College Admissions Essays:
The Common App. Prompt #1
Out of the seven prompts you can chose from to write your application essay for The Common Application, I like the first one a lot. (UPDATE: As of 2017, you can now write about any topic you want. See new prompt #7.)
Prompt No. 1 is trying to “prompt” you to find and share a story that will reveal an important part of what makes you unique and special.
These are called personal essays, and they are what my entire blog is trying to help you learn to write!
In a nutshell, you write these types of essays in the first-person (I, me, you…point of view) and use a “write-like-you-talk” casual style.
Narrative-style (storytelling) essays are natural “grabbers” because you use mini-stories from real life, also called anecdotes, for your introduction to illustrate a larger point.
Related: How to Write an Anecdote: Part One
The structure can be as elaborate as you want, but in general, you “show” the reader your point with an anecdote at the beginning, and then “tell” or explain what it means in the second part. (Here’s a quickie guide to help you Write a College Application Essay in 3 Steps.)
(Those stiff, 5-paragraph essays from high school English class are history!)
Narrative, slice-of-life essays are ideal for almost any type of admissions essay. But some college application essay prompts are trickier than others to figure out how to answer the question by telling a story.
Others, however, are easier and actually ask for a story. Like Prompt No. 1. (and No. 2 and 4). (more…)
College Application Essays
How To Answer the New Common App Questions
The best news about his year’s Common Application (2015-16) is that you can still write about almost any topic you want—these prompts are very open-ended. And they also added a new prompt (#4) that is perfect for helping you tell a great story!
Because the prompts present such broad questions, it’s up to you to focus the point of your essay. If you try to answer one of these questions with a broad, general essay, it will end up dull, cliche and in the reject pile.
Here’s my attack plan for you. First, read all the questions (listed below). If any of them generate an idea for you, that’s great. Go for it. If not, my advice is to stick with prompt one, two or four of the five prompts. To me, each of those prompts is trying to help you to write a personal narrative–that is a story-like essay that shows the reader something about what makes you tick, what you care about, what sets you apart from the crowd. This blog is packed with helpful posts on exactly how to find a relevant story, such as How to Write an Anecdote, and tell it in a compelling way. (more…)
UPDATE: as of March 23, 2016 The University of California announced NEW essay prompts for 2016-17. Read about how to answer them HERE.
This post is now outdated. The information is no longer relevant!!
College Admissions Essay:
How to Nail Prompt #2 for UC Essays
If you want to be a freshman or transfer student at one of the University of California schools, you will need to answer this question to write one of their two required personal statement essays, also known as Prompt #2:
“Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?”
In essence, they want you to write a personal statement.
A personal statement is an essay that shows the reader what makes you tick, what you care about, what sets you apart from the crowd.
Yes, it’s pretty wide open. Almost any topic can work—it’s all about what you have to say about it.
This entire blog has advice on how to write these.
But I’m going to map out a specific plan that should help you target this exact prompt. (more…)
Most of you will write one or two “core” essays for your college applications.
These essays will focus on revealing who you are and why you are unique.
But you will also write numerous supplemental (shorter) essays.
The good news is that many of these “supps” ask similar questions. So if you are smart, you will find ways to re-use parts of your answers and streamline the process.
At the same time, you also will hone, sharpen and improve your answers.
Here are some examples of typical sup questions that are looking for similar answers:
- Why do you want to go to OUR UNIVERSITY?
- Why are you a “good match” for OUR UNIVERSITY?
- What is it that you like the best about OUR UNIVERSITY?
- How will you contribute to OUR UNIVERSITY?
Basically, there are two parts to these prompts. One: Why YOU? Two: Why COLLEGE X? Your job is show how and why they fit together. Here is a short guide on how to do this:
ONE: State your main goal for your education at your target schools. To be an engineer? To get a liberal arts education? To play waterpolo? To become a filmmaker? To earn a pre-med degree? To figure out what you want to do in the future?
UPDATE: The University of California announced NEW essay prompts for 2016-17. Read about how to answer them HERE.
This post is now outdated. The information is no longer relevant!!
College Admissions Essays
How to Answer Prompt #1 for the College Application Essay
for the University of California:
“Describe the World You Come From”
Only read this if you are applying to a UC (University of California school, such as UCLA, Berkeley, Santa Barbara, San Diego, Irvine, Santa Cruz, etc.).
There are two college essay prompts for their required personal statements for incoming freshmen.
Here is some advice regarding the first one:
Prompt #1 (freshman applicants)
Describe the world you come from — for example, your family, community or school — and tell us how your world has shaped your dreams and aspirations.
Read this closely. Note that it asks you to describe one thing and then tell about another–so there are two points you need to address in your essay.
When you describe the world you come from, think of this in a figurative sense.
Do not just write about your hometown.
Instead of the word “world,” try substituting it for the word “community” or “background.”
As a “community,” almost anything can be your world (a mini-community of shared activities, people, passions or places), from your yoga class to your bedroom to your job washing dishes to your grandmother’s kitchen making tortilla soup to your two moms.
It’s wide open. Just pick a topic.
Also, the examples they give, “family, community or school” are just that, examples.
Do not write a little about each of these.
And do not just write about “my family” or “my school.” Way too broad.
Write about your uncle’s magic shop in an underprivileged neighborhood, or the Scrabble club you started at your school even though you are the world’s worst speller, or the old movie theater in your town where you first fell in love with cinema and the power of a visual story.
(Check out the link at bottom of this post to my Tumbler blog with images and quotes to spark ideas for what makes your world.)
Quickie World-As-A-Community-Finder: What do you like/love to do? Where do you do it? Who do you do it with? Bingo! You have just landed on one of your worlds!
Another way to think about your world would be to show how your background has been challenging on some level–and how that has shaped and defined who you are.
In a way, your world is your life with its unique set of issues, obstacles or challenges.
Think of the saying: “Welcome to my world.”
If you have one piece of your life that shapes your “world” in a major way—something from your personal, cultural, educational, etc. background—and that colleges would understand you better if they knew what that was like, consider writing about it.
The world of living with two gay dads.
The world of living with an autistic sister.
The world of living with a bi-polar mom.
The world of living with immigrant grandparents.
The world of living on food stamps.
The world of living with perfectionists/slobs/religious nuts/alcoholics/seven siblings/foster home/military parents/home-schooling/white parents and you are asian/constant moving/famous mom, etc.
To write this type of “world” essay, pick a real-life example of a “time” in your life/world when that issue affected you, start your essay describing that specific incident or moment, then go into how dealing with that reality has affected you.
You might be surprised what comes out of you–and how it makes you feel.
I have had students who have written about almost all of these “life” issues.
Their essays have been intense and often soul-searching, but also memorable and meaningful.
Although I think the bulk of your college application essay should focus on this world, and how it has affected you, also address the second part about your dreams and aspirations.
This has the potential to be general and boring, so make sure to talk specifically about how you will apply the lessons (values, skills, ideas, insights, etc.) you have learned in your world to your future.
(Hint: It wouldn’t hurt if you can show how these dreams and aspirations link to your specific college goals. For example, if your “world” is hanging out in your parent’s garage fixing an old truck, mention how the problem-solving skills you learned there will help your aspirations to be some type of engineer one day.)
If you are one of those A-type overachievers (hey, it’s OK, these UCs are insanely competitive!) who still feels insecure about understanding the UC prompts, check out this 50-minute video of a counselor guru spelling it all out at a convention for college admissions folks.
Just don’t let her freak you out too much. Definitely good info here, but I say overkill.
It’s also from 2007, though prompts are the same. Your choice: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6zo6NI4wHf4&feature=related
Here are some more helpful posts for answering UC Prompt #1:
See if this video from the UC Admissions Department helps.
I think it might give you an idea of what they want from the two personal statements, but not a lot on how to deliver it. That part is left up to you, as far as I can tell.
(Tips from video: “Be thoughtful, clear, succinct and provide depth.” “Just be honest.” “Focus on a strength.” “Write about what makes you different.” “I wrote from my heart.” All great stuff—the only thing missing is any direction, instruction or support for students on how to do all this in 500 words.)
*Also, if you are still looking for a “world” to write about, there are lots of ideas in the comments. Definitely worth scrolling through to see what others are thinking of writing about. Thanks for sharing all your ideas!
I believe you can write these UC essays on your own. But if you feel like you would like my personal help with them or other college application essays, find details on my Services page.
Best of luck! Janine Robinson