How to Write the Barnard College Essays 2019-2020

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Barnard College is located on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, just across the street from Columbia University. This women’s college was founded in 1889 when Columbia refused to admit women. Since then, it has flourished as one of the premier women’s colleges in America. Barnard offers a traditional liberal arts curriculum to its 2,600 students and has a very competitive acceptance rate of 11.3%. 

 

Barnard requires four supplemental essays for all applicants, plus additional essays for applicants to the HEOP Scholars Program, Science Pathways Scholars Program, and Arts Program. Read on to learn how to tackle this year’s prompts! Want to know your chances at Barnard? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

How to Write the Barnard College Essays

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (250 words)

Think of the activity in which you’ve shown the most commitment, or the one that has shaped you the most. Is there an activity that has equipped you with new skills, strengthened your personality traits, or changed your perspective? Activities like these tend to be the best subjects for your essay.

 

If you already elaborated upon the activity to which you’re most dedicated in your Common App essay, pick the “next best” activity. You want to make sure you’re sharing different aspects of your personality. You should also avoid activities that “look good” on a resume, but you don’t have a strong passion for, as this will show in your essay. 

 

A strong extracurricular essay is not about your achievements, as those can be learned about via your activities list. Instead, a strong extracurricular essay is about two things: your state of mind in the moment you participate in an activity, and how that activity has helped you develop skills and positive personality traits. This can be achieved by either a deep dive into an anecdote that prioritizes in-the-moment reflection, or a reflection interspersed with at least one anecdote. 

 

For in-the-moment reflection, you can take the reader to a specific experience that stands out in the arc of your extracurricular. Maybe it was auditioning for the lead role of a play for the first time and the nervous excitement you felt. You can also choose to narrate something more mundane but equally important, such as your daily soccer practice and the thoughts in your head as you dribble. 

 

The vital thing to remember is to incorporate reflection into your writing, not just to tell a story. It’s easy to get caught up in the details of your anecdote without showing how the extracurricular shaped you. Let us know what skills you’ve developed because of the activity, what personality traits have been strengthened, and whether the activity impacts the way you live other parts of your life.

 

If you don’t want your anecdote to span the entire essay, you can take the route of reflection interspersed with one anecdote. In this case, the opening of your essay might take us to a specific moment as you do your activity, which can be 20-30% of the essay, but the rest should be devoted to how the activity impacted you.

Who in your life is depending on you? What are they depending on you for? (250 words)

You may not have entered the so-called “real world” of postgrad life, but there are already people who depend on you to meet their needs, big and small. Applicants often choose a family member, friend, or teammate as the subject of this essay, but remember that you can pick a more creative focus too; your garden, the ingredients you cook withbasically anything is fair game as long as the topic reveals more about who you are, and the subject isn’t too far of a stretch.

 

To get started, describe why and how this person/thing depends on you. Maybe you support your family financially by working at the local grocery store. Maybe your volleyball teammates depend on you to organize bonding events. Maybe you tutor a classmate in math and help boost their confidence. Maybe the vegetables in your garden depend on you to be watered and cared for.

 

If you have responsibilities for someone that exceed what is required of your typical American high school student, be sure to use this space to discuss that dynamic in your essay. For example, if you have a child or financially support another family member, this is the place to describe that relationship.

 

Even though you are writing about someone/something that depends on you, make sure the focus of your essay is still you. Show us your responsibilities and how this relationship has shaped who you are. 

What factors influenced your decision to apply to Barnard College and why do you think the College would be a good match for you? (100-250 words)

You want to consider a few factors when crafting your response to this prompt. 

 

First, identify what you are looking to get out of college in general. What excites you about embarking on this journey?

 

Next, think about what Barnard does best. You may want to do some research on the school, including scouring the school website and making a visit if it’s possible.

 

Write about the intersection of what you want and what Barnard has to offer. Be as specific and enthusiastic as you can. You can include the names of professors, courses, clubs, or programs on campus to show admissions officers that this school has what you need to fulfill your dreams. 

Maybe you’re a prospective psychology major who wants to one day work as a lawyer. You could mention the Forensic Psychology course, which explores the role of psychology in legal situations. In the class, you would cover relevant questions such as: What is the risk of a violent offender repeating the offense? What kinds of information influence juries? This class fuses two of your passions, and would help prepare you for your career in law.

 

Or, maybe you’re passionate about arts education and want to join Meet Me At the Museum, a group dedicated to providing educational museum tours to elementary school students. Be sure to mention at least one extracurricular aspect of Barnard, along with at least one academic one. Attending college is not just about what you do in the classroom, but also how you engage with the campus and broader community!

Pick one woman in history or fiction to converse with for an hour and explain your choice. What would you talk about? (100-250 words)

It’s time to get creative! The sky is the limit when it comes to answering questions like this one. The more personal and unique your answer is, the better.

 

While you can choose absolutely anyone, we recommend selecting a figure about whom you know a good deal and consider a role model. Many applicants might choose Michelle Obama, Sheryl Sandberg, or JK Rowling even though they don’t really relate to them. Their stories are so widely discussed as to feel like common knowledge, but you want to come across as someone with a deeper understanding of whomever you select. 

 

A better example might be someone like Greta Thunberg, a Swedish teen climate change activist. Maybe you, too, are an environmentalist, and you admire Thunberg’s staunch dedication. You might ask her about her transatlantic sailboat crossing and how she recommends talking about climate change with others. Remember that you can also pick a fictional character. Maybe you would like to sit down with Aibileen, one of the main characters in The Help. You might ask her whether writing has helped her find closure in her son’s death and the harsh reality she faced as a Black woman in the sixties. You would discuss with her the current state of race relations in the U.S. and hear about how things have changed, or not.

 

What’s most interesting about this essay is not who you pick as much as why you pick her. You can and should give a brief summary (50-100 words) of who she is and what she’s done (especially if she’s lesser-known), but most of your essay should focus on the hypothetical conversation (150-200 words). What questions would you ask her? What would you tell her? How do you think the two of you would get along, and why? Use this essay to reveal more of your interests and the qualities you admire in others.

 

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Applicants to the HEOP Scholars Program

Describe the impact that an academic or personal challenge had on you during high school. How did you overcome the challenge? What sources of support did you utilize along the way? (100-250 words)

This scholarship exists to help students who have not had the same privileges as others excel in a college setting. The brief essay helps admissions officers figure out who will benefit most from this gift. In the few words you have, you want to write an essay that shows you can overcome major challenges.

 

With that in mind, we recommend writing about a pretty significant setback you have faced. A lot of students don’t feel comfortable writing about challenges they have faced. They think it’s too personal.

 

While it is always your call what to put in an essay, we encourage students to be as vulnerable as they can be for this prompt. Unless you show the admissions officers what you have overcome, they have no way of knowing how you’ll react to challenges in the future.

 

As you write about a particular challenge you have faced, be sure to emphasize the ways in which you have overcome it. For that reason, be sure to pick a past challenge rather than something you are working through currently.

 

Focus on what you did to resolve the issue. By the end of the essay, your readers should feel as though you have succeeded even though the odds were stacked against you.

Applicants to the Science Pathways Scholars Program for Underrepresented Minority and First-Generation Students

Please outline your interest in pursuing science and scientific research. You may reflect on your past experiences, discuss your role models, or describe your educational and career goals. (350 words)

If science is your passion, the committee for the Science Pathways Scholars Program wants to know it. This essay offers you the opportunity to explain what drives your scientific curiosity directly to the people who decide whether to grant you the scholarship.

 

When you first read the prompt, you may notice that it’s really broad. It asks for information about past experiences, role models, future goals, basically an outline of everything that makes you want to pursue science.

 

The good news is that you DO NOT have to address each of those areas in your essay. They have provided a list to give you ideas, but the question you really want to focus on is, “Why does pursuing science matter to you?” Feel free to use any anecdote that speaks to that core question, even if it doesn’t fall neatly into the categories given by the prompt.

 

Since most people learn best by stories, it’s a good idea to think of one or two turning points in your pursuit of science so far. Maybe learning about someone else’s work made you want to follow in their footsteps. Perhaps you made your own exciting discovery in a science class.

 

Try to remember one or two of the defining moments in your relationship with science, and portray it in your essay. From there, go on to explain the reasons why that defining moment sparked or deepened your love of science.

 

“Passionate” is the best tone for this essay. After you write your essay, give it to a trusted friend or mentor and ask, “Does this essay make it sound like I really want to study science?” If the answer is a resounding yes, then you are spot-on.

Applicants to the Arts Program

Optional: Artist’s Statement—Briefly address your choice of medium, influences, themes, or approaches you feel would help us in understanding the sample you have submitted.

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