University of Maryland 2017-18 Application Essay Question Explanations
The Requirements: 4 short answers of 160 characters
Supplemental Essay Type(s): Short Answer, Additional Information
“At the University of Maryland, we encourage our students to go beyond the classroom to engage in opportunities that further both their academic and personal growth.”
The University of Maryland application is all about budgeting your words and energy. With a list of rapidfire short answer questions at the heart of this supplement, prepare to make every character count!
To tell us more about yourself, please complete the following sentences using only the space provided. (160 characters)
* If I could travel anywhere, I would go to…
* The most interesting fact I ever learned from research was…
* In addition to my major, my academic interests include…
* My favorite thing about last Tuesday was…
* Something you might not know about me is…
The key to nailing this section is brainstorming. When you see fill-in-the-blanks like these, it’s easy to assume that admissions is looking for a specific response. To avoid falling into this trap, free your mind and spend a few minutes jotting down as many things as you can think of for each sentence. Literally set a timer and force yourself to keep your pencil moving (or fingers tapping) for the entire time. No idea is too silly. The more you go with your gut, the more likely you are to come up with a unique and truly personal answer, and in the end, that’s really what admissions is looking for. Short answers like these (less than a tweet!) present a great opportunity for you to show off your creativity, ingenuity, and sense of humor. When curating your brainstormed ideas, aim for breadth. If you’ve always wanted to travel to Easter Island to measure the moai (🗿) and perform engineering experiments, then your interesting fact had better not be located anywhere near the Pacific Ocean. As with any other essay type, each micro answer should tell admissions something new.
Please include any additional information you would like to provide if extenuating circumstances have affected your performance or extracurricular activities. This information is only necessary if these circumstances have not been discussed in any other part of your application. Maximum 100 words.
Additional info essays like this one are the only ones we will ever consider truly optional. Proceed with extreme caution if you are considering writing one. Unlike any other prompt, this is not your one last shot to tell admissions a great story; it is a tool for students who have faced uniquely challenging hardships that have affected their academic performance or extracurricular involvement. It can allow you to reclaim control over a situation that may have, at one time, felt like it was controlling you: illness, grief, financial hardship. If this sounds like you, then we strongly encourage you to write this essay so that admissions has every side of the story. Otherwise, we’d advise you to skip it. A trivial story could end up annoying your application reader.
In preparation for a segment on NBC’s “Today” show this morning, I reached out to the admissions offices at the University of Virginia and Occidental College in California for examples of essays that they considered memorable — for good, or ill.
Before I share some of these samples, a caveat (one familiar to regular readers of this blog): while it can be instructive to read actual college admissions essays, trying to copy a particular approach — or in some cases avoid it — can be perilous. That’s because how one responds to an essay can be an intensely personal experience.
That said, I would argue that there are some basic lessons to be gleaned from the following examples. Here, for instance, is an excerpt from an essay that was not especially well received at the University of Virginia, in part because the writer misjudged the age and sensibility of his or her audience:
John Lennon’s song ‘Imagine’ was sung by Fox’s new show, ‘Glee.’ In one particular episode, a deaf glee club performed this song. I heard it before when John Lennon sang it: unfortunately I did not care much for it. When I watched this episode while the deaf adolescents were singing it, and soon joined by another glee club, it surprisingly affected me…
John Lennon sang it like a professional, but what he did not have was the emotion behind the words. He sang it more staccato than legato. He sang it like it was his job, and nothing more. These singers from Glee sang with powerful emotions. …
Another essay, also musical in focus, got a more appreciative read at U.V.A.:
I strode in front of 400 frenzied eighth graders with my arm slung over my Fender Stratocaster guitar — it actually belonged to my mother — and launched into the first few chords of Nirvana’s ‘Lithium.’ My hair dangled so low over my face that I couldn’t see the crowd in front of me as I shouted ‘yeah, yeah’ in my squeaky teenage voice. I had almost forgotten that less than a year ago I had been a kid whose excitement came from waiting for the next History Channel documentary.
It was during the awkward, hormonal summer between seventh and eighth grade when I first heard Nirvana’s ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit.’ The song shocked my senses — until that point my musical cosmos consisted mainly of my father’s Beatles CDs.
I would argue that the admissions committee was able to relate a little more to this essay than the first. And it was certainly more evocative and detailed. It also conveyed more about the writer (and applicant) — a crucial quality in a college admissions essay.
I turn, now, to excerpts from a recent essay that struck a visceral chord within the admissions office at Occidental (where, as an aside, President Obama began his college career):
My head throbbed as I closed my eyes and tried to convince myself to give up.
‘Come on, Ashley. Put the pencil down. Just put the pencil down and go to bed,’ I told myself sternly. I had been hard at work for hours — brutal, mind-numbing hours. I groaned as I moved over to my bed, collapsing in a pile of blankets and closing my eyes.
I lay there for a moment or two, gathering strength, gaining courage. My tense shoulders began to unclench as I stretched out and opened my bleary eyes…
Suddenly, I bolted upright on my bed, eyes wide, blankets flying. Everything had fallen into place. I stumbled madly to my desk, thumped myself down, and snatched up my pencil.
‘I’ve got it! That’s it!’ I whooped, scribbling furiously, as my brother pounded on my wall for silence.
I had just won another skirmish in my ongoing battle with the crossword puzzle.
What worked here? I’m told the admissions officers appreciated how the writer conveyed her love of words — and in the process told them much about herself. As a writer, I admired the way she built a sense of mystery at the outset, one that served to draw the reader in.
I’ll close with an attempt at metaphor that fell a bit flat, at least in its reception at Occidental. The applicant writes:
I believe in jello; a silly greeting, tasty dessert, or the answer to life as we know it?
Factor #1: Have you ever tried to make jello? It takes patience. First you have to boil the water; then mix it with powder, stirring for two minutes; then finally adding the cold water and putting it in the fridge for forty-five minutes. Think about the creation of people…
To share your own thoughts on essay strategies — and, perhaps, some excerpts of your own — please use the comment box below.