How to Write the American University Application Essays 2016-2017
Just northwest of downtown Washington, D.C., sits a suburban pocket of the city that is home to American University, a private research university that enrolls about 7,700 undergraduates each year. Just a fifteen-minute bus ride away from the downtown area of our nation’s capital, American University offers students the best of both worlds — a suburban campus feel with easy access to a thriving and exciting city.
Given its location, it’s no surprise that American University offers top-notch international relations training, nor that its students are typically considered some of the most politically active in the nation. But AU’s strengths go beyond its ability to leverage its location for the good of its students. As a research university, it emphasizes the stellar research opportunities that it can offer undergraduates, and in fact, it encourages all undergrads to make use of its research-related resources to pursue the projects of their dreams.
If you are looking to be one of the lucky 7,700 to join American University’s class of 2021, read on for some guidance to writing responses to AU’s two supplemental questions.
American University Application Essay Prompt
Instructions: Both short answer writing questions are optional. You may choose to submit neither, one or both. Your responses should be no longer than 100 words.
- Based on your knowledge of American University, what would it mean to you to call yourself an AU Eagle?
- Describe a time when you changed your opinion about an issue. What led you to hold this opinion in the first place and what led you to change your views?
American University’s supplemental essays are nice because they are short and sweet. 100 words is nothing more than 8 typed lines — a paragraph, if that. As such, these prompts are not the place for poetic flourishes and long-winded narratives. Instead, they require substantive, to-the-point responses that make efficient use of every word to prove that you have thought through your response and crafted it carefully.
Especially because these responses must be short, we encourage you to respond to both if you can. Though they are labeled “optional,” it comes across as lazy at best, and flippant or worse if you neglect to fill one of the very limited spaces you are provided to advocate for your own admission. On principle, you should avoid skipping any questions throughout the college admissions process.
Approach to Question 1
An effective response to this question will have two components. First, it will demonstrate that you have done your due diligence in exploring the types of opportunities that American University has to offer its students, as well as the type of community you will join if you end up attending AU. Second, it should speak to your specific interests, showcasing your ability to think creatively about how you might position yourself within the preexisting community, taking advantage of what it has to offer and adding something to their community as well.
When it comes to the first component of a great response to this question — demonstrating that you have done the legwork of reading about American University’s offerings and capabilities — a good place to start is the University’s website. Much like the “Why X School?” question, this prompt is best answered if you truly take the time to identify opportunities that are unique to American University.
If you are willing to put in the effort to do this research, writing your response should be easy. Since the word constraint leaves you limited space in which to discuss your favorite parts of the university, you need only talk about one reason why you would be proud to call yourself an AU Eagle. In fact, we suggest you limit yourself to discussing only one aspect of the school — any more, and your response will come across as chaotic and scattered rather than focused and detail-oriented.
To accomplish the second component of this question, you will need to take some time to reflect on your intellectual interests and how you might pursue them at AU, citing what you know about the college having researched it and, most importantly, explaining why you value the certain aspect you have chosen to discuss.
On one hand, this is a good opportunity to prove that you have researched the school by mentioning specific classes that you have taken the time to read about, programs that you have looked into, or professors that you would like to meet and learn from.
As you are researching, it may be helpful to know that American University is a Carnegie-classified research university, so many of the opportunities it offers that are unique to the university are research-related. If you have found pre-existing research projects that explore topics of interest to you, you should discuss those and explain why your passions marry well with those projects.
But more importantly, whatever you discuss, you must explain why that aspect of the school matters to you — in other words, what it would mean to you if, as a student at AU, you were able to take advantage of this unique resource. Ultimately, nothing you write here is set in stone, and you can choose to pursue anything you desire if you are accepted whether you mention it here or not. The purpose of this prompt is to gauge how genuinely you care about attending American University, so focus on demonstrating that when you are crafting your response.
Approach to Question 2
This question can be daunting given that it can be difficult to decide what type anecdote about changing “your opinion about an issue” is best to use here. Indeed, this prompt is fairly vague, and you may at first feel like you must discuss the most groundbreaking decision you have made in your life in order for it to be worth writing about.
But don’t let this vagueness trip you up. The best way to approach a question like this is to accept that you cannot discuss much, but you can discuss a single, meaningful aspect of your past in great detail. With that in mind, do not feel as though you must discuss a change of opinion that was extremely drastic or identity-altering. Though you should certainly discuss that type of change of opinion if it feels appropriate to you to do so, you can also feel free to talk about changes of opinion about lower-stakes things as well.
The reason why this is true is simple: the officer of the admissions committee that reads your response will likely not judge you on the content of your opinions. Rather, adcoms care about your insights — they want to hear about why you changed your mind, how it has affected you, and how your life has changed since then.
So, for example, if you wanted to write a response to this question about the time that you changed your mind about putting mustard on hot-dogs — you used to be opposed to it, and now you love it — you can do that if it will allow you to discuss a larger issue in your life.
We can imagine a scenario where this anecdote could help you to talk about any number of lessons you learned, like appreciating the value of trying new things, to keeping an open mind when taking recommendations from friends. Meanwhile, you could have a similarly meaningful conversation about the time you altered your stance on gun control laws or abortion legislation.
No matter what, you should answer this prompt by focusing on a single moment or detail from your past that sheds like on some aspect of your current worldview and describing it in detail.
You will likely be able to think of several items from your past that are good examples of times “when you changed your opinion about an issue,” and that is okay. You should begin by making a list of all of these as you brainstorm. But ultimately, you will find that the word limit here only allows for one.
Don’t let this stress you out. If you take the time to discuss one aspect of your past in detail and thoughtfully, it shouldn’t matter too much which part of your identity you decide to discuss. As you are writing your response to this prompt, remember that American University is as aware as you are that 100 words is not much space. To an admissions committee at AU, this response is more like a snapshot of your experiences than the full picture.
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