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Responding to the University of Maryland Essay Questions

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Abigail Anderson

Written by Abigail Andersonon October 19th, 2018

I joined College Coach after working in independent school and college admissions. At the collegiate level, I evaluated thousands of applications and managed more than 20 student workers and 200 alumni interview volunteers. I recruited in, and read applications for, multiple domestic and international recruitment territories, including all of New England and the Mid-Atlantic, Europe, and the Americas. I also worked with and evaluated transfer applicants. Committed to increasing college access and demystifying the college application process, I collaborated with colleagues across institutions to develop free, accessible programming for high school juniors wanting to jumpstart the application process and improve their essay skills. My passion has always aligned with working directly with high school students; I started my career in admissions at a highly-selective all-girls’ boarding school. While there, I recruited students throughout New England, the Mid-Atlantic, and California. I oversaw multicultural and first-generation student recruitment, participated in both admission and financial aid committees, and assisted in residence hall management.
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The University of Maryland is one of the five colleges and universities that accepts only the Coalition Application. And while they require a student to upload a response to one of the five Coalition Application essay prompts, UMD also ask students to reply to five additional, or “supplemental,” fill-in-the-blank questions as well. These additional questions read: To tell us more about yourself, please complete the following sentences using only the space provided (maximum 160 characters each).
  • If I could travel anywhere, I would go to...
  • The most interesting fact I ever learned from research was...
  • In addition to my major, my academic interests include...
  • My favorite thing about last Wednesday was...
  • Something you might not know about me is...
At first glance, these questions seem a bit “all over the place.” But when approaching your supplemental essay writing, I encourage you to do a bit of sleuthing and critical thinking first. For example, go read the mission statement, as well as about the application process of the school in question. Many of these documents might look the same, but they will guide you to the key factors and values a college identifies as important to them, thus allowing you to better demonstrate your “fit.” From these two sources, the University of Maryland essay questions start to make a little more sense. I was particularly struck by these phrases:
  • “Applicants…will enrich and benefit from the campus learning environment and the entire student body.”
  • “Our students are smart, involved, curious, and innovative.”
  • “While [grades and SAT scores] are important, we also want to know about your interests and background and what makes you unique.”
  • “The University educates students and advances knowledge in areas of importance to the State, the nation, and the world.”
In reflecting on each of these phrases, I see that Maryland is asking a student to reflect in their answers on the ways UMD’s own values show up in their life. Are you curious? Will you contribute to/benefit from campus life? Do you exhibit a life of the mind? Are you committed to bettering the community (local, national, international) around you? What are your interests? My advice for tackling these questions is:
  1. Think strategically about how you can reflect UMD’s own values back to them in your answers.
  2. Don’t be overly strategic to the point where your answers sound disingenuous or made up just for your application. UMD makes it very clear that their application review process is holistic and they are simply trying to learn more about their applicants. Your answers should sound (reasonably) like a 17-year-old.
So maybe your favorite thing about last Wednesday was the meme a friend posted to Snapchat, but perhaps focus instead on the way that meme sparked your curiosity and led you to a news article about a current event or area of interest. You can absolutely strike the balance between honesty and demonstrating the qualities that an admissions officer is looking for in a successful UMD applicant. Essay-Pitfalls-CTA

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