To some degree, the increases are inevitable: the college-bound population has grown, and so, too, has the number of applications students file, thanks in part to online technology. But wherever it is raining applications, colleges have helped seed the clouds — by recruiting widely and aggressively for ever more applicants.
Admissions officers are chasing not so much a more perfect student as a more perfect class. In a given year, this elusive ideal might require more violinists, goalies, aspiring engineers or students who can pay the full cost of attendance. Colleges everywhere want more minority students, more out-of-state students and more students from overseas. The pursuit reveals the duality of the modern college. It’s a place that serves the public interest, and a business with a bottom line.
Although the tension between mission and marketing has long defined admissions, many believe the balance has tilted too far toward the latter. Many colleges have made applying as simple as updating a page. Some deans and guidance counselors complain that it’s too easy. They question the ethics of intense recruitment by colleges that reject the overwhelming majority of applicants.
“It’s like needing a new stereo and buying the whole Radio Shack,” says Mark Speyer, director of college counseling at the Columbia Grammar and Preparatory School in New York. “With these bigger pools, colleges are getting a lot of students who have no chance.”
Fred Hargadon, former dean of admissions at and Stanford, doubts that more and more applicants make for a stronger class. “I couldn’t pick a better class out of 30,000 applicants than out of 15,000,” he says. “I’d just end up rejecting multiples of the same kid.”
The tide shows no signs of ebbing. This year, the , Duke and Tulane — the last juggling 43,816 submissions — surpassed their previous application records by double-digit percentages. Applications are, of course, a proxy for popularity and metric of merit. Such is the allure of exclusivity, and the appeal of simplicity. Measuring quality is difficult; measuring quantity is as easy as counting. The more apps a college receives, and rejects, the more impressive it seems.
Today’s application inflation is a cause and symptom of the uncertainty in admissions. As application totals soar, colleges struggle to predict yield — the number of admitted students who actually attend — leading to longer wait lists and other competitive enrollment tactics. Students hedge against the plummeting admissions rates by flooding the system with even more applications.
Sarah Markhovsky sees the uncertainty in the students she counsels at Severn School, in . “They’ll say, ‘Oh, my gosh, I should apply to a million schools — if I shoot lots of arrows, maybe I’ll hit something,’ ” she says. “This translates into hype that’s not useful. It feels like the kids are commodities.”
That’s how Shaun Stewart felt when he started receiving brochures from colleges. “They want you so they can reject you,” says Mr. Stewart, a senior in Burnsville, Minn., who has a 3.5 grade-point average and scored a 27 (out of 36) on the ACT. Those numbers are well below the freshman averages at some of the big-name colleges that sent him applications along with brochures.
“Colleges are there to educate you, but they make it all about who’s the best college,” he says. “They make it too stressful. Then we make it too stressful on ourselves.” He is considering liberal arts colleges like Carleton and Gustavus Adolphus, which he says have shown a more personal touch.
The scale of rejection worries Karl M. Furstenberg, dean of admissions and financial aid at Dartmouth from 1992 to 2007. “When people keep hearing that they’re not good enough, this has an undermining psychological effect,” he says. Over the last 15 years, he says, growing applicant pools reflected an earnest push for greater diversity among the wealthiest institutions. Yet he believes many have reached a point of diminishing returns.
“It’s a classic arms race — escalation for not a whole lot of gain,” he says. “I don’t think these larger applicant pools are materially improving the quality of their classes. Now what’s driving it is the institutional self-interest factor, where bigger pools mean you’re more popular, you’re better.”
NEVER has the University of Chicago been more popular. It received a record 19,347 applications for this fall — a 43 percent increase over last year — for a freshman class of about 1,400 students. Those numbers would have been noteworthy anywhere, but here they were startling. had been a holdout, attracting fewer applicants than other intellectual powerhouses. What changed — and why — reveals the dynamics of admissions in the 21st century.
The University of Chicago was founded in the South Side’s Hyde neighborhood in 1890, but its Gothic buildings look centuries older. Its “Common Core” curriculum steeps undergraduates in the liberal arts. Many deep thinkers — , , Carl Sagan — have come here to ponder big questions. Even the wide-eyed gargoyles here seem struck by inspiration.
For years, Chicago’s admissions office emphasized the university’s distinctiveness: one offbeat mailing was a postcard ringed with a coffee stain. Its application has long included imaginative essay prompts, like “If you could balance on a tightrope, over what landscape would you walk? (No net).” This became known as the “Uncommon Application,” in contrast to the Common Application, the standardized form that allows students to apply to any of hundreds of participating colleges.
That some students wouldn’t like Chicago’s quirky questions was the point. “If understood properly, no given college will appeal to everyone — that wouldn’t be possible,” says Theodore A. O’Neill, the university’s dean of college admissions from 1989 to 2009. “It’s important to signal something true and meaningful about yourself. The more signals, the more honest you’re being, and doing that does limit the applications.”
Mr. O’Neill was not opposed to attracting more applicants. Over time, the admissions staff had expanded outreach and increased diversity.
Yet some of Chicago’s leaders concluded that the admissions office had trapped the university in a niche. It had long been dogged by a stereotype as a place for nerds and social misfits who shun sunlight and conversation. T-shirts created by students lovingly mock the university (the most famous is “Where Fun Comes to Die”). In recent years, the university has built new residential complexes, and expanded its study-abroad programs, career-counseling services and recreational offerings.
“It’s not that we weren’t getting students of quality that we wanted, because we were — they were terrific,” says John W. Boyer, dean of the college since 1992. “But we still had the feeling that, as much progress as we were making, there were still a lot of people out there who had these older images of the place. We were not using our admissions office to the maximum degree to say what the college was to the American people.”
Conventional wisdom holds that colleges seek more applicants to improve their rankings, but this is a narrow view of the issue. In fact, a college’s admissions rate accounts for just 1.5 percent of its score in U.S. News & World Report’s ratings. Still, rising selectivity can please alumni, aid fund-raising and help attract top professors.
Bond rating agencies also study application totals. Roger Goodman, vice president and senior officer at Investment Services, says applications are one measure of demand, an indicator of market position and financial health, which affect the cost of borrowing. “If an institution is not growing and improving selectivity, that would probably be more of a concern than it would have been a decade ago,” Mr. Goodman says. “Even at a place that’s highly selective, there can be very good reasons to expand its applicant base, as long it’s coming from wanting to attract a diverse class.”
In 2006, under a new president, Robert J. Zimmer, Chicago announced that it would join the Common Application, which many admissions deans say attracts more applicants, especially low-income and minority students. Although the university vowed to retain its essays in a required supplement, the demise of the “Uncommon Application” sparked a student protest.
Mr. Zimmer, who attended in , told officials he wanted more applicants, especially top students from the New York area. The university commissioned market research to meet that goal.
Last year, Mr. O’Neill, one of the profession’s most respected members, stepped down (he’s now a lecturer at the university). In his place, Chicago hired James G. Nondorf as vice president and dean of college admissions and financial aid.
Colleagues describe Mr. Nondorf as a “super-marketer,” a man who gets results. At , he helped diversify the applicant pool and pioneered the university’s use of a “likely letter,” sent to top applicants before official acceptances. In three years as the top enrollment official at , he oversaw a doubling of applications, which brought record numbers of women.
At Chicago, Mr. Nondorf’s first priority was to create a recruitment booklet that contained many photographs of students engaged in group activities, including , dance, tennis and football. Later, Chicago sent tailored letters to students who had expressed an interest in the arts or in medicine. Admissions officers talked up pre-professional opportunities and career preparation. Visiting families received special rates from the Hilton, where a letter from Mr. Nondorf and a pouch of chocolates awaited them. Over the last year, Chicago’s admissions representatives visited about twice as many high schools as they had the previous year. Mr. Nondorf sent three to instead of one, and for the first time, the university received more applications from the Golden State than from .
Chicago officials have cited many reasons for this year’s application explosion, including the popularity of , who taught at the university. But some credit should go to Royall & Company, a direct-marketing firm hired last spring to help conduct an expansive recruitment campaign. This included a series of short e-mails sent in rapid succession; some students received nearly 20 in all. This year, Royall’s clients averaged a 7 percent increase in applicants.
To each applicant, Chicago assigns a “fit” rating based on holistic measures — say, intellectual curiosity or evidence that a student applied a favorite subject to life. This year it admitted more top students with high ratings than in the past, according to Mr. Nondorf. “The number of applications reflects something, but they’re not necessarily what we’re after,” he says. “Crafting a better educational experience through a better class is the goal.”
Still, at an admissions conference in this May, Mr. Nondorf described the pressure on deans. “Don’t kid yourselves, the presidents and trustees want you to have more applications,” he said. “If you don’t think that’s the case, I don’t know what schools you’re working at, but it’s true.”
Mr. Boyer has compared Chicago’s application total with that of , which also has a strong liberal arts curriculum. “I believe we are a better university than they are, so I think we should have more applications than they do,” he told the student newspaper last winter. The remark was a “friendly, competitive gesture,” Mr. Boyer says today. “I don’t think Chicago should stand behind New York on this one. We deserve the same number of applications, if not more.”
Such talk worries Andre Phillips, who left Chicago last year after two decades as associate director of admissions. “By changing the admissions culture, Chicago has gone in for the quick fix,” he says. “My concern is that the institution is marketing itself as something it isn’t.”
COLLEGES operate in a realm of perceptions influenced by numbers, yet admissions rates can be a statistical mirage.
As Caroline M. Hoxby noted in a 2009 paper published by the , admissions rates fall even when students apply who don’t have a shot. Moreover, while increasing selectivity suggests better students than in years past, in truth the most competitive applicants couldn’t get more amazing if they levitated. The number of such all-stars isn’t multiplying, either. Instead, they are jumping into more applicant pools, which Ms. Hoxby, a Stanford economist, describes as the nationwide “re-sorting” of students as more attend college far from home.
So it behooves colleges to cast wide nets. Most colleges start by buying the names of students whose standardized test scores and grade-point averages fall within a particular range. In the early 1990s, the sold 35 million names a year; now it sells 80 million to about 1,200 colleges, at 32 cents a name. More colleges are buying names of sophomores to jump-start interest.
Over time, the nature of the application has changed. Dozens of colleges send “fast-track” applications, with some information already filled in — and no fee. Tulane mails its “V.I.P. Application” to 130,000 students annually. In an e-mail to the campus this year, its president, Scott S. Cowen, described Tulane’s nearly 44,000 applications as “the largest of all private universities in the country.”
Earl Retif, Tulane’s vice president for enrollment management, credits aggressive recruitment and a new community-service emphasis for helping the university attract more applicants after .
“We don’t need 44,000 applications — it just means more people to choose from,” Mr. Retif says. “Some people see it as a sign of our popularity. I keep saying it’s a double-edged sword.” For one, most of the winning applicants did not come. Only about 16 percent of the 10,000 students Tulane admitted ended up enrolling. And the volume of applications has taxed the admissions office, which processed a million pieces of paper this year. Counselors must review 1,200 to 1,500 applications per cycle, compared with 700 to 800 a few years ago.
And it’s hard telling so many students no, Mr. Retif says. “Some people say, ‘Hey, you invited me.’ ”
This year, Duke faced similar challenges, with more than 26,000 applications and an evaluation process meant to handle half that. Christoph Guttentag, dean of undergraduate admissions, says the deluge left his staff with too little time to trim its wait list of nearly 3,400 students, roughly twice the size of its freshman class.
Mr. Guttentag believes that application increases heighten anxiety for everyone involved, but he doesn’t anticipate much change. “The pressure for more applications isn’t offset by an equal pressure for less,” he says, “and no college wants to consciously put itself in a weaker competitive position.”
Some deans say they have all the applicants they need. Among them is Charles A. Deacon, dean of undergraduate admissions at , which reviewed 18,000 applications this year. Sitting behind a long wooden table, with admissions reports fanned out in front of him, Mr. Deacon explains why he refuses to adopt the Common Application. The ease of the form, he says, would bring Georgetown thousands more applicants. Yet he fears that adding the application would weaken Georgetown’s admissions process, in which nearly all applicants are interviewed. “We believe this is a personal relationship between a student and a college,” Mr. Deacon says. “With our own application, we know people are applying who want to apply.”
Georgetown buys names of students with PSAT scores equivalent to 1270 on the SAT critical reading and math sections, and grade-point averages of A- or better. There are only so many students with these attributes to go around — about 44,000 a year, out of 1.5 million test takers. Georgetown lowers that threshold to search for another 5,000 or so under-represented minority students.
This year, Georgetown enrolled a record 142 black students, selected from a pool of 1,400. Mr. Deacon doubts he could have chosen a more accomplished group from a pool of 2,800. “The question is, what’s a good enough class?” he says. “We’re not going to say, ‘Come one, come all’ just to find that one gem of a student and devastate the dreams of all the rest.”
William R. Fitzsimmons, ’s dean of admissions, describes his university’s recruitment as “aggressive” — and crucial. “Nobody wants to go back to the bad old days, when getting into America’s top colleges was like knowing a secret handshake,” Mr. Fitzsimmons says. “If we started cutting back, applications would go down from the students who need real outreach.”
Harvard enlists students to call and e-mail thousands of prospective minority applicants with high test scores. Lucerito Ortiz, who graduated last spring, grew up in , the daughter of two immigrants. Although she earned good grades in high school, she did not think about Harvard. “People like me didn’t go to places like that,” she recalls.
Her thinking changed when Harvard sent her a search letter. After enrolling at the university, Ms. Ortiz helped the admissions office contact students from backgrounds like hers. She says she always explained the long odds of getting in (Harvard’s admissions rate was just under 7 percent this year). “In a way, it’s sad, but I don’t feel bad about it,” says Ms. Ortiz, now an admissions officer at Harvard. “I don’t feel guilty for giving students the chance to have their lives changed.”
A Harvard representative contacted Sally Nuamah her junior year of high school in Chicago. Ms. Nuamah had good grades but an ACT score she describes as low. Her parents, who came from , had little money. As she welcomed the admissions rep into her living room one day, she was nervous. “I was like, ‘Oh, goodness, I don’t want to disappoint anyone,’ ” she says.
Ensuing conversations brought mixed emotions. “I felt that I was pushed and given motivation,” she says, “but on the other hand, I wondered if what they were telling me was feasible.” She knew her scores were below the average for Harvard students. Nonetheless, she applied. Months later, a rejection letter came.
Ms. Nuamah, now a senior at , asserts that such outreach can help low-income students who lack confidence, but she sees a potential downside. “Many of those students are so conditioned to disappointment,” she explains. “If colleges are targeting hundreds of students somewhere and not one is accepted, they may need to re-evaluate their efforts. Some people might say, ‘Those colleges come here and do that to us, and nobody ever ends up going.’ ”
A HALF-CENTURY ago, B. Alden Thresher wrote a prescient book called “College Admissions and the Public Interest.” Thresher, a former director admissions at the , described colleges’ justifications for increasing selectivity as “rationalizations for a kind of insensate avarice: we want the best and only the best, we are never satisfied.” But he saw something noble, too, in the relentless search: “It is also deeply connected with the highest virtues of academic man — the impulse toward perfection.”
The quest for the perfect class involves irony: the push for more inclusiveness inevitably leads to more exclusivity. Andrew Delbanco, professor of humanities at Columbia and author of a forthcoming book about higher education, has pondered the meaning of declining admissions rates. He describes his students as smart, engaged and imaginative but not necessarily more than they were 10 years ago, when Columbia had far fewer applicants.
Ever-increasing selectivity, Mr. Delbanco says, has shaped the way some students think about education.
“If you succeed in getting into a selective college, it would take a pretty extraordinary person not to think you’ve already done something pretty terrific,” he says. “One of the hazards of this arms race is that it can inculcate a feeling of self-satisfaction on the part of the student, as well as the institution.”
William M. Shain, an educational consultant and former admissions dean at three private colleges, believes that bigger applicant pools can bring better students — up to a point. “You’ll always get a class where things that can be measured, like testing, go up,” he says. “But you won’t necessarily get a class that thinks better or enhances the classroom.”
Moreover, because so many seats go to “hooked” students, Mr. Shain questions the benefits of recruiting by colleges that accept fewer than 20 percent of applicants. Take Mr. Shain’s alma mater, Princeton, whose freshman class this year is 37 percent minority students, 17 percent athletes, 13 percent legacies and 11 percent international students. “Among very, very good schools, a huge percentage of the class is not in play on academic grounds,” he says. “How much can you improve the class when you’re only working with half or less?”
Susan Tree, director of college counseling at the Westtown School, a college-prep academy in , attends about 100 college presentations a year. She’s often struck by the cookie-cutter nature of recruitment pitches. “It seems colleges have lost the sense of presenting places so that some kids are turned on and others are turned off,” she says. She believes the University of Chicago had something that many colleges desired — an identity: “The risk they run is that they’re joining the ranks of generic, highly selective colleges.”
But selectivity speaks. Maya Lozinski, a freshman at Chicago, grew up in Menlo Park, Calif. She had never heard of the university until it sent her a postcard.
Ultimately, Chicago was her first choice. She says the university is becoming “normal,” more career oriented. She liked the maroon scarf it sent her. She also liked its declining admissions rate. In 2004, Chicago accepted 40 percent of its applicants, compared with 18 percent this year. “I wouldn’t have applied a few years ago — I would have felt overqualified,” says Ms. Lozinski, who had an A average in high school and scored a 2370 (out of 2400) on the SAT. “A college’s admissions rate says something about the quality of students who go there and the prestige of it.”
Perhaps the University of Chicago will end up trading one kind of exclusivity for another. Marshall Knudson says that some students on the campus fret that the university will lose its niche as it attracts more applicants, while other students see the declining admissions rate as adding value to their degrees.
Mr. Knudson, who graduated from Chicago last spring, chose the university for its “feverish intellectual vapors.” As a freshman, he protested the adoption of the Common Application, fearing it would diminish the culture of the university. Looking back, Mr. Knudson is skeptical of such “utopian visions.” He doubts any university could deliver an experience that matches the story it tells the world beyond its gates. “People like to promote a vision of what makes them unique, but it’s just wishful thinking,” he says. “It was a great education. I’m glad I went there. But I don’t think it ever lived up to its ideal.
“And maybe that’s the value of an education,” he says. “It helps you realize the limits of an ideal.”Continue reading the main story
An article on Page 20 of the special Education Life section this weekend about increases in the number of college applications misspells the given name of an admissions officer at Harvard who spoke about being recruited as a student. She is Lucerito Ortiz, not Lucertio.
We may be a little less than a month away from the August 1 release of the 2015-16 Common Application, but many colleges have already released their supplemental essay prompts, allowing students the opportunity to get a head start on their college application essays.
These days, it’s not uncommon for students to apply to seven or more colleges. At IvyWise, we advise students to apply to a balanced list of 10-12 target, reach, and likely colleges, all of which are a best fit for students’ personal, academic, and financial needs. With a balanced college list, students can expect to write two to three additional essays for each application – sometimes totaling up to 20 or more essays for the entire college application process. This is a lot of work, and can often be overwhelming during the school year.
This is why more and more colleges, even those that do not use the Common Application, are releasing their essay prompts earlier in the summer, giving students the chance to start brainstorming and writing before the chaos of senior year begins.
The Common Application has even released its changes for the 2015-16 application season and essay prompts early, also allowing students the opportunity to get started before the application officially opens on August 1.
College-specific supplements and essay prompts are a critical piece of a student’s application because they help colleges gauge a student’s demonstrated and informed interest, and allow the student an opportunity to show how he or she will contribute to the campus community and expand upon his or her specialty. It’s important to take time to craft standout supplements in order to maximize chances of admission.
Here are the essay prompts for the 2015-16 Common Application, and the individual school essay prompts that have already been released. We will update this list as more become available.
Common Application Essay Prompts
- 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.
- 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?
- Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
- 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.
- Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
- Respond to one of the following quotations in an essay of not more than 300 words. It is not necessary to research, read, or refer to the texts from which these quotations are taken; we are looking for original, personal responses to these short excerpts. Remember that your essay should be personal in nature and not simply an argumentative essay.
- “Rigorous reasoning is crucial in mathematics, and insight plays an important secondary role these days. In the natural sciences, I would say that the order of these two virtues is reversed. Rigor is, of course, very important. But the most important value is insight—insight into the workings of the world. It may be because there is another guarantor of correctness in the sciences, namely, the empirical evidence from observation and experiments.” Kannan Jagannathan, Professor of Physics, Amherst College
- “Literature is the best way to overcome death. My father, as I said, is an actor. He’s the happiest man on earth when he’s performing, but when the show is over, he’s sad and troubled. I wish he could live in the eternal present, because in the theater everything remains in memories and photographs. Literature, on the other hand, allows you to live in the present and to remain in the pantheon of the future. Literature is a way to say, I was here, this is what I thought, this is what I perceived. This is my signature, this is my name.” Ilán Stavans, Professor of Spanish, Amherst College. From “The Writer in Exile: An Interview with Ilán Stavans” by Saideh Pakravan for the Fall 1993 issue of The Literary Review.
- “It seems to me incumbent upon this and other schools’ graduates to recognize their responsibility to the public interest…unless the graduates of this college…are willing to put back into our society those talents, the broad sympathy, the understanding, the compassion… then obviously the presuppositions upon which our democracy are based are bound to be fallible.” John F. Kennedy, at the ground breaking for the Amherst College Frost Library, October 26, 1963
- “Stereotyped beliefs have the power to become self-fulfilling prophesies for behavior.” Elizabeth Aires, Professor of Psychology, Amherst College. From her book: Men and Women In Interaction, Reconsidering the Difference.
- “Difficulty need not foreshadow despair or defeat. Rather achievement can be all the more satisfying because of obstacles surmounted.” Attributed to William Hastie, Amherst Class of 1925, the first African-American to serve as a judge for the United States Court of Appeals
- Submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities. We are particularly interested in your ability to construct a tightly reasoned, persuasive argument that calls upon literary, sociological or historical evidence. You should NOT submit a laboratory report, journal entry, creative writing sample or in-class essay.
We would like to get a better sense of you. Please select one of the questions below and write an essay of 400 words or less providing your response.
- What contemporary issue or trend relating to politics, culture and society, or foreign policy particularly concerns you and why?
- Many human beings throughout history have found inspiration and joy in literature and works of art. Is there a book, play, poem, movie, painting, music selection, or photograph that has been especially meaningful for you?
- Contemporary higher education reflects a tension between preparing for a meaningful life and preparing for a career. What are you looking for in an undergraduate education? Which emphasis is important to you at this moment and why?
- “Magis”, a Latin word meaning “more,” is often cited in reference to the goals of Jesuit education, which seeks to help students become better, do more, and have as much impact on society as possible. How do you hope to achieve the Magis in your life?
- In the space available discuss the significance to you of the school or summer activity in which you have been most involved.
- As Georgetown is a diverse community, the Admissions Committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay (approximately one page), either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you.
- Indicate any special talents or skills you possess.
- Applicants to the McDonough School of Business: The McDonough School of Business is a national and global leader in providing graduates with essential ethical, analytical, financial and global perspectives. Please discuss your motivations for studying business at Georgetown.
- Applicants to the School of Nursing & Health Studies: Describe the factors that have inﬂuenced your interest in studying health care. Please speciﬁcally address your intended major (Health Care Management & Policy, Human Science, International Health, or Nursing).
- Applicants to Georgetown College: Please relate your interest in studying at Georgetown University to your goals. How do these thoughts relate to your chosen course of study? (If you are applying to major in the FLL or in a Science, please speciﬁcally address those interests.)
- Applicants to the Walsh School of Foreign Service: Brieﬂy discuss a current global issue, indicating why you consider it important and what you suggest should be done to deal with it.
- Transfer Applicants: As Georgetown is a diverse community, the admissions committee would like to know more about you in your own words. Please submit a brief essay (approximately one page), either personal or creative, which you feel best describes you. If transferring from a four-year institution, please indicate your reasons for transferring.
Georgia Institute of Technology
- Beyond rankings, location, and athletics, why are you interested in attending Georgia Tech? (max 150 words)
- A Georgia Tech experience and education provides you an unbound future. What will yours be? (max 150 words)
- Georgia Tech’s motto is Progress & Service. In 25 words or less, what is your personal motto?
Think outside the box as you answer the following questions. Take a risk and go somewhere unexpected. Be serious if the moment calls for it but feel comfortable being playful if that suits you, too.
- Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short: “Why Tufts?” (50–100 words)
- There is a Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” Describe the environment in which you were raised – your family, home, neighborhood, or community – and how it influenced the person you are today. (200–250 words)
- Now we’d like to know a little bit more about you. Please respond to one of the following six questions (200-250 words):
- A) Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—the first elected female head of state in Africa and winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize—has lived a life of achievement. “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough,” she once said. As you apply to college, what are your dreams?
- B) What makes you happy?
- C) Science and society are filled with rules, theories, and laws such as the First Amendment, PV=nRT, Occam’s Razor, and The Law of Diminishing Returns. In baseball, three strikes and you’re out. A green light on a roadway means “go.” Pick any law and explain its significance to you.
- D) It’s cool to be smart. Tell us about the subjects or ideas that excite your intellectual curiosity.
- E) Nelson Mandela believed that “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Describe a way in which you have made or hope to make a difference.
- F) Celebrate the role of sports in your life.
University of Chicago
- How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago. (Required)
- Share with us a few of your favorite books, poems, authors, films, plays, pieces of music, musicians, performers, paintings, artists, blogs, magazines, or newspapers. Feel free to touch on one, some, or all of the categories listed, or add a category of your own. (Optional)
- Extended Essay Questions: (Required; Choose one)
- Orange is the new black, fifty’s the new thirty, comedy is the new rock ‘n’ roll, ____ is the new ____. What’s in, what’s out, and why is it being replaced? —Inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015
- “I learned to make my mind large, as the universe is large, so that there is room for paradoxes.” –Maxine Hong Kingston. What paradoxes do you live with? —Inspired by Danna Shen, Class of 2019
- Joan of Arkansas. Queen Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Babe Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Mash up a historical figure with a new time period, environment, location, or occupation, and tell us their story. —Inspired by Drew Donaldson, Class of 2016
- “Art is either plagiarism or revolution.” –Paul Gauguin. What is your “art”? Is it plagiarism or revolution? —Inspired by Kaitlyn Shen, Class of 2018.
- Rerhceseras say it’s siltl plisbsoe to raed txet wtih olny the frist and lsat ltteres in palce. This is beaucse the hamun mnid can fnid oderr in dorsdier. Give us your best example of finding order in disorder. (For your reader’s sake, please use full sentences with conventional spelling). —Also inspired by Payton Weidenbacher, Class of 2015. Payton is extra-inspirational this year!
- In the spirit of adventurous inquiry, pose a question of your own. If your prompt is original and thoughtful, then you should have little trouble writing a great essay. Draw on your best qualities as a writer, thinker, visionary, social critic, sage, citizen of the world, or future citizen of the University of Chicago; take a little risk, and have fun.
- In the spirit of historically adventurous inquiry, to celebrate the University of Chicago’s 125th anniversary, please feel free to select from any of our past essay questions.
University of Colorado – Boulder
The University of Colorado Boulder’s Flagship 2030 strategic plan promotes exceptional teaching, research, scholarship, creative works, and service distinguishing us as a premier university. We strive to foster a diverse and inclusive community for all that engages each member in opportunities for academic excellence, leadership, and a deeper understanding of the world in which we live. Given that statement above, how do you think you could enrich our diverse and inclusive community, and what are your hopes for your college experience? (200 – 500 words)
University of Florida
Choose one (450 words):
- You have been elected President of the United States. Write your inauguration speech for us.
- Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “Our loyalties must transcend our race, our tribe, our class, and our nation; and this means we must develop a world perspective.” Describe a time when your perspective changed. How did your perspective change and why did it change?
- If you were offered the role of the villain or the hero in a movie, which role would you accept and why?
- If admitted to the University of Florida, tell us three SPECIFIC things you plan to do during your time here.
University of Michigan
- Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (Required for all applicants. Approximately 250 words.)
- Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests? (Required for all applicants. 500 words maximum.)
University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill
Choose one prompt and respond in an essay of 400-500 words. (Freshmen applicants)
- Teen activist and 2014 Nobel Peace prize winner Malala Yousafzai said, “I raise up my voice-not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard”. For whom have you raised your voice?
- Students learn both inside and outside the classroom. What would other members of the Carolina community learn from you?
- You get one do-over of any moment in your life. What would you do over, and why?
- You’ve been invited to give a TEDtalk. What is yours about?
- There are 27 amendments to the Constitution of the US. What should be the 28th?
- Please provide a statement that addresses your reasons for transferring and the objectives you hope to achieve. (250-650 words)
- Choose one of the following prompts and respond in an essay of 400-500 words:
- What bothers you about your world? What could you do to change it?
- How do you define wisdom?
- You were just invited to speak at the White House. Write your speech.
- Why do you do what you do?
- UNC Computer Science Professor Frederick P. Brooks discovered what has become known as Brook’s law – “adding more man-power to a late project will make the project later.” Tell us about a counterintuitive or surprising solution to a problem you stumbled upon in your life.
University of Pennsylvania
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. (400-650 words)
University of Virginia
We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words.
- College of Arts and Sciences – What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
- School of Engineering and Applied Sciences – U.Va. engineers are working to solve problems that affect people around the world, from our long-term water purification project in South Africa to continuing to research more efficient applications of solar power. However, most students start small, by using engineering to make a difference in daily life. If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make your everyday life better, what would you do?
- School of Architecture – Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
- School of Nursing – Discuss experiences that led you to choose the School of Nursing.
- Kinesiology Program – Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.
- What’s your favorite word and why?
- We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
- Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the U.Va. culture. In her fourth year at U.Va., Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why?
- U.Va. students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message?
Wake Forest University
Help us get to know you better by responding briefly to these questions. No need for research, just be creative and enjoy the process.
- List five books you have read (with authors) that piqued your curiosity. Discuss an idea from one of these works that influenced you.
- We want to know what makes you tick intellectually. A paper? A project? An academic passion? Describe it.
- Hashtags trend worldwide. Give us a hashtag you wish were trending. #______________________________________ Why?
- Give us your top ten list.
- There is a nationwide dialogue about cross-cultural interactions. Like most college campuses, Wake Forest is currently in a place of conversation about what it means to engage across difference. As a country, why do you think we have reached this point?
- What outrages you and why?
Use the following essay to give the Admissions Committee insight into your character and intellect. Watch this: http://go.wfu.edu/thisisaboutyou
- Right now, what is uniquely you?
When choosing a college community, you are choosing a place where you believe that you can live, learn, and flourish. Generations of inspiring women have thrived in the Wellesley community, and we want to know what aspects of this community inspire you to consider Wellesley. We know that there are more than 100 reasons to choose Wellesley, but the “Wellesley 100” is a good place to start. Visit the Wellesley 100 and let us know, in two well-developed paragraphs, which two items most attract, inspire, or energize you and why.(PS: “Why” matters to us.)
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