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New Apply Texas and UC Prompts: Our Strategies Pt. 1 of 2

For the new college admissions season, Apply Texas and the University of California (UC) system have changed their essay prompts. Apply Texas uses the same prompt for three admission cycles and then creates a new set, so the change is not a surprise. UC, however, does not regularly alter its prompts, so the new format will require a slight adjustment.

This week I will discuss basic strategies to brainstorm and draft Apply Texas essays that will catch an admission officer’s attention. Next week, I will address the UC prompts.

The following prompts are part of the new Apply Texas set:

A. What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood, or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.

For this prompt, it is easy to cram as much information about your background into the essay. After all, even the prompt lists “family,” “home,” “neighborhood,” and “community.” However, there is an extremely important word in the middle of the list: “or.” In other words, you should focus on one particular part of your “environment” and make this one focus as detailed and as specific as possible.

Also, keep in mind that the words “family, “home,” “neighborhood,” and “community” have definitions that go beyond the immediately obvious ones. Family can be biological or a group of friends; home can be the place where you sleep at night or a space that has personal significance to you; community can be in a city or online. Don’t become shortsighted and narrow the possibilities of producing a great essay. Instead, use the vagueness of the prompt to your advantage.

One other important reminder is that whatever you choose to talk about should somehow connect to your future goals. If you are applying to engineering school, you will want to highlight an “environment” that in some way influenced your choice in the engineering major/career. You don’t necessarily have to say your family members are all engineers, but you should be mindful that the “environment” should shape you in such a way that you have passion for your major/career.

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.

This prompt is almost identical to one of the Common Application prompts, which states, “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.” If you plan on applying to Apply Texas universities and Common Application ones, then it seems like a no-brainer to write an essay for this prompt (and in some cases, schools will require Topic B).

To really make the essay shine, you need to think outside of the box. Not only should you write about “an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines [you] in an essential way,” but also you should choose something that is unique. Just make sure that unique thing can be related to your major/career.

For example, let’s say a student is an avid hiker, and every day she goes to the local trail for a few hours. This habit is interesting, and definitely not something that all students can say, but how does it relate to her chosen business major? That’s where the work arises. Perhaps a businesswoman needs serenity and a way to de-stress, and hiking is the perfect solution to such a problem. In fact, maybe hiking makes the student a stronger businesswoman than over-studying at home does. This is the line of thinking that you need to develop for this prompt.

C. You've got a ticket in your hand - Where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?

Oh geez. This is the “can of worms” prompt; it can elicit some wildly creative essays and some truly banal ones.

First things first, let’s talk about the underlying message in this prompt: Apply Texas schools want to know what are your priorities. The idea that you now magically have “a ticket in your hand” is nearly the same as saying “you have one wish.” A ticket is an opportunity to do many, many things. So, what kind of image do you want to present to the admissions officer? How will your priorities -- as revealed by what you choose as the destination AND by what you do there -- show passion and intensity?

Since the prompt is so open-ended, you may feel like you have the option to get a bit weird or silly with your response. You wouldn’t necessarily be wrong, but keep in mind that if you decide to use the stranger, sillier, or funnier approach, your essay may abysmally fail. Remember that not everything that you find quirky or funny translates to others as well as you may think.

In contrast to getting too weird, you should refrain from the terribly obvious “my ticket is to UT and I’m going to change the world!!!!” essay. Be a little bit more creative and actually reveal something about yourself. Usually the final paragraph of the admission essay will address what the student plans to do at the particular university, so no need to spend a whole page going through which classes you want to take.

Closing thoughts…

The college admission season begins anew now that the school year is ending. Summer is the perfect time to get a head start and maybe even finish your college applications. At B2A, we have a whole team dedicated to the college admissions process and services to help students brainstorm, draft, and finalize essays. Let us help you get into your dream Texas university (and beyond)!

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