How to Write the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Essays 2020-2021
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 a myriad of 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 How to Write the Common Application Essays (with examples).
“Why are you interested in Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute?” (250 words)
With only 250 words, this is a short essay, but one that makes a huge impact in showing RPI what makes you a good fit for this school.
The key to this essay is specificity. You want to avoid generalizations such “great professors”, “many opportunities”, or “strong academics”. Those can be found at any university and don’t show your passion for what makes RPI unique.
To start this essay, do some research on RPI’s website. If you are interested in a special program or a specific major, look at the program or department page to find what sets it apart from similar programs or fields of study at other universities. You might also want to talk to alumni or consider a campus visit.
Once you have accumulated a list of unique things about RPI that interest you, narrow it down to one or two points that really stand-out so you can elaborate more within 250 words. After describing what specific aspect of RPI interests you, explain how that point relates to your personal goals or helps you fit with RPI.
For example, if you are interested in the Jefferson Project at Lake George, you may want to explain why environmental monitoring is important you and what the opportunity to meet professors in various departments working on technological advances in environmental monitoring would give you.
“Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences” (300 words)
The first step for this essay is identifying which extracurricular or work experience you wish to discuss. As the college will see your list of extracurricular activities and awards in the application, it does not necessarily have to be your most impressive extracurricular. The most interesting and impactful essay will come from describing the activity that means the most to you personally. This is your chance to explain something about one of your activities that isn’t already shown in the basic application.
With only 300 words, you most likely won’t be able to explain everything you ever did within a certain club or activity or job. Rather, pick out two or three instances that show your unique contribution to the activity or what you learned from the experience. You may also want to touch on why the particular activity is significant to you, though this is best shown in the context of explaining your role in the activity.
For example, if you chose to write about your involvement in Model UN, briefly describe the extent of your involvement (officer positions, awards won, conferences attended) and then speak about a particular conference you attended or a resolution you contributed to that was significant. You could also discuss a meaningful way you helped your school club, perhaps by mentoring younger students or assisting with logistics.
The purpose of this essay is to go in-depth about a significant activity, not to list everything you ever did in a certain activity. Be sure to highlight why an activity was significant you and how your involvement was unique.
RPI 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.
“State your reasons for choosing architecture as your profession.”
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 RPI 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, traveling to ancient landmarks in Rome–serves as a 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)
“Discuss your interests in the field of electronic arts and state how this is reflected in your portfolio.”
The Electronic Arts program is geared toward 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 was a profile at an art gallery. How would you grab the browser’s attention?
Games and Simulation Arts and Sciences (GSAS)
“State your reasons for choosing the field of games and simulation arts and sciences, making reference to your portfolio if one has been submitted.”
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)
“State your reasons for choosing the field of Electronic Media, Arts, and Communication, making reference to your portfolio if one has been submitted.”
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 challenge?
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.
Describe your interest in the music major and your goals. Please include completed course work in music, private music instruction, musical performance and production experience, or completed independent projects. (Response required in 2 pages)
A key aspect of this essay is hitting all of the points RPI wants you to discuss. It may be helpful to first create a list of everything they want (interest, goals, coursework in music, private music instruction, musical performance and production experience, and independent projects) and then write a paragraph for each point.
As the prompt asks for your interest in the music major, not music in general, be sure to do your research on what makes the music major at RPI unique. As your interest in music is a big part of your interest in majoring music, you can also discuss why music is significant in your life, but tie it into why that interest has encouraged you to pursue music as a major.
For the section about goals, be specific. It is okay if you aren’t quite sure what you hope to do with the music major in college and once you graduate, but give RPI a sense of where you think you might go with music, whether it is performance, composition, or another area of music. If your goal is to play in a major symphony, discuss the steps you are taking and will take to get there. If your goal is to become a composer, discuss what aspects of the music major at RPI will help you achieve that.
Since this essay can be up to 2 pages, you can some space to add more detailed and personal information to the additional sections about your previous experience in music, but be sure to remain clear in which classes you took, how long you took private lessons and with who, and your various performance experiences.
“Rensselaer 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 for RPI. However, be reminded to keep your resume within one page.
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