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Responding to the Chapman Supplemental Essay Prompts

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Ian Brook Fisher

Written by Ian Brook Fisheron October 24th, 2019

I began my career in admissions by walking backwards as a student intern, giving guided tours, interviewing students, and reading applications for my alma mater, Reed College. After graduating, I began full-time work in admissions, reading thousands of applications primarily from the Western United States, especially Texas, Arizona, and New Mexico. (I got to eat the best food on my travel!) In my last three years at Reed, I directed admissions for the entire continent of Asia and served as the director of marketing and communications for the admission office, honing our official voice for web, print, and social media. This helped me to develop a sharp eye for what works (and what doesn’t) in college essays. While Reed is not known (at all!) for sports, I was able to find my competitive outlet with the ultimate Frisbee team as a player and, when I graduated, a coach. After nine wonderful years at Reed, I left Portland to pursue a M.A. at the Stanford Graduate School of Education. When I graduated and joined College Coach, I was living in Palo Alto, California, an experience that helped me learn so much about the UC and CSU system and high school programs all around the Bay Area. In the end, I missed the rain too much, and moved back to Portland in the summer of 2016.
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Over the years, I’ve found it hard to articulate the response that past students have had to Chapman University in Orange, California. My brother used to live down the street from campus, and I once spent a week there for a conference, enjoying the sunny weather and brunching in their cute little downtown. It’s a beautiful campus in a part of Southern California that students don’t often consider, and it has a really strong program in film and screenwriting. It’s small but not too small; big but not too big, at just under 10,000 students. But the most striking aspect of Chapman, from where I sit, is that there are some students that go to visit and come back to proclaim that they just love it there. And how else can you explain the willingness of students to write three 200-word essays for a school that accepts more than half its students? That’s right, even though we wouldn’t call Chapman highly selective, it has a supplement that rivals many of the most selective colleges in the country in terms of total word count, if not difficulty. But the supplement isn’t without its opportunities for fun, either. Let’s take a look at the task ahead, for those who want to apply to Chapman this fall. The Why? Essays The first task for applicants is to write about your interest in the major(s) you’ve selected. Students are allowed to write two essays here, at a maximum of two hundred words each. Now, while many colleges ask about what you plan to do with a particular major, or how you plan to explore that major at their school, Chapman’s essay prompt focuses more on interest. And while you could sprinkle a little bit of Chapman detail into this essay, I think the better approach is to think about the major itself: what do you like about it, and why? What kinds of questions are you interested in answering? What aspects of the coursework will you most look forward to in the coming year? For me, students focus too often on the transactional nature of the college major when they could focus more on their drive to learn. The wording of this prompt suggests that your interest is the thing, and not just “what are you gonna do with that?” After you’ve wrapped your major essay, you’ll be asked to answer their version of the “Why this college?” essay prompt. And they’ve framed it in a way that recognizes the abundance of choice that you have as a high school senior: Out of the thousands of universities and colleges, why are you interested in attending Chapman? The short preamble to this question tells me that Chapman wants you to focus on attributes that make them different from other places you might consider. Sure, there are thousands of universities and colleges, but we’re one among them, and we’re special. Tell us why you think so. A thoughtful response to this essay will draw on research, but will focus especially on an essential aspect of Chapman that really draws you in. Diversity & Inclusion An increasing number of colleges today are asking students to write responses to essays on diversity, community, and inclusion. Depending on the formulation of the prompt, this can create a real challenge for students, especially for those who don’t personally identify with any kind of underrepresented student population. What I love about the prompts for Chapman is that their questions are less about the kind of diversity that you bring to a college campus and more about the way that you’ll work to incorporate diversity and promote an attitude of inclusion when you arrive. This fact makes these prompts approachable for all students, irrespective of background, and I would anticipate that it generates interesting and diverse responses, as well. For students who are stumped, I recommend doing some research on the Chapman website. The essay on community and diversity asks students how they might get involved in existing initiatives on campus, even providing a couple of examples. This question is impossible to answer if you don’t know what’s already happening on campus, so start digging in! Through reading and research, you’ll be able to brainstorm some ways you might be able to get involved, and you’ll also learn a good deal about existing programming at Chapman (which is, I would guess, part of their goal with the prompt). If you decide to go the route of inclusion, try and think a little more deeply than being the kind of person that looks out for others in your classes, or around your own campus. I would take the recommendation from the prompt to consider a “public figure’s message about inclusion,” so that you have a sense for the level of care and reflection that might be expected here. The Fun Ones In addition to the longer, more demanding prompts that you see above, Chapman asks students to respond to a series of short questions with less than 200 characters each. When they say “there are no right or wrong answers here,” they mean it! Go with your gut, and think about these questions as an opportunity to introduce different aspects of your personality and your interests. Try to steer clear of anything that might reflect poorly on you, and keep in mind that you don’t always need to go for the answer closest to reality. Almost everyone can answer “what do you spend too much time doing?” with “playing with my phone,” so pick something that is a little different than the norm but that still accurately reflects the kind of person you are and the way you choose to spend your time. Among all the schools and applications I have the chance to look at every year, I think Chapman is among my favorite schools for the quality of their supplements. The space provided isn’t so extensive as to be overwhelming, but they ask good, interesting questions that reflect the kind of community they’re trying to build. Enjoy learning about Chapman as you tackle these essays, and good luck with your writing! Essay-Pitfalls-CTA

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