As you may have seen in our last blog post, the prompts for all three ApplyTexas freshman application prompts have changed. We (the College Readiness team) challenged ourselves to think about how we’d answer these new prompts if we were still in high school. We started with Essay A, so this week we’ll talk about the prompt for Essay B. Happy writing!
Essay B:Some students have an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines them in an essential way. If you are one of these students, then tell us about yourself.
Kate: If I haven’t already written something similar for essay A, I might write about being from another country and how that has defined my identity and overall perspective (so this would answer the identity part of the prompt). Alternatively, I could write about how my identity and sense of self have been shaped through having a twin.
I was talented enough in dancing and singing to make Markettes and the varsity choir MHS, but I don’t think I considered either of these as talents that I excelled in (nor did I pursue either when I got to college). I held significant leadership positions through both activities, however, so I’m sure I could find a way to write about being a strong leader and my leadership abilities and/or why it was important to me to try out for those leadership positions..
Tips: If an interest or talent immediately comes to mind when you read this prompt, I think it would be a good idea to go with that. This prompt is asking you to talk about your passion and why you devote so much time to it. If you’re struggling to come up with anything to write about, consider your interests and the things that you make time for outside of school. What’s something that you started researching for fun that made you stay up way past your bedtime because you were so intrigued? How do you define yourself? If you’re struggling with this prompt, ask your family, friends, or whoever knows you best to help your brainstorm some ideas.
Something really neat about this particular prompt is that when you write this essay, you can probably use the exact same essay for the first prompt on the Common App (“Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”), which means one less essay you’d have to write if you’re going to be using both applications (yay!).
Alex: Again, there are two directions I personally would choose to take with this essay, based on my personal experiences. If I were to go the identity route, I would probably write my essay about my literal heritage: my father is from Czechoslovakia, and came to the United States when he was eleven, making me a first generation American on that side. Consequently, we’ve incorporated a lot of European traditions into our family household, and there were aspects of my childhood growing up that I never realized were uncommon in other homes. I would also probably incorporate the fact that my mother is from the Mississippi Gulf Coast, and I was not born in Texas, and so I have never really felt anchored to or affiliated with any particular location/state/culture.
If I were to choose the interest/talent route, I would write my essay about playing the piano and how important this was to me as a high school student. I was definitely one of the “artsy” kids, and piano was a musical outlet for me in a very specific way: playing the piano was one hundred percent for my own personal enrichment and enjoyment, without any kind of pressure to compete or perform (outside of two yearly recitals) or to be completely perfect at it. I would practice for two hours every day (again, being homeschooled allowed me the time to devote to this particular activity), and for those two hours I could relax, unwind, and immerse myself in a craft that, to me, was a worthwhile pursuit and an excellent use of my time. As high school students, we typically apply ourselves to activities and school work because we are working for the pay-off (getting a full ride scholarship for our grades or for sports) – but I never had to worry about that with piano. It was the perfect example of art for art’s sake.
Tips: What’s helpful about this topic is the flexibility – you can pick an interest or talent or identity. Just like Essay A, pick ONE topic and stick to it! The more narrow your focus, the better your essay will be! This is also the kind of essay where generating a list of possibilities will come in handy. Even if you are the star of your lacrosse team, you may get two paragraphs in and you’ve said all you can say about that particular interest – but find yourself waxing poetic about that time your dad bought a completely junked Cadillac Coupe de Ville and you both spent all summer restoring it to its original 1950’s glory (and now you’re planning on majoring in business so that you can open a dealership that exclusively handles vintage car restoration and sales).
Eriel: My high school experience is split in two parts. In Part 1 (grades 9th and 10th), I am a socially-challenged, homeschooled genius, taking private singing lessons and film-acting courses because I was determined to be the star of the Boy Meets World reboot. In Part 2 (grades 11th and 12th), I am (still) a socially challenged theater actress and budding fiction writer crawling her way to the graduation podium so she could chuck a deuce and say sayonara to an army of teenagers she could hardly hold a conversation with. At the core of this duality, I disliked (note the past tense here) people and loved to create things. My time being homeschooled allowed me to invest my time where I wanted – performing, painting, writing, creating, etc. Though my parents’ professions aren’t in creative departments, each member of my family had some sort of artsy talent. My mom loves interior design, my dad’s a chef, my sister’s a dancer, my little brother has his music, and my baby brother has his sketches. So, I’m guessing high school me would’ve rolled with an interest in the creative arts and how they pair with personalities or how they translate from personality to medium. To further specify the essay, I’d hone in on storytelling and how that creative art wedged itself into several mediums (i.e. performance, writing, cooking).
Tip: I think a major struggle students will encounter with this prompt is specificity. Because the prompt asks for an identity, interest, or talent, students may feel the need to address all three pillars here. That certainly isn’t the case. This is a pick one and run kinda thing. When you do pick, however, pick wisely. It may take a couple of drafts and drills to find the sweet spot, so take your time choosing before sprinting away with the topic in hand. I believe students should have a two pronged approach to this prompt: 1) Show off your personality and your hobbies, and 2) Relate it to what you intend to do professionally. This will give you the opportunity to show who you are and what impact you intend to leave on the world.
How Long Should the ApplyTexas Essay Be?
This question comes up a lot. Mainly because the application allows for up to 120 eighty-character lines of text. What’s that? You’re not up on your character count layout for a standard page? A typical single-spaced page of average size font is about 50 lines of text. ApplyTexas allows you to enter something more than twice that long; but, I beg of you, do not take them up on that!
As the ApplyTexas application becomes more and more popular (more than 1.4 million applications were submitted this past year with about 300,000 of those applications coming from students outside of Texas), the ApplyTexas folks seem to be working to simplify and clarify their process a bit more each year. When the 2016-2017 application opened a few days ago, I noticed they added some guiding text on the essay page directly answering this question:
- ApplyTexas recommends that you keep your essay to between 350 and 500 words in length, with no more than 650 words.
I recommend heeding their advice, especially if you’re applying to a school requiring more than one of their prompts. For example, if Texas A&M is on your list, they require a response to Topic A and Topic B, but they also encourage you to submit Topic C if you don’t qualify for automatic admission. That’s three major essays! Now think of the admission officer reading all those essays. I promise, no matter how good of a writer you are, your admission officer does not want to read three 1000 word essays when she has a pile of other applications to get through that day.
If you haven’t yet, check out the new prompts for the 2016-2017 application cycle. ApplyTexas has mixed things up quite a bit this year and the prompts are a lot of fun—especially Topic C. Make sure you’re looking at current information, as some of the schools have changed their requirements to reflect the new prompt choices (namely UT-Austin!). For years University of Texas at Austin required Topic C and a second of your choice. This year they have changed to requiring topic A along with a second of your choice.
While the ApplyTexas platform isn’t the prettiest and might be a bit clunky (if I’m being kind), they do have an incredibly helpful set of FAQs posted on their site. Be sure to check out what they say about submitting their essays.