How to approach common college admissions essay prompts

How to approach common college admissions essay prompts | JLV College Counseling BlogThe college admissions essay can play a huge role in the college admissions process. At selective colleges, the essay can be the deciding factor when the admissions committee is making their decisions. The essay allows the admissions committee to get to know you on a more personal level. The essay can also help the admissions committee determine if the college is a good fit for the student.

Below are three types of college admissions essay prompts you will find as you start applying to college.

About You

The ‘about you’ question will be phrased in many different ways, but they all have the same purpose: ‘who are you?’ This question allows the admissions committee to get to know more about you than just your academic. The ‘about you’ question is also your opportunity to share what makes you a great candidate for the institutions. And, the essay helps you stand out from the crowd.

  • Don’t try to tell your life story. There is no way to share everything in the admissions essay. Instead, choose one or two topics that illustrate your best qualities.
  • Make sure the essay is unique. After writing the essay, read it back and ask yourself if another student could send in the same essay. If they could, add some specific details that makes the essay yours.
  • If the essay prompt uses the word ‘you’ or ‘your,’ such as all of the Common Application essay questions, it is an ‘about you” question. No matter what the question, always bring the essay back to you. Many students will get so focused on telling a story and forget about the main point of the essay: you. Always bring the essay back to you.
  • Be yourself. Don’t write what you think the admissions committee wants to read. For example, when asked what your favorite book is, share the real answer. Don’t pick a book you think might make you seem more attractive. Instead, choose your actual favorite book. Essays where students are able to be themselves will flow much better and will sound more authentic. When you are trying to be someone else, it usually comes across that way.

Why Us?

Many colleges want to hear why you are considering them. The ‘why us?’ question lets the admissions committee see how serious you are about attending the institution. At selective schools, if you are not serious about attending, they may not offer admission. The questions may be phased differently, but they all want to know the same thing: why do you want to attend the institution?

  • Recycling college admissions essays is common. However, make sure the “why us” essay does not list a different institution. It happens. As a former admissions officer, quite a few “why us?” essays crossed my desk saying the student was excited to attend a different university. Admissions officers know you are applying to other schools, but you don’t need to let them know in the ‘why us?’ essay.
  • Don’t just repeat facts that are listed on the website or admissions publications. If a fact is important to you, explain why it is important to you.
  • As you reread your essay, ask yourself if the essay could be sent to other colleges? If there is nothing specific to the institution in the essay, you may want to add specific information about the institution.
  • The ‘Why us?’ essay is the perfect time to use names. Students should mention names of professors, students, academic programs, student organizations, and other items that are drawing them to the college. Being specific can show the admissions committee you did your research and you have a strong interest in the college.
  • Although many of the essay prompts do not ask, students should also include what they can contribute to the campus community. Colleges want to admit students who will be active inside and outside the classroom. By sharing what you can bring to the community, with the help of something the college offers, it could win over the admissions committee when they are making their decisions.

Quirky questions

There are some colleges that ask quirky, interesting or unusual questions. For example, one of the University of Chicago’s questions lists many common idioms and then asks you to create your own idiom and share its origin.

  • There is no right or wrong answer to these questions. They are thought provoking questions that are meant to get you thinking.
  • Show your personality. Be yourself. Just like all of the other questions, don’t write what you think the admissions committee wants to hear, but what you think and believe.
  • Just because it is a safe answer doesn’t mean it is the best answer for you. Many students will be picking the safe answers for these types of questions and many of their essays will sound similar. Think outside the box when coming up with your answer to the prompt. Unique essays will make you stand out from the crowd, and standing out in the crowd during college admissions is a great advantage.
  • If possible, try to bring it back to you and something that is important to you. When writing about things that you are interested in or something you are passionate about, it usually comes across that way to the reader.

Admissions officers read hundreds or thousands of essays every year. Take your time when writing your college admissions essays. Essays that are unique and interesting will stand out to the readers and will typically stay with the reader long after admissions decisions are made.

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