How to Write the Emory University Essays 2020-2021
Emory University is a highly competitive college — and it’s no wonder why, given that the Princeton Review ranked it as the top university nationwide for quality of student life, and it consistently ranks in the top 30 universities overall. The class of 2024 saw an acceptance rate of 16.6% at Emory, and Oxford College’s acceptance rate was not much higher at 23.8%.
Emory is unique in that it offers two options for incoming students to begin their undergraduate careers: the research-focused main campus or the liberal arts college, Oxford. Oxford college offers an “unusually intensive focus on the liberal arts, leadership, and service as well as the close attention of committed and outstanding faculty,” according to their website. Both campuses are located in Atlanta, Georgia. Regardless of which campus students begin at Emory, all will spend at least the second two years on the main campus and have access to Emory’s world renowned resources.
Emory students typically score between 1400-1550 on the SAT. These scores are comparable on the Oxford campus (1390-1550). Accepted students on both campuses typically score upwards of a 31 on the ACT. Given such competitive testing metrics, and the fact that there will be applicants with the same test scores for every available seat in a class, essays are an excellent opportunity for candidates to set themselves apart.
An application to Emory University requires a completed Common Application as well as two supplemental essays. We’ll be going over how to write strong responses to those essays in this post. Want to know your chances at Emory? Calculate your chances for free right now.
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How to Write the Emory Supplemental Essays
In addition to a Personal Statement, Emory University requires applicants to write two short supplemental essays. Applicants can choose one prompt from each of the following categories. Each essay should be no more than 150 words.
Option 1: Share about a time when you questioned something that you believed to be true.
Option 2: If you could go back in time, what advice would you offer yourself at the beginning of secondary/high school?
Option 3: Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness.
“Tell us about you” Category
Option 1: Which book, character, song, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) represents you, and why?
Option 2: If you could witness a historic event first-hand, what would it be, and why?
Option 3: Introduce yourself to your first-year Emory University roommate.
Before You Begin
As Emory’s website states in regard to these essays, “We encourage you to be thoughtful and not stress about what the right answer might be. We simply want to get to know you better.” This space is an opportunity for you to present yourself as a complex and unique human being. Remember that before reading your essays and recommendations, your admissions officers will only have seen data points and test scores that describe you. While these numbers are important, you are so much more than a test score. Admission officers want to sympathize with you. They want to root for. They want you to give them a reason to admit you. And this is such a great place for you to give them one! Don’t be afraid to be your true, gloriously weird self.
It’s worth noting that the word limit for these essays is only 150 words. That’s not a lot of space, so the name of the game is brevity. This is not the place for purple prose or modifiers — instead of very hungry, try famished. Consider using sprinted instead of ran as fast as possible. It may seem like a small change, but every word is important here. We recommend that you try to get as close to the 150 word count as possible, and stay within 10-15 words of the limit.
These prompts ask candidates to reflect on a moment or period of growth in their lives. Though they have different spheres of focus, they each ask the same core question: How have you grown? High school and college are both times of extreme personal development, and colleges want to know how you’ve changed for the better, as this gives them insight into how you will continue to develop and to what your values are. A well-written essay for these prompts should answer not only how you’ve grown but what that says about who you are.
Option A: Share about a time when you questioned something that you believed to be true. (150 words)
Here, admission officers want you to talk about a time when you realized you were wrong about something. Now, you may be wondering, why on Earth would I spend 150 words explaining why I was wrong about something when I’m trying to convince the reader that I’m good enough for their school? Emory is looking for a few things here: self-awareness, humility, and honesty. All of these require confidence and a lot of introspection — all things that make an applicant more likely to succeed in college. For that reason, this prompt is good for those who are particularly introspective and are comfortable being a little bit more vulnerable.
For this essay, you’ll want to think of something personal and specific. Offering up such an anecdote requires a great deal of vulnerability, but it is this humanity that lets you connect with admission officers on a more personal level. Maybe you grew up believing in one religion based on your family’s affiliation, but later realized another religion better suited your personal beliefs. Maybe you were a supporter of abstinence-only sex-ed until your friend had an unplanned pregnancy. By sharing this story, you’re giving readers the opportunity to learn more about your core values and to see your strengths as an independent thinker.
However, not all stories have to be so serious, so don’t shy away from this prompt just because there’s never been as drastic a change in your life. For example, maybe you used to identify as a Ravenclaw but now see yourself more as a Hufflepuff! Using a lighter topic like this still gives you ample opportunity to express your personal values and explain who you fundamentally are. It even opens itself up to using humor, which can be a useful tool to winning over admission officers.
Option B: If you could go back in time, what advice would you offer yourself at the beginning of secondary/high school? (150 words)
While many of us joke about getting “No Ragrets” tattooed across our chests, the truth is that almost all of us have regrets. Hindsight is 20/20, and there’s always something we wished we’d handled better or done differently. This prompt asks you to reflect on a particular instance during the past 4 years and think about how Current You might be able to guide Past You. Let me tell you, there is A LOT I wish I’d done differently in high school — how did I manage to be both clueless and pretentious at the same time?
There is no specific context for this advice, so it’s a great opportunity to be both creative and personal. If you are an athlete, consider writing about how Current You would give wisdom to Past You about your sport of choice — whether it be in regards to the game itself, your attitude, or a teammate. Perhaps you’re a student researcher and want to write about how you wish you’d set up your experiment differently.
This is a perfect time to address any weaknesses in your application and explain how you wish you could have changed them. For example, if you are worried that your application is lacking in extracurriculars, you might give the advice to your younger self to realize that life is about more than just hitting the books — it’s about relationships and experiences as well. We know that it may sound scary to write in an application that you wish you’d studied less, but demonstrating that you now know how to balance your personal and academic life is huge when it comes to succeeding in college. Remember that admissions officers are looking for well-rounded individuals who they think have what it takes to be both successful and happy in college.
A helpful tactic for planning this essay might be to think of (or even write down) a transcript of a hypothetical conversation between Current You and Younger You. What do you have to say? How do you think your younger self would have reacted?
This prompt is great for more creative thinkers. It’s also important to pick an anecdote that shines a different light on you than what’s already been discussed in your Personal Statement. For example, if you talked about ballet in your Personal Statement, you might not want to give any dance-related advice in this essay.
Option C: Reflect on a personal experience where you intentionally expanded your cultural awareness. (150 words)
This prompt is ideal for those who have prioritized cultural sensitivity and have engaged with people from diverse backgrounds.
This prompt is a little bit more specific and directed than the other two, because it requires you to think about a time when you intentionally expanded your horizons. While all three prompts address growth, this one requires you to reflect on an instance where you did something deliberate that catalyzed your growth. For example, my lab partner had a different cultural background than me would no longer be applicable since you didn’t actively do something. Think instead of a time when you consciously made the decision to expand your cultural awareness — like the time you went out of your way to sit with the “different” kid or the time you studied abroad.
When talking about cultural awareness, a lot of people throw around the term “cultural competency.” While this has been a big buzzword in academia in recent years, you might consider reaching instead for a term like “cultural humility.” Acknowledge that you will never know everything there is to know about other cultures and the best thing you can do is to commit to growth and learning, which is exactly what all of these prompts are about.
When talking about experiences with those different from us, it’s important to acknowledge some cliches that exist. Many applicants have had a voluntourism experience — that is, a volunteer mission trip. Not only can voluntourism stories come off as cliche, they can also make you sound privileged and condescending. Every admissions officer has ready countless “I was there to teach them, but really they taught me” essays. That said, you can still talk about your service trip experience! Try to put a unique spin on it, by focusing on a personal anecdote that only happened to you. The more specific, the better. Acknowledge your privilege and explain how you grew from it.
With a prompt like this, it’s easy to focus on another individual (such as your lab partner). But with only 150 words, don’t waste too much space talking about someone else. Remember that you are the protagonist of this story and you are the one applying to Emory. If you’re wondering if you’ve fallen into the trap of spending too much time describing someone else, look at your verbs. You should be the subject of most of those verbs, because you are the star of the story. For example, you might consider changing “My lab partner taught me about her culture and allowed me to grow” to “By engaging in vulnerable conversations, I developed into an empathetic and sensitive ally.”
“Tell us about you” Category
As the category’s name suggests, all of these prompts require you to describe yourself. While the “Reflections” prompts may seem more conducive to a narrative structure (whereas this is a bit more straightforward and factual), you can definitely still tell a story here if you want. Just because the questions are more direct doesn’t mean you can’t (or shouldn’t) be creative. Just remember that 150 is not a lot of words. At all. So don’t waste your time with rambling stories or over-the-top detailed descriptions. Get to the point and stick to the point.
Option A: Which book, character, song, or piece of work (fiction or non-fiction) represents you, and why? (150 words)
This is a great prompt for people who have a piece of media that they feel really strongly about — and let’s face it, most of us are at least a little obsessed with some kind of media. Think about a piece of media that you feel like you can identify with on a deep, personal level. You should then go a step further and think about why you identify so strongly with that person or thing. What does it say about you?
Once you have your what (or who) and your why, search for an anecdote that explains your personal connection to this piece of media. For example, maybe you really identify with Katniss (your who) Everdeen because you’re super protective of your little sister (your why), so then you can tell the story about that time that you drove 45 minutes late at night to pick your sister up because she was uncomfortable at a party. The more specific the anecdote, the more the admissions officers will get to know you (“Wow what a responsible and selfless sibling this applicant is!”).
A really easy trap to fall into with a prompt like this is to give the answer that you think admissions officers are looking for. Like maybe you think the admissions officers are looking for you to say that you just love studying so much, so you choose Hermione Granger even though you don’t even like Harry Potter. As in life, you should always be true to yourself in your essays for two main reasons: a) you’re amazing as you are, so let people know the real you and b) trying to pander to an admissions officer is transparent and can reflect poorly on you.
Option B: If you could witness a historic event first-hand, what would it be, and why? (150 words)
This prompt is perfect for any history buffs, but you don’t need to be a prospective history major to tackle this one. One approach is to pick a historic event that has always spoken to you — maybe you’ve always been fascinated by the building of the Great Pyramids, and would’ve loved to see them built. Or maybe you have a friend who thinks the moon landing was faked and you wish you could witness it yourself to prove them wrong! There are so many different directions to take this prompt.
However, if nothing is jumping out at you, you might consider thinking about what you want to say to the admissions committee that hasn’t already been said. Let’s say that you’re really passionate about gender equality and that’s not really indicated anywhere else in your application. This essay might be a great place to talk about how you’d love to have been a part of the women’s suffrage movement — and then explain why.
This probably goes without saying, but make sure that your essay is accurate. Fact check anything you say with a quick google search. You don’t want to accidentally say, for example, that you would’ve loved to have been in DC when the Declaration of Independence was signed, when it was really signed in Philadelphia.
Whatever event you pick, make sure that you have some sort of personal connection to it. Spending 150 words talking about how great Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech was is not only boring, it’s not really relevant. Everyone knows that it was an incredible moment, and any student can write that essay. But more importantly, MLK isn’t applying to college — you are. So spend maybe a sentence or two hyping up MLK and then move on to why it matters to you.
Option C: Introduce yourself to your first-year Emory University roommate. (150 words)
This is definitely the most open-ended of the “tell us about yourself” prompts, so it’s a good choice if you want to be more creative or feel trapped by the specificity of the first two. What this prompt is really asking is “Who are you? What makes you special?” We know that’s a daunting task, so let’s break it down a bit more.
Now in the real world, if you were introducing yourself to your new roommate, you’d probably spend at least the first 100 words talking about your hometown, your major, if you’re clean or messy, and if you’re a night owl or an early riser. This however, is not the real world. It’s a college admissions essay, so there’s no time to waste on all that practical stuff. Jump right into the nitty-gritty of what makes you a unique person.
Now might be a great time to let your “roommate” know that you speak four languages (and two of them are made-up ones) or that you plan on bringing a ton of blankets that you knit yourself. And oh, you’re deathly afraid of spiders, so if you hear murderous screaming one day, it could just be a spider. Just remember to keep the bragging to a minimum. Show us how great you are, but “hey roomie, I cured cancer my sophomore year and have three Olympic medals” comes off a little obnoxious.
Another thing to keep in mind with this prompt is tone. You can address your “roommate” directly if you want or structure it as a letter, but you certainly don’t have to. This opens the essay up to a more conversational tone and can definitely facilitate a bit of humor if that’s your thing. Just don’t over do it. It’s still an admissions essay, so you should still use proper grammar, spell check, and avoid overly informal language.
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