Academic Quad of Rice University
It’s back to school! But for entering seniors, it’s an even more (exciting?) time as college applications are looming on the horizon. There are two, primary “common applications” which your Texas resident child should be concerned with – ApplyTexas for most Texas colleges and the Common Application for most every other college.
If your child is like most students nationwide, they’ll probably apply to five to eight colleges with a combination of Texas public institutions and non-Texas public and private universities. As such, they’re looking at writing at least 4 to 6 essays of approximately 2-pages in length each.
Some Writing Tips
After test scores and grade transcripts, the essays are easily the third most important part of the college application. Test scores supposedly identify whether or not students have the raw cognitive capability to excel, and school grades are supposed to demonstrate how well or not students took advantage of the classroom opportunities afforded to them.
Assuming that there’s more to a person than just test scores and books, essays are therefore the most human and intangible component; they enable students to use their own voice to fill in the rest of the picture of their candidacy.
At under 600 words each, these essays are more about concise marketing and good first impressions making than anything else:
- Market yourself. Who are you and what makes you unique and a good fit to the college that you’re applying to? You’ll need to make sure this theme comes out in your essays.
- Be specific. These essays are all about you; they need to include specific examples from your life experiences. If you step back and think the essay could apply to anyone, start rewriting.
- Be creative. Admissions officers are going to be reading thousands of essays in a short time span. Just as you would with a first, in-person meeting, you need to make a positive, memorable impression.
In a way, a good college essay is much like a 30-second Super Bowl television ad. You have a very valuable, limited space to pitch your product to an audience who’s jaded by all of the other really great ads.
The ApplyTexas application is accepted by all Texas public universities and many private ones including Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, and Trinity University.
There are as many five essay topics on which students can write; however, which topics and how many will depend on the school/s to which they’re applying.
For example, the University of Texas at Austin requires two essays for most students but only stipulates the topic for one (Topic ) while leaving the second essay topic up to the student’s choice. Texas A&M Requires at least two essays (Topics A and B) but recommends a third for most candidates. Below are the three, primary essay topics available through ApplyTexas.
ApplyTexas Essay Topics
Topic A (Required for A&M)
Describe a setting in which you have collaborated or interacted with people whose experiences and/or beliefs differ from yours. Address your initial feelings, and how those feelings were or were not changed by this experience.
Topic B (Required for A&M)
Describe a circumstance, obstacle or conflict in your life, and the skills and resources you used to resolve it. Did it change you? If so, how?
Topic C: (Required for UT, Recommended for A&M)
Considering your lifetime goals, discuss how your current and future academic and extra-curricular activities might help you achieve your goals.
The Common Application is accepted by more than 500 colleges nationwide including state institutions like University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and University of Colorado Boulder and prestigious colleges like Rice, Harvard, and Stanford. Most schools accepting the Common Application will require that students submit one essay in response to a topic of their choosing below.
Common Application Essay Topics
1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
2. The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
3. Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
4. (New for 2015) Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
5. Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
College Specific Topics
The ApplyTexas and Common Application are great tools because they decrease the amount of work required to apply to multiple schools. However, they don’t eliminate all of the hassle. In particular most schools accepting the Common Application will require a second essay of the college’s choosing. The topics usually ask students to write about why they’re a good fit for the college.
Sample College-Specific Essay Topics
Rice University – The quality of Rice’s academic life and the Residential College System are heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural traditions each student brings. What perspective do you feel that you will contribute to life at Rice? (500 word limit)
Stanford University – Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better. (250 word limit).
University of Colorado at Boulder – The University of Colorado Boulder’s Flagship 2030 strategic plan promotes the exceptional teaching, research, scholarship, creative works and service that distinguishes us as a premier university. We strive to foster a diverse and inclusive community that engages each member in opportunities for academic excellence, leadership and a deeper understanding of the world in which we live. Given the statement above, how do you think you could enrich our diverse and inclusive community and what are your hopes for your college experience? (250-650 words)
General Academic can help students with their college essays from start to finish including brainstorming, outlining, and editing. Contact us at GeneralAcademic.com or at 713-838-7774.
Tags:College Admissions, college applications, college essays
In order to write this essay, it is helpful to take a step back from the sometimes panic-inducing task of focusing on your college applications and instead look around. As you go about your day, maintain awareness of things that ordinarily seem insignificant, to the point that you may be taking them for granted.
For instance, remind yourself of the neighborhood you wake up in every day, the foods available to you for breakfast, and how you feel as you pass through your community on your commute to school. Reflect upon the impact your surroundings have on your day-to-day life and the ways in which they have fostered your personal development. You are probably familiar with your surroundings, to the point where they don’t seem particularly remarkable to you, but you are trying to introduce yourself to an admissions committee that probably knows very little about your hometown.
After reflecting on this exercise, you might realize that your work ethic stems from your gratefulness for the sacrifices your immigrant parents have made in order to give you a chance to succeed, or it could take the shape of your precocious desire to study geriatric medicine and hearing-loss pathologies because you have grown up in a town where the majority of your community is of advanced age.
This thought experiment is the perfect way to start dissecting what it is about your surroundings that has shaped you into the person you are today. Most importantly, it will show your essay reader that you have matured enough to be able to speak about yourself in a frank and vulnerable way. As long as you speak your truth, there is no wrong answer.
That being said, as you tell your story, you will want to avoid clichés and stay true to the complexity of your experience. If you have struggled to overcome obstacles, you don’t need to present yourself as a heroic individual that has achieved success because of your own grit and determination. You can acknowledge the bonds of friendship or family that helped you hold yourself together during tough times. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, and indeed having the courage to reach out and the humility to acknowledge your support network is one way to demonstrate maturity.
If you needed to watch after your father while he was suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, you might talk about how you had to work with your sister to watch him in the evening, and how sometimes you needed to get out of the house and play soccer with your friends in order to be able to come back inside and commit yourself to the work of care all over again. Maybe that experience is part of what made you want to get into nursing, not only to help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, but also to encourage patient’s family members to take care of themselves.
If you describe poignant tales of overcoming hardship and obstacles in your response, that is fine, as long as it is the truth. Some applicants might think that exaggerating their tales will score with admissions officers, but admissions officers are not judging your essay based on the level of hardship you have overcome. Rather, the question they will ask is what you’ve learned from your experiences and what kind of person you will be when you join the Texas A&M community.
One last word: As we’re revising this guide for the 2017 application season, the rains have only just barely stopped falling after Hurricane Harvey. The environmental, economic, and political dynamics of this disaster will be thought about and debated in the coming years as people try to rebuild more resilient cities in a changing climate. The students, faculty, and staff at Texas A&M will be taking part in this conversation.
If you were affected and feel so moved, you can certainly talk about your experience of the storm in your essay, even if you think that a lot of other applicants will also be talking about the storm as well. A major disaster contains a multitude of narratives, and if you focus on the particularities of your experience — what you lost, what you saw, how you imagine going forward — you will be making a contribution to a conversation about Harvey that will continue for years to come.