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A Few Thoughts on the Emory University Essay Prompts

Kennon Dick

Written by Kennon Dickon October 31st, 2019

I started my career as an admissions counselor for Johnson State College. Soon after that, I served as associate director at Drexel University, where I was also the athletic liaison between the admissions office and coaches. In addition, I spent a few years at Drexel working with transfer students, reviewing applications, and developing articulation agreements with area colleges. Moving to Swarthmore College, I served for eight years as an associate dean of admissions and again as the athletics liaison. My years at Swarthmore in what I call hyper-selective admissions is where I gained much of the experience I use to help me guide students in putting together the strongest application possible.
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Over time, I have had a number of students struggle with writing their responses to the Emory University supplemental essay prompts, and this year they seem to be equally, if not more perplexing.  The difficulty of writing something really illuminating in 150 words or less makes it even more challenging, and having multiple prompts to choose from doesn’t seem to mitigate student’s stress very much. Let’s look at the “reflections” questions first. Emory asks you to choose just one of these and reply in 150 words or fewer.
  • Share about something you want to bring from your community to the Emory University community.
  • Share about a time when you questioned something that you believed to be true.
  • Emory University’s shield is a crossed torch and trumpet representing the light of learning and the proclamation of knowledge. It symbolizes our mission to impact the world through discovery. What truth or knowledge do you want to see shared?
I think the key for the reflection questions is to pick a topic that is easy to explain and, in itself, tells the reader something specific about you. The prompts seem to revolve around the idea of truth and revealing something that you hold dear. I know this sounds strange, but when I was conducting interviews and had a good rapport with a student, I would sometimes ask the question, “What can I say to you right now that would automatically make you angry?” I know, I know it’s a weird question, but the reason I asked it, was that the answer to that question indicated a value that was near and dear to that student’s heart.  Something they clung to so dearly, that to poke at it elicits a strong reaction. Whatever your answer to that question is, that response may be a good topic to start with and explore for this set of prompts. Now let’s look at the “tell us about you” prompts. Like the previous essay prompts, you’ll choose just one and write up to 150 words.
  • Which book, character, song, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) represents you, and why?
  • If you could witness a historic event first-hand, what would it be, and why?
  • If asked to write a 150-word tweet to tell the world who you are, what would you say?
These questions are harder to define and I think they were selected for that reason. These prompts give you much more flexibility to say something about you that you think is important for the reader to know. The prompts range from works that you identify with, to things you are really curious about in history, to simply and directly: Tell us what you want to say about yourself. This gives the writer a lot of flexibility to communicate a range of things about themselves that they deem important. Personally, I would probably pick the “book, character, song, or piece of work” option. When I was a freshman in college, I was reading The Heart of Darkness for an English class assignment. There on page 76 was the line, “We live as we dream – alone.” For whatever reason that line really struck me and I spent all night thinking about it. What struck me was the idea that, no matter how well we know someone and how attuned we think we are to their experiences and thoughts, we can never know what it’s like to be inside their mind. That the accumulation of their thoughts, values, experiences, perspectives etc., make them absolutely unique and that we, in turn, are also unique and to some degree inaccessible to them.  That was thirty years ago and I still think about it and how it applies to relationships. What’s your line? What’s your cool or inspiring experience? When were you at your best? Have an answer in your mind? Now start writing… Essay-Pitfalls-CTA


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