How to write BYU Provo’s 2016-2017 Essays
Founded in 1875, Brigham Young University – Provo is the flagship school of the BYU system. Established with the intention of educating members of the Church of Latter Day Saints and preparing them for success, BYU Provo tends to draw many applicants from religious backgrounds.
In fact, 99% percent of the student population identifies as Mormon, demonstrating the strong influence of religion on this campus. Religion permeates most aspects of BYU life, from academics to day-to-day life; the latter is expected to follow the guidelines listed in BYU’s LDS teachings-inspired Honor Code.
However, despite the influence of religion on this campus, you do not necessarily need to be a member of the LDS church to attend BYU. Potential applicants only need to be endorsed by an ecclesiastical leader in order to be eligible for admission.
BYU Provo also has the distinction of being the nation’s largest religious university, and with a student population of 29,672 on-campus students, it is the third largest university in the United States. Although BYU attracts students from across the country and beyond, it tends to be particularly attractive to in-state students; approximately one third of the student population at BYU Provo hails from Utah.
In addition to cultivating a rich religious identity, BYU also offers fantastic academic opportunities. BYU Provo is comprised of 11 colleges, each specializing in different areas: education; engineering and technology; family, home, and social sciences; fine arts and communications; humanities; law; life sciences; business management; nursing; physical and mathematical sciences; and religious education.
Cummatively, these colleges offer 194 bachelor’s degree programs. Keep in mind that each school may have different application requirements, and that it is important to check the guidelines for the specific BYU Provo college you choose to apply to.
However, the general BYU application provides applicants with the opportunity to answer one brief short answer question in 100 words, in addition to three short essays in 250 words. These questions apply to all BYU applicants, regardless of what school they are applying to. In this blog post, we’ll break down the BYU essay questions and give you the insights, tips, and tricks you need to wow BYU admissions officers and help make your application stand out.
“List and describe (in 100 words) up to five of your most meaningful and significant activities, awards, and/or experiences you have had since beginning high school.”
Let’s start with the short answer question. In this part of the application, you are allowed to highlight some of your most important high school accomplishments. Because the word limit is rather restrictive — you have approximately 20 words per item — it is important that you are succinct, but still communicate your accomplishments effectively.
The first step is to identify which activities, awards, or experiences you want to list. When deciding, you should think about which activities will help you distinguish yourself. Remember, BYU received approximately 13,408 applicants in the last admissions cycle, so you want to stand out. For instance, listing an award that many other applicants in the pool have also earned is unlikely to significantly benefit your chance of admission.
In addition, it is important to consider BYU’s identity as an LDS school. While you do not have to be a member of the LDS church in order to be accepted (BYU states that “non-LDS applicants will only be required to meet with one of the following: an LDS bishop, branch president, or mission president”) it can be extremely beneficial to highlight your connections to the LDS church, if you have them.
Additionally, you should keep in mind BYU’s admissions criteria. BYU evaluates students based on their “seminary attendance, service, leadership, personal essays, individual talents, creativity, AP/IB courses taken, unique or special circumstances, and other factors showing a student’s ability to strengthen the BYU community”. You’ll notice that many of these qualities can be directly demonstrated through your extracurricular activities and other high school experiences.
For instance, BYU appreciates applicants who have demonstrated a commitment to service. If you have spent your high school career engaging in meaningful community service, you should certainly prioritize this activity when listing out your relevant experiences. Or, if you were the president of your school’s French Club, you should emphasize your strong leadership abilities and background to impress admissions officers who are looking for student leaders.
Finally, consider the types of activities and awards current BYU students have applied with. 96.6% of successful applicants were four-year seminary graduates; 84.2% received Duty to God or Young Women Recognition; 82.2% were employed during high school; 78.3% were involved in the performing arts; 71.1% participated in high school sports.
While it is not wholly necessary that you match this profile perfectly, it is helpful to know what has impressed admissions officers in the past and to highlight these kinds of awards and activities in your own application. Keep in mind, however, that you should still try to distinguish yourself even when describing experiences that are more typical of the applicant pool. For instance, if you were involved with your high school’s track and field team and earned the position of captain, you should emphasize your leadership position in order to give yourself more of an edge.
“What is one of the most difficult things you have ever done or experienced? What did you learn from it?”
This essay has a 250 word limit, so as always, it is important to be concise and get your message across as clearly and effectively as possible.
This essay question can, initially, seem a little difficult to tackle because it is so broad. There is some ambiguity in the language; BYU uses the word “thing” as opposed to directly naming a type of difficulty, and allows students to elaborate on things that they have either “done or experienced”, leaving the door wide open for interpretation.
However, there’s no need to balk at this question. In actuality, the relative ambiguity of the prompt just means that you have all the more room to be creative and truly help the BYU admissions officers understand you on a deeper level. In many ways, how you chose to attack this question says a lot about you as an individual and as an applicant.
The most straightforward way to approach this essay would be to talk about a tangible challenge you have had to address. This could be a difficulty you had in school, in your community, or in your personal life. These kinds of challenges could range from family tragedies to academic setbacks to extracurricular obstacles.
A more subtle, but still effective way to answer this question is to think about a moral or ethical dilemma you have faced. While not as obvious of a choice for this essay, this can still be extremely powerful, because at its core, this question seeks to help BYU understand how you tackle problems and how you grow from those experiences.
No matter what kind of challenge or problem you choose to discuss, the focus should not be on describing the problem itself. Rather, the majority of your essay should revolve around your particular approach to this challenge and, most importantly, what you have learned as a result. BYU admissions officers want to see that not only can you handle challenges, but that you welcome them and indeed grow from them.
There are some caveats to keep in mind when answering this question. If you do decide to focus on a personal challenge, you want to ensure that this is not a challenge that may cast doubt on your ability to succeed at BYU. For this reason, it can be safer to choose a problem that has long since been resolved and no longer affects you.
Additionally, be wary of coming across as unnecessarily lamentful. It can be dangerous if your essay bears the tone of “woe is me”. Although the essay is about a difficulty, it should still be positive. Remember, you should focus on 1) your problem solving abilities and 2) your growth in the face of difficulties. These are inherently positive subjects, so as long as your essay is centered around these two angles, you should be in the clear.
“Given the choice, which CES school would you most like to attend, and why? Please be specific.”
This question is relatively straightforward, in that it is essentially a “why major” essay. In these types of essays, passion is key. You need to convey your deep interest in a given field, or in this case, BYU school.
The first step is to identify which school you are planning to apply to, which is simple enough. In this stage, you do not need to have identified a specific major within that school, but if you already have an idea of what you intend to study it can be helpful to include.
This part of your essay should be relatively brief. The bulk of the content needs to be oriented around why that specific school is perfect for you as a student, and more subtly, why you would be a valuable contributor to that school.
As BYU stipulates in the prompt itself, specificity is key. The easiest way to convey passion is to identify key, direct reasons why you are choosing that particular school. For instance, if you are intending to pursue law, you can talk about how your early interest in law started when you watched a particularly fascinating trial early on in life.
Then, you should connect it back to your high school extracurricular career and show BYU admissions officers how your passion for a given field has impacted your secondary studies. Continuing with our law example, perhaps you participated in Mock Trial to gain trial experience, and helped lead the Model UN team to improve your public speaking skills.
Beyond highlighting extracurricular activities that help convey your commitment to a discipline, it is also helpful to point to your academic record. For instance, if you are applying to BYU’s physical sciences school, you should highlight the fact that you have chosen to take all of your school’s honors and AP physical science courses. This is particularly effective as it not only demonstrates your strong interest in the field, but also shows admissions officers that you can be successful in that specific subject as well.
That being said, you shouldn’t simply rehash your extracurricular and academic accomplishments in this essay. Remember that these aspects are already explored in other sections of your application. This essay should be centered around your passion for a field, and while citing examples can help demonstrate this, you should make sure that this essay is personal to you and reveals important information about who you are as a person. Bring in relevant anecdotes, past experiences, and personal characteristics to show admissions officers why you are a perfect fit for a given BYU school.
“Tell us anything else you want us to know about yourself that you haven’t had the opportunity to describe elsewhere in the application. Include any special circumstances, experiences, talents, skills, etc. that you think would have a positive impact on the Admission Committee.”
If you thought that the first essay question was daunting in its breadth, this prompt may seem unthinkably difficult! However, this is just another opportunity to help admissions officers get to know you on a deeper level. The wide scope of the prompt is actually helpful, as it allows you to focus on any subject that 1) demonstrates who you as an individual and 2) adds a new dimension to your application.
With that in mind, you should focus on elucidating something that is otherwise absent from your application. If you choose to write about an experience, it should not be one of the experiences you listed in the short answer question; if you choose to write about a special circumstances, it should not be connected to the challenge you described in the second essay. You get the picture: this essay is supposed to bring something new to the table.
That being said, there aren’t many limits as to what you can write about. The only wrong answers here are things that would detract from your overall application or place you in a negative light, such as mentioning drug or alcohol abuse. Apart from these obviously poor choices, anything is fair game.
There are few ways you can really take advantage of this prompt. For one thing, because it is so open ended, this is fantastic opportunity to help distinguish yourself from the rest of the applicant pool. It is helpful to focus on something that is memorable and unique to you, so that you stand out in the minds of admissions officers. Discussing a quirky skill, unique talent, or another distinguishing attribute or experience is one way to go about this.
This essay can also provide a forum through which you can explain any gaps in your application, or answer any questions that may be lingering admissions officers’ minds. For instance, if a significant personal circumstance impacted your application — and this was not the circumstance you described in Essay Two — this would be a good time to elaborate on that. Bear in mind, however, that the essay should still end on a positive note and leave no doubt that you are fully capable of succeeding at BYU, should you be accepted.
With these tips and tricks in mind, you are ready to begin writing essays that are sure to impress BYU admissions officers. Best of luck from the CollegeVine team!
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