The fall semester can be an exciting and stressful time for high school seniors, as college application deadlines begin in early November and continue through January and into the spring. There are two primary “common applications” which your Texas resident child should be concerned with – ApplyTexas for most Texas colleges, and the Common Application for most every other college.

If your child is like most students nationwide, they’ll probably apply to seven to ten colleges in total. If they’re applying to a combination of in-state and out-of-state institutions, they’ll likely need to complete both ApplyTexas and the Common Application. Each application system will require one substantial essay of about 650 words, and many individual colleges will require supplemental responses on top of that.

It’s Personal; Make Your College Application Essay About You.

After grades and test scores, the essays are easily the third most important part of the college application. Test scores supposedly identify whether or not students have the raw cognitive capability to excel, and school grades are supposed to demonstrate how well students have taken advantage of the classroom opportunities afforded to them.

Assuming that there’s more to a person than just test scores and books, essays are therefore the most human and intangible component of a college application; they enable students to use their own voice to fill in the rest of the picture of their candidacy.

At around 650 words each (or less), these essays require careful planning, concise writing, and thoughtful revision. Some key tips to keep in mind:

Three Basic Tips to Create a Winning Essay

  1. Market yourself. Who are you? What makes you unique? Why are you a good fit for the colleges that you’re applying to? You’ll need to make sure these themes come out in your essays.
  2. Be specific. These essays are all about you; they need to include specific examples from your life experiences. Could someone who knows you well pick your response out of a stack of 100 essays? If you take a step back and realize your essay could have been written by anyone, start rewriting.
  3. Be creative. Admissions officers are going to be reading thousands of essays in a short time span. Just as you would with an initial in-person meeting, you need to make a positive, memorable impression.

ApplyTexas Application Essays 

The ApplyTexas application is accepted by all Texas public universities and many private ones, including Southern Methodist University, Texas Christian University, and Trinity University.

Of the essay topics listed below, most students will only need to concern themselves with Topic A, which is required for those applying to UT Austin and Texas A&M. UT Dallas provides more flexibility by allowing students to choose between Topics A, B, and C.

With that being said, students should read up on each college’s application requirements to make sure they understand what they need to complete to ensure their application is considered.

Additional topics that may apply for transfer students, international students, or students pursuing particular college majors can be found on the ApplyTexas website. Again, though, Topic A will be the primary target for most applicants.

ApplyTexas Essay Topics 2020-2021

  • Topic A – Tell us your story. What unique opportunities or challenges have you experienced throughout your high school career that have shaped who you are today?
  • Topic B – Most students have an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines 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?

ApplyTexas Essay Length

Most students are accustomed to using word count to measure the length of their essays. The ApplyTexas application does things in a slightly different way: the text field for the essay in the online application stipulates that responses cannot exceed “120 eighty-character lines of text.”

Thankfully, UT Austin provides a word count requirement that makes for a helpful rule of thumb: the university asks that students keep their essay between 500 and 700 words. Students can thus aim to make their ApplyTexas essay similar in length and scope to their Common Application essay – more on that below.

Common Application

The Common Application is accepted by more than 900 colleges nationwide. Students applying to private and non-Texas institutions should do research early in the application process to confirm whether the colleges on their list accept the Common Application. For major institutions across the country, the odds are good that they do. (One notable exception is the University of California system, which has its own application.)

Most schools accepting the Common Application will require that students submit one essay in response to one of the topics listed below. This gives students a great deal more freedom than they have in writing for ApplyTexas. Of course, students will need to put extra thought and care into selecting the prompt that will best allow them to showcase their unique qualifications, interests, identities, and/or experiences.

Common Application Essay Topics 2020-2021

  1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.
  2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

Notice that the last topic choice is essentially an “anything goes” prompt. Students selecting this topic must ensure that their essay is focused and well-constructed, in spite of the lack of a provided prompt. In some ways, this makes Topic 7 the most difficult of the bunch. Students who choose to write about their own topic are encouraged to come up with a specific prompt of their own design to guide them as they write.

Common Application Essay Length

The Common Application is a little more clear-cut in its length specifications: students can submit an essay between 250 and 650 words in length. While unnecessary filler should always be avoided, students should aim to write between 500 and 650 words in order to ensure that their essays are substantive and sufficiently detailed and reflective.

College-Specific Essay Topics

ApplyTexas and Common Application are great tools because they decrease the amount of work required to apply to multiple schools. However, they don’t eliminate all of the hassle. Many colleges that accept ApplyTexas and/or Common Application will require additional written responses, or supplemental essays.

The topics usually ask students to write about why they’re a good fit for the college, but they may also address specific topics such as leadership, diversity, community, and extracurricular activities and interests. Some institutions also require major-specific written responses; Texas A&M, for instance, requires applicants to the College of Engineering to write a short answer response about their goals within the field.

Sample College-Specific Essay Topics

Rice University

  1. Please explain why you wish to study in the academic areas you selected. 150 word limit.
  2. Based upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you? 150 word limit.
  3. Rice is lauded for creating a collaborative atmosphere that enhances the quality of life for all members of our campus community. The Residential College System and undergraduate life is heavily influenced by the unique life experiences and cultural tradition each student brings. What life perspectives would you contribute to the Rice community? 500 word limit.

UT Austin (250-300 words each)

  1. Why are you interested in the major you indicated as your first-choice major?
  2. Leadership can be demonstrated in many ways. Please share how you have demonstrated leadership in either your school, job, community, and/or within your family responsibilities.
  3. Please share how you believe your experiences, perspectives, and/or talents have shaped your ability to contribute to and enrich the learning environment at UT Austin, both in and out of the classroom.

University of Michigan

  1. Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.
  2. Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?

Stanford (100-250 words each)

  1. The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning.
  2. Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—get to know you better.
  3. Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?

General Academic can help students with their college essays from start to finish, including brainstorming, outlining, drafting, and editing. Contact us to get started today.