How to Answer Tufts University’s Unconventional Essay Prompts
by Alexis Schaitkin, on Aug 12, 2014 11:30:00 AM
Last year, Tufts University made waves when it asked applicants: “What does #YOLO mean to you?” This year, the university is back with a fresh batch of questions that encourage students to be playful and think creatively. In addition to the Common Application essay, Tufts University asks students to write three short supplement essays. Two of these supplement essays are the same as last year; to see our advice for how to approach them, check out last year’s post.
For the often-wacky third question, you have a choice of six prompts. In this post, we’ll focus on how you might approach three of these prompts, but you’ll want to carefully consider all six. Our advice? Set aside some time to brainstorm and free-write on a few of the prompts before making your final selection. One might jump out at you right away, but it’s worth seeing if pushing yourself to try one of the others sparks your imagination.
Prompt A: From Michelangelo to Mother Teresa, from Jackie Robinson to Elizabeth Bennett, the human narrative is populated by a cast of fascinating characters, real and imagined. Share your favorite and explain why that person or character inspires you.
This prompt belongs to a common category of college essays that ask you to talk about a person—real or fictional—who has influenced your life. The key to a powerful response? Remember that it’s you, not Mother Teresa, that colleges really want to learn about. Your challenge is to use the person you choose as a jumping off point for telling a story that reveals something about yourself. Did your love of Jackson Pollock’s art lead you to campaign for a Modern Art class at your school? Share this story, devoting just a few of your precious 250 words to Pollock himself.
Also, remember that you should feel free to interpret the prompt liberally. Maybe you are fascinated by a historical figure who isn’t completely admirable, and who serves more as a cautionary tale in your life. Maybe you’re inspired by Frodo in The Lord of the Rings, and you want to write about how you’ve taught yourself CGI with online tutorials. The prompt should never feel like an impediment; let it be a gateway to the stories you want to tell.
Prompt C: Sports, science, and society are filled with rules, theories, and laws like the Ninth Commandment, PV=nRT, Occam’s Razor, and The Law of Diminishing Returns. Three strikes and you’re out. In English, “I” before “E” except after “C.” Warm air rises. Pick one and explain its significance to you.
This prompt may ask you about rules and theories, but that doesn’t mean your response should be theoretical. While it might seem like Tufts wants you to expound upon the deep meaning of string theory, the truth is they really don’t want a philosophical treatise. The challenge with this prompt? Take something abstract—a rule, theory, or law—and make it concrete by showing how it has played out in your real, lived experience.
For example, you could write about the time you violated a law from your religious faith—eating bread on Passover, or buying a bag of chips during Ramadan—and show how this moment affected you. Or you could write about an experience in Robotics Club through the lens of Isaac Asimov’s Three Laws of Robotics.
One suggestion: Tufts wants to see you stretching yourself creatively, so try not to write about one of the examples they provide in the prompt.
Prompt F: Whether you are goaltending or cheering from the stands, celebrate the role sports plays in your life.
If you’ve already written about sports in your main Common Application essay, you might want to choose a different prompt. Your supplement essays should explore new dimensions of you, rather than reiterate information from the Common App essay.
As with all of your essays, you’ll want to use this prompt to tell a story that reveals some important aspect of who you are. But tread carefully: Colleges get an awful lot of essays about “the big game”. With this prompt, thinking outside the box could really pay off. You could write about the pasta dinner you cooked for your 30-person team, or the time you confronted your parents about their love of hunting, or volunteering with disabled students and teaching them to jump rope. Maybe you found yourself in a foreign country, unable to speak the language but easily finding your way into a pickup soccer game. Feel free to interpret “sports” broadly, and let the prompt take you to unexpected places.