So you want to be a horned frog? Here’s some advice for TCU applicants

Applying to TCU (Texas Christian University)?  Good for you.  TCU is one of those little colleges that we just can't help but love.  We think so highly of them we even featured them in one of our college spotlights.  We love their energy, how much our Collegewise students turned TCU horned frogs seem to love their experience there.  But enough about why we like TCU.  Here are some tips to help you get admitted.

If TCU is your first choice, you might want to consider forgoing the Common Application. 

OK, just to be clear, I am not speaking for TCU here.  I'm sure if you called their admissions office, they'd tell you that applicants who apply using the TCU's application are given no inherent advantage over those applicants submitting the Common Application.  And it's probably true.

But here's the thing.  TCU's application gives you more opportunity to express yourself than the Common App does.  You get to write an essay just for TCU.  You get to do an optional activity summary just for TCU.  And you even get to do an optional "Freedom of Expression" page where you can fill a page with anything that you think will help them get to know you better.  Those are a lot of opportunities, and you might consider using them.

If you do fill out the Common Application, you have no supplemental essays to write.  So the rest of my advice here will be directed to those students who are filling out TCU's own application. 

Advice for the long essay

Here's the prompt:

TCU is a selective university, and our Admission and Scholarship Committees review thousands of applications each year. The essay tells us a great deal about our candidates and allows for expression of writing skills, organizational skills, creativity and imagination. The essay should be 300-500 words in length and legible. Feel free to be serious, humorous or somewhere in between. Compose your essay on one of the following topics.

You want to choose the topic for which you have something to say about yourself, something that provides you with a platform to help the reader get to know something about you.  Here are a few tips for how to approach each prompt.

1. Pick an important social, political or economic problem in today’s world. Write a solution for it.

First, keep in mind that most important problems in the world today are problems because there are no easy solutions.  You want to communicate what you know, what you believe, and why you believe it, but you don't want to come off as a know-it-all either, as part of being successful in college means being open to new ideas and interpretations. 

Second, it's particularly compelling if you pick an issue for which you have some personal investment, experience and factual knowledge.  Doing so lets you combine your knowledge with your passion, and that's almost always an appealing combination. 

For example, if you've spent time volunteering at a homeless shelter, and you've seen how budget cuts reduced the number of meals that you can serve, and watched people show up hungry and be turned away because there just isn't enough food, you are personally invested in that issue.  And you know how it would be different if there were more tax dollars funneled towards county services.

People who are personally invested in issues tend to speak passionately about them, and tend to do so with more knowledge of the issue at hand.  If you don't feel that strongly about a serious problem in the world today, you might consider one of the other topics.

2. Leap forward or backward 100 years and tell us about your day.

This is begging for some imagination and creativity.  But remember that TCU is trying to get to know more about you, and in this case, a description of your day is the vehicle to help them do that.  One way to approach this is to think about something that you know for sure about yourself, and imagine how that would look 100 years ago, or 100 years from now.

For example, if you are passionate about programming computers, how could you have channeled a passion for technology 100 years ago?  What would your natural curiosities have lead you to do given that there weren’t any computers?  Or, based on what you know about computers, what kinds of things could you dream about them doing 100 years from now?  And how would you like to see yourself working with them that far in the future?

The key is that whether you go back 100 years or forward 100 years, your answer should reveal something about the person you are today.

3. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend." How has the implicit philosophy in this proverb shaped the history of conflict among people?

Intellectuals, history buffs, deep thinkers–this one's for you.  While the previous topic was nudging you to be playful, this one really needs you to thoughtfully consider this question and give a critical, organized response. Stick with what you know.  Don't try to tackle all of human civilization here.  If you're a Civil War buff, or you did a research project on survivors of the holocaust, or your parents escaped war torn Bosnia to move here, you might have a knowledgeable frame of reference from which to consider this question.  And remember, the reader still needs to get to know you, not just academic reasoning in your response.  Relate how you came to know so much about this.  What drove you to become this knowledgeable?  How did the information affect you as you gathered it?  Have you continued to learn about this subject since then? 

These are the kinds of things readers really want learn while they’re evaluating your reasoning, organization and critical thinking in a response like this.   

4. Discuss a significant person, experience or achievement that has meaning for you.

The most important part of this topic is "…has meaning for you."  That means that the essay has to be about you.  A 500 word essay on why you admire Martin Luther King is much more about Martin Luther King than it is about you.  He’s certainly worthy of the admiration, but it would be a much more interesting essay if you tied it to something in your own life, how you act, how you feel, what you’ve done, etc.  Keep the focus on yourself. 

Second, the essay has to describe the "meaning" this subject had for you.  An essay about how you made the varsity soccer team is really just repeating a story they already know from reading your list of activities.  But if making the varsity soccer team was the first time you ever got to wear a team jacket, or it was the first time your dad left work early on a weekday to come see one of your activities, or how it finally made you feel like you'd found your place at your new school, now we're learning about the meaning, and we're learning something that we wouldn't have known just from reading your application. 

What about the "Freedom of Expression" exercise?

Yeah, you're on your own for that one.  Kidding.

It's better to submit something that you're proud of, that you really felt was a great opportunity for you to share more about yourself, than it is to do the exercise just for the sake of doing it.  If you have something worth sharing, you'll probably think of it pretty quickly because it will be important to you.

Here are ten examples of ways our Collegewise kids have filled the space. 

1.  A musician pasted a photo of him playing guitar in his band with the caption, "February 2, 2002.  This was the first time I ever played guitar in front of an audience."

2. A volleyball player included the text from a letter her father wrote to her and left on her pillow the night her team lost the state championship.

3.  A "C" student pasted a copy of a painting he'd done in art class that was selected to be displayed in the main foyer of the school.  He told TCU it was the first time in his life a teacher had ever used his work as an example for other students.

4.  A fairly shy girl wrote ten quotations on the page and titled them, "Life Lessons from My Older Brother."  The quotations ranged from,

"If you do something wrong, tell Dad first–he won't freak out like mom does,"


"Don't concern yourself with what other people think about you.  You don’t know it now, but it’s all just high school bullsh*$t and nobody in college will ever care about it." 

5.  A student who worked at a daycare pasted photos of the kids at work.

6.  A youth group leader included a copy of her favorite passage from the Bible. 

7.  A science buff wrote a description of his science fair project and what he set out to prove with it.

8.  One student wrote a letter to her mother who had passed away the year before.  It told her mom how hard it had been to deal with her passing, but not to worry too much because her daughter was still on track to graduate and go to college.

9.  A list entitled "Ten Reasons There is More to Joey than My 2.1 GPA."  He wasn't admitted to TCU, but I’m including it here because I loved how he swung for the fences.

10.  Nine statements that began with "I am…" like "I am a good brother," and "I am a trumpet player" and "I am a host at Chilis."

The last statement was, "But I am not a good SAT test-taker." 

Nobody has been admitted or rejected based on the "Freedom of Expression" page alone.  But if you're going to do it, take the time to do it right.  The key is to come up with something you feel good about and share it proudly.

Spend any time on the TCU campus (or at a football game) and you’ll see that this student body doesn’t hold back.  It’s an energetic place injected with personality.  That’s one of the reasons I like the school.  If you’re the type of person who could get on board with a student body like that, show them by giving them some revealing, fun, personality-injected responses in to these questions.

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.