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How to Write Perfect ApplyTexas Essays

Posted by Dr. Anna Wulick | Jun 2, 2018 8:00:00 AM

College Essays

 

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The ApplyTexas college application contains many essay prompts, and each of the most popular colleges in Texas has different requirements for which essays they expect applicants to answer.

So how do you get advice on writing your best ApplyTexas essays, no matter which school you're applying to? Look no further than this article, which completely unpacks all five possible ApplyTexas essay prompts. We'll explain what each prompt is looking for and what admissions officers are hoping to learn about you. In addition, we'll give you our top strategies for ensuring that your essay meets all these expectations, and help you come up with your best essay topics. 

To help you navigate this long guide, here is an overview of what we'll be talking about:

 

What Are the ApplyTexas Essays?

The ApplyTexas application is basically the Texas version of the Common Application, which many US colleges use. It's a unified college application process that's accepted by all Texas public universities and many private ones. (Note: some schools that accept ApplyTexas applications also accept the Common App.)

The ApplyTexas website is a good source for figuring out whether your target college accepts the ApplyTexas application. That said, the best way to confirm exactly what your school expects is to go to its admissions website.

 

Why Do Colleges Want You to Write Essays?

Admissions officers are trying to put together classes full of interesting, vibrant students who have different backgrounds, strengths, weaknesses, goals, and dreams. One tool colleges use to identify a diverse set of perspectives is the college essay.

These essays are a chance for you to show admissions officers those sides of yourself that aren’t reflected in the rest of your application. This is where you describe where you've come from, what you believe in, what you value, and what has shaped you.

This is also where you make yourself sound mature and insightful—two key qualities colleges are looking for in their applicants. These are important because colleges want to find young people who will ultimately thrive when faced with the independence of college life.

 

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Filling a freshman class is like dealing with those Every-Flavor jelly beans from Harry Potter: admissions just wants to make sure to avoid the ones that taste like earwax.

 

ApplyTexas Essay Requirements

There are four essay prompts on the ApplyTexas application for freshman admission (Topics A, B, C, an D) as well as three essay prompts that aren't on the ApplyTexas application but are extra essay options for UT Austin (Topics N, S, and W). While there are no word limits, colleges usually suggest keeping the essays somewhere between one and one and a half pages long.

All Texas colleges and universities have different application requirements, including the essays. Some schools require essays, some list them as optional, and others use a combination of required and optional essays. Several schools use the essays to determine scholarship awards, honors program eligibility, or admission to specific majors.

Here are some essay submission requirement examples from a range of Texas schools:

 

UT Austin

  • You are required to write an essay on Topic A
  • You also have to write one other essay on Topic B, C, D, N, S, or W
  • If you're applying to Architecture or the Fine Arts Department of Art and Art History, your second essay must be on Topic D
  • If you're applying to the Nursing program, you need to write your second essay on Topic N
  • If you're applying to the Social Work program, your second essay must be on Topic W

 

Texas A&M

  • You have to write essays on Topic A and Topic B
  • If you don't meet automatic admission standards, Texas A&M recommends (but does not require) writing an essay on Topic C

 

Southern Methodist University

 

Texas Christian University

 

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Dazzled by her options, she was overcome with hopeful optimism. And cuteness.


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Comparing ApplyTexas Essay Prompts A, B, and C

There are three ApplyTexas essay topics that try to get to the heart of what makes you the person you are in three different ways. But since Topics A, B, and C all focus on things that are essential to you as a person, it can be difficult to come up with a totally unique idea for each—especially since on a first read-through, these prompts can sound really similar.

Before I dissect all five of the ApplyTexas essay prompts, let’s see how A, B, and C differ from one another. You can then keep these differences in mind as you try to think of topics to write about. (Note that topics D and S are distinct enough from the others that you’re unlikely to have trouble distinguishing them.)

 

ApplyTexas Prompts

Here are the most recent prompts for Topics A, B, and C on the ApplyTexas application.

 

Topic A

What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood, or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person. 

 

Topic B

Most students have an identity, interest, or a talent that describes them in an essential way. Tell us about yourself.

 

Topic C

You've got a ticket in your hand—where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?

 

How to Tell Topics A, B, and C Apart

One helpful way to keep these topics separate in your mind is to create a big-picture category for each one: Topic A is outside, Topic B is inside, and Topic C is the future.

In other words, Topic A is asking about the impact of the world on you and how you handled that impact. On the other hand, Topic B is asking about your inner passions and how these define you. Finally, Topic C wants to know about where you're going from here. These very broad categories will help as you brainstorm ideas and life experiences you can use for your essay.

Although many of the stories you think of can be shaped to fit each of these prompts, think about what the experience most reveals about you. If it’s about how your external community shaped you, that'd probably be a good fit for Topic A. If it’s a story about your passions, save it for Topic B. If it’s primarily about an event that you think predicts your future, it'll likely work well for Topic C.

 

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That time a spilled crate of stuffed frogs made you want to learn everything there is to know about French cooking? Probably Topic C.

 

Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic A

Now, I will do a thorough deconstruction of everything you need to know about Topic A, the first ApplyTexas essay prompt.

 

The Prompt

What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.

 

What’s the Prompt Asking and How Should You Answer It?

This prompt wants to see how your external environment shaped you. You can tell from the fact that the prompt is split up into two sentences that your essay answer will have two distinct, albeit interconnected, parts.

 

Step 1: Describe Your Environment

The first part of the prompt is about identifying and describing the overall environment in which you grew up. Of course, you'll need to hone in on particular aspects of your environment to keep your essay from coming across too vague. The prompt suggests using your family, home, neighborhood, or community to focus your essay.

You'll want to choose some aspect of your environment that you can describe vividly and that's really important to you. It doesn't necessarily have to be important in a positive way, but it does have to have had a significant impact on your personal development.

It should also be some aspect of your environment that has been (or was) a part of your life for a long time. You're describing where you were "raised," after all.

 

Step 2: Explain How This Environment Shaped You

You shouldn't just describe your environment—you also need to discuss how that environment impacted you as a person. How did this particular aspect of your environment turn you into the person you are today?

It's best if you can think of one or two concrete anecdotes or stories about how your environment has shaped you. For example, don't just say that your family made you a hard-working person—describe in detail how watching your mother come home from a full day of work just to get ready to go to nighttime classes showed you that working toward your goals is worthwhile, even when it's hard.

 

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Being a tomato in a peapod was hard on Frank, who could never really quite understand the peas' obsession with photosynthesis.

 

What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You? 

Readers are looking for two main things. First, they want to see that you can be mature and thoughtful about your surroundings. Are you curious about the world around you? If you've really observed and engaged with your surroundings, you'll be able to describe the people and places that have impacted you as you have grown up in a nuanced, insightful way.

Second, they want to see how you stand out from your environment. This can be accomplished in one of two ways: (1) you can emphasize how you are somehow different from your environment and how that impacted you, or (2) you can emphasize how you learned positive qualities from the environment around you. Basically, how did your environment turn you into a special, interesting person?

 

How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?

How can you make sure your essay is really answering the prompt? Here are some key strategies.

 

#1: Pick a Specific Aspect of Your Environment

You'll need to select something particular in your overall surroundings to zero in on. You can take most of the prompt's suggestions—your family, home, neighborhood, or community—in several directions. 

For example, your family could describe your immediate family, your extended family, or a found family. Your home could be the specific house or houses you grew up in, but it could also be your hometown, block, apartment building, or even country. Your neighborhood could be your street, subdivision, cul-de-sac; it could be an urban area or the rural countryside. Your community could be any community you've been part of, from your school community to your church community to your city.

When you consider what aspect of your environment to choose, think about significant things that happened to you in connection with your environment. Remember, you'll need to get beyond just describing how the setting is important to you to show how it makes you important. 

 

#2: How Did This Environment Make You Special?

You then need to consider what about your environment turned you into a person who stands out. Again, this can be about how you overcame some aspect of your environment or how your environment positively fostered qualities or traits in you. You want to make sure you have a clear message that links your environment to one, two, or three special traits you have. 

Try to think of specific stories and anecdotes related to your interactions with your environment, and then thoughtfully analyze these to reveal what they show about you. Important adults in your life can help you brainstorm potential ideas.

 

#3: Think of the Essay Like a Movie

Like a good movie script, a college essay needs characters, some action, and a poignant but ultimately happy ending. When you’re planning out your personal statement, try to think of the story you’re telling in movie terms. This way you can ensure your essay has the following features:

  • Setting: Since you're describing your environment, taking some time to vividly give a sense of place is key. You can accomplish this by describing the actual physical surroundings, the main "characters" in your community, or a combination of both.
  • Stakes: Movies propel the action forward by giving characters high stakes. You know—win or lose, life or death. Even if you are describing your environment in positive terms, there needs to be a sense of conflict or dynamic change. In the anecdote(s) you've selected to write about, what did you stand to gain or lose?
  • External conflict resolution: If there's an external conflict of some kind (with a neighbor, a family member, a friend, a city council, etc.), you need to show some level of resolution. 
  • Internal conflict resolution: Inner conflict is essentially about how you changed in response to the event or experience. You'll need to clearly lay out what happened within you and how those changes have carried you forward as a person.

 

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Did you feel ALL the feelings? Can you even name all of these feelings? Oh, yeah? Then what's the one in the bottom-right called?

 

#4: Add Details, Description, and Examples

Your essay will really stand out if you add effective examples and description.

For example, imagine Karima decides to describe how learning to navigate public transit at a young age made her resourceful and helped her explore the city she grew up in. She also discusses how exploring the city ultimately impacted her. How should she frame her experience? Here are some options:

Version 1

I was nervous about taking the El by myself for the first time. At the station, there were lots of commuters and adults who seemed impatient but confident. At first, I was very afraid of getting lost, but over time I became as confident as those commuters.

Version 2

I felt a mixture of nerves and excitement walking up the Howard red line turnstile for the first time. What if I got lost on my way to the museum? I was worried that I would just seem like a nuisance to all of the frowning commuters who crowded the platform. If I needed help, would they help me? Was I even brave enough to ask? When the metal doors opened, I pressed my nails into my palms and rushed in after a woman with a red briefcase. Success! At least for the first step. I found a sideways-facing seat and clutched my macrame bag with my notebook and sketching supplies. A map hung above my seat. Pressing my finger to the colorful grid, I found my stop and counted how many I still had to go. I spent the entire train ride staring at that map, straining my ears for everything the conductor said. Now, when I think about the first time I rode the El by myself, I smile. What seemed so scary at the time is just an everyday way to get around now. But I always look around on the platform to see if any nervous kids linger at the edges of the commuter crowds and offer them a smile.

Both versions set up the same story, plot-wise, but the second makes the train ride (and because of this, the author) come alive through the addition of specific, individualizing details, such as the following:

  • Visual cues: The reader "sees" what the author sees through descriptions such as "frowning commuters who crowded the platform," "woman with a red briefcase," and "colorful grid."
  • Emotional responses: We experience the author’s feelings: she "felt a mixture of nerves and excitement." She wonders if she's brave enough to ask for help. The train ride was "so scary at the time" but feels "everyday" now. 
  • Differentiation: Even though the commuters are mostly a monolithic group, we get to see some individuals, such as the woman with a red brief case. 

 

ApplyTexas Topic A Essay Ideas

There's no one best topic for this essay prompt (or any other), but I've included some potential ideas below to help you get started with your own brainstorming:

  • Describing a time you organized the people around you around a common local cause
  • Honing in on a close relationship with one or more family members
  • Identifying a particularly significant place in your neighborhood (such as a certain park or tree) and why it has been so important in your life
  • Being a minority in your school or neighborhood
  • Going through a cultural or religious rite of passage
  • Moving from one place to somewhere totally different and handling your culture shock

 

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And that's when I realized that I, too, had become an ostrich, accepted by and adapted into their culture of pecking and running.


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Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic B

Next up, let's go through the same process for ApplyTexas Topic B, taking it apart brick by brick and putting it back together again.

 

The Prompt

Most students have an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines them in an essential way. Tell us about yourself. 

 

What’s the Prompt Asking?

At first glance, this prompt seems pretty vague. "Tell us about yourself" is not exactly the most detailed set of instructions. But if we dig a little deeper, we can see that there are actually two pretty specific things this question is asking. 

 

#1: What Defines You?

This prompts posits that "most students"—which likely includes you!—have some kind of defining trait. This could be an  "identity, interest, or talent," so you need to express what that defining trait is for you specifically.

For instance, are you an amazing knitter? Do you spend your free time researching cephalopods? Are you a connoisseur of indie movies or mystery novels? Or maybe you have a religious, cultural, ethnic, or LGBTQ+ identity that's very important to you. Any of these things could plausibly be the main, framing theme of your essay. 

 

#2: How Does That Defining Trait Fit Into "You" Overall?

Even though you have some kind of defining trait, that's not the entirety of you. Essentially, you need to contextualize your defining trait within your broader personality and identity. This is where the "tell us about yourself" part comes in. What does your defining trait say about you as a person? How does it fit into your overall personality, values, and dreams?

 

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Only deep in the woods could she explore her one true passion: moss. 

 

What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?

They are hoping to learn two main things:

 

#1: What You're Passionate About

It's essential that this essay communicate genuine passion for whatever you write about. College is a lot of work, and passion is an important driving force when things get busy. Thus, readers are looking for students who are really engaged in the world around them and excited about things! 

 

#2: How You View Yourself (and How Successfully You Can Communicate That)

A strong, well-developed sense of self goes a long way toward helping you weather all the changes you're going to experience when you attend college. Even though you'll change and grow a lot as a person during your college years, having a sense of your own core traits and values will help those changes be exciting as opposed to scary.

Colleges are looking for a developed sense of self. Additionally, they are looking for students who can communicate messages about themselves in a clear, confident, and cohesive way. 

 

How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?

The challenge with this prompt is giving a complete picture of you as a person while still staying on message about your defining trait. You need to be focused yet comprehensive.  Let's explore the best ways to show off your passion and frame your identity.

 

#1: Define the Core Message

First, you need to select that defining trait. This could be pretty much anything, just as long as you're genuinely invested in this trait and feel that it represents some core aspect of you.

It should also be something you can describe through stories and anecdotes. Just saying, "I'm a redhead and that defines me" makes for a pretty boring essay! On the other hand, a story about how you started a photography project that consists of portraits of redheads like you and what you learned about yourself from this experience is much more interesting.

Be careful to select something that presents you in a broadly positive light. If you select a trait that doesn't seem very serious, such as your enduring and eternal love of onion rings, you risk seeming at best immature and at worst outright disrespectful.

You also want to pick something realistic—don't claim you're the greatest mathematician who ever lived unless you are, in fact, the greatest mathematician who ever lived (and you probably aren't). Otherwise, you'll seem out of touch. 


#2: Fit Your Message Into the Larger Picture

Next, consider how you can use this trait to paint a more complete picture of you as a person. It's great that you're passionate about skiing and are a member of a ski team, but what else does this say about you? Are you an adventurous daredevil who loves to take (reasonable) risks? Are you a nature lover with a taste for exploration? Do you love being part of a team?

Select at least two or three positive messages you want to communicate about yourself in your essay about your key trait.

 

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Brody added his special brand of XYZ to everything he ever made for that bro-tisanal touch.

 

#3: Show, Don't Tell

It's much more interesting to read about things you do that demonstrate your key traits than it is to hear you list them. Don't just say, "Everyone asks me for advice because I'm level-headed and reasonable." Actually describe situations that show people asking you for advice and you offering that level-headed, reasonable advice. 

 

#4: Watch Your Tone

It's important to watch your tone as you write an essay that's (pretty overtly) about how great you are. You want to show your own special qualities without seeming glib, staid, self-aggrandizing, or narcissistic.

Let’s say Andrew wants to write about figuring out how to grow a garden, despite his yard being in full shade, and how this desire turned into a passion for horticulture. He could launch into a rant about the garden store employees not knowing which plants are right for which light, the previous house owner’s terrible habit of using the yard as a pet bathroom, or the achy knee that prevented him from proper weeding posture.

Alternatively, he could describe doing research on the complex gardens of royal palaces, planning his garden based on plant color and height, using the process of trial and error to see which plants would flourish, and getting so involved with this work that he often lost track of time.

One of these approaches makes him sound whiny and self-centered, while the other makes him sound like someone who can take charge of a difficult situation.

 

ApplyTexas Topic B Essay Ideas

Again, there's no single best approach here, but I've outlined some potential topics below:

  • Are you known for being really good at something or an expert on a particular topic? How does this impact your identity?
  • Discuss how you got involved in a particular extracurricular activity and what it means to you. What have you learned from participating in it?
  • Describe something you've done lots of research on in your free time. How did you discover that interest? What have you learned as a result?
  • What's your most evident personality trait? How has that trait impacted your life? (You can ask friends and relatives for help with this one.)
  • Relate the importance of your LGBTQ+ identity
  • Discuss your religious or cultural background and how this defines you
  • Describe your experience as a member of a minority community

 

body_cards.jpgAre you a diamond in a world of hearts?

 

Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic C

Now, we can take apart Topic C to get a good handle on how to tackle this future-facing essay.

 

The Prompt

You've got a ticket in your hand—where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?

 

What’s the Prompt Asking and How Should You Answer It?

If ApplyTexas Topic A and Topic B were all about your past experiences, Topic C wants you to give readers a glimpse of your imagined possibilities.

There are basically two potential approaches to this question. We'll break them down here. 

 

Option 1: Describe Your Long-Term Goals

One approach to this prompt is to use your essay as a chance to describe your long-term goals for your career and life. 

For some students, this will be a straightforward endeavor. For example, say you’ve always wanted to be a doctor. You spend your time volunteering at hospitals, helping out at your mom’s practice, and studying biology. You could easily frame your "ticket" as a ticket to medical school. Just pick a few of the most gripping moments from these past experiences and discuss the overall trajectory of your interests and your essay would likely be a winner!

But what if you’re not sure about your long-term goals yet? Or what if you feel like you really don't know where you're going next week, let alone next year or 10 years from now? Read on for Option 2!

 

Option 2: Demonstrate Thoughtful Imagination

While you can certainly interpret this as a straightforward question about your future, you can also use it as a chance to be more imaginative.

Note that this entire question rests on the metaphor of the ticket. The ticket can be to anywhere; you decide. It could be to a real place, such as your grandmother's house or the Scottish highlands or the Metropolitan Museum. Or it could be somewhere fantastical, such as a time machine to the Paleolithic.

The important point is that you use the destination you select—and what you plan to do there—to prove you're a thoughtful person who is excited about and actively engaged with the world around you. 

 

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Renata doesn't want a train ticket; she just wants a boat.

 

What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?

If you're on a direct path to a specific field of study or career, admissions officers definitely want to know this. Having driven, goal-oriented, and passionate students is a huge plus for any college. If this sounds like you, be sure your essay conveys not just your interest but also your deep love of the subject, as well as any related clubs, activities, and/or hobbies you’ve done during high school.

If you take the more creative approach to this prompt, however, realize that in this essay (as in all the other ApplyTexas essays) the how matters much more than the what. Don't worry that you don't have a specific goal in mind yet. No matter where your eventual academic, career, or other pursuits may lie, every activity you've done up to now has taught you something, whether that be work ethic, mastering a skill, learning from a mentor, interacting with peers, dealing with setbacks, understanding your own learning style, or perseverance. Your essay is a chance to show off that knowledge and maturity.

So no matter what destination you choose for your ticket (the what), you want to communicate that you can think about future (and imagined!) possibilities in a compelling way based on your past experiences (the how). 

Whether you take the ideas of "where you are going" and "what you are doing" in a more literal or more abstract direction, the admissions committee wants to make sure that no matter what you study, you'll be able to get something meaningful out of it. They want to see that you’re not simply floating through life on the surface but are actively absorbing the qualities, skills, and know-how you'll need to succeed in the world. 

 

How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?

Here are some ideas for how to show that you have thoughtful and compelling visions of possible futures. 

 

#1: Pick Where You're Going

Is this going to be a more direct interpretation of your goals (my ticket is to the judge's bench) or a more creative one (my ticket is to Narnia)? Whichever one you choose, make sure that you choose a destination that is genuinely compelling to you. The last thing you want is to come off sounding bored or disingenuous.  

 

#2: Don’t Overreach or Underreach

Another key point is to avoid overreaching or underreaching. For instance, it’s fine to say that you’d like to get involved in politics, but it’s a little too self-aggrandizing to say that you’re definitely going to be president of the United States. Be sure that whatever destination you select for your ticket, it doesn’t come off as unnecessary bragging rather than simple aspiration.

At the same time, make sure the destination you've chosen is one that makes sense in the context of a college essay. Maybe what you really want is a ticket to the potato chip factory; however, this essay might not be the best place to elaborate on this imagined possibility.

While you can of course choose a whimsical location, you need to be able to ground it in a real vision of the kind of person you want to become. Don't forget who your audience is! College admissions officers want to find students who are eager to learn. They also want to be exposed to new thoughts and ideas (and not just new potato chips).

 

#3: Flesh It Out

Once you've picked a destination, it's time to consider the other components of the question: what are you going to do once you reach your destination? What will happen there? Try to think of some key messages that relate back to you, your talents, and your goals. 

 

#4: Ground Your "Journey" in Specific Anecdotes and Examples

The way this question is framed is very abstract, so it's important you ground your thoughts about your destination (whether it's more straightforward or more creative) in concrete anecdotes and examples that show you're thoughtful, engaged, passionate, and driven. 

This is even more important if you go the creative route and are writing about an unusual location. If you don't keep things somewhat grounded in reality, your essay could come across as frivolous. Make sure you make the most of this chance to share real-life examples of your desirable qualities.

Imagine Eleanor’s essay is about how she wants a ticket to Starfleet Academy (for the uninitiated, this is the fictional school in the Star Trek universe where people train to be Starfleet officers). Which essay below conveys more about her potential as a student?

Version 1

My ticket is to Starfleet Academy. There, I would train to become part of the Command division so I could command a starship. Once I was captain of my own starship, I would explore the deepest reaches of space to interact with alien life and learn more about the universe. 

Version 2

I've loved Star Trek since my dad started playing VHS copies of old episodes for me in our ancient VCR. So if I could have a ticket to anywhere, it would be to Starfleet Academy to train in the command division. I know I would make a superb command officer. My ten years of experience in hapkido have taught me discipline and how to think on my feet. Working as a hapkido instructor in my dojo the past two years has honed my leadership and teaching qualities, which are essential for any starship commander. Additionally, I have the curiosity and sense of adventure necessary for a long career in the unknown reaches of space. Right now, I exercise my thirst for exploration through my photography blog. Using my DSLR camera, I track down and photograph obscure and hidden places I find in my town, on family trips, and even on day trips to nearby cities. I carefully catalogue the locations so other people can follow in my footsteps. Documentation, after all, is another important part of exploring space in a starship.

Both versions communicate the same things about the imagined destination, but the second essay does a much better job showing who Eleanor is as a person. All we really learn from the first excerpt is that Eleanor must like Star Trek.

We can also infer that she probably likes leadership, exploration, and adventure, since she wants to captain a starship. But we don't really know that for sure. Admissions officers shouldn't have to infer who you are from your essay—your essay should lay it out for them.

In the second essay, on the other hand, Eleanor clearly lays out the qualities that would make her a great Command officer, and provides examples of how she exemplifies these qualities. She ties the abstract destination to concrete things from her life such as hapkido and photography. This provides a much more well-rounded picture of what Eleanor could bring to the student body and the school at large.

 

ring-nebula-1995076_640.jpg

Eleanor just wants to explore the final frontier.

 

ApplyTexas Topic C Essay Ideas

I've come up with some sample essay ideas for the two different approaches to this prompt.

 

Possibility 1: Your Concrete Goals

  • Describe your goal to pursue a particular academic field or career and discuss how specific classes and/or extracurricular activities ignited that passion
  • Discuss how your plans to pursue politics, project management, or another leadership role were fostered by an experience of leadership (this could be a straightforward leadership position in a club or job, or a more indirect or unplanned leadership experience, such as suddenly having to take charge of a group)
  • Discuss how your desire to teach or train in the future was sparked by an experience of teaching someone to do something (e.g., by being a tutor or by helping a sibling deal with a particularly challenging class or learning issue)
  • Describe your goal to perform on stage in the future and discuss how your past experiences of public creativity (e.g., being in a play, staging an art show, performing an orchestra, being involved in dance, etc.) led you to this goal

 

Possibility 2: Creative/Abstract Destination

  • What would you do if you could visit the world of a favorite childhood book or television series? What qualities does that show about you?
  • Is there a relative or friend you would like to visit with your ticket?
  • Is there a particular historical period you would like to time-travel to? 
  • Is there a destination you've always wanted to go to? 

Remember to tie your imaginative destination to concrete details about your special qualities! 

 

body_coach.jpg

A future as a driving coach for motorcoach drivers was a no-brainer for the founding member of the homonym club.

 

Dissecting ApplyTexas Essay Topic D

If you're applying to one of several fine arts fields, this mandatory essay is a way to comment on your influences.

 

The Prompt

Personal interaction with objects, images and spaces can be so powerful as to change the way one thinks about particular issues or topics. For your intended area of study (architecture, art history, design, studio art, visual art studies/art education), describe an experience where instruction in that area or your personal interaction with an object, image or space effected this type of change in your thinking. What did you do to act upon your new thinking and what have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?

 

What’s the Prompt Asking?

If you’re applying to study architecture, art, or art history at UT Austin, one of the essays you must write is this one. This essay topic is trying to ask as broadly as possible about an experience with art that has moved you in some way. This means that your options for answering the question are quite varied. So what are the two different parts of this prompt? Let's take a look.

 

Part 1: Observation and Reaction

Think of a time you experienced that blown-away feeling when looking at something man-made. This is the reaction and situation the first part of the essay wants you to recreate. The prompt is primarily interested in your ability to describe and pinpoint exactly what quality made you stop in your tracks. The huge set of inspiring object options the prompt offers tells us that your taste level won't be judged here.

You can focus on a learning experience, which includes both classes and extracurricular activities, or you can focus on a direct experience in which you encountered an object or space without the mediation of a class or teacher. The only limit to your focus object is that it is something made by someone other than you. Your reaction should be in conversation with the original artist—not a form of navel-gazing.

The key for this part of the essay is that your description needs to segue into a story of change and transformation. What the essay topic is asking you to show isn’t just that you were struck by something you saw or learned about, but that you also absorbed something from this experience that impacted your own art going forward.

 

body_angkorwat.jpg

When you see the Angkor Wat Temple, you can't help but be psyched that at least humans haven't wasted all their time on earth.

 

Part 2: Absorption

This brings us to the second part of the essay prompt: this is where you need to move from the past into the present, and then at least gesture meaningfully toward the future.

It’s one thing to look at a piece of art, such as a sculpture or a form of architecture, and feel moved by its grace, boldness, or vision. But it’s a sign of a mature, creative mind to be able to take to heart what is meaningful to you about this work and then transmute this experience into your own art.

This essay wants to see that developing maturity in you; therefore, you should explain exactly how your own creative vision has changed after this meaningful encounter you've described. What qualities, philosophy, or themes do you now try to infuse into what you create?

More importantly, this essay prompt asserts that being affected by something once isn’t enough. That’s why in this second part of the topic you also need to explain what you’ve been doing to keep having similarly moving encounters with other creative works. 

You have some choice, too, when it comes to answering, "What have you done to prepare yourself for further study in this area?" For example, you could describe how you’ve sought out other works by the same artist who moved you the first time. Or you could describe investigating new media or techniques to emulate something you saw. Or you could discuss learning about the period, genre, school, or philosophical theory that the original piece of art comes from in order to give yourself a more contextualized understanding.

  

What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?

If you’re planning an academic career in the visual arts or architecture, then you’re entering a long conversation started by our cave-painting ancestors and continuing through every human culture and society since.

This essay wants to make sure that you aren’t creating art in a vacuum and that you have had enough education and awareness to be inspired by others. By demonstrating how you react to works that move you—not with jealousy or dismissal but with appreciation and recognition of another’s talent and ability—you're proving that you're ready to participate in this ongoing conversation.

At the same time, this essay is asking you to show your own creative readiness. Describe not only the work you have produced but also your ability to introduce new elements into that work—in this case, inspired by the piece you described. This way, you can demonstrate that you aren’t a one-note artist but are mature enough to alter and develop what you make.

 

body_pieta.jpgInspired by Michaelangelo's supposed advice to just "chip away the marble that isn't the sculpture," I will now write my essay by just not using the words that aren't supposed to be on the page.

 

How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?

What are some best practices for teasing out the complexities of art in written form? Here are some helpful tips as you brainstorm and write your essay.

 

#1: Pick One Piece of Art or Learning Experience

Once you’ve chosen between these two contexts, narrow down your selection even further. If you're writing about an educational encounter, don’t forget that it can come from an informal situation as well. For example, you could write about something you learned on your own from a documentary, museum visit, or art book.

If you're writing about a direct experience with art, don't necessarily fixate on a classical piece. Alternatively, you could discuss a little-known public sculpture, a particularly striking building or bridge you saw while traveling, or a gallery exhibition.

Whatever you end up writing about, make sure you know some of the identifying details. You don’t need to know the answers to all the following questions, but do your best to research so you can answer at least two or three of them:

  • Who is the artist?
  • Where is the piece on display?
  • What kind of work is it?
  • With what materials was it made?
  • When was it made?

 

#2: Figure Out Why You Were Struck by This Particular Work

The make-it-or-break-it moment in this essay will be your ability to explain what affected you in the object you're writing about. Why is it different from other works you’ve seen? Do you think it (or you) was in the right place at the right time to be moved by it, or would it have affected you the same way no matter where or when you saw it? Did it speak to you because it shares some of your ideals/philosophies/tastes, or because it was so different from them?

Be careful with your explanation since it can easily get so vague as to be meaningless or so obscure and "deep" that you lose your reader. Before you start trying to put it down on paper, try to talk out what you plan to say either with a friend, parent, or teacher. Do they understand what you’re saying, and do they believe you?

 

#3: Make a Timeline of Your Own Creative Works

When you think about what you've been making or thinking about making during your high school career, what is the trajectory of your ideas? How has your understanding of the materials you want to work with changed? What about the message you want your works to convey? Or the way you want your works to be seen by others? What is the reason you feel compelled to be creative?

Now that you’ve come up with this timeline, see whether your changes in thought overlap with the art experience you're planning on describing. Is there a way you can combine what was so exciting to you about this work with the way you’ve seen your own ideas about art have evolved?

 

#4: Use a Mix of Concreteness and Comparisons in Your Description

Just as nothing ruins a joke as explaining it does, nothing ruins the wordless experience of looking at art as talking it to death does. Still, you need to find a way to use words to give the reader a sense of what the piece that moved you actually looks like—particularly if the reader isn't familiar with the work or the artist that created it.

Here is my suggested trick for writing well about art. First, be specific about the object. Discuss its colors, size, what it appears to be made of, what your eye goes to first (bright colors vs darker, more muted ones, for example), what it is representative of (if it’s figurative), where it is in relation to the viewer, whether or not you can see marks of the tools used (such as brush strokes, scrapes from sculpting tools, etc.).

Second, step away from the concrete and get creative with language by using techniques such as comparative description. Use your imagination to create emotionally resonant similes. Is there a form of movement (e.g., flying, crawling, tumbling) that this piece feels like? Does it remind you of something from the natural world (e.g., a falling leaf, a forest canopy being moved by wind, waves, sand dunes shifting)?

If the work is figurative, imagine what has been happening just before the moment in time it captures. What happened just after this point? Using these kinds of non-literal descriptors will let your reader understand both the actual physical object and its aesthetic appeal.

 

body_discostormtrooper.jpgThe Stormtrooper's hypnotic performance was like plunging into a diamond-studded Sarlacc pit to be  slowly digested over a thousand years by disco music.


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Dissecting UT Austin Essay Topic S

The University of Texas at Austin gives its applicants the option to write a different essay explaining a relevant piece of their background.

 

The Prompt

There may be personal information that you want considered as part of your admissions application. Write an essay describing that information. You might include exceptional hardships, challenges, or opportunities that have shaped or impacted your abilities or academic credentials, personal responsibilities, exceptional achievements or talents, educational goals, or ways in which you might contribute to an institution committed to creating a diverse learning environment.

 

What’s the Prompt Asking?

UT Austin allows its applicants to mix and match essays from the ApplyTexas application from its own option: Topic S. If your particular experience doesn’t quite fit under the rubrics of the other essay topics, or if there's something you think the admissions officers need to understand about your background, this is the essay for you.

This essay prompt states that the additional information you might want to share with the admissions team can be either positive or negative—so long as it qualifies as "exceptional" in some way. In fact, the prompt actually uses the word "exceptional" twice to really cement the idea that the everyday challenges or successes are not what this essay should highlight.

In this sense, determining whether your experiences qualify for this prompt is a matter of degrees. For example, did you manage to thrive despite being raised by a single parent? That’s a hardship that could easily be written about for Topic B. But what if you flourished despite living in multiple foster families and aging out of the system during your senior year of high school? Such a narrative is arguably more appropriate for Topic S.

Here's another example: did you win a statewide karate championship? Well done, and feel free to tell your story for Topic C. But if you were the youngest black belt in the history of the sport to win a national title, you're better off writing about this for Topic S.

 

What Are Readers Hoping to Learn About You?

The answer to this question is pretty straightforward. Readers are trying to identify students with unique and amazing stories to tell about who they are and where they come from. If you’re a student like this, then the admissions people want to know the following about you:

  • What happened to you
  • Who, besides you, was affected
  • When and where it happened
  • How you participated or were involved in the situation
  • How it affected you as a person
  • How it affected your schoolwork
  • How the experience will be reflected in the point of view you bring to campus

The reasons that the university wants this information are as follows:

  • It gives context to applications that otherwise might seem mediocre or even subpar
  • It can help explain areas in a transcript in which grades significantly drop
  • It offers them the opportunity to build a lot of diversity into the incoming class
  • It lets them find unique talents and abilities that otherwise wouldn’t show up on other application materials

 

body_highwire.jpgIf you're one of these two guys, you definitely qualify for this essay topic.

 

How Can Your Essay Give Them What They Want?

Let's run through a few tricks for ensuring that your essay to Topic S makes the most of your exceptionalism.

 

#1: Double-Check Your Uniqueness

Although there are many different moving, emotionally impactful experiences we can have, some of these are actually quite common. Conversely, there are many experiences that make us feel elated or accomplished that are also near-universal.

This essay topic isn’t trying to take away from you the validity of your strong feelings, but it really is looking for stories that are on a different scale. Wondering whether what you went through counts? This might be a good time to run your Topic S idea by a parent, sibling, school counselor, or trusted teacher. Do they think your experience is widespread? And do they agree that you truly lived a life less ordinary?

 

#2: Connect Outward

The majority of your answer to the Topic S prompt should be telling your story and its impact on you and your life. But this essay should also point toward how your experiences will shape your future interactions at UT Austin.

One of the reasons that the admissions office wants to find out which of the applicants has been through something unlike most other people is that they're hoping to increase the number of perspectives in the student body.

Think about, and include in your essay, how you will impact campus life. This can be very literal—if you're, say, a jazz singer who's released several acclaimed albums, you might want to perform on campus. Or it can be much more oblique—if you're disabled, for example, you'll be able to offer a perspective that differs from the able-bodied majority.

 

#3: Be Direct, Specific, and Honest

Whether you’re explaining how your GPA fell your sophomore year due to the death of someone close to you, or you’re telling the story of how you came to the US as a refugee, or you’re sharing your Olympic medal win, nothing will make your voice sound more appealing and authentic than writing without embellishment or verbal flourishes.

This is the one case in which what you’re telling is just as important as how you’re telling it. The best strategy is to be as straightforward as possible in your writing; use description to situate your reader in a place/time/experience that she'd never see firsthand. You can do this by picking a specific moment during your hardship or accomplishment to narrate as a small short story.

In addition, don't shy away from explaining your emotions throughout the experience. Your goal is to make the extraordinary into something at least somewhat relatable—and the way you do that is by making your writing down to earth.

 

Possible Topic S Essay Ideas

As I've already described, the most important feature of any topic for this prompt is that it must be genuinely exceptional. I've listed some examples below.

 

Possibility 1: Exceptional Hardships or Challenges

  • Coping with a physical or mental disability
  • Growing up in poverty, or with an absent or otherwise problematic parent
  • Facing the death of a sibling or parent
  • Being a refugee to the US
  • Surviving a natural disaster, war, or other crisis
  • Being the victim of a serious crime
  • Spending time in jail or in juvenile detention
  • Living with a chronic illness, or overcoming a very serious illness
  • Spending some period of time being homeless

 

Possibility 2: Exceptional Opportunities

  • Being the child of a famous actor, musician, or politician
  • Growing up unusually wealthy
  • Getting the chance to intern at the White House, the UN, or NASA

 

Possibility 3: Personal Responsibilities

  • Taking care of younger siblings in the absence of parents or parental figures
  • Having to work in order to support the family rather than for personal income
  • Being a teenage parent
  • Getting emancipated from parents as a minor
  • Living alone and having to fend for yourself

 

Possibility 4: Exceptional Achievements or Talents

  • Possessing an unusual level of talent in the performing or visual arts
  • Being a chess grandmaster
  • Playing sports at an Olympic or close-to Olympic level
  • Winning a national or international award for academic work, or getting national or international recognition for an achievement
  • Getting a book published, or getting a piece published in a prestigious magazine or journal

 

body_astronaut-1.jpgOr maybe instead of writing the essay, you could just send them this selfie.

 

Briefly: UT Austin Topics N and W

UT Austin also has two special prompts specifically for nursing applicants (Topic N) and for social work applicants (Topic W). These prompts are quite similar, and we will go over both of them briefly here. 

 

Topic N

Considering nursing as your first-choice major, discuss how your current and future academic activities, extracurricular pursuits and life experiences will help you achieve your goals.

 

Topic W

Discuss the reasons you chose social work as your first-choice major and how a social work degree from UT Austin will prepare you for the future.

 

What Are These Prompts Asking?

Both of these prompts are essentially asking you two things: 

  • How have your relevant experiences up to this point led you to want to study nursing/social work?
  • What do you plan on doing with your nursing/social work degree from UT Austin? 

 

How Can You Give Them What They Want?

Admissions officers will be looking for evidence that you're genuinely interested in this career and that you have an aptitude for it. So if you have any relevant clinical, research, or volunteer experience, admissions officers definitely want to know this! It's OK to take a broad view of what's relevant here. Anything that involves working with people is a relevant experience for prospective nursing and social work students.

Admissions officers also want to know that you're really interested in the UT Austin program, so be sure to identify features of the program (nursing or social work) that appeal to you. In other words, why UT Austin? What makes you a good fit here?

Finally, they're looking for individuals who have clear goals as well as a general idea of what they want to do with their degree. Are you interested in working with a specific population or specialty? Why? What led you to this conclusion?

 

The Bottom Line: Tips for Writing ApplyTexas Essays

The ApplyTexas application contains four essay prompts (Topics A, B, C, and D), with different schools requiring different combinations of mandatory and optional essays. UT Austin also includes its own prompt (Topic S), in addition to Topics N and W, which are for nursing and social work applicants, respectively.

One way to keep these three similar-sounding essay topics (A, B, and C) separate in your mind is to create a big-picture category for each one:

  • Topic A is about your outside
  • Topic B is your inside
  • Topic C is about your future

Now, let's briefly summarize each essay topic:

Essay Topic A

  • Overview: Wants you to describe the environment you grew up in and how it shaped you as a person
  • Tips:
    • Pick a specific aspect of your environment
    • Describe how it made you special
    • Describe the setting, stakes, and conflict resolution
    • Add details, description, and examples

Essay Topic B

  • Overview: Offers a chance to describe a defining trait and how it fits into the larger vision of you
  • Tips:
    • Define the core message.
    • Fit that core message of your into the larger picture.
    • Show things about yourself, don’t tell.
    • Watch your tone to make sure you show your great qualities without seeming narcissistic, boring, glib, or self-aggrandizing.

Essay Topic C

  • Overview: Asks you to describe "where you are going," in either a literal, goal-oriented sense or a more imaginative sense.
  • Tips:
    • Pick where you’re going, but don’t over- or under-reach
    • Flesh out your destination. How does it relate back to you?
    • Ground your “journey” in specific anecdotes and examples

Essay Topic D

  • Overview: Wants you to describe being affected by a work of art or an artistic experience to make sure that you are ready to enter a fine arts field
  • Tips:
    • Pick one piece of art or one specific experience of learning about art
    • Figure out exactly why this work or event struck you
    • Examine your own work to see how this artwork has affected your creativity
    • Use a mix of concrete descriptions and comparisons when writing about the piece of art

Essay Topic S

  • Overview: Offers a way for admissions officers to find students with extraordinary life stories or to give context to otherwise lackluster applications
  • Tips:
    • Double-check that your experience (whether negative or positive) is unique and doesn't quite fit under any of the other essay topics
    • Explain how your background will contribute to diversity on the UT Austin campus
    • Be direct, specific, honest, and straightforward

Essay Topics N and W

  • Overview: Specific to nursing and social work applicants at UT Austin
  • Tips:
    • Describe your relevant experiences and interests up to this point
    • Describe what about the UT Austin program appeals to you and how you will use your degree (your future goals)

 

What's Next?

Curious about the other college essay choices out there? If your target college also accepts the Common Application, check out our guide to the Common App essay prompts to see whether they would be a better fit for you.

Interested to see how other people tackled this part of the application? We have a roundup of 100+ accepted essays from tons of colleges.

Stuck on what to write about? Read our suggestions for how to come up with great essay ideas.

Working on the rest of your college applications? We have great advice on how to find the right college for you, how to write about your extracurricular activities, and how to ask teachers for letters of recommendation.

 

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Dr. Anna Wulick
About the Author

Anna scored in the 99th percentile on her SATs in high school, and went on to major in English at Princeton and to get her doctorate in English Literature at Columbia. She is passionate about improving student access to higher education.



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