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College Essay Workshop
GUIDANCE SPRING 2014
Which colleges need essays?
Types of
Colleges
Essays Needed Notes
CSU
No
UC
Yes
• 2 mandatory prompts (1000 word
limit, shorter one should be no less
than 250 words)
• 3rd optional prompt: ONLY answer
this if you have not talked about
something in another part of your app
Other state
schools
Check school
website
Refer to their applications
Private schools
Check school
website
• For Common App: 1 general prompt
(650 words) + supplements (50-500
words)
• For other private schools: refer to
their applications
UC Prompts
•
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.
•
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?
Common App Prompts
• SOME STUDENTS HAVE A BACKGROUND OR STORY THAT IS SO CENTRAL
TO THEIR IDENTITY THAT THEY BELIEVE THEIR APPLICATION WOULD BE
INCOMPLETE WITHOUT IT. IF THIS SOUNDS LIKE YOU, THEN PLEASE
SHARE YOUR STORY.
• RECOUNT AN INCIDENT OR TIME WHEN YOU EXPERIENCED FAILURE.
HOW DID IT AFFECT YOU, AND WHAT LESSONS DID YOU LEARN?
• 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 PLACE OR ENVIRONMENT WHERE YOU ARE PERFECTLY
CONTENT. WHAT DO YOU DO OR EXPERIENCE THERE, AND WHY IS IT
MEANINGFUL TO YOU?
• DISCUSS AN ACCOMPLISHMENT OR EVENT, FORMAL OR INFORMAL, THAT
MARKED YOUR TRANSITION FROM CHILDHOOD TO ADULTHOOD WITHIN
YOUR CULTURE, COMMUNITY, OR FAMILY.
Sample Common App
Supplemental Essay Prompts
● HOW WILL YOU CONTRIBUTE TO DIVERSITY ON OUR
CAMPUS?
● WHY ARE YOUAPPLYING TO OUR COLLEGE?
● DESCRIBE YOUR ACADEMIC INTERESTS. HOW WILL YOU
PURSUE THEM?
● WHAT SHOULD YOUR ROOMMATE KNOW ABOUT YOU?
● BETWEEN LIVING AND DREAMING THERE IS A THIRD
THING. GUESS IT.
● IF YOU HAD 5K, HOW WOULD YOU USE IT TO DESIGN
YOUR OWN PROJECT?
● YOU'VE JUST REACHED YOUR ONE MILLIONTH HIT ON
YOUR YOUTUBE VIDEO. WHAT IS THE VIDEO ABOUT ?
Video transcript: Experts share tips on application essays
[Mike Sexton, Vice President for Enrollment Management, Santa Clara University (CA); Jeff Brenzel, Dean of
Undergraduate Admissions, Yale University; Stuart Schmill, Dean of Admissions, Massachusetts Institute of
Technology (MIT); Marty O’Connell, Executive Director, Colleges That Change Lives; Emmanuella R.
Belzince, Coordinator of Postsecondary Projects, Atlanta Public Schools; Suzanne Colligan, Director of
College Counseling, Georgetown Visitation Preparatory School]
Mike Sexton: The essay is one of the few places where an applicant can be more
than the same blanks that everybody else filled in.
Jeff Brenzel: First of all, you want a college to take you, not your imaginary friend.
Stuart Schmill: So don't try to be somebody else.
Marty O'Connell: Everybody has a story that they tell about you. You need to hear
those stories, and somewhere in there is the kernel of a really great essay.
Mike Sexton: Is there something else about me that this college should know about
that there wasn't a blank for?
Emmanuella Revolus Belzince: Bring me to that date, describe how it felt.
Jeff Brenzel: Presenting yourself as who you are is your best bet in the college
admissions process.
Suzanne Colligan: We're going to focus on who you are and who you think you
want to become. And then we're going to go from there.
https://bigfuture.collegeboard.org/get-in/essays
Do’s
Adapted from the UC Davis website for Undergraduate Admissions
 Write it yourself … about yourself.
 Answer the prompt.
 Be yourself: Colleges want to know YOU, not what’s on



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your resume.
Be reflective, provide specific examples, and maintain a
positive tone.
Write clearly and concisely: keep the essay focused.
Be honest: Address the gaps/deficiencies in your
academic record.
Have someone, other than a peer, read the essay to
ensure your tone and message are appropriate.
Common Essay Pitfalls
From the UC Davis website for Undergraduate Admissions
 Not reading the instructions or the prompt.
 Reiterating information listed elsewhere in the app.
 Listing accomplishments without explanation or detail.
 Using gimmicky writing techniques. (ie, poems/quotes)
 Using cliches.
 Writing about someone else other than yourself (ie, my
awesome mother, uncle, etc.)
 Rambling, unfocused thoughts.
 Being overly humorous, self-deprecating or glorifying.
Strong opening statements
from http://moneywatch.bnet.com/
 I change my name each time I place an order at Starbucks.
 When I was in the eighth grade I couldn’t read.
 While traveling through the daily path of life, have you ever stumbled
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
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
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

upon a hidden pocket of the universe?
I have old hands.
I was paralyzed from the waist down. I would try to move my leg or
even shift an ankle but I never got a response. This was the first time
thoughts of death ever cross my mind.
I almost didn’t live through September 11th, 2001.
The spaghetti burbled and slushed around the pan, and as I stirred it,
the noises it gave off began to sound increasingly like bodily functions.
I have been surfing Lake Michigan since I was 3 years old.
I stand on the riverbank surveying this rippled range like some riparian
cowboy -instead of chaps, I wear vinyl, thigh-high waders and a lasso of
measuring tape and twine is slung over my arm.
I had never seen anyone get so excited about mitochondria.
Activity: Read Some Samples
Here are some sample essays from
Johns Hopkins University’s class of
2017. Read the two essays and respond
to these two questions:
 What did you learn about this student?
 Why would Johns Hopkins be
interested in this student?
The Unathletic Department—Meghan
“The first thing that stands out about this essay is the catchy
title, which effectively sets up an essay that is charmingly
self-deprecating. The author goes on to use subtle humor
throughout the essay to highlight one of her weaknesses but
at the same time reveals how she turned what some might
have considered a negative event into a positive learning
experience. Not only is this essay well-written and enjoyable
to read, but it reveals some important personal qualities
about the author that we might not have learned about her
through other components of her application. We get a
glimpse of how she constructively deals with challenge and
failure, which is sure to be a useful life skill she will need in
the real world, starting with her four years in college.”
—Senior Assistant Director Janice Heitsenrether
Undecided—Daniel
“This essay was clever, humorous, and gave insight into
the writer’s personality. He effectively used a fictional
character as a way to talk about himself; this overcomes
a common mistake I see in essays where applicants
don’t make a strong connection between themselves
and the character they are writing about. From the
essay, I was able to get a sense about how he handles
challenges, his ambition, and how he is as a friend.
These are all important aspects that we look for in an
application. His voice was clear in his writing, gave me
the sense that I knew him, and made the essay
memorable.”
—Assistant Director Patrick Salmon

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