By John Raftrey And Lori McCormick
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About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally f... (More)
About this blog: We are writing this blog to give practical advice to students and parents, to reflect on issues affecting college admissions, and to provide a platform for a robust community discussion on post-secondary choices. We occasionally feature "guest? bloggers and invite other college counselors to join the blog team. We are members of the Higher Education Consultants Association (HECA) and the Western Association for College Admissions Counseling (WACAC). Lori McCormick: I began my college advising career in 2006 at Notre Dame de Namur in Transfer Admissions. Since then, I have worked at San Jose State in the Career Center, for a local independent college advising firm, and for BUILD a college access program for underrepresented youth. I graduated with a BA in Sociology from UCSB and a MA in Psychology with a concentration in Career Counseling from Antioch University. I am an active volunteer with The Parent?s Club of the Peninsula (PAMP), the Palo Alto Community Child Care (PACCC) and I am a seasonal application reader for the Maisin Scholar Award. I reside in Palo Alto with my husband and two sons. John Raftrey: I have been advising students for the last three admission cycles. I regularly attend conferences, tour colleges, and keep up with the changing landscape of college admissions. I'll share what I learn and throw in a few opinions along the way. I moved to Palo Alto in 1991. My three sons are all veterans of PAUSD and graduated from Paly. I graduated from the University of Michigan, earned an MBA at Columbia University and hold a certificate in College Counseling from UC San Diego. In my past life I worked in TV news and high tech marketing. (Hide)
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UC’s Change Application Essay PromptsUploaded: Mar 26, 2016
The University of California announced this week it is eliminating the two essay prompts in their current application and replacing them with eight short answer questions of which undergraduate will have to pick four and transfer students will have to pick three. Transfer students also have to answer a specific question on how they are prepared for their major.
The change will affect students who are applying to the UC’s this fall. The previous prompts had a maximum word count of 1,000 total words between them. The new prompts allow for a 350-word limit on each of the four prompts.
• I’m glad they got rid of the poorly worded prompts they had been using.
• Students will now feel compelled to write 1400 words compared to the 1000 words maximum of the old prompts
• Student should not try to figure out which are the four “best” prompts.
• In an era when colleges are looking to make it easier to apply to college, the UC’s just made it harder. It’s not because of the word count, it is because instead of having to brainstorm two essays, students will now have to brainstorm four essays. Picking a theme and figuring out what to say is the hard part, not the actual writing.
• This will lead to some wild admission decisions, making it even harder for students to figure out if they have a shot at a particular UC.
Here are the eight new prompts:
1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.
2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.
3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?
4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.
5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?
6. Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.
7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?
8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the
More information can be found at the UC website
UC PROMPT #2: Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you. What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud and how does it relate to the person you are?
Thank goodness for UC Prompt #2. This prompt gives applicants the opportunity to share, reflect, and stand out. Yet many don’t go far enough in bragging about themselves specifically and then connecting this to the second and third parts of the prompt.
As UC Berkeley states on its admissions website with advice about personal statements:
This prompt gives students ample opportunities to share what the UCs want in their entering classes: vibrant active students who are already making an impact. They need to know specifics so that they build a diverse class, where students can immediately feel comfortable taking action.
I break the UC Prompt #2 into three sections so that seniors can powerful personal statements.
Part 1: Tell us about a personal quality, talent, accomplishment, contribution or experience that is important to you.
The prompt is asking students to brag, literally brag, about themselves in a very specific way. This first part literally asks applicants to write about “a” particular event or quality. They don’t want an autobiography or a generic quality. They want a specific example, and they want it to be “personal”– something that only the applicant can write about.
Many students don’t realize how significant many of their actions are. That’s why I have them develop a resume that is filled with action verbs. These action verbs not only help them complete the UC activity sections, but also can help students identify powerful topics for UC Prompt #2.
When I do workshops on the UC Personal Statements, I talk briefly about impact and different ways we can make a difference. Then I ask seniors to write down three actions that they initiated or took part of during high school that make them proud. I ask them to think about actions that reveal how amazing they are and what they have to offer a college. I then ask them to share a story about one of their actions with a partner, and I often hear first paragraphs of their statements emerge.
I encourage students to pick topics that no one else can write about in their senior class. Even if they are part of a team, trip, or cast, they can write about specific events or moments that led to their unique experiences and contributions. I show them some samples of essays: some that begin with specifics and lead out to the motives and the actions that contributed to the topic and others that begin with the overall success and lead backwards to a specific example.
Many students want to end their essays there, but there are only done with one third of the prompt.
To help students with both Part 2 and Part 3 of the prompt, I show seniors positive personality charts, and sometimes these traits help them identify what makes them proud and what kind of person they are. These charts also lead to great character development lessons.
Part 2: What about this quality or accomplishment makes you proud
The second part of the prompt asks them to literally explain what about this quality or accomplishment makes them proud. Students need to dig deep and reflect on what this means individually and communally. They need to help the readers see their ability to understand themselves and how their actions benefit themselves and diverse communities.
For kids who are stuck, we can help them try to understand why they chose to participate in the activity and what impact it has had on themselves and the communities they serve.
Part 3: how does it relate to the person you are?
Finally, the last part of the prompt asks high school seniors to connect their specific example to the kind of person they are. This is challenging for any adult to produce and even harder for 17 and 18 year olds who are just figuring out who they are.
With this part of the prompt, I help students understand they can take this as narrowly or globally as they are able. I ask them guiding questions to help them navigate the transition from the specific to the more general. I use the image of a metaphor and try to help them see that whatever we do or accomplish is connected to who we are –whether we realize it or not.
Helping students see their strengths and their power through metaphors is very empowering. It can be as simple as looking at the significance behind a role or a position. One girl wrote about being a sweeper on and off the soccer field and that led to powerful second and third sections. A young man wrote about washing cars and connected that to being the kind of person who will go back two or three times until it’s done the way the “customer” wants it. Another young man connected his trying to register people to vote with his own optimistic belief in the political system and everyone’s place in it—even though he couldn’t himself yet vote.
I don’t believe that the last two parts of the prompt have to take that much literal space in the essays. Sometimes, it’s just a line or two. Sometimes it’s a paragraph or two because students connect it to other parts of their life. The best writers infer much of it throughout their essays and can summarize it at the end.
The beauty of UC Prompt #2 is that we really get to see the seniors’ passions emerge. We really get to see what they value and the different ways they are making an impact. This statement is often re-usable for scholarships and other applications because it can share unique ways students are sharing, reflecting, and ultimately standing out.
By Rebecca Joseph