Deciding which college you want to attend is stressful. Preparing your college applications and meeting various deadlines is an ordeal. Worrying about the essay questions you'll be asked -- and how many you'll have to answer -- is agonizing.
The college essay allows you to present your unique character to the admissions committee, and it's a crucial factor in admission decisions for many colleges. Questions for different colleges range from straightforward to esoteric. Here are some examples:
- University of Vermont: "Why is UVM a good college choice for you?" [source: College Board]
- Columbia University: "[W]rite an essay which conveys to the reader a sense of who you are." [source: Columbia University]
- University of Pennsylvania: "You have just completed your 300-page autobiography. Please submit page 217." [source: Gutmann]
- University of Notre Dame: "In a homily during his visit to the United States, Pope Benedict XVI stated, 'Today's celebration is more than an occasion for gratitude of graces received. It is also a summons to move forward with firm resolve to use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope for coming generations.' How will a Notre Dame education enable you to answer the call to 'use wisely the blessings of freedom, in order to build a future of hope' for others in your own way?'" [source: Notre Dame]
Some colleges use the same questions year after year, while other admissions committees engage in some soul-searching of their own over the merit of the questions they pose. Mary Tipton Woolley, Associate Director of Admissions for the Georgia Institute of Technology, says that the admissions staff reviews the essay questions each year to "evaluate how well they helped us get to know the students in the admission process" [source: Woolley].
Is there a way to find out what essay questions colleges are asking before you start the application process? Would it relieve some of your stress, or help you focus your search on fewer colleges, if you knew what essays you'll have to write? Read on to learn where to look.
Where can I find college essay questions?
The best place to start your search for college essay questions is in your high school counseling office. After years of helping students work through the college application process, they should have compiled a broad sampling of essay questions from a wide variety of colleges. Next, visit with junior and senior language arts teachers to see if they can help. For example, Judy Austin, English Department Chair at North Forsyth High School in Cumming, Ga., compiles a representative sample of essay questions from actual online college applications each year. She even gives her students the opportunity to practice answering them in essays [source: Austin].
Your next resource is the official Web site of your target college. Many colleges don't require a freshman admission essay; others only want one if you're applying for an honors program. Some institutions that require an essay as part of the application package, such as the University of Michigan and the University of Georgia, post the current essay questions online as part of their undergraduate admissions information. U-M encourages students to start working on their essays during the summer, and UGA includes links to articles on tips for writing your college admission essay and navigating the college application process [source: University of Michigan, University of Georgia].
If you don't see essay questions on the undergraduate admission Web page of the college you're investigating, poke around the site and try to find a downloadable application form. While many colleges use electronic applications, some provide printable applications (including essay questions) that you can view before you start the process online [source: Columbia University, University of Notre Dame]. Even if you only see the questions from the previous year, it will give you an idea of what to expect. If all else fails, e-mail or call the college's undergraduate admissions office and ask specific questions or request more information. If the questions haven't been determined yet, you'll probably be directed to keep checking the Web site. But you just might get the essay questions.
Still searching? Go to the next page for more Web sites to investigate.
Other Sources for College Essay Questions
For some colleges, you may only be able to access current essay questions by setting up an Internet account to initiate the application process, or by requesting application materials through the mail. Before you take that step, you should check to see if the college you're interested in is one of the 391 institutions that accept the Common Application for Undergraduate Admissions [source: The Common Application]. You can download a copy of the Common Application to view essay questions and find supplemental information for a number of participating colleges, including additional essay questions they ask. If you're applying to several colleges that accept the Common Application, you'll only have to fill it out once, including the essay portion.
The Universal College Application is similar to the Common Application in that you can fill it out once (including the essay) and submit it to several colleges. Currently, only 85 schools accept it [source: Universal College Application].
Another useful Internet resource is College Board. Here, you can sample actual essay questions from several colleges, as well as get an overview of the type of questions colleges ask prospective students to answer and what they're looking for in your answers. This site offers tips for writing effective essays; advice on creating your essay draft; and two sample essays with imbedded drop-down menu critiques.
Official college blogs, such as the Georgia Institute of Technology's admissions blog, sometimes post freshmen application essay questions. While you're surfing around the Internet looking for information, don't waste your time on Web sites that offer to sell you editing services or "winning" essays. Stick to sites that are affiliated with colleges (these should end in ".edu") and the ones mentioned above. Information that you find from these primary sources will be more accurate and valuable than what you'll find at secondary or commercial sites.
So you've got a list of college essay questions. See what you should do with them on the next page.
What should I do with my list of college essay questions?
The college essay is your chance to rise to the top of the application pile, and admissions officials want you to do well. That's why so many colleges include essay writing advice or tips on their official Web sites. Some colleges read the essays only when applicants are borderline for admission or are in close contention with other applicants. Other institutions read every single one, even when they number in the tens of thousands [source: Cohen]. On their undergraduate admissions Web pages, the Notre Dame Admissions Committee claims that they "find your Essays to be the most enjoyable part of the application reading process" [source: University of Notre Dame].
To make the most of this opportunity, once you have your essay questions, practice writing your essay(s) using the tips provided by the college or from one of the links in this article. If you're lucky, your junior and senior high school language arts teachers incorporate essay writing into the curriculum. Even with essay writing experience, it can be hard to frame a well-organized, comprehensive, thoughtful answer in 500 words or less. You might need to approach the questions from a few different perspectives before you find the right formula.
When you construct an essay that satisfies you, ask a trusted teacher to proofread and critique it. Make any changes required, and type the essay into a word processor or text editor so that you can copy and paste it onto the electronic college application. This will help prevent errors and typos that might occur if you retype the essay into the essay window when you're filling out the application form.
Finally, submit your college essay, along with any other application materials, well before the submission deadline. This shows colleges that you're serious about developing your future potential with their institution.
For lots more information on applying to college, see the links on the next page.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- Austin, Judy. Email interview. English Department Chair, North Forsyth High School, Cumming, GA. Jan. 21, 2010.
- Boise State University. Personal communication. Admissions Information office. Jan. 19, 2010.
- Cohen, Cafi. Homeschoolers' College Admissions Handbook. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000.
- College Board. "Sample College Essay Questions." Apply to College. Essay Skills. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://www.collegeboard.com/student/apply/essay-skills/108.html
- Columbia University. "Application for First Year Admission 2009-2010." Student Affairs/Admissions. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://www.studentaffairs.columbia.edu/admissions/sites/admissions/files/webfm/firstyearapp.pdf
- Gamerman, Ellen. "Holding College Chiefs to Their Words." The Wall Street Journal: May 6, 2009. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124155688466088871.html
- Graves, David. Senior Associate Director of Admissions at University of Georgia. "Suggestions for Writing Admissions Essays." University of Georgia Undergraduate Admissions. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://www.admissions.uga.edu/article/suggestions_for_writing_admission_essays.html
- Gutmann, Amy. "College Presidents Pen Admissions Essays." The Wall Street Journal: May 6, 2009. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://online.wsj.com/article/SB124155327269488613.html
- North Carolina State University. "Admissions Essay." NC State Undergraduate Admissions. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://ncstateundergradadmissions.custhelp.com/cgi-bin/ncstateundergradadmissions.cfg/php/enduser/std_adp.php?p_faqid=335&p_created=1061483657&p_sid=_kjwuoSj&p_accessibility=0&p_redirect=&p_lva=&p_sp=cF9zcmNoPSZwX3NvcnRfYnk9JnBfZ3JpZHNvcnQ9JnBfcm93X2NudD0zNTQsMzU0JnBfcHJvZHM9JnBfY2F0cz0mcF9wdj1_YW55fiZwX2N2PX5hbnl_JnBfc2VhcmNoX3R5cGU9YW5zd2Vycy5zZWFyY2hfbmwmcF9wYWdlPTE!&p_li=&p_topview=1
- The Common Application for Undergraduate College Admissions. (Jan. 19, 2010) https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/Default.aspx
- The Common Application for Undergraduate College Admissions. "All Members." Member Colleges and Universities. (Jan. 19, 2010) https://www.commonapp.org/CommonApp/Members.aspx
- University of Georgia. "2010 Application Essay Questions." University of Georgia Undergraduate Admissions. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://www.admissions.uga.edu/article/2010_application_essay_questions.html
- University of Michigan. "2010 Application for Freshman Undergraduate Admission." Office of Undergraduate Admissions. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://www.admissions.umich.edu/applying/EssayQuestions2010.pdf
- Universal College Application. "Universal College App Colleges." College Info. (Jan. 19, 2010) https://www.universalcollegeapp.com/index.cfm?ACT=Display&APP=APPONLINE&DSP=COLLEGEINFO
- University of Michigan. "Freshman Application Written Responses 2010." Office of Undergraduate Admissions. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://www.admissions.umich.edu/essay/
- University of Notre Dame. "Notre Dame Online Application and Supplementary Forms." Office of Undergraduate Admissions. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://admissions.nd.edu/admission-and-application/prospective-first-year-students/online-application
- University of Notre Dame. "Supplement to the Common Application for First Year Admission 2010." Office of Undergraduate Admissions. (Jan. 19, 2010) http://admissions.nd.edu/assets/13024/ndsupplement_201010_web.pdf
- Woolley, Mary Tipton. Email interview. Associate Director of Admissions, Georgia Institute of Technology. Jan. 21, 2010.