UT-Austin New Short Answer Prompts

New prompts for the short answers, but they don’t require a complete change in approach. As a reminder, UT’s long essay also changed. The long essay is now much more open-ended so you can, in most cases, use your Common App essay.

Long essay (required):

All freshman applicants must submit a required essay, Topic A in ApplyTexas and the UT Austin Required Essay in the Coalition application. Please keep your essay between 500–700 words (typically two to three paragraphs).

Short essays (250-300 words):

Required Short Answer 1:

Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?

Required Short Answer 2:

Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways. Please share how you have demonstrated leadership in either your school, job, community, and/or within your family responsibilities.

Required Short Answer 3:

Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.

Optional Short Answer:

Please share background on events or special circumstances that may have impacted your high school academic performance.

Time to get started on the UT app! Source here.

 

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Apply Texas Announces New Freshman Essay A (The Personal Statement Essay)

UT has a new Essay A prompt and we like it. It is very open-ended and allows students to talk about something outside of their “home environment” (although we encouraged students to think about that broadly) and get creative if they want. It also means, in most cases, you can plan ahead and use your Common App and/or Coalition essay. There really is no reason to write a different personal statement if you don’t have to—all personals statements should be “your story.”

The new prompt:

Tell us your story. What unique opportunities or challenges have you experienced throughout your high school career that have shaped who you are today?

The old prompt:

What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.

From Kevin at Tex Admissions (aka the UT Admissions Guy):

UT has yet to officially update their admissions site as of early April, but I’ve confirmed this is the new Essay A prompt. They also anticipate changing all or some of the three short answer prompts. It’s almost certain that they will keep some variation of the “diversity” short answer that they introduced and almost immediately retracted in early August 2018. I have a feeling they will throw out the Academics short answer since there would be a lot of overlap with this new prompt.

Although some people disagree, and at some less selective schools they are unimportant, essays matters at selective schools. Our students start brainstorming for the personal statement in May and June, and that same brainstorming also rolls into brainstorming for supplemental essays, which we start as they are released over the summer. Because we emphasize a process that is as low stress as possible, our students head back to school in the fall with a majority of their essays written and apps completed.

To learn more about our essay process, and to see if we would be a good fit to work together, contact us for a free consult. 

 

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Transparency in College Admissions: Optional Components of the College Application

I am going to keep this one short and sweet since a number of the posts in my “college transparency” series have been quite long. If you want to maximize your chances of acceptance, don’t consider any optional components of a college application optional. Here are some common optional components:

  • Essays
  • Interviews
  • Videos submissions
  • Letter of recommendation (any or extras)

Option to write an optional essay? Write it.

Option to Interview? Sign up (then prepare for it…more on that here and here).

Option to create and send a video introduction, for example, like U Chicago and Bowdoin offer? Do it.

Option to send an extra letter of recommendation, or to send one at all if optional (many schools require zero LORs, so if you can submit one as an option….)? Request one and have it sent.

Why submit optional materials? Because by doing so you are going above and beyond what other applicants will do to demonstrate who they are as well as their commitment to being accepted to the school to which you are applying. You are giving yourself the opportunity to let the admissions committee get to know more about you. And because there is more of “you” for them to evaluate, assuming the you that you present is in a good light, you increase your odds of winning over the admissions committee.

Also, for many AdComs, not submitting optional materials looks lazy. If I have applicant A and applicant B on the table, and all things are equal but A submits extra materials and B does not, there is a higher likelihood I am going with A. I like to see the extra hustle, and colleges do, too.

 

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Transparency in College Admissions: Essays

Some college and universities do not require any essays to submit an application. These schools do not care about essays.

Some college and universities only require a personal statement, but do not require any supplemental essays to apply. These schools care about essays.

Some college and universities require a personal statement and supplemental essays to apply. These schools really care about essays.

So, essays—aka your voice and personal story, not just your “numbers”—do matter if the schools you are applying to require essays as part of their application. Within these schools, there might be varying degrees of weight put on essays; some schools weight them with greater importance than others. Pro tip: instead of trying to figure who cares about them a lot and who cares about them a little, if they request them, consider them important and put effort into them.

Now, whether they are required or not, they do not matter as much as two other application components: your grades and your test scores (if applying to colleges that require test scores). If you are not in the ballpark with these two components, your essays won’t matter that much. Beautiful prose won’t negate a transcript of subpar grades or test scores that are far below a college’s average scores.

Given the importance of essays, here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you write the personal statement, taken straight from the FAQ we give our clients:

I am student body president/lacrosse team captain/editor of my school paper/founder of the Computer Science Club/president of the biggest community service effort at my school/insert something else super impressive here—I’m obviously going to write about that for my personal statement (PS), right?

Not necessarily. The reader needs to walk away from the essay having learned something about you that he/she can’t glean from the rest of your application material, and we will actively discourage you from writing about any academic or extracurricular accomplishments that are already clearly communicated from your resume or the activities section of your application. There will be plenty of other ways to highlight these aspects of your profile, including your application data, resume, interviews, and supplemental essays and/or interest letters, where applicable. If you want to write about being student body president etc. because being president precipitated some serious personal crisis—then, yes, you might write about that. But if you want to write about being student body president because you think it looks “impressive” to colleges, we will steer you away. They will already be impressed by seeing it on your resume!

Should my PS relate to my intellectual interests and potential major?

Again, not necessarily. Cultural, literary or academic references (e.g., an intellectual or academic interest, connection to future major of study, etc.) can add to an essay, but if you have a compelling personal story, they are usually not needed.

What do you mean when you say “show, don’t tell” or talk about “concrete” versus “abstract” language?

A personal essay like the PS should be written more like a short story or a novel than an academic essay. This means it should include vivid, descriptive, and concrete language. When I use the word concrete, I am talking about using specific details. An example of a specific and concrete sentence is: “I woke up at 6am to my phone blaring ‘Come as You Are’ by Nirvana. I’d had the same alarm for six years, and I still loved it.” This is an exciting opening with interesting details that create a sense of a unique voice and personality and makes me want to keep reading.

An example of a non-concrete sentence on the same topic is: “I like to wake up early.” This sentence doesn’t give me any details and doesn’t have much personality; I feel like anyone could have written in it. I’m less inclined to keep reading and already less disposed to like the essay.

An example of an abstract sentence is: “I need to be true to myself.” The use of a conventional idiom makes the sentence boring and vague—what does it mean for you to be true to yourself, in whatever context you’re discussing? I’m not sure. Again, I get the sense anyone could have written it.

A strong PS will need to strike a balance between concrete and abstract (but not cliché) language—between action and narrative (concrete) and reflection on that action (abstract).

And a few general tips for supplements:

What do I write my supplements about?

As with the personal statement, the best supplemental essays (or “supps” as we call them) provide the admissions committee with new insight into who you are. This doesn’t mean you won’t mention anything that’s also on your resume; in fact, you often will be explicitly asked to do so. However, supps are not merely an opportunity to rehash your resume or the activities section of the Common Application. They are a place to go beyond the facts of what you did and when—a place to provide insight into your motivations for pursuing an interest, to discuss obstacles you’ve faced in the process, or even, potentially, to talk about why you quit. So, like the PS, they can be personal when at all possible. The supplemental essays are, above all, a chance for you to ‘supplement’ your personal statement with more information into who you are and what makes you tick. In addition, many provide the perfect platform to highlight your knowledge of—and demonstrated interest in—the school, which never hurts.

Since most are shorter than the personal statement, they will be much easier to write, right?

Many students believe short essays are easier to write than long essays, but in reality, they are much harder because they require you to choose your details wisely; you can’t say everything you might want to say. We suggest you write long essays first not only because they tend to be easier to write, but also because you can recycle long essays whenever possible, and cut them down to work for shorter essays on the same or a similar prompt.

To conclude, essays matter. They are one area of your application that you have complete creative control over, and where you have the opportunity to possibly “wow” the admissions committee. No committee is typically wowed by a perfect GPA or set of perfect test scores—those are not uncommon anymore!

If you want 1:1 guidance to brainstorm for and then write the best personal statement and supplements possible, contact us for a free 30-minute consultation.

 

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Will Your 11th Grader Be Away This Summer?

Who you are doesn’t change between the second half of junior year and the time you apply to college, so why wait any longer to write your personal statement?

If your 11th grader is away at camp, traveling, or at a summer program this summer, you will want them to have this crucial component of their application completed before they go. Trust me, coming back home in August with no parts of the college application complete can make for an insane end to summer vacation and time-crunched fall. It does not have to be this way.

For the past couple of years, we have had a small group of students write their personal statement over their winter break or shortly after the new year. The result: far less stress on the college application journey because one of the most important parts of their application was already complete. Same amazing writing we always help students produce, even less stress. That is what we are all about!

This year we are formally offering weekend-long 1:1 personal statement bootcamps for motivated, summer-time-crunched, or any juniors who simply want to get ahead in addition to our standard 1:1 essay expert service and comprehensive college counseling packages, which include essay work.

Space is limited for winter 2019. Contact us today to discuss scheduling! Your student will thank us later when they are confidently ahead of the game.

 

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How to Gear Up for College Essay Writing

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Nonfiction

Why? It’s one of the most valuable resources for writers. You write a lot when applying to college, and beyond cranking out apps, it’s a process that lends itself to learning how to write well. To me, it’s a must-read!

 

Why? Over four weeks, you will be guided through a series of video exercises with questions and prompts to self-reflect about all the foundational elements of your backstory. From it, you will better you understand how the elements of your backstory have set you on your path in life. This is a must if you are going to write an effective personal statement.The process works: YouSchool has taken thousands of people through it and knows that if you do the work, you’ll gain a clear sense of what story you’re living in. You are also provided the structure to engage in deep conversations with people you trust (parents, teachers, friends, college counselors!). BackStory is a fantastic way to gear up for personal statement writing.

 

Why? It’s one of the only “college essay” books I can stomach. More importantly, it’s a thoughtful and sometimes funny (depending on the type of humor you enjoy) guide to writing the personal statement. It is also written well and is very easy to read.

 

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2019-2020 Common App Essay Prompts

The Common Application has announced that the 2019-2020 essay prompts will remain the same as the 2018-2019 essay prompts. Based on extensive counselor feedback, the existing essay prompts provide great flexibility for applicants to tell their unique stories in their own voice. Retaining the essay prompts provides the added benefit of consistency for students, counselors, parents, and members during the admissions process.

Plus, with essay prompts remaining the same, students rolling over their existing Common App accounts have more time to plan and prepare their applications prior to the final year of high school.

2019-2020 Common Application Essay Prompts

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 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?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

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.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

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?

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.

During the 2018-2019 application year, the most popular topic of choice was: “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.” (24.1%). The next most popular topics were: “Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.” (23.7%), followed by “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?” (21.1%).

“The prompts as they exist today offer a broad range of approaches, accommodating students with a diverse set of experiences and ideas about the world to respond in a thoughtful and illuminating manner,”‘ said Ian Watson, Associate Director of College Counseling at The Rivers School (Weston, MA).

Contact us to learn more about how we help students craft a killer Common App essay!

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One Weekend = Finish Your Personal Statement

Who you are doesn’t change between the second half of junior year and the time you apply to college, so why wait any longer to write your personal statement?

For the past couple of years, we had a small group of students write their personal statements over their winter break or shortly after the new year. The result: far less stress later in the year because one of the most important parts of their application was already complete. Same amazing writing we always help students produce, even less stress. That is what we are all about!

This year we are formally offering weekend-long personal statement bootcamps for motivated, spring/summer-time-crunched, or any juniors who simply want to get ahead.

Space is limited for winter 2019. Contact us today to discuss scheduling!

Advice on College Essays

I received a WOW Writing Workshop email the other day with the subject Are Your Students’ College Essays Good Enough and some text that noted: As the early application deadlines approach, it can be tempting to “fix” your students’ college essays. We don’t want you to do that; it won’t help your students (and it might ruin the essays).

All I could think was wow, this is especially true as it pertains to parent edits! And counselor edits, and friend edits, and English teacher edits…

Kim Lofton’s Tips to Review College Essays is excellent (when thinking about the personal statement specifically), and I want to share a few of them:

“Begin by letting go of any preconceived notions about what makes a good essay. In fact, we suggest replacing the word “good” with the word “effective.” It’s important to let each student write their story in their own voice using their own words.

There is no rubric for an effective college essay, but the ones that stand out all share a few common features. Regardless of the prompt, they:

-Answer the question.
-Showcase a positive trait or characteristic.
-Sound like a high school student.
-Illustrate something meaningful about the student.
-Demonstrate reflection.”

 

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Do Perfect Students Have Nothing Interesting to Write About?

I am especially fond of Janine Robinson’s many posts on writing anecdotes. This month I am “final reviewing” many personal statements. In doing so, I’ve been thinking a lot about topic generation and how to get students to dig deeper to find topics that I have not read a hundred times before. It always bothers me when parents complain that we took a few hours to brainstorm topics; I’m not sure they understand that pinpointing a decent topic can take a lot of work. It is disheartening that so much digging needs to take place at all, but it often does. Anyway, Robinson’s blog post on essay topics has some interesting points, so thought I would share.

From what I’ve seen working with college-bound students for the last decade, many of our most talented, driven and intelligent teenagers are living such parallel, over-achieving lives that they struggle to find an effective essay topic. These are the same kids, many targeting Ivy League educations, who will need bull’s-eye essays to have even a shot of getting in.

It’s sad, unfair and ironic: The hardest working students have no time for a life. Here’s an example of a student I worked with recently:

The mom sent me an email summarizing her daughter’s background:

The daughter was interested in history and computer science, and also in theater (worked on every school production since 7th grade). She also did Model UN (with accolades); was editor of the school newspaper and active in debate club. Also, she was captain of the robotics team, the chess club and some other academic team. She had built her own computer and the family’s home service. She also participated in three varsity sports. The daughter’s GPA was stellar and test scores excellent.

Where did she want to go to college?

“Her high school counselor thinks she has a good chance at the Ivies,” mom wrote.

Sure sounds like this girl could have her pick of colleges, right? Good luck with that!

Acceptance rates at the prestige schools are at all-time lows. Even if she wrote an outstanding college application essay, her chances would be slim to none at the most elite schools. The real problem, to me, is that this student isn’t unusual.

Most of these applicants have similar off-the-charts grades, test scores and extracurricular dossiers. With everyone at the top of the heap, the focus often turns to their college application essays. The tragedy I mentioned in my sensational headline is that these are the exact brilliant students who have the hardest time coming up with an interesting and meaningful essay topic.

Why?

They are too busy doing the same things. Team sports, band, drama, clubs, and internships. Model United Nations. Summer camp. Mission trips. Robotic competitions. And mostly…studying.

Even though their activities and experiences are truly character-building and lesson-teaching, the highly orchestrated nature makes them difficult to mine for gritty, organic or relevant life-shaping lessons. That’s why one of my first questions to students I tutor is whether they had held a job. Summer jobs. Working part-time during school. Even hourly work. These are a gold mine for topic ideas, mainly because they fall outside that high school student bubble where everyone does the same thing. Suddenly a student has to deal with getting stiffed by a customer at a restaurant where he waits tables. Or a student has to find a way to get his lawn mower to job sites without a car. Maybe a student gets passed over to caddie at a golf club because she’s Hispanic.

I advise students to recall “times” they faced problems in their past to discover real-life moments that helped shaped their thinking in some way. If they can show themselves in action handling that issue, their stories (and essay topic) will reveal a piece of their unique personality. If they also reflect and explain what they learned when handling that problem, they also can reveal their character.

Personality + Character = Awesome Personal Statement Essay

The sad thing is that the most high-reaching students often have not had a summer job. Not only have they not had time in their activity-packed lives to hold a job working at Subway, or a clothing boutique or for their parent’s grocery store, but they simply don’t have ANY FREE TIME. Many of these students are distressed when we start brainstorming an essay topic. They say the same things as all students–“There’s nothing interesting about me.” I ask them what they do when they do get a rare moment of time to themselves.

They pause.

Think.

Think some more.

“I like to hang out with my friends,” many tell me. Oh yea. Friends. How sad is this??

Unfortunately, hanging with friends doesn’t often yield great essay topics, so we keep fishing around in their past to find something they have done where there weren’t a lot of adults around making sure nothing went wrong.

Perfect life. Nothing happens. No story. No story. Dull essay. Talk about pressure!

These students have worked so hard, for so long, and truly sacrificed a lot to be perfect students, the exact kind who should get into the most competitive college and universities. I believe many should simply let go of the Ivy League fantasy and focus on the several hundred or more outstanding educational institutions that don’t have Ivy status. Boy, would that chill out this frenzied application world almost overnight. I believe the kids would let them go without a second thought if their parents went first. I know I’m old school, but I have to note that many of my achieving students also mention “My anxiety” or “My depression” as possible essay topics.

I don’t think that’s just a coincidence.

I remember one student who was so desperate for an interesting experience that he planned to borrow an experience that happened to his mother when she was young. And guess who’s brilliant idea this was? Yup, mom’s. But for many of these perfect students, who have engaged in more interesting and challenging activities than many people do in a lifetime, they can’t find that magic topic or everyday experience to nail their college application essay.

It’s the overachievers who come from privileged backgrounds who have it the hardest. Somehow these students do have time for international vacations, second home visits, ski trips, spa outings, sailing, riding horses and golfing (I’m not trying to be snide; this is what they tell me). It’s possible to extract interesting experiences and write compelling essays that involve these privileged activities, but I haven’t seen many. Students who have had to step in to help their family or their own financial well-being are the lucky ones—at least when it comes to essay topics.

If they lived on a ranch in the middle of nowhere and helped raise the pigs.

If they helped their mom clean houses on weekends.

If they ran the cash register at the family laundry mat.

If they had to get a summer job to earn spending money (HINT: That could be any kid.)

Perfect Students: Dig Harder for Your Essay Topic

This is where “real-life” happens, and no matter how hard you try, it’s much easier to write about, extract relatable experiences and moments, and draw out life lessons when life involves a degree of struggle. I feel for these overachievers. They are hard-working, well-intentioned and great kids. For some, this may be their first taste of how life can sometimes be unfair. Don’t despair, though, if you are a perfect student who has done all the right things, plus some. You will still get into the most awesome schools.

When it comes to your college application essay, and finding a killer essay topic, you are going to have to once again be that kid who goes the extra mile. You can and will find great topics. They will just take more digging and imagination, possibly more research and self-reflection. I push the idea of the “mundane,” over the impressive. Works every time.

Even if you are one of those determined students who does everything, along with thousands of others doing the exact same thing, you are unique. You just need to work hard to find some type of problem (challenge, obstacle, failure, phobia, conflict, set-back, crisis, mistake, etc.) you faced in order to show how.

 

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