Let Your Life Speak
Looking for examples of past college essays that worked? These are some admissions essays that our officers thought were most successful from last year.
Amir Abdunuru Rwegarulira '20
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania
I grew up knowing exactly what it felt like to have parents everywhere. Of course, my biological parents - a retired social worker and an economist - had nothing omnipresent about them, it's just that in my immediate neighborhood, every adult automatically became my parent. This ideology was based on a Swahili saying “mkono mmoja hauuguzi mtoto” meaning one hand cannot nurse a child. I learned to respect neighbors the way I do relatives. There were no wedding invitations or funeral ceremonies that one could excuse oneself from attending. Everything was done with the welfare of the community as a whole in mind. As children we could not pass by a woman carrying a bucket of water without helping her, and adults would take the liberty of escorting us all the way home if we were returning late from school. Regardless of age or gender, there was an intangible sense of obligation that unified everyone and its importance was deeply instilled in me from a young age.
My life is still speaking; as I scale the ladder in education, sports and personal life. I continue to see the world through the lenses created by my community and treating everyone I encounter as part of it. Whether it is a primary school student struggling to finish his homework or a friend grieving over a lost loved one, I know that I am responsible not just for my own self but also for the people around me.
Sacdio Ali ’21
Jamaica Plain, MA
When I was in second grade, I wished my mom could talk to my teachers like the other parents did. Instead, I had to translate from English to Somali so that my mom could understand what was going on. Since my parents never went to school and I am the oldest of my siblings, I was used to this: if I went home, I had to be my own homework help, so I often stayed late at school to get help from my teachers. I was sad to see my friends working at home with their parents because I couldn't do that with my mom. I wanted to be them so badly--but even more, I wanted that for my siblings. I managed to do well in school thanks to my mother's constant encouragement, but I promised myself that I would never let my siblings feel sad that they couldn't come home for help. When my siblings were growing up, I read to them. Before they started school, I taught them how to read and do simple math. With time, they looked up to me for guidance and any help they needed outside of school. The strong connection I developed with my siblings helped me realize how much I enjoy working with children. I started helping other students like my classmates, which inspired me to become a school counselor so that I can explore how the environment and people around a child can influence his or her life.
Emma Tombaugh ’21
Dinnertime in the Tombaugh household is seldom dull. I sit down, never knowing what topic will be introduced that night. When the standard chatter subsides, and the last bits of food are being plucked off the plates, any innocent query can launch itself into a lengthy scientific discussion. Why does my dad's watch have a ratcheting bezel around the edge? I'm plunged into a lesson on why decompression stops are necessary for scuba divers. (Nitrogen bubbles in the blood vessels...Who knew?). Evidence for the theory of evolution is presented as neatly as the silverware next to my plate. I now know more than I ever thought I would about mimicry in animals and antipredator adaptation. The justifications for the demotion of Pluto (our favorite planet, discovered by Clyde Tombaugh) are hotly contested. Scientific and mathematical concepts are explored, debated, and questioned. How does one classically condition mice? Let me count the ways. Together, we marvel at the sheer enormity of the universe and in an instant might be awestruck by the small size of a single cell. Conversations like these feed my insatiable appetite for learning. I regard the world around me with inquisitive eyes; there is always something new to discover. Scientific phenomena exist to be doubted and scrutinized. In cultivating these investigations, my family has stimulated me to be curious and engaged. Never satisfied with the facts that are placed in front of me, I am constantly on the lookout for the hows, the whys, and the what-ifs.
Looking for more insider tips on the admissions process? We can help! The admissions officers blog about every aspect of applying to college here!
Joe Hyatt ’21
Five years ago, I became the member of a new community, a community of siblings. I was an only child for over twelve years. Life was great- I had my parents' undivided attention and no one stealing my toys. Then my world changed dramatically. Our family was blessed with three baby girls. I went from being the center of the universe ,to one of Pluto's moons. My life of order spiraled into disorder. "Me time" became "story time." Now I'm in high school with three baby sisters. They cry at my basketball games when the buzzer blares, escape onto the court during volleyball warm-ups, but melt my heart nonetheless. Plenty of my friends have younger siblings, but none are babies. While my friends were teaching their siblings how to skateboard and throw a fastball, I was changing diapers and rocking babies so my mom could shower. While buddies were helping their sisters with homework, I was feeding mine oatmeal in their high-chairs so my dad could grill. My sisters are finally old enough that I can teach them to shoot a basketball and skip and to create snowflakes from popsicle sticks and sparkles. I can now explain simple math on their fingers and perform science experiments with a coke can and a flame. Above all, I now also understand the meaning of the phrase "herding cats." My new micro-community has turned my world upside down, changing me forever. I wouldn't trade it for the world.
Celina Vidal ’21
From age three until nine I attended a Waldorf school, or as I affectionately refer to it, the "school of fairies and gnomes". While my high school classmates spent their childhoods decorating coloring books and watching cartoons, I crocheted a poncho, played the violin, and learned a type of rhythmic dance that allowed me to spell words with my body. As archaic and unproductive as these activities might sound, I am eternally grateful for the person I have become due to my lack of media exposure and excess of wooden toys throughout my youth. Primarily, I developed in an environment where I had the opportunity to test my creative outlets. This innovative drive has continued to fuel my academic experience through high school, and I constantly find myself searching for interactive ways to obtain knowledge rather than turning to textbooks. Also, in a society overrun with technology, having the prior knowledge of detachment allows me to observe my surroundings, not my phone screen, and inspires me to explore my community. Fond memories of third grade nature days in which we gained a basic knowledge of botany established my lasting appreciation for the outdoors. Finally, having a safe place to believe in fairy tales for so long preserved an innocence in me that guides me through our often disturbing world. As I continue to inquire and create during my college experience, I hope my Waldorf background will help me imagine new discoveries and inventions no matter how fantastical they may seem.
William Wilson ’21
I grew up in a town whose one traffic light only flashed yellow, there were more churches than gas stations, and the nearest clothing store was a thirty minute drive along a dusty road. Despite the barren land of the prairie, I kept busy by helping with chores around my household, serving pancakes as a cub scout at Lions Club feeds, and volunteering at the library to help my fellow peers with homework. My parents were both dynamic members of the city council in my home town. My mother worked as a courthouse clerk, my father was the mayor, and both were leaders in the local fire department as volunteer firefighters. Their impact on the community had an equal impact on me; I was encouraged to influence my surroundings in any way possible. This influence continued after I moved. I quickly found haven volunteering to help in children's education classes. In high school, I jumped at the opportunity to be in student government by running a campaign every year I was in school. My parents' active roles in my neighborhood inspired my love for having a positive influence on those around me. As I continue to grow, I aspire to enrich not only myself but also anyone else that I can impact.
Want to hear more from current students? Jumbo Talk has blogs from current students talking about every aspect of life at Tufts here!
Tufts University Application Essay Prompts
Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short: ‘Why Tufts?’ (50-100 words)
One of the most common short response questions by far across colleges nationwide is the “Why (insert school name here)?” But don’t be fooled by the lack of an abstract quote or strange quandary; oftentimes, these “Why?” essays can be the most difficult. Not only is this question open-ended, but Tufts, specifically, only grants you 50-100 words to describe what stands out about their university. This length affords you almost no space for the introductions and conclusions you’re used to writing in high school papers, so first and foremost, remember that every single word of this essay needs to be important. There is no room for filler sentences or lengthy expositions!
Tempting as it may be, this is also not the time to list oft-discussed or well-known benefits of attending the school, simply because the number of potential applicants who will likely also discuss these reasons makes the topic a cliché. For Tufts, this includes vague statements like their affinity for a “diverse student body,” the opportunity to pursue “interdisciplinary curriculum,” or discussing non-specific research opportunities. As a general rule of thumb, if you can insert another school’s name where Tufts is in your essay, and it still makes sense, you need a new idea!
In addition to checking out the past essays Tufts has listed on their website, the best advice for this supplementary essay is to pick a small but significant (and unique) aspect of the school that stood out to you. Was it a specific professor you met on your campus tour? Perhaps a class you heard about from a current student? Even a hidden oasis on campus you discovered could make for a stellar “Why Tufts?” essay.
Because of the short word limit, specificity is valued over elaborate language. Your goal is to show your passion for Tufts, not your extended vocabulary! But don’t be afraid to be a little quirky in an attempt to standout. One successful applicant even compared her college search to a romantic comedy, with the university being her eventual soulmate. So don’t let a word count hinder your creativity!
There is a Quaker saying: ‘Let your life speak.’ Describe the environment in which you were raised — your family, home, neighborhood, or community — and how it influenced the person you are today. (200-250 words)
While the question itself is rather straightforward, the amount of leeway you are given with your topic choice could cause a certain degree of difficulty. For example, if you have chosen the first Common App prompt as your main essay (“Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent…”), be mindful that the story you tell for specific supplement should be in no way related to that longer essay. A common mistake that many applicants make with schools that have multiple essays is retelling a story or significant aspect of their life more than once.
This could be something as simple as the tree house that comforted you during middle school to a family member that inspired you to pursue your intended major. Not everyone will be a third-culture kid, but everyone has been shaped by their surroundings — no matter how exciting or dull you consider them to be.
On the other hand, what this essay should not be is your entire life’s story crammed into 250 words. Pick a small but meaningful piece of your history that highlights who you are, something an admissions officer will remember when they pick up your application file. Again, it is not so much the event or environment you describe so much as it is how you write about it.
As is always recommended in college essays, make sure to conclude with your overall takeaway or life lesson. At the end of the day, supplementary essays are another chance for self-reflection, so be sure to look inside your soul (cliché, we know).
Now we’d like to know a little bit more about you. Please respond to one of the following six questions (200-250 words). Students applying to the SMFA at Tufts’ BFA program must answer prompt F; we strongly recommend that candidates for the five-year combined degree with the SMFA at Tufts choose either prompt C or prompt F.
First, a quick note about how to select the ideal prompt for this section. Now although it states that students pursuing the five-year combined degree are only “strongly recommended” to choose prompt C or F and not required, in admissions office “speak,” it would not be wise to choose one of the other options. They feel that your response to those questions would give them greater insight into whether you are right for that program, and therefore, we highly advise you follow that suggestion.
For applicants not interested in that program, the best advice in choosing the optimal section of this prompt is to select the one you feel can allow you to share a side of your personality not yet seen in the rest of your application. While some are more direct than others (notably “E” or “B”), that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t result in an interesting story. But as always, stay away from cliché reflections — like your realization that winning isn’t everything or how failure breeds greatness.
A. Nelson Mandela believed that “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived. It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.” Describe a way in which you have made or hope to make a difference.
While this prompt may lead you to believe that the completion of a large-scale service project or a similar endeavor is necessary to write an effective response to this question, that is definitely not the case. While detailing a significant experience working for a non-profit or service organization definitely fits within the realm of topic possibilities for this prompt, even a commentary on “random acts of kindness” could suffice.
If you have completed a service project or similar undertaking, we do not recommend you recount the details of the project in their entirety in your response, since you’re only afforded 250 words. While it is important to share your successes, communicating what you’ve learned or gained from such an experience is more important than the amount of money you raised.
With that being said, another great way to approach this prompt would be to incorporate a past service project/action with a connection to your potential education at Tufts, or how you plan to continue that passion once outside of university (inspired by your college experience). It never hurts to briefly mention Tufts-specific information in essays besides the “Why Tufts?” supplement, as this could even further prove to admissions officers that you’re a dedicated applicant.
B. It’s cool to be smart. Tell us about the subjects or ideas that excite your intellectual curiosity.
This question is very similar to those of other schools, like Stanford, that ask you about your intellectual vitality. If you’re the kind of student who loves documentaries or can’t wait to get home from school to conduct additional research on something you learned in class, this is most likely the prompt for you!
It is important to remember that due to the word limit, you should only elaborate on one to three ideas. But listing your AP classes or merely stating that “Math, American History, and Chemistry are interesting” isn’t a satisfactory response either. Instead, think about certain theories in physics that you couldn’t wait to learn more about, or maybe a novel you read in English that ignited your passion for World War II. Regardless of the exact topic, hone in on why you look forward to your chosen subject every day.
Now, notice the first sentence of the prompt. We’d call that a humble brag! So with that in mind, it’s always a good idea to try and reflect the tone of the prompt in your essay and in this case, where you’re asked in a slightly tongue-in-cheek way about your intellectual curiosity, don’t be afraid to embody that attitude when responding.
While it can be difficult for humor or sarcasm to come through in a piece of writing (and you don’t want to approach the essay too informally), keep in mind that it’s okay to be a little different, especially when the prompt doesn’t discourage you from shunning formal academic writing principles.
C. Whether you’ve built blanket forts or circuit boards, produced community theater or mixed media art installations, tell us: What have you invented, engineered, created, or designed? Or what do you hope to?
The wording of this prompt establishes a similar tone as the previous option — in that they want you to have fun. You don’t have to be a budding rocket scientist or lab researcher who’s close to a cancer cure to choose this question. While these achievements are amazing, don’t feel down on your luck if they don’t apply to you. Everybody has a story to share and even if that’s the “blanket forts” of your childhood, it could make for a stellar supplementary essay.
Although the prompt allows you to choose between past inventions/designs and future ones, we would recommend at least including something concrete that you have accomplished. This doesn’t have to be the bulk of your essay, but only writing about the future can be a bit too aspirational or abstract to be effective.
If you want to be the next Elon Musk, awesome! But make sure to include past steps you have taken to come closer to reaching this goal. Dreams are great, but admissions officers want to see that you have the motivation and drive to step out of your comfort zone on campus and take advantage of the opportunities offered.
This is another supplement where the material could easily be related to something Tufts-specific. Perhaps they offer a research grant you might like to apply for or have a class that builds on the principles of your past invention. Show that you have done the research, and prove you’re not just checking Tuft’s application off as another one on the list. They want to see your passion for their community and academics!
D. What makes you happy?
Simple. To the point. Uncomplicated.
Notice how those three words reflect the candor in the question. No sugarcoating. No artful elaboration. While obviously not necessary, reflecting the tone of the prompt in your introduction is one way to artfully show your knack for writing, and a sentence used to hook your reader in this straightforward style is definitely a recommended tactic.
The second part of this prompt that begs discussion is obviously what makes you happy. Most importantly, do not write about what you think admissions officers want to see. Just because discussing Henry David Thoreau and transcendentalism put a smile on your literature teacher’s face, doesn’t mean an admissions officer won’t see right through your attempt to come across as a lover of seclusion amidst modern society if it is not genuine.
If walking down the aisles of an old-timey general store and taking 20 minutes to fill an 8 oz paper bag with hard candy makes you happy, write about it. If listening to Vivaldi’s Four Seasons while doing your homework makes you happy, write about it. If shopping for groceries makes you happy because you can’t help but experiment in the kitchen, write about it.
The best advice is simply to be honest. There is no topic that admissions officers want to read. They simply want to know you. What’s important is that whatever you select for this essay, it demonstrates a larger facet of your personality or character that admissions officers otherwise might not see.
E. Celebrate the role of sports in your life.
Huge disclaimer before diving into the bulk of this question: In many applicants’ minds, this prompt is almost begging them to write about their underdog stories, realization that winning isn’t everything, or musings as the benchwarmer of the team. While these can make for awesome essays, it is so difficult to do them well and avoid sounding cliché that we normally advise students to stay away from these topics.
While there isn’t a hard and fast list of essay topics you should stay away from, sports is among those that must be approached from an exceptionally unique angle. While I’ll admit the word ‘unique’ is hopelessly overused when referring to college admissions essays, it’s only because it couldn’t ring more true. Similar upbringings lend themselves oddly well to similar experiences, especially in the case of sports. So just to sum up, whatever you do, stay away from cliché sports stories, like those mentioned previously.
Now, on to the things you should write about in response to this question: If you have been pursuing a sport for years and years, this could be the optimal time to elaborate on that passion if you feel it hasn’t been otherwise represented in your application. But instead of focusing on awards or team championships, delve into the personal relationships sports allowed you to form or the camaraderie evident in few other aspects of high school life.
Admissions officers want to see that you can acknowledge self-growth and write about it reflectively. So while a sports essay is bound to have a cliché or two, if you select this prompt, simply ensure that you focus less on the sport itself and more on what it taught you.
F. Artist Bruce Nauman once said: “One of the factors that still keeps me in the studio is that every so often I have to more or less start over.” Everyone deals with failure differently; for most artists, failure is an opportunity to start something new. Tell us about a time when you have failed and how that has influenced your art practice.
Similar to the sports prompt, it’s easy to sound generic or clichéd when responding to this prompt. Many of these same lessons probably come to mind when you contemplate failure in your life: It taught you resilience, to keep pushing; you realized failure was necessary to succeed; and my personal favorite is Thomas Edison’s, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 1,000 ways to not to make a light bulb.” While these common phrases do have much truth to them, they just won’t help you stand out in the college admissions process.
From an artist’s perspective, failure typically implies a disastrous sculpture, muddied watercolor, or that time your clay was slung off the potter’s wheel onto a fellow student. All can make for a great story and while that last one takes a humorous angle, yours could be deadly serious and equally as effective.
The most important quality to convey in this supplement is perseverance because, at the end of the day, failure ultimately teaches tenacity. If you were unfazed by your difficulty in blending acrylic paints, then chances are you will embody that same persistence when faced with setbacks at Tufts University. To avoid cliché comeback stories, look to the future as well. Show that your life experiences have not only shaped who you were in high school but will also apply to the person you become in the university’s community.
Because Tufts requires multiple supplemental essays, it’s obvious they want to gauge your dedication to their school and application — so don’t procrastinate! Brainstorm, plan, and outline your ideas. Determine why Tufts is the right school for you before you even place your fingers on the keyboard, and make sure to convey how you will contribute to the already vibrant, intellectual student body.