If your attempt at writing a strong college application essay is failing, you very well could be making this major mistake in the drafting process. Fix it and you will give yourself a fighting chance to write an essay that is actually decent. We gave the first reason your college application essay is so bad back in 2016, and it can be found here.
Call it false advertising or simply denial, but whatever you call it, don’t call it the truth. College admissions officers are often well-meaning and earnest individuals, but even college admissions officers can’t help but lie when it suits their purposes. Today we discuss the biggest lie college admissions tell themselves and you.
For the second biggest lie, click here.
For the third biggest lie, click here.
Colleges are currently in the process of rolling out essay supplements for 2017-18. And Erica Riesbeck, senior assistant director of admission for the University of Richmond makes good arguments for starting to work on these essays sooner rather than later.
According to Ms. Riesbeck, the top five reasons for getting to work on Richmond’s supplements now are:
- You didn’t get your dream summer job and you have plenty of extra time.
- Covfefe. Typos are infuriating and noticeable—build in extra time for proofreading.
- Stress relief/parent relief.
- Bragging rights.
- Free tuition to the first admissible student who applies! NO—just kidding. Richmond promises to review your application for merit scholarships if you apply by December 1.
- Get started early. Don’t wait until the last minute to complete your essays!
- Write and edit your essay in a document editor. Once you have the final draft, you can cut and paste it into your online application.
- Don’t overthink it. It may not be easy to write about yourself, but just write what you feel most comfortable with.
- Don’t write what you think we want to read. Write what you want to say!
- Don’t blow off the essay! We wouldn’t ask you to write it if we didn’t find it to be an important way to get to know you, and what you have to bring to Georgia Tech.
Now that the July 4th holiday is past, you can start checking college websites for essay supplements—required and optional. And note that both the Coalition Application and the Universal College Application (UCA) are open for business with individual colleges launching applications (and writing requirements) according to their own timelines.
In addition to those posted yesterday, here are a few additional colleges that have already posted 2017-18 essay supplements:
Carolina’s supplement will provide you with four prompts, and you will choose two. Each response will be limited to 200-250 words.
- Tell us about a peer who has made a difference in your life.
- What do you hope will change about the place where you live?
- What is one thing that we don’t know about you that you want us to know?
- What about your background, or what perspective, belief, or experience, will help you contribute to the education of your classmates at UNC?
Essay #1 (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words.): Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
Essay #2 (Required for all applicants. 500 words maximum.) FRESHMEN APPLICANTS: Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?
[T]ell us, in your own unique voice, something about you we cannot find elsewhere on your application. We purposefully do not prescribe any one topic for the personal statement, because we want you to share what’s important to you. If you need some direction, though, a few topics you may consider include your future ambitions or goals, a significant experience that is integral to your personal identity, or a special talent or unique interest that sets you apart from your peers (500 words).
Second Essay (optional; 50–500 words—choose one)
Describe an experience with discrimination, whether it was fighting against discrimination or recognizing your contribution to discriminating against a person or group. What did you learn from the experience? In what ways will you bring those lessons to University of Oregon?
The University of Oregon values difference, and we take pride in our diverse community. Please explain how you will share your experiences, values, and interests with our community. In what ways can you imagine offering your support to others?
Pick only one:
- Sometimes asking the right question makes all the difference. If you were a college admission counselor, what essay question would you ask? Please craft and answer your own essay prompt – in your response, reflect on what your chosen question reveals about you.
- How will you use your Richmond Guarantee?
Short response (300 words): Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the University of Washington.
Optional: You are not required to write anything in this section, but you may include additional information if something has particular significance to you. For example, you may use this space if:
- You are hoping to be placed in a specific major soon
- A personal or professional goal is particularly important to you
- You have experienced personal hardships in attaining your education
- Your activities have been limited because of work or family obligations
- You have experienced unusual limitations or opportunities unique to the schools you attended
Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150-400 words)
Submit one Villanova Essay (of 250-1000 words) from the three choices below. Please note: the Villanova Essay should have a separate and distinctive response to that of the Common Application Essay.
Option One: At Villanova, we believe that it is our similarities that make us strong, but our differences that make us stronger. Please tell us about a relationship that you have with someone who is different from you and how that has changed who you are today.
Option Two: “Become what you are not yet”– Saint Augustine
When you daydream, who do you hope to become in the future?
Option Three: Describe a book, movie, song or other work of art that has been significant to you since you were young and how its meaning has changed for you as you have grown.
You may respond to up to three of the essay prompts (choose one, two, or three) as you feel they support your individual application. (250-300 words)
- What are the top five reasons you want to be a Hokie?
- If there is something you think would be beneficial for the Admissions Committee to know as we review your academic history, please take this opportunity to explain.
- Our motto is Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). How is service to others important in your life?
- We believe strongly in the Virginia Tech Principles of Community and the value of human diversity affirmed therein. Share a perspective or experience related to your culture, age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status that might explain how you will enrich the climate of mutual respect and understanding here.
- Virginia Tech is one of six senior military institutions in the country. How will this setting contribute to your college experience?
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
Please note that Virginia Tech will not be accepting the Coalition Application this year. According to admissions staff, the CollegeNet application will go live in mid-August with this new set of essay prompts.
[R]espond to the following topic in two well-developed paragraphs:
When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the “Wellesley 100” is a good place to start. Visit the Wellesley 100 www.wellesley.edu/admission/100) and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why.
In what continues to be a challenging landscape for college applicants and their advisers, one ray of light may be the level of effort some colleges appear to be putting into updating their websites with application requirements for 2017-18.
And this includes descriptions of new policies and deadlines as well as posting essay prompts and writing supplements.
In all fairness, it looks like some schools have decided this is not the year to make major revisions in their writing requirements. Bringing on new technology or adding a new application option may be enough for one year.
Nevertheless, it’s helpful for some students, particularly those returning to school early or those with significant fall obligations, to be able to get started on essays sooner rather than later. And with many colleges adding early admission options and/or moving up deadlines to coincide with the October 1 launch of the federal financial aid application, the smallest bit of extra time can only help.
For the record, essay prompts and other application specifications are almost always found on college websites. The Common Application and the Coalition Application have already posted prompts for personal statements, although one sets a 650-word limit enforced by software and the other strongly suggests a 550-word limit not enforced by software.
The Universal College Application (UCA) gives the applicant freedom to write on whatever topic they wish and allows for 650 words. The Cappex Application offers a required 600-word personal statement along with a second optional essay.
For the Common App, the Coalition App and the UCA, member colleges are free to decide whether or not to require a personal statement and many will opt out of this requirement. Supplementary essays will be at the discretion of individual colleges and will either come as questions within the body of the application or as separate writing supplements. Note that the Cappex Application will not include additional writing requirements.
With luck, applicants will find supplementary essay prompts posted in advance of official application launch dates, which appear to vary from college to college. Some launched on July 1, and others won’t launch until October 1, 2017.
Here is a sample of colleges that have already posted their additional essay prompts for 2017-18 (University of Virginia prompts may be found here):
Why have you chosen to apply to Dickinson? (There is no recommended minimum word count, although the Common Application does have a limit of 800 words)
[Y]ou will be asked to respond to the prompts below.
- Beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech? (max 150 words)
- Please choose ONE of the following questions and provide an answer in 150 words or less.
- Tech’s motto is Progress and Service. We find that students who ultimately have a broad impact first had a significant one at home. What is your role in your immediate or extended family? And how have you seen evidence of your impact on them?
- Georgia Tech is always looking for innovative undergraduates. Have you had any experience as an entrepreneur? What would you like Georgia Tech to provide to further your entrepreneurial interests?
- We challenge our students to “be comfortable being uncomfortable”. Tell us about a time in high school that you felt outside of your comfort zone and the resolution.
Short Essay: Briefly discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved. (approximately one-half page)
Compose two brief essays (approximately one page single-spaced each) on the topics given below.
All Applicants: As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay, either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.
- Applicants to Georgetown College: Please relate your interest in studying at Georgetown University to your goals. How do these thoughts relate to your chosen course of study? (If you are applying to major in the FLL or in a Science, please specifically address those interests.)
- Applicants to the School of Nursing & Health Studies: Describe the factors that have influenced your interest in studying health care at Georgetown University. Please specifically address your intended major (Health Care Management & Policy, Human Science, International Health, or Nursing).
- Applicants to the Walsh School of Foreign Service: Briefly discuss a current global issue, indicating why you consider it important and what you suggest should be done to deal with it.
- Applicants to the McDonough School of Business: The McDonough School of Business is a national and global leader in providing graduates with essential ethical, analytical, financial and global perspectives. Please discuss your motivations for studying business at Georgetown.
Johns Hopkins University
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. (Up to 400 words).
Short answer (1): Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences that was particularly meaningful to you. (Response required in about 150 words.)
Short answer (2): Please tell us how you have spent the last two summers (or vacations between school years), including any jobs you have held. (Response required in about 150 words.)
In addition to providing a few details, write an essay of about 500 words (no more than 650 words and no fewer than 250 words). Using one of the themes below as a starting point:
- Tell us about a person who has influenced you in a significant way.
- “One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and point less straightforwardly to solutions.”
Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University and co-founder of Blackplanet.com. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.
- “Culture is what presents us with the kinds of valuable things that can fill a life. And insofar as we can recognize the value in those things and make them part of our lives, our lives are meaningful.”
Gideon Rosen, Stuart Professor of Philosophy and director of the Behrman Undergraduate Society of Fellows, Princeton University.
- Using a favorite quotation from an essay or book you have read in the last three years as a starting point, tell us about an event or experience that helped you define one of your values or changed how you approach the world. Please write the quotation, title and author at the beginning of your essay.
And engineers: [W]rite a 300-500 word essay describing why you are interested in studying engineering, any experiences in or exposure to engineering you have had and how you think the programs in engineering offered at Princeton suit your particular interests.
You may select one of the following prompts and write an essay of 250-650 words.
We live in an urban-global age with more than half of the planet’s people living in cities. Trinity College is an urban liberal arts college deeply engaged with the local community and committed to making an impact across the world. How do you aspire to use your education to impact local and global communities?
Our mission states: “Engage. Connect. Transform. As the preeminent liberal arts college in an urban setting, Trinity College prepares students to be bold, independent thinkers who lead transformative lives.” Keeping the three pillars of the mission in mind, how do you see yourself contributing to the Trinity community?
University of Chicago
Question 1 (Required): How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to U Chicago.
Question 2 (Optional): Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own.
Choose one (required):
Essay Option 1: “The aim of argument, or of discussion, should not be victory, but progress.”–Joseph Joubert
Sometimes people talk a lot about popular subjects to assure ‘victory’ in conversation or understanding, and leave behind topics of less popularity, but great personal or intellectual importance. What do you think is important but under-discussed?
Essay Option 2: Due to a series of clerical errors, there is exactly one typo (an extra letter, a removed letter, or an altered letter) in the name of every department at the University of Chicago. Oops! Describe your intended major. Why are you interested in it and what courses or areas of focus within it might you want to explore? Potential options include Commuter Science, Bromance Languages and Literatures, Pundamentals: Issues and Texts, Ant History…a full list of unmodified majors ready for your editor’s eye is available here: https//collegeadmissions.uchicago.edu/academics/majors-minors.
Essay Option 3: Earth. Fire. Wind. Water. Heart! Captain Planet supposes that the world is made up of these five elements. We’re familiar with the previously-noted set and with actual elements like hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, but select and explain another small group of things (say, under five) that you believe compose our world.
Essay Option 4: The late New York Times photographer Bill Cunningham once said “Fashion is the armor to survive the reality of everyday life. I don’t think you could do away with it. It would be like doing away with civilization.” Tell us about your “armor.”
Essay Option 5: Fans of the movie Sharknado say that they enjoy it because “it’s so bad, it’s good.” Certain automobile owners prefer classic cars because they “have more character.” And recently, vinyl record sales have skyrocketed because it is perceived that they have a warmer, fuller sound. Discuss something you love not in spite of but rather due to its quirks or imperfections.
Essay Option 6: In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose your own question or choose one of our past prompts. Be original, creative, thought provoking. 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.
University of Georgia
Here are the five essay questions, with Essay 1 being required and Essays 2-5 being four options from which the applicant selects one.
(Required) The college admissions process can create anxiety. In an attempt to make it less stressful, please tell us an interesting or amusing story about yourself that you have not already shared in your application.
Choose one of the following four:
- UGA’s 2017 Commencement speaker Ernie Johnson (Class of ’79) told a story from his youth about what he refers to as blackberry moments. He has described these as “the sweet moments that are right there to be had but we’re just too focused on what we’re doing …, and we see things that are right there within our reach and we neglect them. Blackberry moments can be anything that makes somebody else’s day, that makes your day, that are just sweet moments that you always remember.” Tell us about one of your “blackberry moments” from the past five years.
- Creativity is found in many forms including artistic avenues, intellectual pursuits, social interactions, innovative solutions, et cetera. Tell us how you express your creativity.
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- Describe a problem, possibly related to your area of study, which you would like to solve. Explain its importance to you and what actions you would take to solve this issue.
- Explain your interest in the major you selected and describe how you have recently explored or developed this interest inside and/or outside the classroom. You may also explain how this major relates to your future career goals. If you’re applying to the Division of General Studies, explain your academic interests and strengths or your future career goals. You may include any majors or areas of study you’re currently considering. Limit your response to 300 to 400 words.
- If you select a second-choice major other than the Division of General Studies on your application, write a second essay explaining your interest in this major, too. Again, limit your response to 300 to 400 words.
Bonus: click here for even more 2017-18 essay supplements!
The University of Virginia announced yesterday that essay prompts for fall 2018 applicants will be looking very very similar to those in previous years, with only a few minor tweaks to keep things interesting.
“I share our essay prompts for next year each June with the hopes that we’ll give you plenty of time to think about which one is right for you,” explained Jeannine Lalonde, “Dean J” of the UVa Admissions Blog. “If you are thinking about writing your essays this early, I hope you’ll revisit them before you actually submit an application. It’s amazing how much can change in a few months.”
In addition to a personal statement required of all UVa applicants, students will be asked to write two short responses to prompts provided in the member-specific section of the application.
As in past years, UVa is “looking for passionate students” to join a “diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists.” Prospective “Hoos” are asked to answer in approximately 250 words one of a series of questions corresponding to the school/program to which they are applying:
- College of Arts and Sciences: What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
- School of Engineering and Applied Sciences: If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make everyday life better for one friend or family member, what would you design?
- Kinesiology Program: Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
- School of Nursing: School of Nursing applicants may have experience shadowing, volunteering, or working in a health care environment. Tell us about a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing.
- School of Architecture: Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
For the second essay, applicants are asked to pick one of four questions to answer in a half page or roughly 250 words:
- What’s your favorite word and why?
- We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
- Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the UVA culture. In her fourth year at UVA, Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
- UVA students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message?
UVa joined the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success in September of 2015 and may offer that application as an option for this fall, in addition to the Common Application. Both platforms have already posted their personal statement prompts. Although the questions are very similar, it’s worth noting that while the Common App word count is between 250 and 650 words, the Coalition “strongly recommends” that personal statements stay within 500 to 550 words.
And in the college admissions world, it’s wise to take these kinds of recommendations very seriously!
Yale University is experimenting with the role digital media can play in college admissions. Using technology advanced last year by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, Yale’s admissions readers in some cases became admissions viewers and experienced what will likely become a third dimension in college admissions—the creative use of media to present the case for admission to a highly selective institution.
Staying on the cutting edge of technology is challenging in any field, but changes in college admissions since the introduction of the electronic application are almost beyond description. Stacks of manila folders tucked into walls of file cabinets have been replaced by application “platforms” configured to align with enrollment management software, which oversees a process that is increasingly data-dependent and data-driven.
And the work has become less cyclical and more continuous as applicants have the luxury of starting applications earlier by entering information that “rolls over” from one year to the next. Marketing begins with the administration of the first PSAT, with even the earliest scores sold to colleges anxious to get their names before potential applicants. There’s hardly a moment to reflect on successes and failures before it’s time to gear up for the next group of recruits turned applicants.
But as almost anyone involved in college admissions would agree, something isn’t quite right with this picture—the entire college admissions process is due for a major overhaul. And a handful of deans and enrollment management experts are ready to try.
“Technology has transformed how we process applications and how we read applications, but not how we create content for these applications,” commented Jeremiah Quinlan, Yale’s dean of undergraduate admission.
Like many others charged with overseeing admissions, Quinlan felt the time had come for Yale to experiment with application content that responded to the pervasiveness and availability of digital media. While the Common Application set the standard, others saw a market ripe for innovation.
“I really felt we needed to make a change. We were looking at more and more essays that felt like they had been written by 47-year olds and not 17-year olds,” said Quinlan. “We thought we needed more material—different material—in the review process.”
Enter the Coalition application. Born out of concern that reliance on a single electronic application was a risky proposition and developed with a view toward attracting a wider, underserved audience, the Coalition application as built by CollegeNet looked for ways to integrate creativity and give colleges the kind of basic flexibility they wanted in an application platform.
“After the fall of 2013, we needed to bring more options into the application space,” Quinlan explained. “We thought giving students a choice of applications would be better for colleges and better for applicants.”
One of over 90 colleges that originally joined the Coalition and 47 that actually launched applications for 2016-17, Yale viewed this as an opportunity to design a substantially different set of application specifications from those contained in the Common Application.
Students applying to Yale could choose to write two additional 200-word essays (beyond the personal statement and other short-answer questions) for the Common Application or they could choose to write one 250-word essay and provide an upload related to that essay on the Coalition application.
While many Coalition members chose to simply replicate requirements laid out on the Common Application, Quinlan decided to offer alternate but not totally different requirements on Yale’s Coalition application. He kept the prompts the same for both applications, but used the Coalition application’s functionality to support links to digital media.
“It was critical to our review process that we not give preference to one application type over another. Our results from the first year bear this out; the rate of admission for students who submitted the Common Application and for students who submitted the Coalition Application were nearly identical.”
Nevertheless, the results were exciting. While only about one percent or 300 of Yale’s applicants used the Coalition application, the advantage of providing students with a choice of how to present themselves was clear. In some cases, the online media helped “separate” a student or verified some element of the application that didn’t come through strongly enough in a recommendation or through a student’s writing.
“We found certain situations, for example, where a video component made a difference—showed examples of kinds of characteristics we’re looking for.”
To illustrate his point, Quinlan talks about an application Yale received from Justin Aubin, an Eagle Scout who lives and attends high school in the southwest suburbs of Chicago. Justin’s recommendations were excellent, and he was an outstanding student. But Yale has lots of those applicants.
What made Justin stand apart was a video his older brother filmed to document the construction of Justin’s Eagle project. In this distinctly amateurish record of decisions made as the work progressed, the Yale admissions office could easily see how Justin managed and supervised younger scouts and how he exhibited compassionate leadership, which inspired respect from the group as a whole.
The additional essay Justin provided put the video in context. But most importantly, he presented information that highlighted and underscored character traits Yale values and wants to bring to campus in the classes they admit. Other information on the application suggested this was possibly the case, but the video nailed it.
Justin Aubin was eventually admitted and will be attending Yale in the fall as a member of the class of 2021. And Quinlan credits Justin’s creative use of digital media—submitting the video—as making the difference
In all fairness, Yale isn’t the first institution to allow videos and other digital media to be submitted as part of an application for admission. Goucher College in Maryland and George Mason University in Virginia and others have video options available through institutional applications.
And it’s not all that unusual for colleges to offer several different application formats with differing requirements. In fact, smaller colleges make clear that their institutional applications are often more popular than the standardized Common Application.
In addition, last year’s applicants could use ZeeMee, an online resume promoted in questions on the Common Application, or SlideRoom—a Common App partner—to provide more visual support for their talents and interests.
But the difference for colleges using the Coalition application was that they could design their own questions and media integration. They didn’t have to rely on a third-party website that might encourage more “freeform” or off-message responses.
Yale’s new application was no more difficult for staff to review than the two-essay Common App version and could be scripted to allow for comparable responses across applicants using either platform. Linking the digital media to an essay prompt was key to the success of the experiment.
“Staff enjoyed doing something else. It was a way to experiment with new ways of interpreting new kinds of application content.”
Quinlan has a great deal of respect for the Common Application and has no interest in changing that relationship, which has worked very well for Yale. But he does want to offer students a choice of application platforms.
“We want the two applications to be different so students can be thoughtful about which they use and what they decide to present to us.”
While he expects to “tweak” the essay prompts offered in the Yale supplement, Quinlan will continue to provide the digital media option in the Coalition application. “We will maintain the two applications for next year with the same set-up.”
And students will be free to choose the application platform that best presents their credentials and makes their case for admission to Yale University.
For the record, the Coalition application will make available new functionality on June 15. And for the coming year, the roster of institutional members will grow to 135. After July 1, colleges can open individual applications according to their own timelines.
Attention rising high school seniors! In the sixth of a series of beachfront advice posts to celebrate summer, learn the beautifully simple way to gain inspiration for the college application essays you should be completing this summer.
Write an essay worthy of getting you into your dream college! Expert college application essay editing is just a click away!
Last fall, Cappex entered the college application market by launching two new products—the Cappex and Greenlight Scholars applications. Both were designed to build on existing relationships college-bound students have with the Cappex and College Greenlight websites by allowing them to apply directly to participating colleges from the websites.
Both applications launched on September 1 of last year and both attracted participation from colleges already part of the Cappex and/or College Greenlight networks.
“We signed on with the Cappex Application because it’s one more way students can connect with Northland at the applicant stage,” explained Teege Mettille, executive director of admissions at Northland College.
While Greenlight serves first generation, low-income students, both the Cappex and Greenlight Scholars applications were created to streamline the process of applying to college by doing away with application fees and the kinds of extraneous essay requirements students describe as barriers for application completion.
Similar in many ways, the two applications have different approaches for showcasing credentials. The Greenlight Scholars application uses the Cappex Application Platform but is designed to help identify non-cognitive predictors of academic success such as a student’s drive, commitment and interests. And Greenlight is specifically promoted through a network of 1,200 Community Based Organizations (CBOs) which is already using the website’s suite of tools and resources in support of their student communities.
Both applications are looking forward to expanding their rosters of participating institutions for 2017-18, and both will launch on August 1, 2017, with the following essay prompts:
Prompt 1 (required): Tell us a story about yourself that is key to understanding who you are. This could be a moment you changed, grew, or made a difference. (500 words or less)
Prompt 2 (optional): The goals of this application are to reflect your unique interests, experiences, capabilities and pursuits. To this end, is there anything else you would like us to know? (300 words or less)
Greenlight Scholars Application
Prompt 1 (required): Please select one question to answer in maximum 500 words.
Defining moment: Tell us a story about yourself that is key to understanding who you are today and reveals aspects of who you want to become in college and life. This could be a moment when you changed, grew or made a difference or an everyday moment that reveals something people count on you for.
Community: A college is a community of diverse individuals. What is your ideal of community? What communities do you come from? How have those communities shaped and supported you and how have you shaped and supported those communities? What do you uniquely bring to your college community?
Learning: People learn many different things in many different ways. Describe a project or opportunity–in school or out–that challenged you, revealed something new or where you experienced failure. Reflect on what you learned, how you learned and how that learning influences your plans for college and the future.
Overcoming adversity: Describe a significant obstacle that you have overcome. How were you able to overcome this challenge? How has this shaped who you are today and who you will be in the future?
Prompt 2 (optional): Please describe your ideal college campus/academic environment. How will you gain from it? How will you contribute to it? (300 words or less)
Prompt 3 (optional): The goals of this application are to reflect your unique interests, experiences, capabilities and pursuits. To this end, is there anything else you would like us to know? (300 words or less)
This is the second of a two-part series. Part I may be found here.
Every year students ask me the same question:
“How long should my Common Application essay be?”
I am never shy about providing them with the response that best summarizes how they need to approach both the Common Application essay and the Common Application in general:
“Go Big or Go Home!”
Despite what the official directions on the Common App indicate, students writing a 250-word essay – the lowest end of the range that is officially acceptable to complete this essay – have a far lower chance of convincing college admissions officers of their admissions-worthiness than students who believe in the maxim, ‘bigger is better.” The official upper limit in acceptable length on the Common App essay is 650 words.
A well-thought out and well-developed essay of any true substance is not only not possible in 250 words, it’s barely possible in 450 words. This is why none of our clients have ever submitted a Common App essay consisting of fewer than 450 words. With that said, the true sweet spot in Common Application essay writing, for this current year’s prompts and prompts going back over a decade, is 500 to 650 words. This was even the case a few years ago when the Common App limited students to a mere 500 words. That experiment lasted for such a short time because colleges were getting such transparently superficial essays that they were a waste of time and effort for students and completely lacking any valuable insight helpful to college admissions officers.
Think of a 500- to 650-word essay as a smooth and enjoyable flight from D.C. to Disney World. In 500 to 650 words students have the space they need to achieve proper cruising altitude: writing a strong introductory paragraph that both grabs readers’ attention and clearly states the essay’s thesis. Next, just as one wants to have an enjoyable in-flight experience with the fasten seatbelt sight off and flight attendants passing out drinks and snacks, so to does a 500- to 650-word essay allow readers to relax a bit. In 500 to 650 words students are able to produce non-rushed, non-turbulent, highly valuable descriptive and specific body paragraphs that go a long way toward proving the essay’s thesis. Finally, landing a plane takes great skill, as does writing a conclusion to a college application essay. It’s not a simple rehash of the lift off (thesis); it should be complementary to it. Students who have 500 to 650 words to work with are able to smoothly touch down in a way that puts the cherry on top of the entire flying/essay reading experience. At the end of the day, admissions officers read your essays because they want to fly the friendly skies with you into your world. 500 to 600 words allows you to give them a proper flying experience and gives you the words necessary to differentiate your world from the world of other applicants.
In order to produce a great final draft essay, your rough drafts should be even longer than 650 words. It’s very common for our clients to create first, second, and third draft essays of nearly 1,000 words. Only through consistent and high quality editing can any essay be ready for submission to colleges and universities, and starting with too few words on initial drafts is a recipe for a puny little final draft essay.
So, the big take-away ideas on the Common App Essay are these:
- Don’t do the minimum because you are officially allowed to do the minimum
- Go big or go home – your final draft should be 500 to 650 words and your first draft should be even longer
- In your final draft, ensure that paragraph transitions are smooth – just as a good pilot and great weather conditions allow a flight to be smooth from lift-off to landing
So, what are you going to be writing about on this year’s Common App? Just before April Fool’s Day 2015 The Common Application, which has more than 500 member colleges and universities, announced its 2015-2016 essay prompts. But, these new questions are no joke; none of the essay prompts are easy, and all require a great deal of time, thought, and drafting before members of the Class of 2016 can confidently hit submit on their applications.
Honestly, I miss the old questions. Though the 2017-2018 Common App will feature some improvements compared to the 2016-2017 version of the Common App, it seems as though the people behind the Common App are less and less interested in reading essays from normal teenagers and more and more interested in pushing teens to appear exceptional, idiosyncratic, or downright eccentric for the purpose of entertaining application readers and putting on a show of some sort of diversity. I would be surprised if many of the admissions officers could portray themselves accurately with these prompts. Yet, this is what students in the Class of 2018 who will apply to Common App colleges and universities have to work with this coming admissions cycle, so they better start brainstorming now.
The 2017-2018 Common Application essay prompts are as follows:
Choose the option below that best helps you write an essay of no more than 650 words.
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. [No change from last year]
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? [Revised from last year]
3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? [Revised from last year]
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. [No change from last year]
5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. [Revised from last year]
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? [New]
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. [New]
Are you ready to start drafting? If you are a member of the Class of 2018, your time to start drafting is now! You should aim to wrap up your Common App essay no later than early August, which will give you plenty of time to draft and perfect your essays for Common Application supplements, the Universal College App, and other institutional applications.
Remember, if you want or need help with any part of your essay brainstorming and drafting, we are here to help you. We help students from around the world, and we are standing by ready to help you compose essays that will help you get into your dream colleges and universities. Schedule a video chat with us to discuss your essay strategy or have one of our experts review and edit your current draft(s) today.
Craig Meister is an international university admissions expert and founder of Admissions Intel, the authoritative online knowledge base and admissions consultancy for students and parents navigating the college admissions process.
Fans of Janine Robinson and her enormously popular Essay Hell blog will love the latest in her series of practical primers on college essay writing, Essay Hell’s 50 Most Commonly Asked Questions—a crash course on how to write a totally awesome college admissions essay.
In this short—it takes under an hour to read—ebook guide, Robinson has compiled 50 of the questions she’s encountered most frequently in workshops and working individually with students and others on college essay writing. Readers can easily learn the basics of everything from form to content in thumbnail responses provided in the narrative and then expand their knowledge by clicking on links to related posts on the Essay Hell blog. Standing alone, the guide is an easy and direct introduction to college essays. But the combination with more specific and detailed advice in the blog gives a powerful overview of what admissions readers look for and appreciate in essays submitted with college applications.
The guide is broken into five chapters featuring questions on how to find essay topics, the best way to structure essays and how to strike the right tone for the right topics. Sample questions include
Who reads these essays?
What are admissions experts looking for?
Do I need an impressive topic?
Can I write about mental illness, sex, religion, politics, etc.”
Does a college application essay need a title?
How much of a role can parents play in brainstorming and writing the essay?
Robinson’s pioneering approach to college essays is one now shared by many essay coaches. She teaches students how to “tap their real-life stories to illustrate their unique qualities and characteristics, and distinguish themselves from other applicants.” And she is quick to point out that the style and content of these kinds of essays is not for English teachers or grades—they are less formal in nature.
As a bonus, the guide includes a link to six sample essays in the introduction from Robinson’s collection of college application essays, called Heavenly Essays. It also includes a free book offer for readers.
Between now and February 17, Essay Hell’s 50 Most Commonly Asked Questions will be available on Amazon for download free of charge. After that, a free digital copy may be obtained by emailing Janine Robinson at firstname.lastname@example.org. The second offer ends March 1.