How to Write the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Essays 2017-2018
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) is a private technical university nestled in Troy, New York. Lauded as the earliest of its kind in the English-speaking world, RPI served as the model for numerous other colleges and higher-education institutions, including the renowned Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
RPI’s specialized focus is reflected by its emphasis and incorporation of technology in all of its majors, from science to engineering to art. The school operates its own business incubator as well as the Rensselaer Technology Park that hosts myriad Information Technology consulting, management, and supply companies, located just five miles south of campus. It has a medium-sized undergraduate student body (6000-7000 students), complemented by over 1000 postgraduate students, and is moderately selective with the acceptance rate hovering around 40%.
For most applicants to RPI, the essay requirement can be fulfilled by completing the Common Application, the Universal College Application, or the Candidate’s Choice Application. For more information on those essays, please see our guide to writing the 2017-2018 Common App essay.
RPI Application Essay Prompts
The school offers several advanced programs, which can accelerate motivated students towards professional degrees or intended career paths. These programs require applicants to pen supplemental essays in addition to a personal statement on the Common App (or the UCA, or the CCA). There is no specified word limit; 500-650 words is a good guide. Remember, details and conciseness are key to any essay, especially the supplements.
Accelerated Programs in Law/Medicine
These are lengthy, combined bachelor-professional programs that result in a BS-MD or BS-JD after seven and six years, respectively. These are substantial commitments! Hence, you want to be equally serious in your statement of intent.
Anecdotes can be an effective starting point, but don’t stay with these for too long. A sickness in the family or extensive experience in advocacy for minority groups can offer the necessary context, but you should be concise when discussing them.
An effective statement will be detailed and focused. “I want to be a dermatologist to help people catch skin cancer early” is a more precise approach than “I want to be a doctor,” for example.
“I want to be a public defender in order to…” is more compelling than “lawyers do good in the world.” Having established the why, you need to also supply the what. Make it clear that you know what you are getting into by selecting this profession. It’s important to tie your goal to a vision of your future career.
One way to do that is to envision what your daily routine would be like on the weekdays and weekends should you land your dream job. What will you be doing in the morning? What kind of people would you be interacting with? What kind of cases would you be handling? How would you respond to a patient suddenly tearing a sutured wound? Incorporate how you envision yourself in the future into the professional vision of success in your intended field that you portray in the statement of intent.
Lastly, furnish your statement with as much concrete, relevant experience as you can. If you were on your school’s Mock Trial team, or even if you regularly litigate arguments between friends, what did that teach you about how to be an effective lawyer? If you attended a summer program in biology, what did you learn about diseases that narrowed the scope of your future interest? If you’ve ever shadowed at a hospital, what did you take from the clinical environment that informs the areas of medicine in which you’d like to work?
Architecture (ARCH) is a 5-year undergraduate professional-degree program. A portfolio is required. Craft your narrative both to your portfolio and to the ethos of the program.
For example, RPI cites a “strong sense of social responsibility” as a characteristic of its graduates; perhaps the thought of developing low-cost housing for the impoverished both at home and abroad was one of your early inspirations. Perhaps you want to bring a new aesthetic to your home city. Or perhaps you are a dedicated environmentalist looking for ways to make large-scale impacts on humanity’s carbon footprint. Be specific! An early story — learning about Earth Day as a child or traveling to ancient landmarks in Rome, for example — serves as great context for your current vision.
Thematic consistency is key. It’s easy to simply state what kind of architect you want to be — to talk about the types of buildings you want to design or the structural challenges in design that you wish to resolve. This is important, but you must make the reasons behind that intent come alive. Make you “make sense.”
Electronic Arts (EART)
The Electronic Arts program is geared towards artists with strong technical inclinations. Your required portfolio will consist of 10-20 examples of your best creative work; the statement of intent ties these pieces together.
Keep it concise! Rather than comprehensively summarizing all of your work, highlight the common threads that unify their purpose. For example, if your portfolio consists of depictions of refugees of varying ages on multiple mediums (portrait photography, 3D printing, programmed portrait, etc.), then you can construct a narrative around the power of electronic arts to advocate for human rights.
If your art centers around a common theme — nature, humanity, activism — explain why this is a driving force and discuss how technology enables you to amplify the message. Imagine this were a profile at an art gallery. How would you grab the browser’s attention?
Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS)
A portfolio is strongly encouraged. If you are able to submit one, make sure your statement is consistent with it. If you aren’t able to assemble a portfolio, your statement takes on even weightier importance.
A good question to ask yourself is what kind of impact you want to make in this arena. This is a fast-evolving field, which of course includes the domain of video games produced for entertainment, but also encompasses a broad spectrum of human-computer interaction, training, and simulation arts. Which areas most excite you, and how have you shown this? For example, perhaps you modeled a popular video game to create an educational campaign — demonstrating both a creative hacking mentality and a desire to use these tools to inform.
Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication (EMAC)
Contemporary human communications evolve at a breathtaking pace. The EMAC degree combines the disciplines of art, communication, and media. A portfolio is strongly encouraged.
There are a few interesting questions that you might try to answer. How can old ideas be communicated in novel ways and novel media? We are, after all, in the era of memes being repurposed for discussions of very different scopes and natures. Or the other side of it: Is there a downside to the rapidness of the spread of information? If so, what are some structural changes you would push for to alleviate that issue?
Electronic media is such a rich and open-ended area of exploration. Consider the ways you would like to use it, and the ways it can be used in the future, then frame your portfolio around the expression of this curiosity.
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute allows students to submit a resume as a part of their application. This is optional — if you feel that the activities section of the Common Application provides enough space to describe your activities, you do not need to submit a resume. Resumes should include information not found elsewhere on the application, and should not repeat what is already described on the Common Application.
If you do submit this resume, take care not to duplicate information! The Common Application’s Activities section already provides a space to showcase your relevant extracurricular activities, and redundancy would certainly backfire. A well-crafted application is tight and cohesive; optional materials should contribute to your theme rather than to the fatigue of the admissions officers.
On the other hand, perhaps you have embarked on personal endeavors that cannot be fully explained in your Common App. For example, if you spent your own money, time and effort to launch a private project to build dog houses for homeless dogs at a nearby shelter, and the scale of it became so large that the entire process cannot possibly fit in the character limit of the Common App, then you may consider writing this in your optional resume instead of for RPI. However, be reminded to keep your resume within one page.
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