Tufts University is a highly selective college that's making real efforts to personalize their application. They want to know who you are beyond your grades, test scores and accomplishments. Want proof? Look at the directions for their required supplemental essays.
“Think outside the box when 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.”
That’s code for, “Don’t write what you think we want to hear. Don’t worry about impressing us. Be yourself. Have some fun. Answer honestly without fear of admissions retribution.”
In fact, that's exactly the essay advice we give to our Collegewise students for just about any college application.
Here are some tips on how to do that.
I. REQUIRED SHORT ANSWER (50 words)
“Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? Simply put: “Why Tufts?”
50 words isn’t much space. You've got to make your point briefly and forcefully. So tell them the real reason why you are applying to Tufts. If you’re applying just because you like Boston, or you think Tufts has a good reputation, or you really want to go to Yale and you think Tufts is a safety school (it’s not for most people, by the way), then this essay is going to be challenging. Think about this a different way; if you got accepted, would you be excited about the opportunity to go to Tufts? If not, then you should probably reconsider applying. But if so, start there and tell them why. Be honest. Don't just recite facts from the website. Put some feeling into it. Let them hear your excitement.
II. REQUIRED SHORT ESSAYS (200 words)
1. 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.
Pay attention to the “or” in that question–you don't have to talk about everything, and you’ve only got 200 words to play with. So be specific. Start strong and get to the point. Instead of saying, “My parents have always set a great example and encouraged me to pursue my goals,” jump right in and give them a real example, like, “I can’t remember the last time my dad got home from work before 10 p.m. It makes it hard for me to complain about homework when he’s working 14 hours a day. That’s the kind of example he’s set for me.” There it is. You made a strong point in just 31 words. Bam.
2. Self-identity and personal expression take many forms. For example, music, clothing, politics, extracurricular interests, and ethnicity can each be a defining attribute. Do you surf or tinker? Are you a vegetarian poet who loves Ayn Rand? Do you prefer YouTube or test tubes? Are you preppie or Goth? Use the richness of your life to give us insight: what voice will you add to the Class of 2014?
OK, seriously, look at the examples they give in the prompt. Tufts is borderline begging you to show them who you really are, to share the parts of yourself they would never know from your application. So take them up on it. “I set high goals for myself” or “I take pride in being a source of support for my friends” are sleep-inducing. Give them the good stuff, like,
“I admit it—I really love shoes. A lot.” Or, “Deep down, I really just want to write a book that gets me on Oprah someday.” Or, “I have a relationship with math that borders on the romantic.”
Don’t hide. Be yourself and let them see the real you.
What about the optional essay?
Tufts has an optional essay with eight prompts from which to choose, and they remind you that “it really is optional.” Should you do it? Is it bad not to write one? Our best answer is that it will help your chances of admission if you submit an essay that you obviously sat down and wrote just for Tufts, one for which the prompt spoke to you and you really had something to say. If you don't have that essay in you, it would be better to leave it blank than to submit an average essay where your heart wasn't in it, or even worse, one that’s obviously just been recycled from another college’s application.
So read the prompts carefully and see if any of them grab you. And again, don’t worry about being impressive. Just be yourself. I mean, one of the prompts ask you if you agree with Kermit the Frog that “It’s not easy being green." C'mon! They don't want you to hide behind an answer that's contrived to impress.
I would love to read a response to that prompt that read,
“I’ve never been green, but I’ve been orange. Seriously, orange like a pumpkin. It was the result of a self-tanning regimen gone awry that took six weeks to wear off. And let me tell you, it most certainly was not easy.”
So if you’re applying to Tufts, set aside enough time to write some great responses to these questions. And by great, I mean writing that passes the ultimate litmus test—if your best friend read it, would she say, “This is SO you!”? If so, that’s a good sign.
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.