss books and intellectual experiences. If you are bookish or  a fanatic when it comes to a particular author or genre of fiction or film, or have found an intellectual home somewhere in the world of books, you already have a large cache of material to draw on and there are ways to use these as topics for the new prompts.

Writing about an enthusiasm is particularly helpful in shaping your personal essay so that it looks out the window more than it looks into the mirror.  An essay about an intellectual or other passion is a good way to  write about something outside of yourself as a way to write about yourself.   Coming up with content may be much easier than for some other topics,  and you get the bonus of not  seeming self-absorbed (a real problem in a first-person essay about yourself).

I will offer more strategy on that soon and begin my discussion of potential topics for some of the new Common App prompts in upcoming posts.

I’ll close for now by giving you the new prompts:

The Common Application Essay for 2013-2014 Instructions.

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)

  • Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family. 

College Essay No-No’s: What Not To Do in Your Personal Statement

In applying to college, college admission, college application, college essay, common application, personal statement on June 22, 2011 at 11:32 pm

Before I get to the gist, a short preface:  I hope that you followed my advice in the last prompt and did a considerable amount of writing before you arrived at this post.  I say this because I think that it is important to write without having that inner, critical voice whispering negative asides to you.  You should start the process by simply getting entire herds of words on the page without worrying too much about their quality.  Start with quantity.  This you will use as raw material, for we are far from done with this process.  ‘Nuff said.  On to the post.

Long ago, in a decade far away–specifically in 1986–the New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd interviewed an Ivy League admissions officer named Harry Bauld. Bauld had worked at both Brown and Columbia universities before turning to teaching and writing. In this interview, and in the book which he wrote about the college essay, Bauld’s advice is still apt and shows just how little has changed since the 1980’s.

Bauld observes that the essay is most important for those in “the gray area.” He defines a student in this category as “not one whose academic numbers make you too easy to dismiss or too overwhelming to deny.” I would like to intervene here to point out that, given what the bell-shaped curve demonstrates,  he is talking to the majority of well-prepared high school seniors, most of whom are not immediately disqualified by low GPA and test scores but who are not running valedictory laps, either.

So if you are not one of the top half dozen students in a good high school, Bauld is talking to you. And what he says is: exercise care. In fact, Bauld argues that the college admissions essay can be the “ultimate noose with which a 17-year-old can hang himself.”  This post goes on to discuss in detail the kinds of essays that should be avoided and why, with examples.  

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