How to Write the TCU College Admissions Essays
As I said in my last post, college admissions essays are a crucial component of any college application. So, continuing from the discussion of the ApplyTexas Essays and UT Short Answers, I will focus this week on TCU’s unique essay prompts and the best way to approach each of these topics.
TCU explains on its website the importance of the admissions essay and provides some insights on how best to approach it:
The essay tells us a great deal about our candidates and allows for expression of writing skills, organizational skills, creativity and imagination. The essay should be 300-500 words in length and legible. Feel free to be serious, humorous or somewhere in between.
The main detail here is that these essays should be pretty short, given the word-length recommendation -- basically nothing more than 3-4 paragraphs, which means you won’t be able to cram in a lot of different ideas. Instead, it's best to focus on 1-2 key points.
And the tone? Well, as you can see, the TCU admissions officers are fine with serious or funny. My personal preference is the “somewhere in between” -- in other words, personable and sincere.
Now that we understand generally what TCU is looking for in the college admissions essay, let’s look at its prompts. For each of these, I will provide a basic outline recommendation, including what kinds of content you could include and how to brainstorm topics.
PROMPT #1: At TCU, our mission statement is very important to us. “To educate individuals to think and act as ethical leaders and responsible citizens in the global community.” This is integrated into all aspects of the TCU experience. If you were to write a mission statement about your life, what would it be and how does this mission direct your life and goals?
A mission statement is a declaration of what motivates you, of what makes you tick. It's the underlying reason for why you are doing … well, all that you do. In English-class terms, it's what the character wants, what drives their actions, except now you are the character.
If we were talking about mission statements in terms of Macbeth, King Duncan might say, “To promote the general welfare of Scotland,” whereas Lady Macbeth might say, “To ensure that power is given to those who are most deserving.”
Fortunately, once you get past the hard part of actually determining your mission statement, the question pretty much gives you your essay structure:
Paragraph 1: What would your mission statement about your life be? [~100 words]
This is your introduction paragraph, in which the thesis should be you declaring your life’s mission statement.
Paragraph 2: How does this mission direct your life? [~150 words]
This is your first “body” paragraph. Here you can provide an overview of how your mission statement guides your life. You can focus on some concrete examples of how it has affected you, and then you can use the next paragraph to go deeper on one of these examples.
Paragraph 3: How does this mission direct your goals? [~150 words]
This is your second “body” paragraph. Here you can now talk in more detail about one specific moment from your life, which you should have introduced in the previous paragraph, and how this specific moment has shaped your goals.
Paragraph 4: How would those goals be helped by attending TCU? [~100 words]
This final part is not from the prompt itself but it is implied. You should basically explain how your mission/goals align with those of TCU.
PROMPT #2: Tell us about the most significant person, experience, or circumstance which has shaped your life thus far. How has he, she, or it influenced your character? How might you use what you have learned to achieve your goals?
The “most significant” X is a common topic across college applications, so I won’t go too deep into this one, but you should note that the question provides a pretty clear structure:
Paragraph 1: Tell us about the most significant person, experience, or circumstance which has shaped your life thus far. [~75 words]
Use the first paragraph to introduce this most influential person or experience. In your thesis, you should focus on yourself and what you learned from your major influence. I would avoid topics related to teachers, coaches, and covid-19 -- unless, of course, you have a strong case for writing about one of those.
Paragraph 2: How has he, she, or it influenced your character? (Pt. 1) [~175 words]
The two middle paragraphs should be a story in which you describe the influential person or experience.
The first part should be like the exposition and rising action of a story. Also, if you are describing a person, you can provide an overview of their personality and how they generally interacted with you and what context you met them or spent time with them.
Paragraph 3: How has he, she, or it influenced your character? (Pt. 2) [~175 words]
The second part of the “story” section should have a climax. Basically, you should go into details on the pivotal moment that changed you. This is where you tell the “heart” of the story and explain its impact on you.
Paragraph 4: How might you use what you have learned to achieve your goals? [~75 words]
In this conclusion paragraph, you can identify how your experience has inspired your career, major, future education plans, etc., and how TCU will help you along the way.
PROMPT #3: Those we call great will usually point to some failure in their lives as a pivotal moment leading them to their successful path. Tell us about a time in your life in which failure propelled you toward success.
This type of prompt -- the “failure” essay -- is also pretty common among college applications. In this case, you probably could recycle an essay from ApplyTexas or the Common Application and shorten it to 500 words. However, if you are starting fresh, then I recommend you follow a similar structure to that of Prompt #2:
Paragraph 1: "Tell us about a time in your life in which failure propelled you toward success." Include a brief overview + thesis. [~75 words]
Paragraph 2: Story of the failure -- what led up to the failure and describe the failure itself. [~175 words]
Paragraph 3: Story of the failure -- what you did to overcome it and the initial impact. [~175 words]
Paragraph 4: Conclusion of what you overall learned and how you plan to use this knowledge in the future. [~75 words]
PROMPT #4: In her best-selling novel The Secret Life of Bees, TCU alumna Sue Monk Kidd wrote, “The hardest thing on earth is choosing what matters.” What matters to you?
A seemingly open-ended question, this prompt shares a lot of similarities to the mission statement prompt. Both are getting at the same idea: what motivates you? Therefore, you can brainstorm and structure your response just like you would for the first prompt:
Paragraph 1: What matters to you most? [~100 words]
Identify what matters to you most (I recommend something somewhat serious, since more “humorous” topics will probably come off as slight and thus make your response feel trivial). Provide some background or overview on why this thing matters to you. The thing itself could be a concept, such as “great design,” or a character trait, like “honesty,” and even something social or cultural, like “family.” I’d try to think a little bit outside of the box.
Paragraph 2: What made this matter to you? [~150 words]
Whatever you describe probably didn’t matter to you from Day 1, so you should explain in this paragraph what made you interested in it. Or how it came to matter the most to you.
Paragraph 3: How has this concern for what matters to you influenced your thoughts and actions? [~150 words]
Once you establish just how your topic came to matter so much to you, you should then explain its impact on your life (just like in the mission statement essay). Explain how you have taken this thing to heart and have applied it in some tangible way to your everyday life.
Paragraph 4: How do you plan to further think/act in the future? [~100 words]
Finally, like with all the other essays, you should conclude by stating how you will extend what you have done into the future and, specifically, at TCU.
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All right! That’s my brief walkthrough on how to approach the four different TCU-specific prompts. See what you can come up with while following these guidelines, and hopefully the brainstorming and rough drafting process will be much easier for you! :-)
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