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Tackling the Brandeis Supplemental Essays

Jennifer Simons

Written by Jennifer Simonson October 13th, 2020

My interest in the college application process stems from my own experience navigating the college process mostly by myself, albeit with supportive but hands-off parents. I was fascinated by trying to understand how colleges know how many students to accept and why. My first job in admissions at Barnard College allowed me to supervise joint programs with the Jewish Theological Seminary and the Manhattan School of Music, while also running the tour guide programs and traveling throughout the American Midwest. In my subsequent role as Associate Director of Admissions at Connecticut College, I ran the Transfer and Return to College Program for non-traditional students. It was at Connecticut College where I got my first taste of international recruitment. Subsequently, I served as the Director of International Recruitment for ten years at Tufts University, where my focus was Asia. One of the highlights of that time was leading a three-week recruitment tour for 30 admissions officers across India. One of the aspects I loved about admissions, specifically international admissions, where there is a great deal of joint and team travel, is that you learn so much about other colleges and universities, and you realize that colleges are not competitors per se but rather institutions in search of the right student, just as students are searching for the right college. I moved from Tufts to take on the Director of Recruitment position at Northeastern University, an institution I admired from across the Charles River for a long while. And in the midst of all of this, I served as a college counselor at the Ramaz School in Manhattan for a few years, and that is why I am adamant about students fostering a positive relationship with their school counselor as they navigate this process.
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by Jennifer Simons, former admissions officer at Tufts University This is the third in College Coach’s series of posts covering university-specific supplemental essays. Last week, we shared guidance on answering the CU Boulder admissions essay and the University of Delaware’s test optional supplemental essays. Stay tuned throughout October as we highlight additional prompts for Scripps College and Lehigh University. If you’re applying to Brandeis University, you’ll encounter this request in the application: Please include a short response to one of the three prompts below (250 words or fewer).
  • Why would you like to attend Brandeis?
  • Justice Brandeis once said, “If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.” Tell us about something bold that you’ve recently done.
  • There are approximately 171, 476 words in the English dictionary. Pick your favorite word and tell us why you picked it.
When tasked with writing this post about Brandeis University’s required supplemental essays, I contemplated a bit and then decided to go straight to the source. That’s how I found myself at a delicious, socially distant outdoor lunch with Brandeis’ very own Director of Admissions, Rebecca Simons (no relation).  And, by the way, if you attend college in the Boston area, you too can enjoy a multitude of delicious lunches, on and off campus. My initial question to Director Simons about the supplement was, why does Brandeis incorporate their “why us” question as one of the three choices, rather than making it a required stand-alone prompt?  Rebecca was candid, “We want to read something additional from the students, something indicative of their personalities, but we didn’t want to make them do the extra work of answering two additional questions. We kept it simple.” She knew what I was going to ask next and answered it before I even asked, “There’s no advantage to answering one question over the others,” she told me. “Early Decision applicants do tend to respond to the first question with a little more frequency but while that might make sense, it doesn’t give them an advantage. For all students, your application to Brandeis is a sign to us that you can see yourself on our campus. If you want to tell us exactly why we are a good fit, feel free to answer the ‘why Brandeis’ question but your visits to our website, participation in virtual tours and information sessions and finally, your application, are all signs that you understand what Brandeis is about and how you will fit in here.” Rebecca told me that the Brandeis team works over the summer to come up with the questions they want students to answer, and they feel that it is important for students to have options. “We wanted a question that students could have fun with, hence ‘the word question,’ and another that reflects both Brandeis’ legacy and commitment to social justice and how it exists as an interest of our students. That’s how we came up with ‘the bold question.’” This is not to say that the short answer for the ‘bold’ essay needs to be about social justice, although students, take note of beginning of the prompt about “guiding by the light of reason.” How will your bold action impact others in positive ways? And, although you can have fun with it, the ‘word’ prompt might instead generate a serious response. Your favorite word might be Fluffernutter or it might be forgive; the choice is yours. There are no shoulds or musts in answering the supplements, other than to make sure that the response reflects your own voice and, in the case of the “why Brandeis” question, your genuine interest in this particular university. A successful response to the “why Brandeis” prompt reflects why you want to attend, in a way that allows the reader to know that you are one hundred percent writing about this incredible university in Waltham and not any other university. Along those lines, Rebecca mentioned that students should always check their spelling of Brandeis’ name, as spell check can take the “i before e” rule too seriously sometimes.  I thought that was advice worth sharing. As with all college essays, the successful ones are those where the reader can hear your voice, and in this case, perhaps picture you, having a sandwich with Director Simons on a beautiful autumn day in Massachusetts. Image Credit: Top, Courtesy of "Brandeis University sign" by  Kenneth C. Zirkel, used under CC BY-SA / Cropped from original Avoiding the Pitfalls of College Essay Writing


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