How Many College Application Essays Are There?!! Learn about how a student-led Strategic Educational & College Admissions Plan makes essay writing manageable and authentic!
Common App Essays– The COVID-19 Prompt returns,
There’s a new Core/Personal Statement Prompt
College Specific Supplement Essay Prompts
Common Application 2021-22
College Essay Tips– What to know about essays in 8th grade– and as a Rising Senior!
Welcome to my Fall Newsletter series on College essays
In Everything You Need to Know About College Applications, I describe all of the moving parts to College Applications and describe how the entirety of the high school career prepares you for your undergraduate experience and the process of submitting your college applications. While your high school transcript and test scores offer a measure of your ability to handle the academic rigors of the undergraduate experience, college essays are one the most effective way to set yourself apart from thousands of equally qualified and interested peers.
College Admissions Officers want to know two things about every applicant– and your essays are how you will provide that information:
1 Who are You ?
What are your passions and experiences that can tell us something about the student you’ll become within a university campus community? What brings you joy? How will you contribute? Below I’ll share examples of essay prompts that are asking this type of question and how to respond.
2 What “Problem” do you want to solve?
What do you want to learn alongside your peers on our college campus? This is a multi-part question. Knowing what you want to learn and being able to demonstrate “informed interest” about a specific university is an admissions advantage!
(It’s okay to be “multi-disciplinary” –in contrast-“undecided” – that’s not the message to present because “undecided”–doesn’t scream I WANT TO LEARN!!. Moreover, platitudes about esteemed faculty or dream schools mean absolutely nothing- read on- to understand more about what you need to show in your essays. All of this is truly a piece-of-cake if you’ve been engaged in directed and guided college research throughout your Sophomore and Junior years.)
While students don’t need to be worrying about writing their college essay in 8th or even 10th grades, I encourage everyone to begin implementing a student-led path of exploration of both personal and academic pursuits throughout middle and high school. Doing so will make high school more joyous, successful, less stressful and you’ll be in a much stronger position to write your college essays when it’s your time to submit your College Applications.
Transformative experiences both within and outside the classroom uniquely shape each young adult’s academic and personal identity. Experiences connecting with family and members of “communities” help our young adults become more introspective to learn how they will leverage their strengths to find their place in the world.
These same experiences are also the basis for the college essay(s) you’ll write during the college admissions application process (at the end of their junior year/start of senior year) providing readers of their college application with information that reveals who each student has become –and, in particular– the potential impact each young adult may have on a college campus and as a potential alum!
But most important, pre-college experiences build confidence, motivation and better prepare each student for a seamless transition to the undergraduate experience – academic and personal success throughout high school and beyond.
What’s your Educational & College Admissions Plan?
After completing your “Core Essay”, many of the more selective colleges require unique supplemental essays-some colleges have as many as five to seven additional essay prompts beyond the core essay! The essay prompts can be as short as 50 words or as lengthy as 800 words, while most of the supplemental essays are 250 – 400 words in length.
These college-specific supplemental essays are very important to demonstrate “informed interest”. The prompt is often directed as explaining why the student selected a given major.
Students in STEM , business and creative & performing arts students need to demonstrate “informed interest” through a clear understanding of the chosen field of study and a “vision” or “problem” of interest. This is another reason why guided early college planning is essential- allowing every student to nurture emerging interests through formative experiences both within and outside high school. This may include a variety of student organizations, community organizations or competitive collegiate summer research programs.
But we were on lock-down for a long time in the pandemic and you missed opportunities to participate?! What did you do? Be creative- you may have learned and explore at home, shared with others over virtual platforms. Life didn’t stop- it was simply a time you adapted and redirected – deepening connections and emotional independence. Some of my clients spoke fondly about making lunch for themselves and a parent who was working at home – thus learning more about “business” – her intended major. Others had the return of college-age siblings and together worked on home projects that involved creating an interesting app on fitness. Some tutored young students. Some spent time to take live courses to learn to program, study an aspect of mathematics, humanities or language unavailable at their high school. All of these suggest that you LOVE TO LEARN and used your time to further explore an emerging interest.
STEM and business students will be expected to define a clear “question” or interest– showing a deep understanding and appreciation for the chosen field. Even if you’re an aspiring physician or other health care professional – undergraduate admissions needs to focus on your current interest. Why do you want to study Biology? Why do you want to become an engineer? What problem intrigues you– well, start by looking at the labs and research at universities in your intended major and connect the dots to the problems/projects you’ve enjoyed in related extracurricular experiences in high school — those that sparked the interest.
Creative and visual arts students submit a portfolio of work- and part of that process requires a statement of vision – explaining the selected pieces shared.
While you will want to demonstrate “informed interest” (see my earlier blog on “Admissions Trends “), you will want to aim to “recycle” your responses wherever possible. For example, writing a college specific supplemental essay focused on discussing what motivated you to pursue engineering or business you’ll likely discuss your inspirational experience at FIRST robotics or DECA. Equally important, you’ll want to include college specific information that elaborates and demonstrates your informed interest in attending a specific institution by referring to genuine thoughts about the undergraduate research opportunities, a specific research institute or some unique aspect of the undergraduate curriculum that inspires you.
Colleges are unique and it’s up to you to have a very solid reason for why you want to attend a specific institution. Do you research as this will increase the likelihood of admissions success and also finding a college that is your best personalized fit. This information needs to be included in your essay and woven into your discussion of the shared experiences noted on the activities portion of your common application.
Moreover, the college is interested in hearing why you’re interested in studying your intended major at their campus? As noted above, shallow platitudes mean zilch- in contrast, knowing about Professor Simon’s research on Artificial Intelligence and the institute he built is a compelling statement about your desire to study Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon. Likewise, stating that you want to study abroad is an equally uninformed statement- every college has a program to do so (either through their hub or hub sharing)- but stating that you are interested in the research on genomics within the Computational Biology program is very specific.
Here the student should not only connect the dots between actual courses, summer research and extracurricular activities related to the intended major, but the essay should very clearly provide actual details that demonstrate the student’s understanding of what is unique about the curriculum. Which faculty or specific research institute at “X” University aligns with your given interests in genetics, international diplomacy, financial marketing or fashion merchandising? Show that you’ve done your research!
Don’t waste your wordcount to tell the reader you look forward to assorted campus traditions such as Slope Day as a senior at Cornell in 2025. Do share details about what academic/research problem you want to solve – what you want to learn and how you will do so with your peers!!.
Show not only passion about your intended field of interest by detailing how you became interested in your potential major, but also provide a clear understanding of why “Amazing University’s curriculum fits your intended educational and career plans. Please be specific- generic comments about a college’s ranking and prestigious faculty or comments that regurgitate the course catalog will land you in the rejection pile. Quite frankly, if you cannot point to anything beyond the college’s high ranking, you haven’t done your homework! Convince me that there is a mutual “fit” here!
DON’T START WRITING JUST YET!! CONNECT YOUR COMMON APP 2021 – 22 CORE AND SUPPLEMENTAL ESSAYS– STATEGIC APPLICATIONS!!
Before you begin crafting your common application core essay, you’ll want to identify and organize your responses across the common application core essay with all the college specific supplemental essay(s). This entails finalizing your short list of colleges. By knowing the required supplemental prompts, you are better able to bring balance and blend your experiences across the required core and supplemental essays. It can save you quite a bit of time to start with a “supplemental template” that can be modified as a response to similar prompts across multiple universities. You’ll very likely be writing one to three unique essays above and beyond the common application core essay. STRATEGIZE to minimize your time spent on essay writing during the challenging and demanding senior year!!
While you will want to demonstrate “informed interest, you will want to aim to “recycle” your responses wherever possible. For example, writing a college specific supplemental essay focused on discussing what motivated you to pursue engineering or business or psychology, you’ll likely discuss your inspirational experiences working with others to learn concepts and engage in team-based problem solving at FIRST Robotics or DECA or your role as a camp counselor. As noted above, equally important, you’ll want to include college specific information that elaborates and demonstrates your informed interest in attending a specific institution by referring to genuine thoughts about the undergraduate research opportunities, a specific research institute or some unique aspect of the undergraduate curriculum that inspires you.
Colleges are unique and it’s up to you to have a very solid reason for why you want to attend a specific institution. Proper research will increase the likelihood of application success and finding a college that is your best personalized “fit” both academically and socially.
College is your home away from home-so be clear on why that is the case. This information needs to be included in your essay and woven into your discussion of the shared experiences noted on the activities portion of your common application
As noted, many college specific supplemental essays are some form of these three questions:
What about being a student at Boston University most excites you? 250 words
Why NYU? We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand – Why NYU? (400 word maximum) *
Write a brief essay (300-400 words) in which you respond to the following question.
Successful students at Johns Hopkins make the biggest impact by collaborating with others, including peers, mentors, and professors. Talk about a time, in or outside the classroom, when you worked with others and what you learned from the experience.
Writing Supplement (required, 250-650 words): In addition to the Common Application essay, you are required to submit a CU Boulder writing supplement. At the University of Colorado Boulder, no two Buffs are alike. We value difference and support equity and inclusion of all students and their many intersecting identities. Pick one of your unique identities and describe its significance.
The SEEMINGLY BIZARRE Prompts:
Some colleges utilize some very creative essay prompts. These aren’t meant to trick/unnerve the applicant. These prompts are an awesome opportunity for applicants to demonstrate “creativity” within the college application.
Keep in mind- there’s no “right” answer. Respond to the prompt with information that sets you apart from others and shares more about how your interests and experiences shaped you.
Your response shouldn’t be superficial nor predictable. Don’t be the 1000th story about obtaining a black belt, the injured figure skater, tutoring your classmates or being that sympathetic summer counselor-in-training. These unusual and open-ended prompts are designed to show you can engage in critical thinking – think outside the box! Authenticity is important.
Here’s a list of some interesting and thought-provoking supplemental prompts. I think you’ll agree these are fun – and a bit “wonky” at that!
Out-of-the-box and fun college-specific supplemental essay prompts:
The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself. (Dartmouth College)If asked to write a 150-word tweet to tell the world who you are, what would you say? (Emory University)
A hot dog might be a sandwich, and cereal might be a soup, but is a ______ a ______? (University of Chicago)
Pick one woman in history or fiction to converse with for an hour and explain your choice. What would you talk about? (Barnard College)
Imagine you had an extra hour in the day – how would you spend that time? (Stanford University)
WHO ARE YOU – ?
YES I’M ASKING THAT QUESTION AGAIN!!
I often meet young adults who seem to think they have already decided the field that they want to study as undergraduates and even as graduate students! Their enthusiasm is wonderful, but at times these early academic/career choices rest upon preconceived notions about their interests and misinformation about a given field of study.
As young adults, high school is the time to learn more about EVERYTHING and rule out nothing.
The essential process of discovery includes exploring a variety of academic disciplines many of which may yield a rewarding and joyful educational and career path. Given my curriculum expertise at the undergraduate and graduate levels, I continue to encourage students to explore to find a unique path.
With a few hundred academic majors and nearly 4000 undergraduate colleges, it’s very unlikely that the high school curriculum and extracurricular experiences enjoyed thus far have put all of the available and amazing options on your student’s radar.
The college application process can be stressful for parents and students alike.
Finding Your Passion:
There’s a major field of study to match the unique strengths and interests of every young adult! With nearly 4,000 colleges offering an impressive number of traditional and cutting edge majors and minors, it can indeed be overwhelming to navigate the maze of available degree options.
As a university professor, I’ve designed and approved accredited curriculum programs for several universities. Having spent thirty years advising thousands of students, I invite your family to leverage my knowledge of curriculum requirements and discover an academic area your student will be truly passionate about.
The more you know about your interests and your strengths, the more likely you’ll embark upon a path that is joyful and rewarding.
How do parents and students select their “best-fit” colleges and decide where to apply and if accepted, where to enroll?
Great choices begin with student inspired research!
Does your student have an Educational & College Admissions Plan? On Target?
Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D.
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Bonnie R. Rabin, Ph.D. is the founder and principal educational consultant of College Career Consulting, LLC. She has over 30 years of experience as a university faculty member and shares her knowledge, professional resources and support with students who are ready to advance their lifelong educational and career journeys.