What Do Those Essay Prompts Really Mean?

College essay prompts often reflect the personality of the school and its students.  That’s why, if a certain essay topic inspires you to write a 10-page thesis, well, you might have found your perfect match.  Below are five actual essay questions from this year’s applications, along with some insight into how these questions reflect the schools and their students.  The names of the colleges who posed the questions have been withheld..

Essay topic #1
“You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217.”

Did you hatch a 10 year plan on your 10th birthday that detailed your academic rise, summer internships, and college plans? Then this school might just fit the bill for you. The college that poses this essay question seeks out candidates who have definite plans for the future. These are highly motivated students who want to use this university’s resources to attain those goals that they probably set at age ten.

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Texas Christian University

Fort Worth, TXTcu

Two words: Horned Frogs.

There are some colleges where the mascot is just the poor
sap in a smelly suit. But for others, the mascot is a central part of the
school’s identity. Take the TCU (Texas Christian University) "Horned
Frog," for example.

From the stadium chants of "Go Horned Frogs!" to the "Frog
Family Homecoming" for alumni in October, TCU’s Horned Frog is a part of
their campus culture. Nowhere is this more apparent than at home football
games, a staple of TCU’s student spirit. In fact, all TCU students recently
received a letter from second-year Chancellor Victor J. Boschini welcoming them
back to school and inviting them to the Horned Frogs’ nationally televised
opening home football game against Northwestern. It probably wasn’t hard to
garner support. The Frogs were coming off an 11-win season and a top 25
post-season ranking in 2003.

He signed off his letter with the following: "So be prepared to study like
your future depends on it (it does!), and play safely – for the same reason.
Indeed, that’s what Horned Frogs do!"

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Start Out on The Right Foot…

Rightfoot_2All the admissions officers we’ve met are good people who would much rather admit than deny kids. But during the pressures of admissions season, some applicants’ actions can drive the admissions folks crazy. Here are five tips to make sure you don’t inadvertently start out on the wrong foot.

1.  Follow directions.
You can avoid most common mistakes in college applications by reading and following the directions.  For example, if a college asks you to list your activities in the space provided, and you send them a resume instead, you just showed them that you couldn’t follow a pretty simple direction.  So read the directions and do exactly as they instruct you to do. No matter how much you think you might be helping your case by doing things your own way, you’re always better served following directions.

2.  Make sure you read the admissions websites carefully.
When is the application deadline?  How many letters of recommendation are required?  When is the last date you can take the SAT?  You can find answers to these and many other common questions from applicants on the admissions websites.

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Just Being Yourself Can Help You Get Into College

Pink_aber_shirt I’m not Arun Ponnusamy, the former Caltech and University of Chicago Assistant Director of Admissions and the usual contributor to this “Inside the Admissions Office” column. I’ve never even worked in an admissions office. But I think I can teach you a little something about college admissions by sharing some things Arun might not tell you.

Arun wears a lot of pink. I don’t know many men who can wear pink and really pull it off, but I swear Arun can do it. He’s actually got what some people might call a pretty well developed fashion sense, which is interesting considering he was raised in rural Ohio. Think small town. Think farms. Think of a situation where his dad wasn’t a surgeon in his small town. His father was the surgeon in his small town. To watch Arun coolly navigate the hippest areas of Los Angeles, all decked out in his silky pink shirts, hip-hop music playing in his grey Scion, you’d never know that instead of a paper route or a job in retail, his part time job during high school summers was shoveling cow poop.

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Don’t Fall For These Admissions Myths

When it comes to college admissions, knowledge is power. So make sure you don’t
fall for these five popular myths.


1. Connections get you in

That letter of recommendation from the alumnus who is also your father’s
business partner isn’t likely to get you in. And neither is the fact that your
neighbor knows someone on the admissions staff.

Admissions officers are looking for motivated students who can add to their
campus communities, not the ones who know the “right people.” So, unless the
brand new research center at your dream school has your family’s name on it
(which would help), don’t count on your connections to get you in.

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Antioch College

Antioch_2Yellow Springs, OH

Looks aren’t everything.

Maybe you don’t fit the mold in high school. You don’t look like the other
kids. You don’t dress like they dress. You don’t think like they think. You
don’t know where the cool party is and you don’t care. You might even be more
intelligent than your grades makes you look. You’re a thinker, a dreamer, an
idealist. You can’t wait to escape high school and surround yourself with a
bunch of other bright, interesting, wonderfully weird students who didn’t fit
the mold in high school either and who think you look just fine.

Have we got the college for you…

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Blogworthy

We spend our days at NACAC assessing whether each experience is blogworthy and abiding by the guiding principle that not everything we do here makes for interesting reading.  Rather, we’ll try to share the conversations, sessions and experiences that are making our stay at NACAC so Priceofadmissionbig_4 memorable.  With that guiding principle, here was NACAC, day two.

This book has been getting a lot of press lately, so you can imagine how much it’s being talked about in the company of NACAC.  Fortunately (or sadly, depending upon how college-geeky this really makes us), Kevin and Arun each read the book during their respective flights to attend NACAC, so they’ve been able to weigh in with their own thoughts.  At one point yesterday, Ted O’Neil from the University of Chicago asked Kevin, "So, you read The Price of Admission?  What did you think of it?"  Kevin was an English major in college and thus enjoyed years of training in criticial analysis and discussion of classic literature.  But for Kevin, this was much, much cooler than being asked his thoughts about Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury (a book Kevin read in college, but never managed, even for one second, to understand).   

Kevin’s take on The Price of Admission, by the way, is that the book is somewhat predicated on the assumption that a kid who is "left out" of a spot in the nation’s most selective colleges is somehow at a life disadvantage.  You don’t have to spend much time around Collegewise to pick up that we don’t believe you have to go to a school on the US News list to be happy and successful.  Still, it’s not a simple issue, and we’ve enjoyed being a part of the discussions here with fellow counselors and admissions officers.   

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Everybody Loves Arun

Day one at NACAC reminded us of two things–We come here as much for the people as we do for the workshops, and the vast majority of the people working in admissions are smart, honest, and interested in doing what’s right for kids.

We have to start this entry by acknowledging that it seems as if everyone attending NACAC has worked with or heard of Arun.  And all of them seem to like and respect him.  Alex and Kevin have had absolutely no qualms riding Arun’s coattails throughout our stay here.  And what colorful coattails they are.  Yesterday, Arun was sporting a look that involved a pink dress shirt, red track jacket, and blue pinstriped blazer–yes, all at the same time.  Alex and Kevin admitted that while we would look absolutely ridiculous in that outfit, Arun somehow managed to pull it off.  We’re kicking ourselves for not photographing him.  One counselor and at an elite New York private high school admired Arun’s look with the comment, "Wow, look at you!  You look so LA glossy."  Thus far, nobody has referred to Kevin or Alex as "glossy." 

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Back On Tour…

Day one of our full-fledged college tours got off to a rocky start when it took us nearly 30-minutes Easyrider_4just to find the freeway near our hotel.  We were distracted by all the pedestrians who mistook us for a cab and  tried to hail us.  Who can blame them?  We’re driving this.

No, this is not a random car that we saw in a parking lot and thought, "Hey, it would be funny if we took a picture of that monstrosity and put in the blog!"  This is actually our rental car…for one more day.  Until then, we’re going to fashion a large "Off Duty" sign to attach to its roof just to get people to stop trying to flag us down for rides around town.

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That’s Wha’TIME Bloggin’ About…

What has long been somewhat of an underground college admissions sentiment is about to get a Time_image_2 front page voice this week when Time Magazine hits the shelves with the cover story, Who Needs Harvard?  Forget the Ivy League—The new rules of the game say the best fit is what matters.

Time didn’t exactly break this story.  Loren Pope’s Colleges That Change Lives (which they mention in the article) touted the potential benefits of schools that lack the Ivy League label, as did Jay Mathews’ Harvard Schmarvard and Lloyd Thacker’s College Unranked.  In fact (darn it), Collegewise has been doing our part—it’s a little part, but it’s our part—telling every student and parent who will listen that the most selective schools aren’t necessarily the best

But this week, newsstands will carry a mainstream media publication whose cover story will inspire something other than the usual college admissions anxiety and confusion.  High school students and parents have been waiting a long time for this, and so have we.

It’s about Time.