A couple of years ago, college applicants in the US and abroad, were the first to face the Coalition Application. This new competitor to the Common App offered a fresh take on the college application process. Students as early as 9th grade were given a “locker” and were able to use the platform to start building their college application portfolio. Participating schools include the University of Chicago, the Ivy League, and many other elite universities. Mercifully their essay prompts are similar to the Common App, and they are the same prompts they used for 2017-2018. The following five posts include a close reading of each prompt, and some ideas to get you thinking about the essay this year.
I believe that all college essays include two elements: story and argument. You’re creating a brief narrative you’ve mined from your experience, and you’re making a case that you are fit for the schools you’re applying to. Nevertheless, breaking down and thinking about these each of these prompts early will bring some of these ideas to the fore. Here ya go, with prompt #1!
Prompt #1: Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
I love this prompt for its elegance and simplicity. The components are the story and what the story demonstrates. If you don’t feel you can spin a great yarn, I think it’s best to begin by mining your memory, and to quickly and thoughtfully write down everything you remember. This is the “raw material” that you may choose to shape later.
Here’s an example of some “raw material” from my life that could be shaped into a little narrative that describes either character or how character was formed.
My friends and I would play in the neighborhood, and talk about the weird lady. She lived in a house down the hill and at the beginning of the next uphill, and we didn’t know her or anything about her. We weren’t even sure she was a lady. We thought everything about the house was strange. There were succulents and rocks in the front yard, and we’d note that there were little figurines in the window above her front door. We’d walk down the hill, and then run up the hill for fear that we’d be seen by the weird lady. The car that would sometimes be in front of the weird lady’s house was old, and bluish, and beat up, and covered in what we thought were menacing-looking bumper stickers. We saw or imagined strange things inside the windows. One day my friend and I decided to knock on the weird lady’s door. We stepped up sheepishly, no purpose in mind, and knocked. We waited. Then we heard footsteps. My friend ran away, but I felt compelled to stay. The door opened and I stood there akimbo, trying to seem confident, and told her I was her neighbor…
The next challenge is to say what this story (A) says about the my character or (B) how it shaped the my character. In this example, (B) is probably stronger. What happened when I faced the subject of my prejudice? Maybe there’s kind of a Scout Finch-Boo Radley dynamic to explore.
Another way to approach this essay is to begin with your values. What are two or three qualities that go into an amazing human being? Do you have a specific example of how these qualities demonstrated or formed? The story should help you describe 3-5 values that you have developed that you will then share with the college you choose.