Essay A: Your background
I have reflected on these topics for a few days and shared a few thoughts already on the new Essay B about a particular interest, hobby, or characteristic.
I offer a brief discussion of the new Essay A prompt:
“What was the environment in which you were raised? Describe your family, home, neighborhood, or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person.”
I must admit that, at first, I wasn’t crazy about any of the topics. But they are growing on me.
Before 2013, one essay prompt asked applicants to write about a person of importance. Typically, this was mother or father. We received a whole range of essays – siblings, grandparents, coaches, choir directors, girlfriends and boyfriends, fictional characters. Another prompt challenged students to write about an issue of importance. There was often overlap between an influence on someone’s life and something they found valuable. Frequently, students wrote about growing up with divorced parents, attending competitive high schools, struggling with depression, or being in the shadow of a stellar older sibling.
Another prompt challenged students to write about an issue of importance. There was often overlap between an influence on someone’s life and something they found important. Frequently, students wrote about growing up with divorced parents, attending competitive high schools, struggling with depression, or being in the shadow of a stellar older sibling.
I view this new Essay A as a fusion of previous topics offering a much wider range of possible topics. Similar to the new Essay B, applicants no longer need to carve an experience to fit within a prompt. Instead, applicants can define the prompt on their terms.
Take advantage of this powerful opportunity to be candid with reviewers. Avoid exaggeration and hyperbole. I recommend talking frankly about one or two important aspects of your upbringing. The best thing you can do is demonstrate an awareness, maturity, and an eye towards nuance. Nobodies home or school life is unconditionally good or bad, productive or destructive, enriching or constraining.
You could talk about the influence of a particular teacher or family member, share experiences about playing on a sports team, or talk about the time you were bullied on the playground in elementary school. There are a lot of creative ways to approach this topic that showcase important context that may not be found in the resume, recommendation letters, or your academic record.
Importantly, you could use this new prompt to complement either Essay B or C by connecting how your background may influence a particular hobby or characteristic or what your academic and professional interests are. I have a feeling a lot of students will underutilize this essay. It has the potential to be a very powerful component of your application.