How to Write the Colgate University Essays 2020-2021

Colgate is a private, liberal arts university in central New York state, about four hours north of Manhattan. Although Colgate was founded by baptists, today the school has no religious affiliation. Roughly 3,000 students attend Colgate, nearly all of them undergraduates, as the only graduate program offered is a Master of Arts in Teaching.

 

In 2020, US News ranked Colgate the 17th best liberal arts college in the country. Recently, Colgate’s acceptance rate has been around 25%, with the middle 50% of SAT scores falling between 1370-1500, and 31-34 for the ACT.

 

Want to know your chances at Colgate? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Want to learn what Colgate will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Colgate needs to know. 

 

Colgate University Supplemental Essay Prompts

 

**Note that these prompts will not appear on your Common App. They will only be available to you through Colgate’s application portal after you submit your Common App.**

Optional for All Applicants

 

Prompt 1: A great institution is diverse. It brings students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and religions to campus. Colgate recognizes this. So it exposes students to a rich variety of perspectives and backgrounds in their educational and social experiences. Tell us in 150-200 words how you have prepared to immerse yourself in a community such as this or how you look forward to growing as a result of your experience at Colgate. (150-200 words)

 

Prompt 2: Colgate cultivates a skilled and engaged student body. Through their achievements, our students reflect the University’s  reputation as a great place to pursue one’s academic interests. Tell us in 150-200 words about an academic or personal experience that  highlights your skill and potential as a Colgate student. (150-200 words)

 

Prompt 3: The academic community at Colgate is shaped by the unique talents, character, and personality of each student. Please finish each sentence in 75 characters or less so we can learn more about you.  (75 characters)

 

I am fascinated by…

I want to learn all I can about…

My favorite book is…

My role model is…

In the future, I hope to …

One thing I would change is…

I wish…

I am most challenged by…

In 5 years, I…

Overview

 

Although Colgate’s prompts are optional, we highly encourage you to respond to all three. Here’s why:

 

  • The nature of college applications is that you have very limited space to show admissions officers who you are. You should take advantage of every possible opportunity to share something about yourself.

 

  • The admissions officers will know you have spent extra time and energy on your application, which shows that your interest in their school is genuine.

Prompt 1

A great institution is diverse. It brings students of different socioeconomic backgrounds, races, ethnicities, and religions to campus. Colgate recognizes this. So it exposes students to a rich variety of perspectives and backgrounds in their educational and social experiences. Tell us in 150-200 words how you have prepared to immerse yourself in a community such as this or how you look forward to growing as a result of your experience at Colgate. (150-200 words)

Right away, this prompt tells you what it’s looking for: a story about what makes you diverse. Oftentimes, applicants think “diversity” refers only to race, ethnicity, or sexuality. While you can certainly write about any of those topics, there are many other aspects of your identity that can make you unique. Here are some examples to get you thinking:

 

  • Living in a bilingual home
  • Having an unusual pet
  • Being an excellent cake decorator

 

If you’re having trouble brainstorming, think about how your friends would describe you to someone you’ve never met. These kinds of questions can help you identify what makes you stand out:

 

  • What do others find memorable about you? 
  • What do you tell a lot of stories about? 
  • What do you share during icebreaker activities?

 

Once you have selected your topic, think of some experiences that show how this aspect of your identity makes you different from your peers. You want the examples to be strong, as you’ll only have space to write about one or two. Ideally, you should go beyond obvious differences and show your reader how this attribute has shaped your personality and worldview.

 

For instance, say you have an unusual pet: a macaw. Below, we’ll provide a strong and weak example using this topic.

 

Weak: “It was the first day of school and everyone was expected to introduce themselves and tell the class about one of their pets. I told the class I had a macaw named Kiwi. Almost everyone else in my class had a cat or dog. While a few people had fish, my pet, being an exotic bird, was very different from the pets of my peers. 

 

Once I said I had a macaw, everyone wanted to see pictures of him. Everyone’s interest in my macaw made me appreciate just how unusual my pet was.

 

At Colgate, I will be a part of a diverse community. In this community, I will immerse myself by appreciating everyone’s differences or “unusual pets”. I know that I will be able to learn and grow from the diversity I will experience at Colgate.”

 

Strong: “I was home alone on a sunny afternoon in mid-July. Well, not really alone, since my macaw, Kiwi, was perched in his cage—watching me.

 

Unlike the macaws you see in movies, Kiwi did not incessantly repeat the phrases he heard. Instead, he just sat in his cage, observing my every move. 

 

Just as I had come to accept that Kiwi would never be the “repeats-everything-you-say” kind of macaw, I heard the phone ring. Before I could even stand up, Kiwi said “Hello, who is this?”

 

I was shocked. It turns out Kiwi was not only observing my behavior, but learning from it. Kiwi’s intelligence and observational learning style have not only taught me patience, but empathy. I’ve come to realize that intelligence encompasses both what you learn and how you learn it. I now not only accept, but celebrate the different learning styles of others. 

 

My experience with Kiwi has inspired me to explore new methods of learning. Colgate’s diverse community would enable me to continue my exploration of different learning styles. Through conversations with my peers and class experiences, I will be able to not only foster my own intelligence, but learn and grow from the intelligence of others.”

 

The main difference between these two approaches is that the second focuses on how this part of your identity has shaped who you are as a person, while the first focuses only on an external difference between you and your classmates: they have cats and dogs, and you have a macaw. 

While the applicant in the first example attempts to connect their experience to life at Colgate, saying that they will “appreciate everyone’s differences” is a generic response that could be written by any applicant. By contrast, the applicant in the second response delves deeper, showing what they learned about themselves that will enable them to have a greater appreciation for others’ differences. 

 

Remember, Colgate wants to visualize how you will fit into their diverse campus community. Your essay should show how your own experiences have prepared you to engage with people who are different from you.

Prompt 2

Colgate cultivates a skilled and engaged student body. Through their achievements, our students reflect the University’s reputation as a great place to pursue one’s academic interests. Tell us in 150-200 words about an academic or personal experience that highlights your skill and potential as a Colgate student. (150-200 words)

This prompt, although focused on academics, is not asking about your major. Rather, it is asking more generally: What are you like as a student? Thus, your response should focus more on your academic “skill and potential,” aka learning style and curiosity, rather than your interest in one particular field.

 

As you brainstorm potential experiences to write about, ask yourself leading questions in order to identify what will best illustrate who you are in the classroom. For example:

 

  • What have been your favorite assignments in high school? If there was a project or paper that you particularly enjoyed, it likely brought out the best in you as a student.

 

  • What topics have you most enjoyed learning about? Go deeper than just “physics” or “American history.” Think more about units or even days. Refine these broad topics to “magnetic fields” or “the Gettysburg Address.”

 

  • What qualities do you want to show the admissions committee? Think about what your strengths are as a student, and which experiences best showcase them. These strengths should be more specific than just “I work hard,” since everyone applying to Colgate is a hard worker. You should be thinking more along the lines of: “I’m a hands-on learner, so I do well in classes like chemistry that have an immersive component.”

 

Next, use the experience you select to show the admissions officers what you’re like as a student. 

 

Let’s say you decide to discuss an English project where you were required to write an alternate ending to Romeo and Juliet. You might begin by describing how intimidated you were by revising one of the greatest plays of all time. Once you started brainstorming, however, you realized that you had never liked the fact that they both die in the end. You think it would be more tragic if they survived, but weren’t able to be together.

 

Running with that idea, you wrote about Romeo sneaking back into Verona to rescue Juliet, only to find she had given up on being with him and had married somebody else. You ended up getting so invested in the project that you not only drew illustrations, but even put some sections in iambic pentameter to imitate Shakespeare himself.

 

This story shows your reader that you are creative, up for a challenge, and able to go above and beyond the requirements of an assignment. Through your essay, the admissions officers will be able to get a strong sense of how you would fit into Colgate’s community.

 

There are two main things you want to avoid doing in your response:

 

  • Don’t tell. As was just mentioned, the strength of the previous example is that the story illustrates your strengths so well that your reader can draw the necessary conclusions without you telling them. If you just told your reader that you are creative and like to be challenged, they would have no way of affirming that your statement is actually true. 

 

  • Don’t talk about your grade. This essay should be about the process of learning, not the result. Remember that Colgate will also be receiving your transcript, so you don’t need to prove anything about your GPA.

 

Finally, the prompt does say you can write about a “personal experience” instead of an academic one. If you choose to take this approach, be sure that the experience you choose still concretely illustrates what you’re like as a student, even though it didn’t happen in a classroom.

 

For example, you could write about how you have been keeping a garden with your parents since you were little. Each year, your family has kept a journal of what you planted, the day it was planted, and when the first harvest came. For as long as you can remember, you have also been personally in charge of watering the plants each morning and checking them for slugs.

 

Although this isn’t an academic experience, it still shows a lot about your learning style. Your reader will see that you are responsible, detail-oriented, and able to commit to projects long-term. 

 

Writing about a non-academic experience can absolutely be effective, and will certainly make your essay stand out, but it can be harder to do successfully. If you’re confident in your topic and are a strong writer, go for it. But if you’re feeling uncertain, we encourage you to write about an academic experience, as it is much better to write a conventional, strong response than an unconventional, weak one.

Prompt 3

The academic community at Colgate is shaped by the unique talents, character, and personality of each student. Please finish each sentence in 75 characters or less so we can learn more about you.  (75 characters each)

I am fascinated by…

I want to learn all I can about…

My favorite book is…

My role model is…

In the future, I hope to …

One thing I would change is…

I wish…

I am most challenged by…

These tweet-like questions can be both a blessing and a curse. Each sentence starter allows you to tell the admissions committee a lot about yourself, but there is very little space to elaborate. As you figure out what you want to say, be honest in your responses and be thoughtful with how you use your limited word count.

 

Also remember that there’s no need to repeat the beginning of the sentence. You already have limited characters, so instead of writing “I wish” again, just dive right into what you wish to do.

 

Here are short breakdowns of how to approach each prompt.

I am fascinated by…

Be mindful that your response isn’t redundant with what you say elsewhere in your application. If you have already said you want to major in anthropology, you don’t want to use this sentence starter to repeat your interest in that same subject. Instead, use this opportunity to share new information.

 

You can, however, use this as an opportunity to elaborate on your academic interest. Instead of just saying “I am fascinated by anthropology,” you could say something like “I am fascinated by the migration of humans from Asia to North America.”

 

Your response also doesn’t have to be academic; if there is something you are fascinated by that hasn’t come up elsewhere in your application, share it here! This could be anything: how fish swim and sleep simultaneously; the impact of the 3-point shot on the NBA; the acoustics of concert halls; etc. So long as your fascination is genuine, it’s fair game.

I want to learn all I can about…

If this feels somewhat redundant with the question you just answered, that’s because it is very similar. However, for this prompt the lens is slightly different: being fascinated by something doesn’t necessarily mean you know anything about it yet, while wanting to learn more about something implies you already know at least a little bit about it. We suggest using your response to this prompt to share a hobby or passion that doesn’t already come across on your transcript or in your activities list.

 

For example, if you’re passionate about film, you could complete the sentence with “Quentin Tarantino’s filmography.” Or if you like astronomy, but listed biology instead of physics as your intended major, you could say “parallel universe theories.” Use this as an opportunity to round out some aspect of your application that you currently feel is lacking.

My favorite book is…

Here, the most important thing is to be honest. If you hated Pride and Prejudice, don’t say it’s your favorite book just because it’s famous. On the other hand, many people have a lot of books they like, and picking just one can be hard. We recommend choosing one that illustrates a particular quality you want to share with the admissions committee.

 

For example, if you like fashion, you could say “The Devil Wears Prada.” Or, if you love to cook, you could say “Mastering the Art of French Cooking.” Alternatively, if you do have a clear, all-time favorite book, don’t overthink it! Share that one!

 

We do recommend, however, that you avoid common books, even if one of them is genuinely your favorite. There will probably be a lot of applicants who say Harry Potter or A Game of Thrones, for example, and, although these are great books, you want your answer to stand out. 

 

As mentioned above, also be careful about choosing one of the classics, even if it’s one you genuinely love. Since you don’t have a lot of space to elaborate, and some applicants will likely choose a famous book just because it’s famous, it may be hard for the committee to tell whether or not you are being sincere.

My role model is…

As with the book question, you want to be honest, while also choosing a person that reveals something important about you. 

 

For example, you might be impressed by Michael Phelps’ athletic achievements. However, if you don’t know anything about who he is as a person, then you shouldn’t list him here as your role model. The person you choose should be someone whom you attempt to emulate in your own life.

 

For instance, perhaps you admire a local artist for their interdisciplinary work in environmental advocacy, as it shows you that art can be used as a vehicle for change. Or maybe, you admire a teacher who always notices when her students are feeling down, and you aspire to be just as empathetic as an educator. You may not have space to explain all the reasons you admire this figure, but be sure to provide some context, especially if the person is not well-known.

 

As with most supplemental questions, there is no one right answer. However, there are a few things we suggest you avoid:

 

  • Cliches. There will probably be thousands of applications that say “my dad,” and you don’t want your answer to blend in with all of these.

 

  • Politics. The people reading your application are complete strangers, and just because you view someone as a political hero doesn’t mean your admissions officer will.

In the future, I hope to

This may be an intimidating question, as you likely have no idea what you will be doing even one year after college, never mind far in the future. Remember that you aren’t committing yourself to anything here. Even if your plans are up in the air, which is totally fine, you probably still have some things you hope to do, so share one of them here!

 

Start with a more general goal, and then take it to the next level. Say you love traveling and marine life. Instead of saying “I hope to travel and study marine life,” say “I hope to travel to the Galapagos Islands to study sea cucumbers.” This added specificity to a more general will give your reader a better sense of what motivates your desire to travel, and what kinds of things you hope to see in the world. Just saying you hope to travel doesn’t tell them anything about who you are, as a lot of people have that desire.

 

If you wish to respond with your career goals, be sure to do so in a more personal way. Every profession is full of people with diverse personalities and experiences, so saying that you want to be a doctor, or a writer, doesn’t tell your reader anything about what makes you unique from all the other doctors and writers out there. Instead of writing “I hope to be a doctor,” say “I hope to be a doctor that gives back to the underserved communities I came from.”

 

Here are some other strong examples: 

 

In the future, I hope to…

 

  • Start a community garden and host multicultural cooking nights.
  • Engineer more carbon-efficient commercial flights.
  • Run a marathon as a testament of my strength after overcoming obesity.
  • Curate a collection of essays on the Muslim-American experience.

One thing I would change is…

Even though this is still a short response, you may want to do some brainstorming to figure out exactly what you want to say. In this case, the ideas that come to mind first might actually make weaker responses than other less obvious options. Here are some examples to of topics to avoid:

 

 

  • Politics. Regardless of your political affiliation, there are probably policies you would like to change. As mentioned above, however, you don’t know whether or not your reader will agree with you, and you don’t want to unintentionally offend any admissions officers.

 

  • Things overly specific to your own life. Of course, many of the things you first think of will be things that impact your everyday life: perhaps you would change the layout of your school’s parking lot, or move your favorite restaurant into your neighborhood. These things won’t mean anything to your reader though, and don’t reveal much about you.

 

  • Personal preferences. Perhaps you hated the ending of Game of Thrones, and would like to change it so that Daenerys ends up on the throne. Or you wish the 49ers, not the Chiefs, had won the last Super Bowl. These kinds of changes also don’t tell your reader anything about you, only your opinion on one particular topic.

 

  • Coronavirus. We would all love to make the pandemic disappear—that isn’t unique to you.

 

Instead, you want to think about changes that show your reader how you view the world. At the same time, your answer should reveal something about you, and why this particular change is so important to you.

 

For example, perhaps you are passionate about environmental work. You might initially be thinking of saying something like “One thing I would change is the United States’ reliance on fossil fuels.” However, although this response identifies an important issue in the world, it is also quite broad and doesn’t say anything about how this change would impact your own life.

 

Instead, you could say something like “One thing I would change is the lack of education about recycling in my local public schools.” This response still shows your reader that you are passionate about green energy, while also illustrating that passion using a tangible, personal example. Grounding your response with an example proves that you are genuinely passionate about this issue, and have spent time thinking about how it affects your community.

 

Here are some other examples of responses that tie a broader issue to your own life:

 

One thing I would change is…

 

  • The price of tickets to Broadway shows, to make the arts more accessible.
  • The low number of female basketball coaches in my city.
  • The distance between my town and the nearest public library.

 

Your answer also doesn’t have to be serious. If you feel comfortable thinking outside the box or even putting some humor in your answer, these super short responses can be a great place to get creative.

 

Here are some more unconventional responses:

 

One thing I would change is…

 

  • My inability to parallel park.
  • How hard it is for me to follow the puck during hockey games.
  • The way I constantly confuse Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio.

 

These kinds of responses can be a great way to catch your reader’s eye, and to change up the seriousness of the rest of your application. If you take this approach, however, be careful that you aren’t just expressing a personal preference. Your answer should still tell your reader something about you, even if that something is lighthearted.

I wish…

The brainstorming you did for the previous prompt may help you come up with a response here as well. The ideas to avoid from above apply here as well, and we also discourage you from using cliches. World peace is something everyone would wish for, so that doesn’t tell your reader anything personal. Same goes for wanting to be a millionaire or winning the lottery, which are too broad and will make you seem shallow.

 

So long as the wish you share does illustrate something about your identity and values, there is no singular “right approach” to take here. 

 

You might say “I wish I could watch the UN Security Council at work.” Or, you could say “I wish that scientists could figure out how to make the moon habitable.” You can even include some more lighthearted wishes. Maybe you wish that you weren’t lactose intolerant so you could eat all the cheese pizza you want. 

 

The most important factor here is expressing your authentic goals or personality. 

I am most challenged by…

College applications are generally focused on your strengths, not weaknesses. Since this prompt requires a shift in focus, give yourself some time to brainstorm what you want to say.

 

As you brainstorm, there are a couple of questions that can be helpful:

 

  • What experiences have been hard for you? These can be in school, an extracurricular, or your social life. Even though you aren’t actually going to write about any of them, coming up with a list may help you identify similarities in what made these experiences difficult for you.

 

  • What do you struggle with? We all have things we wish we were better at. Perhaps you don’t do well in big groups of people, or you hate having to work right up until a deadline. If you think more deeply about your weaknesses, you may realize the underlying reason these things are hard for you: for example, perhaps you don’t like big groups because it’s hard for you to have meaningful conversations.

 

We hope these questions help you figure out what you would like to say. In terms of your actual response, the only real requirement is that it’s authentic. For instance, maybe you have trouble trusting others in group projects because of past bad experiences. You might write “I am most challenged by allowing myself to rely on others in a group effort.”

 

If you’re having trouble sharing a genuine weakness, remind yourself that, as mentioned above, you have the whole rest of your application to show off your strengths. Moreover, the admissions committee isn’t asking this question just to make you squirm by telling them about something that challenges you. Rather, you are showing them that you are self-aware enough to look at yourself critically and see where you need to improve. Although this can be incredibly hard to do, it’s an important skill to have as you enter college.

 

As always, you can also take this response in a more lighthearted direction. For instance, you might write: “I am most challenged by keeping my succulent collection alive.” Just make sure that not all of your answers are “fun.” Otherwise, it might seem like you’re not serious. After all, you want to show that you’re capable of self-reflection.

 

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