Hidden Application Prompts

Just like any good marathoner, when you’re writing your college essays, always be prepared for that hill right before the finish line. It’s rare that the first review of admissions requirements will discover all the essays required, so keep an energy reserve, and, of course, start the application process as early as possible. 

For the University of California application the essay writing workload is clear: submit four of the eight personal insight statements; however, for a number of the member colleges of the Common Application (CA) the required essay load might not be as apparent. 

The CA is the widely used online application with over 730 members, including many of the most selective private and an ever growing number of public universities. The CA website, by the way, warrants a visit even from those not currently applying to colleges, as it features ideas for ‘planning ahead, ’exploring colleges,’ and a ‘Virtual Counselor’   

Many member schools on the CA require supplemental essays. University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, for example, states it does not require any essays, but it does have an optional essay under its CA ‘Finish Up’ tab in the questions section. No problem. Yet then, there is a required 150-word essay question about intended major under the ‘Academic’ tab. Not a big deal, but you have to find it first.

The University of Michigan, Ross School of Business undergraduate program also has some hidden prompts.  On the CA, its three required supplemental essays are easy to find. Yet, in the ‘Academics’ section, it mentions the Preferred Admissions program and directs applicants to the University of Michigan website for detailed information about the ‘Ross Admissions Portfolio’.

On the University of Michigan site are the portfolio requirements with a separate prompt: Choose a current event or issue in your community and discuss the business implications,” in 500 words or fewer. But, keep going. It also asks: “Upload a document or artifact that represents something significant about your life to show your learning in action,” and describe it in approximately 250 words. That’s it. So, to apply for Ross as a first-year student there are five essay questions, along with your upload of an ‘artifact’. 

Northwestern, another Big 10 school, has  ‘Why Northwestern’ in plain view on the CA.  This essay prompt is listed as optional, but thenit states: ‘Completion Strongly Recommended.’  Then right after the prompt it asks, “Do you plan to complete the ‘Why Northwestern’ Statement? (We HIGHLY recommend you complete this statement.)”  To play this game undoubtedly the answer should be ‘yes’.  

However, if one wishes to apply to Northwestern’s Mathematical Modeling in the Social Sciences (MMSS) program within the College of Arts and Sciences, neither the program nor its prompts are found on the CA. Rather the application for this program is only on the Northwestern website, http://www.mmss.northwestern.edu/admission/first-year-application.html along with an additional five essays, each 200 words or fewer. 

Of course, if you are an artist and are submitting a portfolio through Slideroom, be prepared. For Roski School of Art at USC, for example, you will also need to upload an Artist Personal Statement and a list of creative accomplishments. 

Be aware that there are a number of hidden essays lurking within the college application process. It pays to go through not only the list of writing questions on the Common Application, but, if there is a special program to which you’re applying, go to the school website, find the major and look carefully over the admissions requirements.

If they are confusing don’t be dismayed, just call admissions and get clarification. I often do, and most of the time the admissions people are friendly and helpful. If they are not, all the more reason to stop the search for their hidden prompts.