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Writing the Scripps College Supplemental Essays

Ian Brook Fisher

Written by Ian Brook Fisheron October 15th, 2020

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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by Ian Fisher, former admissions officer at Reed College This is the fourth in College Coach’s series of posts covering university-specific supplemental essays. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve shared guidance on answering the Brandeis supplemental essay, the CU Boulder admissions essay and the University of Delaware’s test optional supplemental essays. Stay tuned for our last installment for Lehigh University. Scripps College is really cool. It’s a women’s college nestled in Claremont, California, and a member of a five-college consortium, along with Claremont McKenna, Harvey Mudd, Pitzer, and Pomona. Scripps has maybe the most beautiful campus among the five, with striking Mediterranean architecture and Spanish tile. For women, or those who identify as women, there is really nowhere like Scripps anywhere on the West Coast. Serious applicants to Scripps would do well to research these and other unique qualities of Scripss before they begin to tackle the college’s required supplemental essays. The first of two essays on the Scripps application asks, “Why have you chosen to apply to Scripps College?” Now, there are occasions where students can borrow language from other “Why this college?” essays to refashion an essay for a new institution. What you might write for Georgia Tech may not be all that different from what you write for Northwestern, and you might borrow a few tidbits from BU to write your Purdue supplement, but it’s quite rare that a school is going to have enough overlap with Scripps that you can repurpose an essay for “Why Scripps?” The best option, especially for this essay of just 200 words, is to start from scratch. As you consider the elements of the Scripps experience that you’d like to highlight, think of the way it is different from its nearest peers. Among the Claremont schools? It’s a college for women. Among liberal arts colleges? It’s a part of a consortium. Among other women’s colleges? It’s on the West Coast. If you can identify the distinctive features of Scripps and then apply those features to your own values, interests, and priorities, you’ll be able to write a successful essay. Here at the Insider Blog, we’ve written about “Why this college?” essays on more than one occasion, so have a look at some of our other posts if you’re having trouble getting started. The second Scripps task is to choose one prompt from among three options, all of which are really interesting:
  1. If you could trade lives with someone (fictional or real) for a day, who would it be and why?
  2. You’ve invented a time machine! When and where is your first destination and why?
  3. You have just been invited to give a TED talk. What will you talk about and why did you select that topic?
When it comes to choosing from among these topics, I don’t think you can go wrong by trusting your gut. Which of these are you most drawn to? There’s truly no right or wrong choice here—just choices that give you more or less of an opportunity to shine. I’m personally drawn to option B because I like considering the possibilities of having a time machine at my fingertips, but you might have a particular passion you’d like to share through a TED talk, or a set of figures you admire whose shoes you’d like to fill. Trust yourself to make a choice that suits your interests, and then commit yourself to it for the 300 words you’re allowed. Creative essay prompts are among my favorite because they give wide latitude to the student to be able to share who they are. You’re not boxed in by research or convention here; the only limits on the topic will be set by your imagination. But with that said, I think you can consider the essay to be successfully written if it checks each of three boxes. First, your answer should be interesting in short form. If you had to answer any of these prompts with only one sentence, or even just one phrase, would it be interesting? “Moon landing” is a little conventional; “Michelle Obama” would be a common response among many politically engaged high school students. Can your answer make the reader interested in reading on? Does it inspire their curiosity in hearing what you have to say? You should choose an initial answer that gives you space to be original. Note here that you’re able to choose a fictional character if you’d like, or someone you know personally. For the time travel question, you can choose a moment from your life that isn’t a part of history, and you can even go forward in time. And your TED talk doesn’t have to be academic; among your friends, what are you the expert in? Contouring? Woodworking? Buffy trivia? Get creative! The second task for this essay is to address the “why?” You’ll notice that two of the options end in “why?” and the third doesn’t only because of a choice about sentence structure. It is the “why?” that will justify the answer you’ve chosen and help your reader to better understand how you process information. You can give us some window into your creative process or your method of intellectual thought, but only if you explore deeply. (One tip here: please avoid the sentence structure that reads, “I would like to _______ because ________.” You can dress up your language with a little more engagement than that.) Your final task is to connect the answer to yourself. Choosing an answer and giving a reason can get you so far, but when those two ideas work together successfully, you’re helping the reader to learn more you. I think the TED talk prompt is the easiest for reflecting back on who you are because it’s the only one that is at least partially constrained by what you already know. Give us a sense for why you have that particular area of expertise, and you’ll be in great shape. With time travel and trading lives, a student might very well choose a great answer and give a good reason, but without connecting it back to who they are, their essay would be missing something. Yes, it would be cool to be present at the signing of the Declaration of Independence because it was the moment our country was born. But why do you care about that? Why, of all the moments, have you chosen this one to experience in person? Lean into your interests and your priorities, and use your essay to help your reader understand them better. What I appreciate so deeply about essay supplements is that they give us a window into what the school cares about. With Scripps, we get a sense that they want to be sure that applicants know what they’re getting into—with the “Why Scripps?” essay—but that they also want to send a message that you can take creative risks at Scripps, as long as you can back them up with reasoning that comes from the mind or the heart. So take a risk, enjoy it, and make sure to bring your whole self to both essays. Image Credit: Top, Courtesy of “Scripps College for Women-9” by Lure Photography, used under CC BY-SA / Cropped from original Avoiding the Pitfalls of College Essay Writing


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