wordguild

Posts Tagged ‘Common Application Essays’

Ladies and Gentleman: Start Your Essays. The Prompts for 2019-2020 are Rolling Out.

In 2019-2020 College Application Essays on June 24, 2019 at 9:56 pm

Below is a list of Prompts Available as of mid-July, 2019, with Links to the Full Prompts and Tips On Writing the Essays. This includes the Common Application prompts, The Coalition Application Prompts, Stanford’s Supplemental Essays, which I have confirmed for this year, and a range of other schools that are ready to write, right now, from U Texas to Chicago to Georgia Tech and Urbanan Champaign to . . . read on and see. And for World Class Essay Development and Editing Support: Contact Me.

First, a warning: The prompts I confirm below are ready, but most of the prompts currently posted on college admissions pages are from last year, including the Ivy League prompts posted as of the last week of June. So aside from the important prompts I link in this post, you cannot count on unverified prompts remaining the same. Furthermore, any information you put up on the Common Application will be deleted when they take the site offline at the end of July before bringing it back up on or about August 1st. But fear not–if you are ready to starting writing, you will find plenty to do in the prompts that I link here.

With that, Here They Are–

2019-2020 College Application Essay Prompts: Ready to Write, Right Now:

Stanford University–Same prompts as last year. It’s been a decade since Stanford did any serious tinkering with their supplemental essays. The short answers they do tinker with year-to-year. Here are your Stanford Supplementals for 2019-2020

And Here is A Discussion of The Stanford Roommate Essay

Also see my next post, Welcome to the Jungle, for more on the Stanford essays.

The University of Texas, Austin–definitely some changes from last year, the new prompts confirmed by a posting for counselors. UT uses its own Texas portal. Prompts for 2019-2020 U Texas linked Here.

Boston College Essay Prompts–and How to Write Them–Linked Here: BC 2020. This includes an extended discussion on writing about a book or work of art, as well as themes for Catholic and specifically Jesuit universities like B.C. and Georgetown.

The University of Virginia–up on their website as “they turn their attention” from those who have accepted to “current juniors,” known at this point as rising seniors. Congratulations, by the way, Rising Seniors. Uses the Common Application Portal. Click to check it out: UV prompts for 2019-2020 linked Here.

The University of Chicago--continues to offer a menu of wild and whacky essay prompts for your second essay; the first essay is a pretty standard-issue why you want to go to school x essay. Uses the Common Application Portal. I analyze their two supplemental essays in separate links:

Click here for: University of Chicago Prompt 1, 2019-2020

Click here for: University of Chicago Prompt 2, 2019-2020

The University of California–confirmed in their admissions packet for counselors for 2019-2020. Uses its own UC portal, accessing all 8 UC campuses with one application. UC Prompts linked Here.

Harvey Mudd College–HMC’s counselors went on their annual retreat in the second week of June and came back confirming that the prompts currently posted will remain unchanged. Uses the Common Application portal as well as the Coalition Application. HMC Prompts Linked Here.

Georgia Tech--confirmed by my contact counselor at GT, with the caveat that they may tinker in a minor way with wording. Uses the Common Application portal. I start my analysis of GT’s prompts featuring an interview with G.T.’s excellent Dean of Admissions, Rick Scott. GT Prompts and Rick Scott interview linked Here.

The University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign–confirmed by two counseling contacts at U-C. University of Illinois campuses uses its own application portal. Urbana-Champaign Prompts linked Here.

The Common Application Essay Prompts are unchanged for 2019-2020. Again, see my Welcome to the Jungle Post for links to the Common App and its Prompts

2019-2020 Coalition Application Essay Prompts–If you are not familiar with the Coalition Application, it is a competitor to the Common Application. Universities tend to offer both when they do use the Coalition Application portal, so it is worth looking at the Coalition essay prompts to see if they allow you to better leverage your topic ideas (usually looking for less overlap between essays). The Coalition Essay Prompts are linked Here, along with a comparison of the two sites.

Go to the next post for more links-Welcome to the Jungle.

And Contact Me for World-Class Application Essay Development and Editing and Focused, Results-Oriented College Application Advising: Contact Me.

The Common Application Essay Prompts for 2019-2020–and Tips on How to Write Them

In Common Application Essay Prompts, Common Application Essays for 2019-2020, Ivy League Application Essays on June 17, 2019 at 9:16 pm

The Common Application Prompts for 2019-2020 appear under the theme “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Yes, that’s right, the Common App folks are not changing their prompts this year. That does not mean, however, that it is a good idea to copy verbatim ideas in your older sibling/friend/ghost writer’s old essays, much less recycling an essay you have used for, say, school, or worst of all, an essay that somebody else used last year. Turnitin.com started turning its attention to college application essays way back in 2011, and by 2012, there was reporting on this anti-plagiarism wrinkle. Many colleges screen your essays. If you plagiarize, kiss your app goodbye.

I do apologize for starting off on this note but in the aftermath of the Singer college-admissions bribery scandal, it seems like a good time to establish the basic ethical boundaries of college applications. Researching, seeking advice, getting editing commentary are all considered legit, so long as the essays are in the deepest sense, yours. What that means is admittedly a gray area, but when it comes to cheating, examples are the best way to learn. Copying, for one: no, please. Asking somebody else to write your essays: also a big no-no.

So do your own writing: lesson one. Lesson two, go ahead and start your Common Application Essay, but do not create an account or upload information on the Common Application itself. All accounts and information currently on the Common Application site are linked to last year’s applications. In the last days of July the Common Application will go offline and then will reappear in its 2019-2020 version on or around August 1st. At that point you can go online to select colleges and begin uploading essays and answering questions.

Between now and August 1, what you can also do, of course is . . . start those essays. Job one is to choose one of the prompts below. As you read them, you will notice that these are not really speculative essays. They are not looking for what you might do in the future; they are looking for what you have done. Prompts 2, 3, 4 and 5 are at the heart of the list and pretty much define the ethos of these Common App prompts overall, which is based on things in your (hopefully recent) past that you have done or experienced that define you. Of course it is all the better if that time you challenged a belief (prompt 3) or overcame an obstacle (prompt 2) or that accomplishment or realization that sparked a period of growth (prompt 5) are also shown as influencing your future–say in that conclusion to yor essay where you talk about how you plan to continue working on the problem you solved or addressed locally via studying x in college to prepare to deal with that problem on a broader scale, or acting from that new understanding and period of growth by doing y (define factor y) . . . in and after college. . . . and so on.

A couple of other recommendations–Don’t write an argument or speech-style essay structure defined by the firstly, secondly, and thirdly of subtopics which you then develop (robotically) in the essay body as first, secondly thirdly . . . also avoid simply restating your intro in your conclusion. And if you must use that essay structure that starts with a you-are-there- narrative, then explains how you got there, then explains the life’s lesson learned . . . make sure you use good vivid detail, but don’t overdo the drama in the hook and opener.

For example: If I never see an essay that starts with a writer pinned down by enemy gunfire and running out of water and ammunition . . . only to find out this is a video game and the author got there by playing but plans to be a programmer . . . and video game designer. . . Or if I never have an author dangling by her fingertips from a hold thirty feet up a sheer rock face, and one foot pops off a hold . . . only to find that she is top-roped in a climbing gym . . . And that climbing taught her discipline and determination . . . . I will be happy. Happy never to see one of these attempts to pump up the drama again.

Consider just starting with a good hook and an expository opener, without the overdramatized narrative , just so see what happens. And if the whole thing seems too daunting, contact me for editing help.

2019-2020 Common Application Essay Prompts

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 obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

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, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

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

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Here are some results from last year’s application process–

During the 2018-2019 application year, the most popular topic of choice was: “Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.” (24.1%).

 The next most popular topics were: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.” (23.7%),

followed by “The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?” (21.1%).

Final note–whether you apply to the Ivy League or hundreds of western, land-grant colleges, or hundreds more small, liberal-arts colleges, your Common Application essay is the lead essay for your application. Start early and be willing to try multiple essays and approaches.

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

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

Update and How to Use this Blog

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Developments in Application Portals–Universal vs. Common App

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

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

Published February 18, 2014

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

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

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

Getting Started Now:  Some Application Essay Prompts are Already Available

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

Links to some essay prompts that are already available below:

Common Application Essay Prompts, 2014-2015

Penn Essay Prompts

University of Chicago Essay Prompts

University of Georgia Essay Prompts

Boston College Essay Prompts

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

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

 

 

 

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

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

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

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

******************************************************************************************************

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

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

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

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

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

*******************************************************************************************

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

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

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

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

Essay Examples

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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. 

Topic Generator #1 For The Problem Essay and The Essay On What You Care About

In Essay on Books, Essay on Intellectual Development, Essay on What Matters to You, Issue of Concern Essay, Problem Essay, Significant Experience Essay, What I Care About Essay, What is Important to Me Essay on July 12, 2012 at 11:37 am

Many universities use application essay prompts that ask you to write about either a problem of some kind or something you care about.  I encourage my  clients to try to come up with at least one counterintuitive essay, so let’s do something completely unexpected and go with  a retro subject that could fit both of these prompts:  libraries.  There is nothing more cool than bringing back something retro, right?  And what could  be more retro than a place full of printed material?

More specifically,  here’s my first idea for a problem essay or an essay on an issue everyone should care about:  The Decline and Fall of Libraries.

I use an e-reader, have a blog, follow news online, etc, etc, etc, but still: I believe, nay, I know that traditional  libraries are important.  If you think this makes me sound totally 20th Century, then read on–below you will find an annotated list of links to brilliant essays,  articles and a book, all of which defend and explain the purpose of libraries and all of which are full of ideas that you could use to develop your own essay.  Read them for ideas and information relevant to essay prompts ranging from the Personal Influence and Intellectual Experience  to prompts about Problems of Local or National Importance.  If a librarian has influenced you, this subject could also work for Common App prompt three.

Here are links to essays and opinions on libraries (and of course on books, as well):

Grazing in the Stacks of Academe–Here music critic Ben Ratlif offers a great example of how to write persuasively and evocatively; he also provides enough ideas for half-a-dozen new essays.  Example: How ugly can be good (even beautiful). Click the link to check it out.

North West London Blues  In this piece, published both in the print version of The New York Review of Books and as a blog post, Zadie Smith, the author of White Teeth, writes about the unremarkable but vital library in her community.  Her introduction is a bit roundabout, and some of her references are obscure for those who do not follow British politics, but the problems are similar to those we have on this side of the pond, and she makes the importance of her library and libraries in general very clear.

The superb book critic and social commentator Laura Miller has a good piece on the value of libraries in Salon: Why Libraries Still Matter. Read it and be persuaded.

Did you know that the destruction of print didn’t actually start with the internet or even with the computer?  Did you know that old print material is often destroyed by a machine called “the guillotine?”  Nicholson Baker can tell you all about it and  why places that store print materials on shelves are irreplaceable. Baker is no luddite fuddy-duddy; he was an early proponent of both e-readers and Wikipedia.  He also likes video games and has written about them.  Yet he strenuously defends the value of books as objects and he has written an entire book himself on the destruction of libraries:  Double Fold. You can glean a great deal of information about Double Fold  just by reading this excellent review in Salon:  Stephanie Zacharek on Double Fold.  You could also buy the book from this superb bookstore:  Double Fold at Powell’s Books.

Next up is Lions in Winter.  Big changes are in store for New York City’s public library system, and in this fine piece from the superb n+1, Charles Petersen gives an extremely detailed and fair-minded assessment of the changes proposed for NYC’s libraries, and in the process gives you excellent background and perspective on libraries in general and on how the world of information and books is changing.  Petersen understands the need for change but also knows the value of what may be lost, and describes it eloquently.  If you have trouble getting your teeth into this because of the lengthy introduction,  you might actually start with Part II of this article here–Lions in Winter Part Two– and then return to Part I.

The changes planned for the NYC library system have, of course, provoked a lot of response from journalists at the New York Times and in their opinion and letters sections.  You can get a variety of opinions on the value of libraries there, including but not limited to:

Sacking a Palace of Culture by Edmund Morris–he sounds a bit too much like a cranky old guy when he complains about the aroma of coffee, but he also offers an eloquent and even moving defense of the traditional research library, based on his own experience.  You don’t bump into a new idea or book in the same way online or via the Apple store or Amazon as you do in the library, something Morris and a number of other writers I link point out.

These kinds of changes have been going on for some time; meet a book robot here, and assess the different views of it:  A Robot Will Be Happy to Find that Book for You

On a more fantastical note, you might find this article, again by Laura Miller in Salon, which deals with the idea of a library for imaginary books: The Greatest Books that Never Were.

And as a final, tangential recommendation, check out this article, about an attempt to get a copy of every physical book and preserve it:  An Ark Full of Books.

That should be enough to get you started on an essay about how libraries (or a librarian) have influenced you, or why they are important, or how their diminishment and destruction is a local, national and international problem.  Keep checking back as I will be adding  posts which provide new topic and source materials, and I will be addressing this year’s prompts as they are released–most universities will release their essay prompts between now and August 1st.  As an example, I expect to see something from Stanford in the next week or so.

Starting A Book Or Intellectual Experience Essay: An Example Of How To Look Deeper

In Brown University Application Essay, Essay on Books, Essay on Intellectual Development, Harvard Application Supplement, Princeton Application Essay, Princeton Book Essay, Stanford Supplement Essay on July 3, 2012 at 2:01 pm

I have previously put up posts with detailed information on  intellectual and book essays–see the links and table of contents in the first column/post of this website.  These posts will also appear under categories and tags  for Harvard, Princeton and other University names, as well as under the essay about books,   the essay about an intellectual experience and under a couple of the Common Application prompt topics.

In this post, I will be looking specifically at one area of genre literature and even more specifically at one series of books as an example of how to go about addressing the book or intellectual experience essay.  The first lesson is this:  don’t just read the novel(s).  You will need to find give the novel(s) a wider context and meaning.   The way to do this is to gain a wider perspective and put it to use to express something about yourself as well as about the books that are the stated subject of your essay–as I will show in this post.

Writing About Books

The genres of literature which I will discuss here include Dystopian, Near Future and Science Fiction.  See this link for more information on those.  You might also want to see my entry last year in which I established a system for categorizing novels and gave specific suggestions for writing about the novel categories. (This link is a protected sample, available in full to subscribers and clients)

Let’s start with this assumption:  an essay about well-written genre fiction  can be every bit as good an essay about so-called serious or literary fiction.  For many of you, an essay about a supposedly pop novel will actually be better because you won’t feel trapped by the need to be as serious and weighty as you would in writing about, say, Crime and Punishment or Middlemarch.  It can be very difficult to write about greatness, especially when it takes the form of classic novels.

I enjoy reading the serious literary fiction of both Dostoevsky and Mary Anne Evans, but I equally enjoy reading a work of genre lit like Michael Chabon’s Yiddish Policeman’s Union or Jonathan Letham’s Gun, With Occasional Music, and  if you understand how to frame novels like these last two, you can write an essay that is effective and interesting.  These aren’t  highbrow works of realism–the  Yiddish Policeman’s Union is set in a parallel-universe Alaska and features a detective investigating the death of a possible Messiah, while Gun is set  in a near future Bay Area with a detective following a trail of criminality through a world populated by genetically manipulated creatures, including an evolved kangaroo-thug named Joey–but these novels have a lot to say about what we are now and where we are going.

Let me explain by way of example and provide further arguments for genre lit as a subject of a good application essay.  It’s all about the context and the archetypes, people.

Fantasy literature in its various guises has become the best-selling narrative form in the world.  In fact, the last two decades have seen half a  dozen trilogies or series that have been extremely popular.  I have little expertise on strigoi or other of the blood-seeking living dead, so I will skip the vampire stuff to focus on near-future dystopian lit.   One of the best written and most popular examples is  Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games trilogy.

The Hunger Games is interesting in many ways–it features a nightmarish, near-future setting, it is a cautionary tale, and it is an archetypal forbidden romance.  You can find elements of The Hunger Games in literature ranging from Norse epics up through Shakespeare’s plays and Orwell’s 1984,  and on through American culture, in novels like The Great Gatsby and in movies like Rebel Without A Cause.

Due its popularity, there are rich resources and conversations available for The Hunger Games,  many of them by  journalists and academics who provide detailed and well-written analyses of different aspects of HG and of the genres into which Collins’ series fits. I will give you a set of annotated links as we move on in this post, where you can find everything from character analysis to social commentary–these links often discuss more than just HG .  Some of them are excellent examples of what an intellectual experience essay can be, albeit at much greater length than your typical college app essay.

First up is an excellent piece analyzing recent “young adult”  dystopian lit, by Laura Miller, Salon’s book editor, who has been a heavy hitter in the book world for years.  She compares  The Hunger Games to similar works past and present, and she makes the kinds of connections you will want to make in an intellectual experience or book essay.  Miller provides  fine-grained analysis based on specific quotes from HG and other novels, and she uses this to support a broader set of arguments about both HG and some of the other recently popular dystopian “Young Adult” lit; here is an example from Miller’s article:

. . .  dystopian stories for adults and children have essentially the same purpose—to warn us about the dangers of some current trend. That’s certainly true of books like “1984” and “Brave New World”; they detail the consequences of political authoritarianism and feckless hedonism. This is what will happen if we don’t turn back now, they scold, and scolding makes sense when your readers have a shot at getting their hands on the wheel.

Children, however, don’t run the world, and teen-agers, especially, feel the sting of this. “The Hunger Games” could be taken as an indictment of reality TV, but only someone insensitive to the emotional tenor of the story could regard social criticism as the real point of Collins’s novel. “The Hunger Games” is not an argument. It operates like a fable or a myth, a story in which outlandish and extravagant figures and events serve as conduits for universal experiences. Dystopian fiction may be the only genre written for children that’s routinely less didactic than its adult counterpart. It’s not about persuading the reader to stop something terrible from happening—it’s about what’s happening, right this minute, in the stormy psyche of the adolescent reader. “The success of ‘Uglies,’ ” Westerfeld once wrote in his blog, “is partly thanks to high school being a dystopia.

 Of course, this is only one way to look at The Hunger Games, but it’s persuasive, and it doesn’t exclude other readings–you can read HG as an analogue for the competitive viciousness to be found in(at least some) American high schools, or you could read it as a warning to today’s increasingly oligarchical America  about the dangers of powerful elites.  Or it could be about the dangers and seductions of consumer culture–Katniss seems to get a real kick out of some of the perks of the Games, while claiming to hate all of it . . . or HG could be read as a more traditional, science fiction cautionary tale about the dangers of the technologies we already possess.  After all, something ugly happens to America on the way to Panem.

Even if you have not read any of the The Hunger Games, I would strongly recommend that you read the rest of this analysis by Miller, in the New Yorker’s  Critic At Large feature  here.

I’m going to be writing more specifically about the Archetypal Criticism of literature soon, but as another example of how to analyze characters and meaning, I offer a link to an article a  New York Times article which is also focused on Hunger Games, but which gives you another set of ideas about what an archetypal analysis can offer as you grapple with an essay on a book or series of books.  So go here for an archetypal discussion of dystopian film,centered on Suzanne Collins’ characters  (this post is specifically about film, but you can “read” a film in much the same way you can read a novel, and similar themes can be developed in each form–which is one reason why so many films are adapted from novels.  Need I mention that a good film is an intellectual experience?).

Lest I give you the impression that the NY Times isn’t giving the written word adequate attention, also have a look at this link, in which John Green also points out how a number of  futuristic tales are really about the here and now.

Part of the requirement for the genre of literature called Realism is that it be an imitation of real life, that it hold up a mirror to the world; in contrast, a widely held view of fantasy holds that it is simply a form of make-believe, and so it is often thought not to reflect much about the “real” world, much less to be “serious.”  However, if you’ve read much fantasy or even if you’ve only read the material I’ve linked so far, you should be reaching the conclusion that, while science fiction and fantasy by definition are not “realistic,” they do indeed hold up a critical mirror to the here and now.

Let me offer another example, a New York Times opinion piece looking at the current rage for dystopian lit as a phenomenon that is linked to much of the “Tiger Mother” style self-help lit  out there, the idea being that economic competition and the ferocious struggle for the admission to the right schools  lies behind everything from the Hunger Games to Bringing Up Bébé.  (This could also be a good subject for the Common Application’s  essay on an issue of national importance, if you think about it–have a look at the NY Times article Hunger Games Parenting to see what I mean.  It’s a pretty persuasive take on where we are as a nation and what this kind of  lit is really about though, as with the links above, there is more than one way to interpret any of this stuff–which is why it makes such a great essay topic.)

And finally, I’d like to recommend this blog post by Stanley Fish, one or our great literary and cultural critics, in which he links The Hunger Games to the ancient literary form known as The Pastoral and its beautiful but melancholy momento mori.

What I am hoping you realize at this point is that it is legitimate to develop your understanding of whatever you are reading by looking at what other people have to say, especially if those other people have some expertise and genuine insight.  You can, indeed, access rich and diverse discussions of literature online, as well as cute kitten pictures, and looking to sources like those I cited above can be helpful to you as you set about creating a book or intellectual experience essay.  The idea is to read critically in order to  shape your own views, sometimes with the help of and sometimes by resisting what other readers and critics say.  Just be sure to use my examples and anything else you find as inspiration only, though a short quote won’t hurt if you give it context and it makes sense in your essay.

In addition to blogging about archetypal readings of books in upcoming posts, I will also be discussing further the role of form, of genre, in shaping meaning.  Stay tuned and come back soon (a word of warning, however:  some of my upcoming posts will only be fully available to subscribers and clients.)

Starting Your College Application Essays For 2012-2013: The Four Types

In Common Application Essays, Essay Beginning With a Quote, Essay on an Important Experience, Essay on an Influence, Essay on Intellectual Development, Harvard Application Supplement, Princeton Application Essay, University of Chicago Application Essay on July 2, 2012 at 8:36 am

Yes, folks, it’s time to get your essays started.  If you think that this is premature because most universities haven’t yet released their applications for next year, I simply point to the Common Application prompts, which are unchanged–and most of you will be applying to at least a few Common App universities.  Use this link and scroll down to find the essay prompts for this year:  Common App 2012-2013.

I also encourage you to consider the fact that  the Common App questions tend to overlap not only with other Common App questions, but also with the questions used by universities not in the Common App system.  There will be some unusual prompts this year which do not fit into the categories I define below, but even some of these can be addressed using materials which you may have used first for other prompts, especially the intellectual experience prompts, from which a couple of my  clients derived examples to deal with the University of Chicago prompts from last year, which are worth looking at as a thought experiment.

To see an example of more typical application essay prompts, see my earlier post here.  Scroll down the post to find the list.

Once you’ve read through my earlier posts, you will see certain patterns emerging, which I will address below.

Essay Prompts:  Four Basic Kinds

One way to simplify things is to look at how to put the various essay prompts into broader categories.  You can then write essays ahead of time which fall into these categories, or you can simply start on your Common Application essays.  Either way, if you start early, you will have material and essays that can be reworked  to fit new prompts, and you will have more time and repetitions before you settle on the final drafts.  This is a good thing.  Even if early essays do not end up in your final package, they help you work through the process and refine your ideas–as they say, it’s a journey, though we do have a destination in mind:  the college of your dreams, or at least the college that best suits both your budget and your dreams.

Here are four categories into which most prompts fall:

1. Autobiographical prompts asking for “additional” information not apparent in your grades, test scores, activities and recommendations. These want you to reveal yourself in some way.

2. Autobiographical prompts asking about important or formative experiences.  These really want you to show what kind of person you are and how you became that person.  This overlaps with the category below.

3. Intellectual experience prompts.  This is an autobiographical essay category, of course, but with a focus outward in the sense that you need to be able to convey a solid understanding of the book or music or experiment or play or whatever else you reacted to and are describing.

4. Problem solving or puzzle prompts.  This is a broad category, ranging from  topics like the Common App discussion of a problem of international importance to the University of Chicago’s (in)famous prompt consisting entirely of:  “Find x.”  The more general problem-solution topics can be prepared for, but the true puzzle prompts require a very specific and creative response that you can’t really prepare for ahead of time.

You should consider these four categories and try to identify not only those which seem most applicable to you, but more importantly, those which are most interesting to you.  If you think something is applicable but not very interesting, you will probably write an applicable but not very interesting essay.  The game here is to do something you don’t necessarily want to be doing (writing a series of required  essays,  filling out forms and getting materials organized for  your college applications) while finding a way to enjoy it.

If, for example, you can think of some experiences with a coach or a relative that might be easy to write about  in response to an essay prompt about a person who has influenced you, but you are actually more interested in writing about books or about some theory which fascinates you, then you should write about books, or the theory, even if it means you might need to do some reading or research this summer.  Keep in mind your audience (college admissions officers and readers) and what they are looking for (interesting and interested people who show intelligence and curiosity).  Also keep in mind your own nature–are you comfortable talking about yourself, or would you rather analyze something, whether it be a book or a pressing social problem?

For those of you who want to focus on intellectual experiences, I will be suggesting some reading programs, including specific authors and titles,  in a post that is coming soon, .

In a moment, I will address each of the four categories of prompts I outlined above and give you links that deal with specific examples from the recent past.  I am going to start, however, with links to a couple of posts about what NOT to do in your college essays and how to think about your audience; for mistakes to avoid in your college essays, see this post: College Essay No-No’s.  For some thoughts on your audience and how to persuade them, start here:    So You Want To Write A College Essay. 

Prompt Type 1:  Autobiographical prompts asking for additional information/Tell us something you want us to know about yourself.  Many universities use this kind of prompt.  The Stanford letter to your roommate from last year is an example, as last year’s Yale supplement (specifically, Yale asked applicants to tell us something that you would like us to know about you that we might not get from the rest of your application – or something that you would like a chance to say more about).  Consider carefully what you want to show your audience.

The three biggest risks to this prompt are, in order of frequency, boring your reader, annoying or offending your reader, and contradicting other aspects of your application. The Stanford Supplement Essays are a good example of the advantages and risks of this kind of prompt because, in encouraging a more personal and informal tone, Stanford both opens up an opportunity to be more relaxed and creative and gives you an opportunity to hang yourself  (metaphorically, of course) by, like, sounding like a total slacker/slob/self absorbed lightweight, dude.

I wrote about the specific problems raised by this last year, in my Stanford Supplement post.  You may also be tempted to create an essay emphasizing the more saintly aspects of your personality–this can lead to boredom or cliches, as I discuss here and in even more detail here.

Prompt Type 2: Autobiographical prompts asking about important or formative experiences.  Several of the Common Application Prompts fit into this category, which can involve a range of autobiographical episodes  from an important learning experience with a coach or mentor to. . . any experience which fits the description.  The prompt asks you to reflect on your own experience and to make sense of it.  This can lead to a number of problems, which I discuss in detail under specific prompts, such as the prompt asking you to write on an important influence or the Common App prompt on a significant experience.  These links will help you get started and will help you avoid some common errors.

Prompt Type 3: Intellectual Experience Prompts. Obviously, an intellectual experience that is important to you also counts as a significant personal experience, but I create a separate category here because there are a number of  universities that  make a distinction by asking, in one prompt about personal experiences with others or in a situational setting and asking, in a separate prompt, that you write about a piece of music or books that influenced  you.  For more info on the ins-and-outs of this prompt type, try this link:  my entry on the Harvard prompt about books. You will find other prompts about books by clicking the navigation arrows for posts before and after this Harvard prompt post.

Some universities will use prompts that throw a quote at you or that ask you to use a quote you like as a focus for an essay.  The prompt about a quote usually evokes either an intellectual experience or an expression of personal values.  While it’s possible to humorously go in an unexpected direction with a quote, any serious response will involve  connecting your experience and knowledge to whatever larger principles or events the quote evokes.  Have a look at my prompt on the Princeton supplement last year for further suggestions and information on the quote prompt.

Prompt Type 4:  Problem and Puzzle prompts.  As I noted above, it is not possible to prepare for puzzle prompts that offer challenges like  “Find X.”   U of Chicago is infamous for this kind of prompt–other U of C examples from last year were these: “Don’t write about reverse psychology” and  a prompt that asked you to use Wikipedia to explain “What Does Play-Doh have to do with Plato.”  You just have to make it up as you go along, though research can be involved. (Do I need to mention that it’s best to double check on anything Wikipedia offers?  Start with the discussion tab for each Wikipedia entry to assess the information.)

If you specifically want insight in the Weltanschaung of U of C, you should have a look at the most recent New Yorker, which has an article on the U of C scavenger hunt.  This article is only fully available  to New Yorker subscribers, but this article is, like most New Yorker material, interesting and extremely well-written–and I strongly recommend a New Yorker subscription to any intellectually adventurous and curious anglophone. Think of it as an intellectual experience builder.

Many problem prompts can be researched.  In one example, the Common Application’s prompt on an issue of national or international concern is  something you can prepare for.  Just remember that you need to start with a personal interest.  Don’t invent a sudden interest in something you formerly did  not care about simply to respond to an application essay prompt.  See my post on the Common Application Prompt Two  as well as  this post for more ideas about this kind of problem prompt.

I will be writing a post on a specific problem that you might want to consider writing about soon, and I am also working on posts with more intellectual and book essay ideas and sources of information–be sure to check in during early July.