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2013-14 Common Application Sample Essay

Students must write one core college admissions essay if they are applying to a college or colleges that use The Common Application. But most schools also require additional essays, called supplements. The supp prompts for this year are starting to trickle out, and the trend so far is toward questions that are quirky and try to get students to think out of the box.

Even if these prompts seem lighter in nature, these are just as important as your core essay. Your supplemental essays might have a more offbeat or creative style or topic, but remember that many of your points should still be thoughtful and serious.

Tufts University is getting some attention for one of their new supplements. Among a handful of prompts students can choose from, one asks them to write about YOLO–or the idea that You Only Live Once. Both Gawker and the Huffington Post just wrote columns about Tuft’s unusual supplement prompts, which also include Quakers, nerds and the Red Sox.

YOLO is an age-old concept that dates back to the Roman idea of Carpe diem, or Seize the Day. Recently, a hip hop band named Drake popularized it with “The Motto” song, and #YOLO was a popular hashtag for a while. A YOLO decision usually involves some type of risk–you aren’t sure you will like it, you cant’ really afford it, you might regret it, you might get in trouble for doing it, etc. But you do it anyway.

The bottom line with this YOLO prompt is: When do you “go for” what you want, and when do you wait? Even though this question has a fun-loving feel, it is asking a relatively heavy question about your values, priorities and goals. Like most good essay prompts, it’s trying to get you to write about how you feel and think, and what you care about and why.

If you choose to respond to this provocative question–and other similar college essay supplements–here are a couple tips:

1. You will need to define YOLO in your own words, but make sure you don’t spend your entire essay (or even the majority of it) simply defining what it means. This essays demands you describe what it mean TO YOU!

2. The idea that You Only Live Once implies that if something means a lot to you, that you should go for it and not wait–at least not wait too long. Another way to think about it is to ask yourself: If you happened to die tomorrow, is there anything you would regret not having done? How do you decide what to “go for” in your life?

3. This essay prompt is basically asking you to ponder what you value and to weigh your goals–both in the near and distant future. It also is trying to get you to share how you make decisions when deciding how to pursue happiness in your life.

4. If you wanted to write a narrative style essay, I would suggest that you think of an example of a YOLO-type decision that you had to make–and then go into how you figured it out. In your introduction, describe what you wanted in the form of an anecdote–which relates a moment in time. You could talk about how you walked into the tattoo parlor with your friend, and how you looked at the images you were thinking of getting, and how you thought of the pros and cons of this difficult decision. Or how you stood at the edge of a cliff, locked in a bungie-jump harness, and debated (with yourself) on whether to take the plunge. The idea is that you capture the reader by putting them at the most intense moment, and then go back and walk them through the steps you took to get there and make the decision to “go for it” or not–and include your logic and motivation.

5. The key to writing a strong YOLO essay for Tufts University (and ALL essays) is to give it focus. Don’t just talk about how you go for things in general in life, but pick one strong example of “a time” when you made one of these decisions, and then reflect upon that. The readers want to know how you make these decisions, not just a recounting of all the times you have made them.

Here’s the complete YOLO prompt:

The ancient Romans started it when they coined the phrase “Carpe diem.” Jonathan Larson proclaimed “No day but today!” and most recently, Drake explained You Only Live Once (YOLO). Have you ever seized the day? Lived like there was no tomorrow? Or perhaps you plan to shout YOLO while jumping into something in the future. What does #YOLO mean to you?

If you need more help writing a narrative college application essay, check out my new short guide, Escape Essay Hell!






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Every year colleges and universities ask applicants to write essays to explain who they are and to show how they think and write (assuming that the students actually write the essays themselves). Even many of the hundreds of schools that accept the online Common Application still require supplemental writing samples. Most of the essay prompts are predictable — but not all. Here are some of the more unusual ones for the 2013-14 college application season.

The ancient Romans started it when they coined the phrase “Carpe diem.” Jonathan Larson proclaimed “No day but today!” and most recently, Drake explained You Only Live Once (YOLO). Have you ever seized the day? Lived like there was no tomorrow? Or perhaps you plan to shout YOLO while jumping into something in the future. What does #YOLO mean to you?

The University of Chicago prides itself on its provocative essay questions, inspired by newly admitted students who are asked to contribute ideas for new prompts. Here are the ones for this admissions cycle:

Essay Option 1.

Winston Churchill believed “a joke is a very serious thing.” From Off-Off Campus’s improvisations to the Shady Dealer humor magazine to the renowned Latke-Hamantash debate, we take humor very seriously here at The University of Chicago (and we have since 1959, when our alums helped found the renowned comedy theater The Second City).

Tell us your favorite joke and try to explain the joke without ruining it.

Inspired by Chelsea Fine, Class of 2016

Essay Option 2.

In a famous quote by José Ortega y Gasset, the Spanish philosopher proclaims, “Yo soy yo y mi circunstancia” (1914). José Quintans, master of the Biological Sciences Collegiate Division at the University of Chicago, sees it another way: “Yo soy yo y mi microbioma” (2012).

You are you and your..?

Inspired by Maria Viteri, Class of 2016

Essay Option 3.

“This is what history consists of. It’s the sum total of all the things they aren’t telling us.” — Don DeLillo, Libra.

What is history, who are “they,” and what aren’t they telling us?

Inspired by Amy Estersohn, Class of 2010

Essay Option 4.

The mantis shrimp can perceive both polarized light and multispectral images; they have the most complex eyes in the animal kingdom. Human eyes have color receptors for three colors (red, green, and blue); the mantis shrimp has receptors for sixteen types of color, enabling them to see a spectrum far beyond the capacity of the human brain.

Seriously, how cool is the mantis shrimp: mantisshrimp.uchicago.edu

What might they be able to see that we cannot? What are we missing?

Inspired by Tess Moran, Class of 2016

Essay Option 5.

How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.

Inspired by Florence Chan, Class of 2015

Essay Option 6.

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.

Here are some of the supplemental essay prompts from the 2013-2014 freshman application. Limit: Half a page or roughly 250 words.

–You are required to spend the next year of your life in either the past or the future. What year would you travel to and why?

Imagine that you are backpacking through a country you have never been to before. You are interested in engaging with the local population and your backpack includes three items that will help them learn about your family and culture. What are those three items and how do they represent your background?

Choose one and respond in an essay of 400-500 words.

Most of us have one or more personality quirks. Explain one of yours and what it says about you.

What do you hope to find over the rainbow?

Why do you do what you do?

If you could travel anywhere in time or space, either real or imagined, where would you go and why?

Tell us about a time when your curiosity led you someplace you weren’t expecting to go.

Give us your top ten list.

There’s a difference between being busy and being engaged. Lafayette comes alive each day with the energy of students who are deeply engaged in their academic, co-curricular, and extracurricular explorations. In response to the … prompt, keep it simple—choose one activity and add depth to our understanding of your involvement.

What do you do? Why do you do it? (Optional and 20-200 words in length)

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