After just short of ten years, the Apply Texas prompts changed, all three of them. And that meant some new, interesting, and sort of funky prompts, the funkiest of which is the new Topic C.
Topic C looks like this: “You've got a ticket in your hand - Where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there?”
And many high schoolers reacted like this:
Fear not, we have some ideas to get you started. To begin, brainstorm a list of stuff you need tickets for. Come up with at least FIFTEEN ideas. Why fifteen? Because we want you to move past the stuff everyone else is going to write about. Yes, you need a ticket for a plane to the Bahamas. I can only imagine how many vacation essays the UT Admissions Office is going to read this year… keep thinking.
And thinking. Are you at fifteen yet? Good. See if you can come up with three more (How does that saying go? If it doesn’t challenge you…?). :)
Ok, so you have your list. Think about your most honest answer to the questions in the prompt. Where is it you would go? If, after brainstorming, it truly is the Bahamas, so be it. But beyond that answer is a why question -- why would you go there? What is it you would gain from the experience? How will your life be different after that experience? It's the depth inherent in your choice that's interesting (meaning what your choice says about who you are rather than where it is you will go).
So, next to each answer for where you will go with your hypothetical ticket, write down a few words about why you would go there, and think about what your choice says about you. Then, here’s the trick, move the essay forward. That same big idea about why you would go there? Think about how that idea will influence your life in the future. Where else will that idea take you in the proverbial journey of life?
This isn’t an essay about where you want to go, it’s an essay about who you are.
I fall asleep most every night reading articles about admissions trends, cognitive psychology, goal-setting… I eat this stuff up.
But I also read things that make my stomach turn. Some of these nausea-inducing pieces come from others in the business of college admission counseling, and some of it comes from well-meaning parents who have heard bad information from other parents—things like their child needs to be “branding” themselves in order to look good to colleges, or test-prep ought to start in ninth grade, or the higher “ranked” a college is the better it must be. It makes me want to scream, “Stop the madness!”
College admission planning is stressful for students and parents. This is the most scrutiny (whether real or perceived) many students will have undergone thus far in their lives. There’s adolescent (and sometimes parental) ego at stake, hinged on the idea of getting in or being denied. It’s also an incredibly expensive proposition, one where understanding actual costs is nearly impossible up front. There are acronyms to decipher (SAT, ACT, AP, FAFSA, CLEP, IB), classes to choose, leadership skills to cultivate, tests to prep for, colleges to research… If all that worry is left unbridled, it can lead to poor decisions that adversely affect the student. Decisions like turning your child into a “brand” or spending thousands prepping for a PSAT test in tenth grade that doesn’t even count for national merit (and national merit doesn’t necessarily live up to it’s reputation for being a golden goose, anyway!).
Stop the madness! There is such thing as too much test prep (or starting test prep too early), your high-schooler does not need a “brand”, and the Ivies are not the only colleges worthy of effusive fanfare.
I believe in purposeful planning, using accurate information. This has the effect of bringing the stress inherent in this process down a level. My students have plans for when they will start test prep and they understand why they are taking the tests at the times allocated. These are things any student can create for himself or herself. I also believe we best serve students when we help them find authenticity as opposed to a synthetic identity manufactured to get them in to college, as if getting in were the end goal (it’s not). Teenagers are in the midst of discovering themselves. Let’s not stifle that process by inserting an idea of what “looks good” to an admissions committee into the mix.
Instead, let’s help them understand the pursuit of knowledge is more valuable than a weighted GPA or class rank. Let’s protect them from unnecessary and premature stress by allowing test prep to start when it’s an appropriate time. Let’s do the best by our kids by teaching them to be themselves, giving them tools to discover what that means, and challenging them to do so with intrinsic motivation.
For my students and me that means engaging in goal-setting and aligning select activities with those goals. It means looking at a broad range of colleges, including some you might not have heard about before (You’re interested in research and you want a scholarship? Skip Cornell and try Rhodes). It means fostering authentic interests and pursuing them relentlessly. (If you are a student of mine, you have probably heard me tell you to pursue two or three activities 100 miles per hour with your hair on fire).
I am passionate about what I do because I believe so strongly in the power of higher education. It’s the opportunity to unlock not only doors to a future career, but doors to a more liberated mind and better life. But students have to be taught to value it as such, and when we teach them to brand themselves, pursue a grade instead of an understanding of a subject, or place their self worth in the prestige of their admissions decisions, we are teaching the wrong values.
We are a full-service academic advising and college planning team. We started up shop in 2013 because we are passionate about helping students pursue opportunities for elite higher education. Need help? Want to know more? (972) 755-9507