by j9robinson | Oct 14, 2011
College Admissions Essays:
How to Answer the Supplemental “Short Answer” Prompt
The Common Application requires one long college admissions essay.
But it also has a short essay, a supplemental question that asks students to “briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.”
And they mean brief, no more than 1, 000 characters (about 150 words).
That’s really short, about one long paragraph.
The tendency is to simply describe an activity or experience.
Trouble is that this description often ends up as a broad overview–BORING!
But how the heck do you give details when you can only use a few words? Here’s the trick: You have to pick something within that activity or work experience and focus on that.
Let’s say you want to pick your cross country running as the activity.
My advice is to pick something within cross country that means a lot to you, such as a quality you have learned. How about endurance? Or mental discipline.
Now just zero in on how you learned that quality while running cross country, and then give an example. The example is key. It will be like a little piece of a story or a specific moment.
“I developed mental discipline from the times I had to run when I had a cold, or when the last 500 feet of the race was straight uphill…I learned to use little mental games to distract myself from the physical pain and fight back the voice that told me to quit…” This will make your answer feel real and specific (and interesting), instead of general and vague (and boring.)
by j9robinson | Aug 11, 2011
College Admissions Essays:
How to Start Your Core College Application Essay
If you are writing a college admissions essay that responds to a prompt that asks you to tell about yourself, or about “a time,” or describe a quality, background, interest, identity, talent, characteristic, experience or accomplishment (such as The Common App prompts or Prompt #2 for the UC app.), then your essay is also known as a personal statement.
The most effective personal statements are written as narrative essays, meaning they relate an experience using a story-telling style.
To share an incident or moment from your past, you only need two components to make a story: a character and a conflict.
So one magic way to create a personal narrative is to search your recent past for a conflict. (You are the “character.”)
Thinking back to English class, remember that conflicts can come from many different places—from within yourself (internal: you have a personal issue or hang-up that caused you pain or trouble) to outside yourself (external: something happened to you.)
To put it simply, a conflict is a problem.
Problems come in all shapes and sizes.
They do not need to be traumas or a crises, although those can work, too.
(HINT: Basic, everyday problems work best! Check out this post about “mundane” topics.)
Here are other words for a conflict or problem: challenge, failure, obstacle, mistake, hang-up, issue, a change, dilemma, fears, obsessions, etc.
Examples of conflicts or problems: you are shy, competitive, stubborn, were bullied, are obsessed with Twilight, didn’t make the team, got injured, have big feet, frizzy red hair, smile too much, someone quit at your work, don’t have own car, can’t spell, adhd, ocd, don’t eat meat, perfectionist, slob, lazy, drunk driving, have a mean grandparent, no money, etc…
Man, there are a lot of problems out there! But for the purposes of writing these dreaded essays, that’s a good thing for once!
Once you remember a juicy problem, follow these steps:
1. Describe the time you had a problem or describe a strong example of your problem.
(Include what happened and how it made you feel. Try to start at the moment it hit, or happened for the best impact! Include the 5Ws—who, what, when, where and why! Stick to one or two paragraphs.)
These mini-stories are also called anecdotes, and you can learn more by reading my post on how to write an anecdote.
RELATED: My Video Tutorial on How to Write an Anecdote: Part One