How to Write Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s 2016-2017 Essays
Founded nearly 200 years ago in 1824, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is the United States’ first technological research university. The school was founded on the principle that science should be brought into everyday life, and this principle remains relevant to the school even to this day. RPI is well-known for its top-ranked engineering program, which holds a spot among the top 40 in the United States according to U.S. News Rankings.
With such top-notch academics, the acceptance rate for Rensselaer Polytechnic sits at a competitive 38%. The lucky and talented students accepted to Rensselaer have the privilege of not just stellar schooling but also a beautiful campus in Troy, N.Y.
RPI is an ideal school for nature lovers, as the school overlooks the bustling and famous Hudson River. The school also lies close to three natural landmarks: Grafton Lakes State Park, Lake George, and the Adirondack Mountains. Talk about beautiful scenery! And if you’re more into the urban life, New York’s capital of Albany lies just under 10 miles away — a short trip.
So what does it take to get into Rensselaer? A competitive application, an attractive applicant profile, and a bit of luck. The essay is one place you can positively shape your applicant profile through an effective presentation of your personality and identity. We here at CollegeVine are here to guide you through writing an essay for RPI that will maximize your chances of acceptance.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Application Essay Prompts
This year, Rensselaer Polytechnic’s question(s) are as follows:
For All Applicants
Why are you interested in Rensselaer? (100 words or less)
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.
(*The programs that require a specific essay, along with the essay topics, may be found below.)
Accelerated Programs (Law/Medical):
State your reasons for aspiring to a career in law or medicine.
State your reasons for choosing architecture as your profession.
Discuss your interests in the field of electronic arts and state how this is reflected in your portfolio.
Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences:
State your reasons for choosing the field of games and simulation arts and sciences, making reference to your portfolio if one has been submitted.
Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication (EMAC):
State your reasons for choosing the field of Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication, making reference to your portfolio if one has been submitted.
All Other Programs:
If you are not applying to a program listed above, the essay that you complete as a part of your application is all that we require.
The first section lists two questions that are required of all applicants. The first of these required questions follows the general question “Why this school?”; the second question asks you to describe an activity or work experience that is important to you. The rest of the essays are contingent upon which program you choose to apply to and follow the same general question: “Why X major?” For this reason, we will provide you with a single guide on how to answer any type of “Why this major?” prompt RPI’s different program departments require.
Without further ado, we’ve outlined the steps below to effectively complete the two required questions and then the program essays as a whole. You may notice that we’ve numbered each question in the first section with its corresponding steps for your convenience. Let’s begin!
Section 1: Required Essays
OVERVIEW #1: The first thing you should note is that the “Why X school?” prompt has a very brief word limit of 100 words for the essay. This means that you should be concise, specific, and clear about your reasons for wanting to attend RPI — no rambling! The adcoms are primarily looking for genuine and clear reasons for your interest.
STEP 1: Since this is your basic “Why X school?” essay, you will need to know exactly why you want to attend Rensselaer Polytechnic specifically. Write out a list of all the reasons — regardless of how applicable they sound for this essay — for why you want to attend RPI.
STEP 2: Now that you’ve compiled a list of all your reasons, you may find that you have some very generic or general points written down. Remember that thousands of students will be applying to Rensselaer this year and may say the exact same thing you’re saying. For this reason, the goal is to sound very memorable, specific, and as interested in the school as possible (even if the school is not anywhere near your top choice).
It’s a smart idea to conduct some research on the institute (whether online, by contacting friends at the school, etc.) so that you can bolster your points and show more specific reasons why you want to attend it. For example, if you would like to design video games for a living, you may have written that you want to attend the school because it has a good Electronic Arts program. However, simply acknowledging that Rensselaer has a strong CS program is too general, and it will likely fail to set you apart from other applicants.
Upon conducting research, you may discover that Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is well known for its annual GameFest showcase in which students share the computer games they have developed. You can then weave this specific detail into your essay and use it as an opportunity to discuss your passions, setting yourself apart from less dedicated applicants in the process. However, be careful when incorporating your research into your essay. You don’t want your essay to sound like a recitation of facts that you simply looked up online.
Weave the information naturally into your essay, and choose materials that are important and specific but not too abstract. All in all, you should still sound genuine when writing your essay. It shouldn’t sound as if your essay was completely written based on your research; it should sound as if your genuine passions and interest in the school are merely supported by either prior knowledge of the school or some simple research.
STEP 3: Now that you know how to handle the unique components of this essay, you can now properly finalize your ideas and compose your essay. These steps are similar for both of RPI’s types of essay questions, so we’ve outlined how to do these steps for any Rensselaer essay at the bottom of this post, titled “Finalizing Ideas” and “Composing Your Essay.”
OVERVIEW #2: The first thing you should notice is that this essay prompt does not have a word limit. However, since the question specifically asks you to “briefly” describe an activity or work experience, you should keep your essay on the shorter side and be as concise but informative as possible.
It may be a good idea to write an essay ranging from about 200-300 words, since 150 words is generally reserved for short answers on the Common App and the average essay length is about 500 words. Of course, this 200-300 word suggestion is not a set limit; see where your writing takes you, and try not to stray too long or too short.
STEP 1: In order to properly handle this essay, it is essential to first conduct some brainstorming. What kinds of extracurricular activities have you participated in during the past few years? What kinds of work experience have you gained? What are your favorite hobbies and memorable experiences to which you’ve dedicated your time?
Write down anything and everything that comes to mind to compile a complete list. You may choose to work on your list over the course of a few days so that you can write down any activities/jobs that escaped you when you first sat down to brainstorm. As new ideas come to you in the next few days, remember to jot those activities/work experiences down for reference.
STEP 2: Now that you have your brainstorming list completed, it’s time to cut down your list until you find the one activity/work experience that you would most like to write about for this prompt. Which activities/jobs mattered most to you? Which ones made you grow the most as an individual and applicant? Which ones have you been involved in very deeply, and how long have you been involved in each activity/job?
Consider questions such as these when narrowing down your brainstorming list. It may be hard picking between the final two ideas, and if this is the case, you may try writing short sample essays or outlines for each topic to decide which topic you ultimately like better. If you have even more time on your hands, you may simply choose to write essays for both topics and then choose the better essay of your two to finalize and edit.
STEP 3: With your essay topic finalized, you have officially handled the unique components of this essay and are now ready to move on to composing your essay. This step is similar for all of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute essay questions, so we’ve outlined some tips and advice for composing any RPI essay at the bottom of this post; take a look at the final section titled “Composing Your Essay” for specific advice.
Section 2: Program Essays
OVERVIEW: The first thing you should note is that the program essay prompts do not have a word limit. With no set length for your composition, you should aim for the general length of a standard essay: about 500 words. It is acceptable to stray slightly over and under this rule-of-thumb length — 250 words minimum and 650 words maximum. In most cases, however, essays closer to 500 or 650 words tend to be more complete.
STEP 1: These essays are all basic “Why X major?” essays, so you will need to know exactly why you want to attend your program of interest. Write out a list of all the reasons — regardless of how applicable they sound for this essay — for why you want to attend RPI’s program.
What specifically led to your unique interest in the field? What do you like so much about it? How will Rensselaer’s program fulfill your goals and interests? You might create two brainstorming lists for the program essay: one to address how you were led to your unique interest in the field and another to address how the program would satisfy your interest and spur your growth.
STEP 2: Once you’ve compiled a list of all your reasons, you may find that you have some very generic or general points written down. Keep in mind that thousands of students will be applying to Rensselaer Polytechnic’s different programs this year! The other applicants may say the exact same thing you’re saying about the program you’re interested in. For this reason, the goal in this essay is for you to sound very memorable, specific, and as interested in both the field and school as possible.
When it comes to your interest in the field, think of all the unique experiences, memories, and exposures you’ve had to the field at hand. Try to set yourself apart from other applicants with what you’ve seen, witnessed, or felt.
As for the school program itself, it’s a smart idea to conduct some research on RPI’s different programs (try the Internet, friends who attend the school, pamphlets about the school, etc.) so that you can provide more specific reasons why you want to enroll in this program. You can then weave this specific detail into your essay and use it as an opportunity to discuss your passions.
However, be careful when incorporating your research into your essay: You don’t want your essay to sound like a recitation of facts that you simply looked up online. For reasons stated above, be sure to avoid sounding overly specific or artificial when incorporating your research into your essay.
STEP 3: Now that you know how to handle the unique components of this essay, you can learn how to properly finalize ideas and compose your essay. These steps are similar for both of Rensselaer’s types of essay questions, so we’ve outlined how to do these steps for any RPI essay just below here; they are titled “Finalizing Ideas” and “Composing Your Essay.”
Having conducted research, it is now time for you to decide what from your brainstormed list you will include in your actual essay. If you find that your list is sparse or you’re unsure if the information you’ve collected could make a good essay, think creatively and determine if there is some imaginative way you could present your essay to include the response you jotted down (unless this response is inappropriate material for any college submission).
For example, if your main reason for wanting to attend the electronic art program is that you’ve heard it’s a great program from your best friend, you could turn this ostensibly weak motivation into a compelling essay about how Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s art program attracts a certain breed of interesting, intellectually curious people; mention that you crave the stimulation that studying in such an environment would provide.
You could also opt instead to conduct further research on the school and, through that, discover something new to add to your essay. If you find that your list is very long, then it’s time to cut out some of your points.
You may choose to cut something out for many reasons, including but not limited to the following:
- The reason you listed is not very significant to you personally.
- The reason you listed is still too general.
- The reason you listed isn’t related to the other reasons you’d like to put in your essay and will thus be too hard to tie in smoothly.
Composing Your Essay
Finalize your decision on what points to include in your essay. You may choose to start off with a short outline of the ideas you will present and in what order. Once you have gathered and organized your points, you may begin to write!
Remember to apply your creativity and ensure that your tone, diction, and content coalesce into a clear voice. Start with an interesting grabber. You may do this in many ways, including startling readers with an unexpected statement, writing a seemingly random anecdotal statement that then ties in with the contents of your essay, or posing a rhetorical question for readers to ponder. Then fill in the body of your essay with your brainstormed reasons.
Wrap up your essay and end in a satisfyingly final and memorable way. You can conclude your essay effectively by reiterating something you discussed in your first paragraph (your hook/grabber statement would be perfect for this, too), or maybe try writing a thought-provoking statement that will leave adcoms thinking.
As you can see, there are many ways you can approach the beginning and the end! Once you are done, read through the essay multiple times yourself for edits. Have teachers, parents, and mentors aid you in your essay editing as well.
That wasn’t too bad, was it? Now, it’s time to conduct some research and get started. We at CollegeVine highly recommend that you do not procrastinate! Every word and idea counts when you’re committing yourself to applying to a college, and RPI is no exception.
We hope this Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute guide will help you write an essay (or essays) that you’re truly confident in submitting to admissions readers. In the meantime, you may consider visiting Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s campus to check out the area and even get some inspiration. We wish you all the best in your writing endeavors!
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