Tufts University has a selective acceptance rate—right around 14 percent in 2020. 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.
Prompt #1: The "Why Tufts?" Essay
The first prompt, which you have 100 to 150 words to answer, reads:
Which aspects of the Tufts undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short, "Why Tufts?"
This is a pretty straightforward question—it's a version of the popular "Why This College?" essay. 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 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!
Having said that, a great essay is going to show admissions counselors that you've done your research. Be sure you point to specific parts of the "Tufts undergraduate experience" in your writing! For example, maybe there's a specific professor you want to work with, or a unique program that only Tufts offers that's a great fit for you. The more specific you are, the more you'll show admissions counselors that you're serious about becoming a student at Tufts.
Prompt #2: The Free Choice Essay
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 three questions.
A) It's cool to love learning. What excites your intellectual curiosity?
B) How have the environments or experiences of your upbringing – your family, home, neighborhood, or community – shaped the person you are today?
C) Where are you on your journey of engaging with or fighting for social justice?
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 you can only choose one. Here's a breakdown of who each prompt is a good fit for:
- Prompt A: If you're an intellectually curious person, this is a great fit for you. People that fit this mold will engage in learning opportunities outside the classroom and constantly be on the hunt for knowledge. If you're the type that reads news before school or watches documentaries for fun, this is a good prompt for you!
- Prompt B: This is a good all-around prompt! Generally speaking, most people will have some experience that helps them answer this prompt well. Having said that, this prompt requires you to be thoughtful and introspective. You'll need to understand how your experiences and background have shaped the person you are today.
- Prompt C: Social justice is an important topic in 2020, and Tufts admissions officers are interested in students who fit with the university's mission of an "inclusive and collaborative" environment. If you have been part of the social justice movement in 2020 or before, this would be a great prompt for you.
Keep in mind these are just suggestions. If one of these prompts jumps out to you as a perfect fit, run with it.
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 curiosity and interests. There are two ways you can approach this essay, each of which has its benefits and drawbacks.
First, you can choose an intellectual interest you have that relates to your future major. For example, say you're majoring in biology because you want to be in drug development. If that's the case, you can talk about a specific aspect of drug development that gets you excited. Maybe it's developing new vaccine production methods that use plants instead of animals, or maybe you want to develop new drugs to treat chronic illnesses like multiple sclerosis.
The trick here is being specific and letting your passion shine through, then tying all of that back to your future studies at Tufts. Don't be afraid to talk about a class you can't wait to take, or a project you hope to explore while you're in school. Just make sure that you're balancing talking about why you're curious with your academic plans. You don't want this to sound exactly like your "Why Tufts?" essay!
The second way you can approach this topic is by choosing something you're curious about that's a passion of yours, even if it isn't related to your major. This has the benefit of showing you're curious about more than just your major field, which is something admissions counselors are looking for.
For example, maybe you want to major in kinesiology, but you love social media and you're curious about how it impacts the ways we behave. You don't have to be majoring in psychology or computer science to write about this topic if you're passionate about it! The trick — and drawback — to going this route is making sure you're still connecting this passion back to your plans as a potential Tufts student. Maybe this curiosity has made you want to join the Tufts Psychology Society so you can learn more about how you can use human behavior and social media to help motivate people in your future career as a physical therapist.
How to Answer Prompt B
This prompt is asking you to write about how your background has shaped your character. Admissions counselors are looking for essays that showcase your thoughtfulness, especially in terms of how your experiences impact you as a person. This is a chance for you to highlight parts of your personality and identity that might not otherwise come across in your admissions materials.
If you choose this essay prompt, you'll want to spend some time figuring out which aspect of your background you want to focus on. Luckily, the prompt gives you a few ideas (family, home, neighborhood, and community) to start with, but you're not limited to those! Maybe you want to talk about an after school program you were a part of, or a sports team you played on for your entire childhood. As long as this experience or environment played a substantial part in your upbringing, it's fair game.
Whatever you choose, make sure you're choosing one thing. Don't talk about your family and your neighborhood and your community. This essay isn't long enough to cover all of that material! Instead, pick one thing and get specific. Explain why was this experience or environment important to you, and go into detail about how it impacted you as a person.
The best answers to this prompt are going to tell a story about your experience that helps readers connect with who you are. Perhaps one of the things that most shaped your character was growing up with five siblings. Tell a story about a specific moment that will help admissions counselors understand what that was like!
And finally, don't forget to connect this back to being a Tufts student by explaining how your character is a good fit for the university. For instance, let's go back to having lots of siblings. Maybe that's taught you to value everyone for their unique personalities because no matter how different you are, everyone brings something special to the table. Because of that, you're excited about making new friends and bringing people together as part of the Tufts community.
How to Answer Prompt C
This prompt is all about social justice. If you're not sure what social justice is, the National Association of Social Workers defines it as "the view that everyone deserves equal economic, political and social rights and opportunities." Put another way, social justice is the fight for equality for everyone regardless of their race, class, or economic status.
To answer this prompt, you'll need to explain how you're learning about, involved in, or fighting for social justice. What steps are you taking to help further this cause in your own life? Note that the prompt uses the term "journey," here. That means admissions counselors aren't expecting you to have this whole "social justice" thing figured out! So don't worry if you haven't arranged a march in your community or taken up donations to help with the Black Lives Matter movement. Admissions counselors are more interested in how you're learning about the social justice movement and making changes in your life to support that cause.
Here's the thing: if you're not part of the social justice movement or aren't comfortable with the idea, do not write this Tufts essay. You're given essay options for a reason! Admissions counselors are trained to sniff out falsehoods, so the worst thing you could do is fib about your social justice work. It's okay if this isn't a good topic for you!
If you do choose this prompt, make sure you start with a story. Did you participate in a march? Have you volunteered with a social justice oriented organization? Telling a specific story about your experience will help readers connect with you as a person. It's also okay if your experience with social justice was talking with a friend about it and realizing that you can do more to support the cause. Like the old saying goes: it's not about the destination — it's about what you're learning in the process.
Also, be honest about what your journey so far. It's okay to say you're still learning, or that the journey has been tough. Admissions counselors value authenticity, and the truth is that fighting for social justice can be hard. Just make sure you're keeping your discussion as positive as you can! Focus on what you've learned and how hard you're trying to make a difference.
And of course, be sure you tie this all back to Tufts. Explain how your understanding of social justice will affect how you participate in your classes and on-campus events. Make it clear that you're going to bring a spirit of equity with you to campus since that's what admissions counselors want to see in future Tufts students.
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.
Prompt #1: The "Why SMFA at Tufts?" Essay
The first prompt, which must be answered in 100 to 150 words, reads:
Which aspects of the Tufts 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.
Prompt #2: The Art Prompt
The second prompt, also with a 200 to 250 word count, reads:
Art has the power to disrupt our preconceptions, shape public discourse, and imagine new ways of being in the world. 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. While some of these essays apply to older topics, they'll still help you get a sense of what admissions counselors are looking for in excellent students (and their essays).
"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
This essay applies to an older prompt that asked students to talk about one of their creations. Here's what this student had to say:
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.