Tufts University has a selective acceptance rate—right around 14 percent in 2016. You'll need a strong application to stand out from other applicants, including stellar essays. Luckily, this guide is here to help you out!
In this blog post, we'll cover everything you need to know about the writing portion of Tufts University's application, including what prompts are available and how to answer them.
Feature Image: Jellymuffin40/Wikimedia Commons
If you want to study at Tufts' Ginn Library, you'll need strong essays. Nurcamp/Wikimedia Commons.
What Should You Know About the Tufts University Essays?
Tufts University uses either the Common or Coalition Application, so choose the one that works best for you. Each one has unique essays, so be sure you follow the correct prompt for whichever application you're using.
Both applications have their own writing sections that you'll need to respond to. These essays are more general than the Tufts essays, but it's still important to follow guidelines and aim to impress with them. They're part of your application, and deserve your best effort! The Common Application has one set of prompts to choose from and the Coalition Application has another, so do some reading ahead of time to plan for which one you'll answer if you need to fill out both applications for different schools.
What Prompts Does the Tufts University Application Have?
Tufts University requires you to apply to a specific school within the university during your application. This shouldn't be a problem if you already know what major you'll be applying to, and Tufts recommends not applying as undecided.
The application should give you the correct set of prompts for whichever school you apply to, but if you want to get a head start, you can choose your preferred major from the drop-down menu on Tufts' Majors and Minors page. Under each major and minor, Tufts lists the school that major belongs to. This will let you figure out which set of prompts you'll be using, even if you're not yet ready to fill out the application itself—but always keep in mind that the prompts may change!
If you're applying to the School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering, or 5-year Tufts/NEC combined degree, you'll have two essays. One is a classic "Why Tufts?" essay with a Tufts-specific twist, and the second prompt allows you to make your choice of two options.
For applicants to the BFA or 5-year BFA+BA/BS combined degree program, you'll also have two prompts. The first is, again, a classic "Why Tufts?" essay question, while the other asks you to write an artist's statement for the work you're hoping to create at Tufts.
Editing and revising is all part of the essay process—your papers should look like this!
What Are the Tufts University Prompts?
Because the prompts vary between different schools, there's a lot of information to cover for how to write the ideal Tufts essay. But Tufts does provide some helpful advice—"Think outside the box as you answer the following questions. Take a risk and go somewhere unexpected. Be serious if the moment calls for it, but feel comfortable being playful if that suits you, too."
In short, be yourself. Tufts doesn't just want to hear your academic qualifications, nor do they want to hear their qualifications as a good school recited to them—they already know!
For School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering, and Tufts/NEC Degree Applicants:
You have two essays to write for this section. Both are required, but the second prompt offers you two potential choices.
The first prompt, which you have 200 to 250 words to answer, reads:
What excites you about Tufts' intellectually playful community? In short, "Why Tufts?"
At a glance, this is a pretty straightforward question. You wouldn't be applying to Tufts if you didn't already know that you wanted to go there, right? But always be aware that every other student applying to Tufts also knows that it's a good school. You can't just list qualifications back them; you have to dive a little deeper than that.
Tufts makes a point of mentioning their "intellectually playful community." This can mean a lot of things, but consider what it means to you as a student. What Tufts wants to know here is not just what attracts you to the college, but also what you'll bring to it. Let your enthusiasm and fresh ideas shine!
As a private research university, research is a heavy part of Tufts' academic focus. How do you bring "play" into that? What excites you about research and learning?
As mentioned above, Tufts emphasizes that it's okay to be playful with your essay. Don't think too much about Tufts' qualifications—think about yours. Did you help your entire biology class prep for your final by creating a study sheet based on puns? How about turning your report on The Scarlet Letter into a mock trial for Hester Prynne?
These creative approaches to learning are precisely what Tufts wants to hear about, but be certain you tie them back to the school, too. You want to use this space to demonstrate how you'll both fit into Tufts' community and how the college will help you achieve your goals.
The second prompt is a little more complex. It also has a word count of 200 to 250, but includes two options you must choose from:
Now we'd like to know a little more about you. Please respond to one of the following two questions.
A) Whether you've built blanket forts or circuit boards, created slam poetry or mixed media installations, tell us: What have you invented, engineered, produced, or designed? Or what do you hope to?
B) Our Experimental College encourages current students to develop and teach a class for the Tufts community. Previous classes have included those based on personal interests, current events, and more. What would you teach and why?
These two prompts are a great way to tell the admissions office more about yourself, particularly if you have extracurricular interests that you haven't had the opportunity to discuss yet.
Both prompts are great choices, but consider prompt A if you're creatively oriented, and prompt B if you're particularly curious or have surprising interests. Of course, both traits can intersect—consider which way you'd most like to represent yourself, and choose accordingly.
If you can't find this key on your keyboard, you'll have to invent it!
How to Answer Prompt A
In this prompt, Tufts wants to hear about your creativity and ingenuity. What you've created doesn't have to be revolutionary, but it does need to demonstrate your passion for creation.
Tufts wants to see your creativity, your passion, and your problem-solving ability. Again, don't worry about impressing the admissions officers with a wild story about solving a public health crisis (though of course if you have done such a thing, you should mention it!)—a creative solution to a simple problem is also valuable.
For example, maybe your new and improved chore wheel improved the overall efficiency of getting things done at home and convinced your little brother to finally start picking up his room. Or maybe your Twitch streams of relatively unknown video games introduced tons of people to games they'd never have picked up otherwise. Both of these examples demonstrate your desire to make something new!
Think outside the box on this one. "I wanted to get good grades and I did," isn't a very interesting story. Think about how you got those good grades, such as with a unique studying strategy for by making a project your teacher had never seen before. Show off your big ideas!
How to Answer Prompt B
This prompt is an excellent place to show off your leadership and passion for knowledge. If you're an expert in a niche field—puppetry or being able to identify every plant variety within five miles, for example—you can share that knowledge with others through Tufts' experimental college program.
What Tufts wants to see here is what interests delight and inspire you. What makes you want to learn and share that knowledge with others?
Demonstrating your interests here shows that you don't just want to attend Tufts for the prestige or because your family wants you to. You want to be part of this community of playful, inspired learning, so use this prompt to show off your unique areas of interest and how you'd like to share them with others.
Take a look through some of Tufts' previous and current experimental college offerings. Do you see anything you'd like to learn about? Are there any topics that inspire you to think up your own class?
Any interest is a good one, but consider using those interests in a new way. If you're into fantasy football, considering pitching a class based on learning statistics through that lens. If you're an expert on ghost stories, turn that into a course that looks at representations of spirits throughout different cultures.
Avoid being too straightforward with your ideas. Math is great! But Tufts already has plenty of math classes. They're also probably pretty well covered in the art department. What can you, specifically, offer that isn't already there?
Tufts' SFMA school is all about the arts.
For BFA, 5-Year BFA+BA/BS at SMFA Applicants:
This section has two required essays. You don't have any choice over which prompts you'll be answering, which eliminates some of the struggle to choose the best option for you.
The first prompt, which must be answered in 200 to 250 words, reads:
Which aspects of the Tufts curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? Why SMFA at Tufts?
This prompt is similar to the "Why Tufts?" essay prompt, but with a slightly different focus. SMFA at Tufts is the School of the Museum of Fine arts program at Tufts, so it's definitely for those interested in the arts.
The admissions office wants to see you demonstrate what exactly draws you to this school over others, and what specifically drives you to seek an art degree. What will you get out of Tufts that you couldn't get elsewhere? How will an art degree enrich your life, and how will you use that degree in the future?
Colleges want to foster intellectual growth in their communities, which is why they ask for more than a standard "this is a good school" answer. They want to know why you want to attend, but they also want to know what you're bringing to the community.
Browsing Tufts and SMFA at Tufts galleries are a great way to get some inspiration. Can you see your artwork fitting in there? What will you offer that isn't already represented?
Think about art that you've created or art that you want to create. How will Tufts help you get there? What makes you want to pursue an art degree, rather than art as a supplement to another field? Clearly articulating your interest and commitment will demonstrate that you're a good fit for Tufts to the admissions office.
The second prompt, also with a 200 to 250 wordcount, reads:
Art has the power to disrupt our preconceptions, shape public discourse, and imagine new ways of being in the world. Whether you think of Ai Weiwei’s work reframing the refugee crisis, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s portraits of the Obamas reimagining portrait painting on a national scale, or Yayoi Kusama’s fanciful Infinity Mirrors rekindling our sense of wonder, it is clear that contemporary art is driven by ideas. What are the ideas you’d like to explore in your work?
This question dives a little bit deeper into your artistic mind. It's not enough to create art that is beautiful on a surface level—Tufts wants to know that you're thinking about your art meaningfully, too.
This prompt is essentially an artist's statement, though it's focused more on your artistic intent on a large scale rather than on an individual piece. Look through some of your favorite art you've created and think about common themes and recurring ideas, even if you didn't intend for them to be there. What concepts are you trying to explore, even subconsciously?
Consider not just what your art looks or sounds like, but also what it's made of and why you chose to make it that way. Think beyond availability or ease of use—always keep the question of "why" in your mind.
Themes are good, but try not to go too general or invent something that isn't there. Much of art is about capturing beauty, so try to think deeper than that. And if you're going to claim that your art critiques or represents something, you need to be able to demonstrate that—analyze what you've created to show how it connects to your themes, don't simply project something over the top and hope that admissions officers don't notice it wasn't really there.
Write a good enough essay and this could be you and fellow Tufts students.
What Do Tufts Essays That Worked Look Like?
Thankfully, Tufts University isn't shy about putting accepted essays online for applicants to browse. Consider writing out a draft or outline of your ideas before reading through these to avoid making them sound too similar. Even if you do it by accident, sounding too much like an essay that's already been accepted could be a red flag for the admissions office.
"Why Tufts?" Essay That Worked
I vividly remember stepping onto the roof of Tisch Library and seeing a group of kids sitting in hammocks, overlooking the Boston skyline. I briefly tuned out my tour guide's presentation and began to eavesdrop. The students covered everything from physics to what they had for lunch that day. When they spoke about physics, they did not speak with pretension; instead they spoke with passion. Likewise, when they spoke about something as simple as lunch, they did so with witty intrigue. Tufts students are as interesting as they are interested. This description not only resonates with me, it defines me.
This essay does an excellent job of answering the questions at the core of the "Why Tufts?" essay. The writer channels an experience they had while at Tufts, detailing how listening in on other students solidified their desire to attend. They use words like "passion" to describe Tufts students, showing traits they also want to channel.
The ending really hits on something important: this student wanted to be part of the student body because the students they overheard were not only interesting people, but also interested. Remember the prompts mention of being "intellectually playful?" This is the perfect way to demonstrate curiosity, interest, and love of learning int he specific context of Tufts.
"What Have You Created?" Essay That Worked
When people talk about building something, creating it, they most often mean something physical. Engineers, architects, and laborers, these are the professions that I think of as making things. I've never been much of a builder, I lack that particular understanding of the world that is required to envision what you will build, and have never been coordinated enough to make much of anything with my hands, but I can create. What I have made is not something you can hold or touch, it spans no gaps and holds no weight, and I can't even claim to have laid a single finger on its construction. My creation is a poem, or rather, poems. Series of letters symbolic of sounds strung together to make words, which are in turn collected into lines and stanzas, pieces of a whole. My poems cannot be touched, but they can touch you; though they won't form a bridge, they can cross a divide; and while you'll never be able to weigh them on a scale, the weight of the ideas they hold can be felt the moment you read them. So I may not be an engineer or an architect or a laborer, but I am a creator. I craft words into meaning, forge lines into rhymes, and sculpt imaginations. So even if I can't hold what I make, I can watch it take shape and see its impact on the world.
This essay does an excellent job of answering the question not just by stating the answer, but by embodying it. It's clear that the student is a writer; their language is vivid, immediate, and playful, demonstrating how strong their grasp is on word meanings and sentence structure.
Importantly, this essay doesn't disparage other disciplines—it interprets poetry using language physical creators might use, such as "spans," "bridge," and "weight.
There's a great deal of creativity and intellectual play in this essay, which serve to set the writer apart from students who might have focused more on the existence of the thing they'd built (a souped-up car engine, for example) than the function of the thing they'd built (a souped-up car engine that reduces carbon emissions, for example).
When tackling this prompt, think about how you, too, can exemplify your creation in your essay.
Think like a dolphin: smart and playful!
Key Points for Your Tufts Essays
Best practices for Tufts essays are similar to other schools, but there are some special considerations to keep in mind.
Pay Attention to Tufts' Intellectual Bent
Tufts makes a point of using words like "playful" and "intellectual." These suggest a curiosity about the world that goes beyond wanting to attend a good school because it's a good school. Keep them in mind as you're writing—how can you demonstrate your own curiosity and interest in the world?
Remember That Tufts Is a Research University
You'll be interacting more with graduate students than you would in other settings. Not only will this give you a leg up in applying to grad school, but it will also grant you the opportunity to think more deeply than if you were only exposed to other undergrads.
Demonstrating an interest in learning from other students and participating in a learning community is a great way to show that you're interested in the unique experience of attending a research university.
Choose the Prompts That Are Right for You
Because Tufts has two different sets of prompts depending which school you'll be attending, be sure you select the right ones. Further, be sure you really maximize each prompt's potential—the rest of your application covers academics, so use your essay to showcase what really makes you stand out.
Before you get started on writing your essays, you'll want to know what kind of admission requirements Tufts has. Great essays are important, but you should also demonstrate academic success!
Plan to get the best scores possible on your standardized tests, too. Reading about ACT and GPA requirements ahead of time can help you plan your academic strategy, as can reading about SAT requirements. Use these guides to get a head start!
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Melissa Brinks graduated from the University of Washington in 2014 with a Bachelor's in English with a creative writing emphasis. She has spent several years tutoring K-12 students in many subjects, including in SAT prep, to help them prepare for their college education.