Students must write one core college admissions essay if they are applying to a college or colleges that use The Common Application. But most schools also require additional essays, called supplements. The supp prompts for this year are starting to trickle out, and the trend so far is toward questions that are quirky and try to get students to think out of the box.
Even if these prompts seem lighter in nature, these are just as important as your core essay. Your supplemental essays might have a more offbeat or creative style or topic, but remember that many of your points should still be thoughtful and serious.
Tufts University is getting some attention for one of their new supplements. Among a handful of prompts students can choose from, one asks them to write about YOLO–or the idea that You Only Live Once. Both Gawker and the Huffington Post just wrote columns about Tuft’s unusual supplement prompts, which also include Quakers, nerds and the Red Sox.
YOLO is an age-old concept that dates back to the Roman idea of Carpe diem, or Seize the Day. Recently, a hip hop band named Drake popularized it with “The Motto” song, and #YOLO was a popular hashtag for a while. A YOLO decision usually involves some type of risk–you aren’t sure you will like it, you cant’ really afford it, you might regret it, you might get in trouble for doing it, etc. But you do it anyway.
The bottom line with this YOLO prompt is: When do you “go for” what you want, and when do you wait? Even though this question has a fun-loving feel, it is asking a relatively heavy question about your values, priorities and goals. Like most good essay prompts, it’s trying to get you to write about how you feel and think, and what you care about and why.
If you choose to respond to this provocative question–and other similar college essay supplements–here are a couple tips:
1. You will need to define YOLO in your own words, but make sure you don’t spend your entire essay (or even the majority of it) simply defining what it means. This essays demands you describe what it mean TO YOU!
2. The idea that You Only Live Once implies that if something means a lot to you, that you should go for it and not wait–at least not wait too long. Another way to think about it is to ask yourself: If you happened to die tomorrow, is there anything you would regret not having done? How do you decide what to “go for” in your life?
3. This essay prompt is basically asking you to ponder what you value and to weigh your goals–both in the near and distant future. It also is trying to get you to share how you make decisions when deciding how to pursue happiness in your life.
4. If you wanted to write a narrative style essay, I would suggest that you think of an example of a YOLO-type decision that you had to make–and then go into how you figured it out. In your introduction, describe what you wanted in the form of an anecdote–which relates a moment in time. You could talk about how you walked into the tattoo parlor with your friend, and how you looked at the images you were thinking of getting, and how you thought of the pros and cons of this difficult decision. Or how you stood at the edge of a cliff, locked in a bungie-jump harness, and debated (with yourself) on whether to take the plunge. The idea is that you capture the reader by putting them at the most intense moment, and then go back and walk them through the steps you took to get there and make the decision to “go for it” or not–and include your logic and motivation.
5. The key to writing a strong YOLO essay for Tufts University (and ALL essays) is to give it focus. Don’t just talk about how you go for things in general in life, but pick one strong example of “a time” when you made one of these decisions, and then reflect upon that. The readers want to know how you make these decisions, not just a recounting of all the times you have made them.
Here’s the complete YOLO prompt:
The ancient Romans started it when they coined the phrase “Carpe diem.” Jonathan Larson proclaimed “No day but today!” and most recently, Drake explained You Only Live Once (YOLO). Have you ever seized the day? Lived like there was no tomorrow? Or perhaps you plan to shout YOLO while jumping into something in the future. What does #YOLO mean to you?
If you need more help writing a narrative college application essay, check out my new short guide, Escape Essay Hell!