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Essay Strategies for 2019 Pre-College Summer Programs

Last week, we told you about the best 2019 pre-college programs for high schoolers. Did a few options seem like a fit for you and your goals? Awesome! Let’s talk about applying.

Once you’ve narrowed down the programs, it’s time to review the requirements and application materials. Other than grades, test scores, and recommendations, a key part of applicant assessment and review is the application essay.

While plenty of applicants have the credentials, essays are a valuable tool that will help set you apart from the pack by illustrating not only your seriousness about the opportunity, but your fit with the program. Program coordinators want to attract students who will thrive in the research and/or internship environment, and who will go on to become impressive alumni who will ultimately prove a solid investment and exemplar of the program’s success.

Through the essays you write, you’ll want to convey not just why you find the program attractive, but how you’ll benefit, learn, and grow from the opportunity. Are there faculty members you’re particularly excited to work with? Are there research areas you can’t wait to contribute to and explore? How will this program enrich your leadership capabilities?

In addition, some of the applications also ask for what we refer to as “character” essays: those that showcase one of your defining qualities. How do you demonstrate leadership in your life? What does it mean to you to be a leader? Which service experiences have meant the most to you? How have you served as an example for others? How did you navigate and overcome a significant challenge?

Finally, a few applications also feature “issue” essays: How does socioeconomic status interact with educational opportunity? Why do you feel diversity is integral to business? What modern issue needs the most scientific attention and resources?

Below are the available essay prompts along with some tips for crafting responses to each of the open applications featured in last week’s post. Note: Some applications are not repeated this week because the deadline has passed!

DEADLINE: 2/22/2019

Essays: Two 500-word essays


  1. Research Rationale: Describe your primary interest, being very specific; this will help with matching you to a research professor. (Optional - describe your secondary interest, being very specific.)

  2. Narrative: Tell the Selection Committee about yourself and your reasons for applying to the Clark Scholarship Program. Please include your future goals and how becoming a Clark Scholar would contribute to achieving those goals.

“The [narrative essay] is how the program will benefit them. The other… is about their research and what they want to pursue and why. If students have done research, we hope that they will take some time to reflect on their research in these prompts.” – Dr. Michael San Francisco, a professor and dean of the Honors College at Texas Tech University

As we mentioned, articulating your fit with the program, including the research you’re most interested in and keen to participate in, as well as how the program fits with your professional goals will be paramount to your success as an applicant.

DEADLINE: 3/1/2019

ESSAYS: One 250-word (maximum) essay

Prompt: Describe yourself and discuss each of the following as part of your essay. You are not limited to these areas.

  1. Important academic or life experiences in STEM (science, technology, engineering, math)

  2. Extracurricular activities that have influenced you in a positive way (include skills you deem valuable for an academic team research setting)

  3. Your current academic path and career plans

  4. How your experience in this program will impact your plans for the future

  5. Share your prior experience in STEM opportunities.

  6. How did you hear about the SEES Internship Program?

  7. The subjects that most interest me are:

  8. Which of the following does your school offer?

  • Science AP classes

  • Computer Science coding (and which language[s])

  • IB

  • Dual credit

  1. My participation in SEES depends on my receiving a travel scholarship

This is not a lot of space for very much information, so the best choice is to figure out how these topics interrelate for you and break it down into 2-3 meaningful paragraphs.

For example, your topics could flow as follows: How did you get into and realize your love for STEM? What activities did you engage in? What opportunities were available to you (and which did you take advantage of)? How has this set you on your current academic path and passions? What are your future plans and how are you currently working towards them? How did you hear about the program and how will it help your goals?

DEADLINE: Rolling basis started 1/3/2019

ESSAYS: Five 300-word (minimum) essays


  1. Identify and reflect on an issue affecting your community. In what way(s) might a STEM-related discipline improve the issue you've identified?

  2. How has culture and family background influenced the way you see the world?

  3. Tell us about a significant challenge you've encountered and how you've overcome it. What values and skills did you learn in the process?

  4. Please discuss how and why you became interested in STEM. In what way(s) is your interest in STEM supported in your high school?

  5. How would attending the Summer Academy for Math and Science at Carnegie Mellon University support your academic and career goals? How would you contribute to the success of the program?

In addition to the latter prompts which reflect on program fit (see aforementioned tips), this application also includes character and issue essays. This is your chance to articulate how you applied your passion and what will be the impact of your future work, as well as help the admissions committee understand you more fully as a person. Think about the characteristics you want to portray (Hint: check out the program or university’s mission statement and goals) and showcase them through your essays.

For example, for the first prompt, you’ll want to illustrate your empathy and your ingenuity. What problems have you noticed in your community and how could work in your field alleviate them? For the second and third, think carefully about the qualities you want to highlight and how to best create a narrative to communicate them. What value did your parents exemplify for you that has shaped how you see the world and, more specifically, how to solve problems? How did you use a CMU-valued trait, such as creativity, to conquer an obstacle? Decide on your message, then tell your story. Each response should have a thesis (which I try to help my students conceptualize as a one-sentence direct answer to the prompt) that the essay states and supports.

DEADLINE: 1/23/2019

ESSAYS: Requires five 90-word (maximum) short responses and two 250-word (maximum) essays.

Short response prompts:

  1. Why do you want to participate in the Simons Summer Research Program? Be specific about your aspirations and goals for the upcoming summer. Tell us what previous Simons faculty mentors/research groups are of most interest to you.

  2. What are your long-term academic and career aspirations/goals?

  3. How do you spend your time outside of class? Please briefly describe your 3 most significant interests/activities, including any employment or volunteer experience.

  4. What problem or project have you tackled recently? Give a specific example that best conveys your problem-solving skills or talents. You may describe problem-solving experiences outside research/ science.

  5. Briefly summarize any previous research experience (if applicable). Please include research-oriented courses you may have taken. Tell us about any computer/mechanical skills you have that may be helpful in a laboratory setting. Be specific about the nature of your research experience(s) and your responsibilities. If you have already begun working with a Stony Brook faculty mentor and made arrangements to continue a research project for next summer, please describe what have you accomplished to date/what you hope to accomplish in summer 2019.

Essay prompts:

  1. What scientific discovery or technological advance in the past year or two did you find especially interesting and/or significant? How did you find out about it and why do you think it is significant?

  2. Within the broad discipline in which you propose to do research (biology, chemistry, physics, etc.), what question(s) or problem(s) regarding the physical and/or natural world are you most interested in, or would you most like to see answered?

Luckily, the shorter essay prompts make clear what SBU wants from you and are relatively straight forward. The two longer parts are both character essays: they want you to show specific qualities in yourself, namely intellectual curiosity. This is where you can showcase your passion as well as your background knowledge and analytical thinking.

DEADLINE: 2/1/2019

Essays: Five required and one optional 300-word (maximum) essays


  1. What are some career goals you have for yourself at the moment? How might the OEOP summer programs help you attain these goals?

  2. What are you passionate about? How have you spent time developing this passion?

  3. There are many parts that make us individuals. How has a specific part of your identity (race, culture, first generation college student, gender, etc) impacted your academic development or shaped your academic aspirations?

  4. Please describe a significant challenge you have faced and how you overcame it. (This challenge can be personal, academic, or social).

  5. If you could develop, invent, or innovate anything to change the world for the better or improve the lives of others, what would it be, and why?

  6. (OPTIONAL) Is there any other information you would like to share with us that is not presented elsewhere in your application?

Funnily, the MIT summer program application is much more essay heavy than the MIT college application! However, this app will be great practice for other university apps. All of these prompts are similar to previously discussed topics, so scroll up!

After you’ve drafted and polished responses to the five required essays, think about which qualities and information each is conveying. Is there anything else key about you that the admissions committee should know? That’s what the sixth essay is for! Think about things like leadership, service, relevant experience, creativity, empathy, tenacity, flexibility, and independence in learning. Again, review the program’s mission statement and review all of the program details to get a solid feel for what they’re looking for in an applicant.

DEADLINE: 2/1/2019

ESSAYS: One required 450-word (maximum) essay and one optional 300- to 400-word essay


  1. Required: Describe the most important relationship in your life. What is your contribution to this relationship?

  2. Optional: Why do you want to attend LBW?

For the first prompt, you want to go into it with a value in mind. What characteristic, trait, or moral are you valuing by highlighting this person and your relationship? How are you showing how you contribute meaningfully to the relationship? Once you’ve answered these questions, see how you can show (not tell!) these answers through your description and story.

For the second—which you should absolutely do!—follow the previous instructions for similar essays about fit with a given program.

DEADLINE: 2/6/2019

ESSAYS: One 500-word and two 200-word essays


  1. Write about an example of social inequality. What do you see as a primary cause of this inequality? (500 words)

  2. What is a topic that you find fascinating and are interested in exploring? (200 words)

  3. We want to learn more about your background, beliefs, values, and/or the important people in your life. Please tell us about something that has influenced you and articulate how it has shaped you. (200 words)

Instead of “fit” essays, we have character/issue essays. However, you can work fit into the second essay easily. Your topic should be relevant to something you can explore or pursue at YGS.

The first essay should be more issue focused, highlighting your incisive ability to analyze and think critically as well as empathetically. This is the largest and most important essay. Consult with YGS website to familiarize yourself with the program’s values and mission statement.

The final essay is a character essay, meant to showcase a quality of yours that will show your depth and meaningful growth as a student and person. However, it is the briefest essay, so you’ll want to be direct. Hone in on a thesis and one to two supporting examples.

DEADLINE: 2/14/2019

ESSAYS: Three essays ranging from 200 to 300 words


  1. Why you selected your field of interest and what you would like to research (300 words)

  2. Your background (250 words)

  3. Why you want to attend the RISE program (200 words)

These three essays are similar to those we’ve previously discussed. The first and third are all about establishing fit: you with the program AND the program with you. The second, while lacking guidance, is meant for you to articulate how you’ve overcome challenges and taken advantage of opportunities. What support have you had? Have your passions been encouraged? Again, think about what message you want to send to the admissions committee here.

DEADLINE: 2/23/2019

ESSAYS: Two 3500-character (maximum; ~500 words) essays


  1. What are your reasons for applying to SIMR? Please summarize the reasons that you are applying for the SIMR Program, how your participation in the program fits into your future educational and career objectives, and why you feel you are a good candidate for the program. You may also discuss your institute/area of research preferences and personal goals.

  2. Please respond to one of the following prompts (a OR b)

  3. At Stanford, we are committed to increasing the diversity (broadly defined) of students in the sciences and engineering. Please describe how your interests and background (in terms of culture, class, race, gender, ethnicity, work, hardships that you’ve faced or life experiences) would contribute to that diversity.

  4. Please describe a high school extracurricular activity or internship/work experience that has had a significant impact on you. We are particularly interested in hearing about how this experience shaped your character and what lessons you brought away from it.

The first prompt is a classic “fit” essay. Follow their guidance and be sure to expand on your answers with supporting details. This essay is meant to be up to 500 words, so break it down into smaller pieces if you’re struggling with length. Write 150 words about why you’re interested in the program and research opportunities, 150 about your relevant educational and career goals, and 150 about your fitness as a candidate. Of course, make sure these all tie together cohesively.

For the second essay, think about which prompt would be most advantageous for you to answer. Have you overcome hardships or lack of opportunities due to your background? How have you sought out and fought for your education? What does participating in this program mean to you? How will you contribute to representation in your field and how would that inspire others in the future? If you don’t feel like that prompt is right for you, or you feel like you have a relevant and meaningful experience to share, answer the second option. How did this opportunity change you and your goals? How did it stimulate your intellectual curiosity? Did it cement anything for you or set you on your current trajectory? Does this program tie in with continuing that momentum?

DEADLINE: 3/1/2019

ESSAY: A cover letter describing the applicant's research interests and career goals

Helpful advice from the NIH website:

  • Your cover letter is your opportunity to “speak” persuasively to those who read your application.

  • Scientists are busy people. Keep your cover letter brief, focused, and succinct; it should be no longer than two pages. Say what is important, but nothing more.

  • Tailor your cover letter to the particular application you are completing. Why do you want to participate in this specific program? How do your skills and experiences make you the perfect match for the program? Show that you have done your homework.

  • Tell us how this program will help you prepare for a science- or health-related career. How has your unique life experience shaped your goals for the future? Write about hardships that you have had to overcome and challenges you see yourself facing in the future.

  • Pay particular attention to the way in which you describe your research interests. Institute and Center Selection Committees will review applications. It is likely that many of them will search the application database for individuals with whom they share an interest. If you are willing to work on several areas, it might be useful to mention them all specifically to increase your chances of a “match.”

  • How have you been a leader at your school and in your community? Write about how these and other experiences show your leadership potential. Help us understand your commitment to continued self-improvement and learning.

  • Do not present material that is included in your resume except perhaps to highlight your major accomplishments.

  • Be specific. Remember that examples, stories, and details are likely to stick with the reader. It is better to provide an example that illustrates your ability to work in a team than to state that you are a team player.

Following the NIH’s tips will be the most helpful here. Again, reiterating your fit with the program (both what you are bringing with your experience and background as well as how the program will enrich your understanding and further your career and educational goals) is key.

If you want even more tips and advice from B2A, you can meet with one of our Essay Specialists or College Admissions Counselors for individual guidance or feedback on your essays and applications! College Admissions Counselors are available for 1:1 meetings as well as through our STEPS and Gateway packages.

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