Writing Prompts and Making the Choice: College Admissions Essay Help
Many schools use quotations, both famous and obscure, as essay topics. While some provide a specific question to help direct your writing, others simply ask you to respond in any way you choose. For example, Amherst College does the latter, citing three separate quotes to choose from. One of them is the following:
"It seems to me incumbent upon this and other schools' graduates to recognize their responsibility to the public interest.. unless the graduates of this college... are willing to put back into our society those talents, the broad sympathy, the understanding, the compassion...then obviously the presuppositions upon which our democracy are based are bound to be fallible."
—John F. Kennedy, at the ground breaking for the Amherst College Frost Library, October 26,1963
Not all schools use heavyweight quotes. George Washington University, for example, provides:
"A table, a chair, a bowl of fruit and a violin; what else does a man need to be happy?"
The directions provided by Amherst College are great advice, no matter the quotation or the school: "It is not necessary to research, read, or refer to the texts from which these quotations are taken; we are looking for original, personal responses to these short excerpts. Remember that your essay should be personal in nature and not simply an argumentative essay."
Short Answer Prompts
Some schools ask you to write more than one essay in an attempt to elicit additional information about you. Second and even third essays are typically expected to be 250 words or fewer, and their topics are often wide-ranging. As with every essay, resist the temptation to get scholarly—these aren't meant to demonstrate your research or debate skills.
Here are a few other examples:
- University of Richmond: Tell us about an experience in which you left your comfort zone. How did this experience change you?
- Stetson University: If you had a million dollars today, what would you do with it?
- University of Virginia: What is your favorite word and why?
Many prompt types lend themselves to essay recycling; consider the time saving move of using an essay you've already written. Here are three ideas for making the most of existing essays:
- Submit the original copy of an essay you wrote for a class, with teacher comments. Be certain to use an essay that got you an A and is on an interest ing topic. There is an important advantage of this choice (other than the obvious saving of time and effort): it effectively gives you another teacher recommendation if the comments are positive and he or she didn't already write one of your other recommendations.
- Rewrite an essay composed for a class, improving it by incorporating teacher comments. This option allows you to take advantage of your teach er's editing abilities. There is no need to mention the grade the essay received, or the class or teacher it was required by.
- Use an essay written for another college application. If you use this option, just be sure your essay isn't geared specifically for another school. Carefully check the essay for any reference to a particular school before submitting it; more than one student has been caught extolling the virtues of school A on the application for school B. There's never an excuse for such sloppiness.
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