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MAR 11, 2020 • 8 min read
University of Michigan Essay Prompts
Umich Essay 1: [same as 2017-18] If you could only do one of the activities you have listed in the Activities section of your Common Application, which one would you keep doing? Why? (150 words)
Umich Essay 2: [same as 2017-18] Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (300 words)
Umich Essay 3: [same as 2017-18] Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests? (550 words)
For this essay prompt, it is important that you choose to write about an activity that has genuine personal significance to you -- regardless of whether it has showered you in the most accolades or has been the most time intensive! You might choose the activity that has been most challenging and has pushed you out of your comfort zone; on the other hand, you could choose an activity that is comfortable and within your comfort zone, such as working in your family's shop or journaling on the bus to school.
By putting this in context of this "comfort zone" lens, you are able to show the University of Michigan an important aspect of who you are. What is the kind of activity that pushes you? Or, on the flip side, what is the sort of activity that keeps you grounded? In answering this question, you reveal an important character trait. It is crucial that you know, before writing this essay, what character trait it is that you believe is most emblematic of your personality. This will make the essay focused, which is important given you only have 150 words to express this passion!
Because there is so little space and because it is unlikely that you will write about a completely original activity (nor should you try to!), it is all the more imperative to use this prompt as a way to explain why this activity has value to you and not what the activity is. This prompt is not encouraging you to write an elevator pitch explaining why this extracurricular is the best. The prompt pushes you to think about the concrete reasons for why the extracurricular best for you in the stage that you are at in your life now.
This is an opportunity to express how a behavior (an activity) has influenced your attitude (your personal insight or worldview). When reading through the draft of your essay, ensure that it does not read the other way (how your worldview has shaped what you do). Though it is easy to turn this into a list of extrinsically-motivating awards or a resume of acquired hard skills, you should be able to write about yourself and the lessons that you have learned from the nuances of the activity. Remember, because many activities are shared amongst applicants, the originality of your essay comes from your personal insight and growth -- not the way you sell your extracurricular involvement!
Before beginning this essay, ask yourself, "What can I contribute to a new community? What do I bring to the table?". By reflecting in this way, you can put yourself in the mindset of the admissions office that will be asking themselves the same question. What can this applicant share with the University of Michigan? For many students, the issue is the focus. Because each person does in fact belong to multiple communities, some of which overlap in very powerful ways, choosing just one can be very difficult. Therefore, this essay more so than others might be more challenging -- but rewarding(!) -- during the brainstorming process.
When starting the brainstorming process, do not merely use your existing extracurricular/activity list. Start a wholly new document or page, without any of your other application materials nearby, and take your time writing out any community that comes to mind, regardless of its size, location, unity, or widespread fame. This allows for some more unrestrained thinking. For some people, these questions might be easy to answer, and the most influential community jumps off the page. If you fall into this category, express that excitement and passion in your essay! For those that find it more difficult to choose a community, you can write about a community that might not be as "formally" considered a community. You can prompt creative thinking by asking yourself what you do with your extra time, where your head wanders when you're daydreaming, or who you turn to when you have a bad day. These questions, though more abstract, can make you realize that you belong to communities of people who might not be as visible in your day to day life. You might realize that you daydream in your second language, making you belong to a community of bilinguals. You might go see your grandmother across town when you have a bad day, making you associate certain feelings with her house and neighborhood. These are all communities that you might not be exposed to in a direct sense all too frequently that can also make very powerful essays.
Though this essay will take shape in different ways for different people, it is wholly important that you do not use this essay as an opportunity to brag! You have many opportunities in your application package to show off your accomplishments, but this is not one of them. Use this essay to discuss your background, and do it in a way that allows enough focus to provide insight into how this community has shaped your character.
This is a favorite essay prompt of schools that asks "Why this major, at this school?". However, it is extraordinarily important to note that this is not an essay that can be reused across schools. There are two major pitfalls for this kind of essay. The first is that students will attempt to merely change the name of the university within one stock essay and use it to apply to several schools. Do NOT do that! The reasons you list for wanting to go to the University of Michigan should be thoughtful and based on your genuine research of the school. Using broad statements about the "thriving college town" or the size of the student body can be used to describe other places; it does not make a compelling case for why the University of Michigan, in particular, should accept you. The second pitfall is when you copy blocks of text from the university's website or promotional materials! You should not be quoting but instead synthesizing why all the information they provided is conducive to your future studies.
In this kind of essay, more detail is better! Spend that extra time doing your research. If you have friends at the school or have contacts with alums, try to get on the phone with them. Peruse the website for an hour or two to learn the requirements of the degree programs, the nuances of the school traditions, and the values that the school stands behind. Write down the names of specific professors or certain interesting classes. Try to imagine which activities groups you might join or the places on campus that you might want to visit. This kind of knowledge does not take that much time to acquire, and it might make you even more excited about applying to the University of Michigan! Application readers will be able to tell when you are expressing this kind of genuine passion and will be impressed that you take your application to the school seriously.
It is important to note that detail in the essay does not mean that you have to commit strongly to a certain degree program! If you are not quite sure exactly what you want to study, just choose a college and major that allows you flexibility; be sure to provide reason for why your indelible curiosity has motivated you to do some further exploration before settling into a major program.
This is an important essay that should make a compelling case for why you believe you will grow academically and personally from the environment that the University of Michigan can provide. Convey that passion in the 550-word space that they provide you!