There are three main types of college application essay prompts. Let’s take a look at each type and strategize how you should tackle each one.
Essay Prompt Type #1: “Why choose [insert name of school here]?”
Here’s an example of this school specific essay type:
“How will you explore your intellectual and academic interests at the University of Pennsylvania? Please answer this question given the specific undergraduate school to which you are applying.”
— University of Pennsylvania
You’ll usually see this essay type as a supplemental essay.
This essay type is kind of like dating. Imagine you’re on a date and your date asks you, “What do you like about me?”
Aaaaaand, you say this: “Uhh… you’re pretty.”
That’s not a good answer. You need to get a little more specific than that.
This answer is kind of like telling your prospective university that you’re applying to their school because you like the psychology department. That’s it.
So, umm, why do you like the psychology department? Tell them your reasons. Is there research at the psychology department you’re interested in? Is there a class that excites you?
To successfully answer this question type, write about your interests and passions. Then, tie your interests back to the opportunities available at the prospective university.
2. Essay Prompt Type #2: “Creative and a little wacky”
Here’s an example of this creative essay type:
“Were pH an expression of personality, what would be your pH and why? (Feel free to respond acidly! Do not be neutral, for that is base!)” – University of Chicago
Ooooh. University of Chicago’s Uncommon Questions are very notorious.
These essay prompts are a little weird, and they trip up a lot of students.
These essay prompts test to see how you think and navigate through a situation you’re not used to. They do this because in college, your classes will constantly push you to think through questions and issues that you’ve never encountered.
Your thoughts and ideas in your essay indicate the talents that you could bring to the table to your prospective university.
To master the creative type of essay, the bottom line is this: Prioritize your ideas and the content of your essay first and worry about the creative factor later.
Here’s the thing: Writing in a creative way does give your essay a sizzle factor that could be memorable…. if done well. However, with these essay types, students focus too much on the sizzle before the actual content. When you tackle these essay types, worry about the content first.
3. Essay Prompt Type #3: “Tell us more about yourself”
Here’s an example of this essay type:
“The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?”
– The Common Application
These essay prompt types are absolutely critical in the admissions decision. Actually, all The Common Applications are of this type.
This question type gives the admissions committee a chance to learn more about you, and puts a face and personality to the application process.
These essay prompts are very you-centric; therefore, it’s the perfect place to slip in a memorable anecdote with you as the star.
The rest of this free guideline will delve into the details and strategies of how to attack this question type in greater detail.
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About Nae Tanaka
Nae graduated from the University of Pennsylvania and worked at Google for 4.5 years. She has been a college essay coach for since 2010 and has helped students across the world write their best possible college admission essays. Nae owns and operates Winning Ivy Prep as a prep coach and consultant. She lives in San Francisco and works 1:1 with college-bound students in-person or over Skype. Oh, and she’s a rock-climber (sort of). Reach out to Nae directly: Nae@winningivyprep.com.
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