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How To Write The Emory University Supplemental Essays (2020-2021)

Welcome to the Emory University supplemental essay prompts for the 2020-2021 application cycle! Here’s everything you need to know.

(You can refer to the Emory University website if you want to see how exactly they’re presenting their essay prompts for this year.)

In addition to your Personal Statement, please answer two (2) of the prompts below. Choose one prompt from the “Reflections” category and one prompt from the “Tell us about you” category. (Max. 150 words each)

Reflections Category: Respond to one of the following.

1. Share about a time when you questioned something that you believed to be true.

This one has the potential to be pretty heavy. Good luck discussing the meaning of life in such a short response. Remember that my advice is always to think small, so although questions of religion or politics might seem like obvious potential subject matter here, I wouldn’t recommend them in most cases.

On the other hand, the moment you learned the Easter Bunny wasn’t real—while it may be a cute story—probably isn’t a great choice either because it’s a more-or-less universal experience for anyone who grew up celebrating Easter with egg hunts. I know you weren’t going to write about the Easter Bunny, but the same advice holds true of any kind of revelation that for many people is just part of growing up (babies coming from storks, and so on).

If you’re looking for inspiration you might check out this segment of a great This American Life episode on “Kid Logic.” You’ll find entertaining examples of simple, quirky stories about learning that something you believed was wrong.


2. If you could go back in time, what advice would you offer yourself at the beginning of secondary/high school?

One of the key considerations here is avoiding lamenting over your mistakes. Especially in short essays, it’s easy to get caught up in the first part of your response and not leave enough words for the rest. In this case, that’s likely to mean you extensively describe what you regret about your high school career.

The second aspect to this essay is recognizing that giving your old self advice is another way of showing what you’ve learned. This essay is not an attempt to change history, it is a way to demonstrate your reflectivity and what you’ve learned to prepare yourself for college. Instead of describing how you should have tried out for the soccer team a year earlier or taken a different class, think of more general facets–how you allocated your time, when and how you took initiative, what you prioritized, and other concepts that will translate to your four years of college.

3. Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.

This essay prompt (and others like it) is one of the biggest traps in college essay writing. Most students reading this will think back about that one time they went to a cultural event or engaged with someone from a different background. Your response to this, though, should steer clear of the typistandard conclusion that this single act means you “appreciate diversity.” An effective response here will go beyond and discuss a more refined notion of the journey that is learning about another’s culture. It’s a challenging prompt, but an effective essay that maturely discusses what culture encompasses will demonstrate intellectual vitality and capability to be a very successful future leader.

“Tell us about you” Category: Respond to one of the following.

1. Which book, character, song, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) represents you, and why?

I like these questions. One of the great things about literature is how deeply personal the experience of reading can be for so many people in so many different ways. Books, and the characters in them, can say a great deal about who we are, and sometimes they even help us define ourselves.

As always, when you’re asked about books, don’t talk about required high school reading. And keep in mind that your choice, while it may hold a deeply personal significance for you, will also evoke ideas in your reader. So, Holden Caulfield—regardless of what he means to you—is probably a bad choice, both because everyone has read The Catcher in the Rye by the time they graduate high school, and because no one wants Holden on campus. Same rules apply to Raskolnikov, Jay Gatsby, Macbeth, Meursault, Michael Corleone, Scarlett O’Hara, and so on.

If you’ve already written something rather literary for the personal statement, you probably don’t want to answer this question. As with any essay choice, don’t repeat yourself. Supplemental essays help you show yourself as a three-dimensional human being, and while it’s true that pointy is good when it comes to your activities list, essays are about your personality.

My students will have to persuade me that writing about a song is a good idea, unless it’s a truly improbable and interesting choice. Songs tend to be a little like Zodiac signs—they’re so broad and general as to describe just about anyone.

2. If you could witness a historic event first-hand, what would it be, and why?

This question will work best for students who are genuinely interested in history. Don’t say the signing of the Declaration of Independence just because you think that sounds sophisticated.

The event you choose should either be linked to a genuine academic curiosity, or else hold some other personal significance. Make sure you’re clear on why this event. Tie it to your personal (academic) story.

3. Introduce yourself to your first-year Emory University roommate.

This essay is a fun one to write, but another place to be careful about losing focus. Don’t just write about your taste in music, the sports you like to play, and your room decor. Remember that all college application essays are about presenting yourself as someone the reader wants on campus.

Great responses to this essay will creatively tie together something a roommate might legitimately be interested to know and things about you that will impress the reader. Your guitar playing might be both a hobby and a technique you use to explore history, jamming out through songs from across decades. Or your habit of staying up late might be an opportunity to mention your other life as an amateur astronomer, staring at the sky through a telescope your parents bought you. Regardless of the topic, make sure to portray yourself as someone who would be a genuinely good roommate. Suggesting that you might force your new acquaintance into 6 AM yoga with you every morning won’t make you any friends.

As always, college consultants are here to help. Don’t hesitate to reach out.

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