How to Write the Texas A&M University Essays 2017-2018
Though the “A” and “M” of Texas A&M University stood for “Agricultural” and “Mechanical” when the it first opened its doors in 1876, today the university offers over 130 different degrees, from anthropology to entomology, with branch campuses in Galveston and Qatar.
Texas A&M is a paradigmatic modern large public research institution, but it maintains strong ties to its agricultural roots: A&M students are affectionately known as “Aggies,” and the school’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences remains one of the world’s top research institutions for studying how our food is produced and delivered.
Whether you plan on placing pennies on Sully’s toe before an exam, or basking under the Century Tree in the aftermath, this article will guide you through the Texas A&M essay prompts while also offering some writing tips that should be useful no matter where you decide to apply.
The Texas A&M University application has three essays, two required and one optional. Before writing the individual essays, it is worth taking a moment to think about how all three of your essays might be used to tell one multi-dimensional story about yourself. Ideally each essay will help the admissions committee learn something new about you that they would not be able to get from looking at your test scores and grades.
For example, you might have one essay where you discuss your work in the Model United Nations club. In another essay, you might shift the focus from your interest in international relations to your own personal history: Maybe you grew up in Brazil and want to write about a quiet moment when your father first taught you how to make abará.
A common theme holds these essays together (your interest in and connection to cultures that reach across national boundaries), but the focus of each essay is distinct. You don’t want to just write two or three essays all on the topic of your work with the Model UN. The trick is to think about your essays as complimenting each other to build a multi-dimensional picture of yourself. Of course, no set of 300-500 word essays will ever be enough to communicate the whole of your personality. The challenge is to pick and choose the collection of anecdotes and experiences that will make an admissions committee want to invite you to their campus so that they can learn more.
Before we begin, a note on the third “optional” essay: Anyone who wants to present a more complete picture of themselves to A&M should go on ahead and write a thoughtful response. The only reason to pass on it would be if you are pressed for time and A&M is lower on your list of schools that you hope to attend. The first two essay prompts are fairly generic, and essays that you have used for other schools can probably be lightly edited and slotted in. The third essay is unique to A&M and a simple substitution probably will not work, but it also offers you the best chance to stand out as a mature and creative thinker.
Texas A&M Application Essay Prompts
Required Prompt #1
What was the environment you were raised in? Describe your family, home, neighborhood, or community, and explain how it has shaped you as a person. (Must be no longer than 120 eighty-character lines of text, including spaces and blank lines. ApplyTexas recommends that you keep your essay to between 500 and 750 words in length.)
In order to write this essay, it is helpful to take a step back from the sometimes panic-inducing task of focusing on your college applications and instead look around. As you go about your day, maintain awareness of things that ordinarily seem insignificant, to the point that you may be taking them for granted.
For instance, remind yourself of the neighborhood you wake up in every day, the foods available to you for breakfast, and how you feel as you pass through your community on your commute to school. Reflect upon the impact your surroundings have on your day-to-day life and the ways in which they have fostered your personal development. You are probably familiar with your surroundings, to the point where they don’t seem particularly remarkable to you, but you are trying to introduce yourself to an admissions committee that probably knows very little about your hometown.
After reflecting on this exercise, you might realize that your work ethic stems from your gratefulness for the sacrifices your immigrant parents have made in order to give you a chance to succeed, or it could take the shape of your precocious desire to study geriatric medicine and hearing-loss pathologies because you have grown up in a town where the majority of your community is of advanced age.
This thought experiment is the perfect way to start dissecting what it is about your surroundings that has shaped you into the person you are today. Most importantly, it will show your essay reader that you have matured enough to be able to speak about yourself in a frank and vulnerable way. As long as you speak your truth, there is no wrong answer.
That being said, as you tell your story, you will want to avoid clichés and stay true to the complexity of your experience. If you have struggled to overcome obstacles, you don’t need to present yourself as a heroic individual that has achieved success because of your own grit and determination. You can acknowledge the bonds of friendship or family that helped you hold yourself together during tough times. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, and indeed having the courage to reach out and the humility to acknowledge your support network is one way to demonstrate maturity.
If you needed to watch after your father while he was suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, you might talk about how you had to work with your sister to watch him in the evening, and how sometimes you needed to get out of the house and play soccer with your friends in order to be able to come back inside and commit yourself to the work of care all over again. Maybe that experience is part of what made you want to get into nursing, not only to help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, but also to encourage patient’s family members to take care of themselves.
If you describe poignant tales of overcoming hardship and obstacles in your response, that is fine, as long as it is the truth. Some applicants might think that exaggerating their tales will score with admissions officers, but admissions officers are not judging your essay based on the level of hardship you have overcome. Rather, the question they will ask is what you’ve learned from your experiences and what kind of person you will be when you join the Texas A&M community.
One last word: As we’re revising this guide for the 2017 application season, the rains have only just barely stopped falling after Hurricane Harvey. The environmental, economic, and political dynamics of this disaster will be thought about and debated in the coming years as people try to rebuild more resilient cities in a changing climate. The students, faculty, and staff at Texas A&M will be taking part in this conversation.
If you were affected and feel so moved, you can certainly talk about your experience of the storm in your essay, even if you think that a lot of other applicants will also be talking about the storm as well. A major disaster contains a multitude of narratives, and if you focus on the particularities of your experience — what you lost, what you saw, how you imagine going forward — you will be making a contribution to a conversation about Harvey that will continue for years to come.
Required Prompt #2
Most students have an identity, an interest, or a talent that defines them in an essential way. Tell us about yourself. (Must be no longer than 120 eighty-character lines of text, including spaces and blank lines. ApplyTexas recommends that you keep your essay to between 500 and 750 words in length.)
I am going to break up my discussion of this prompt into two parts. The first part addresses how you might write an essay about your “interest” or “talent,” and the second part addresses how you might write an essay about your “identity.”
‘Interest’ or ‘Talent’
This is your chance to discuss what makes you unlike the rest (or at least, the vast majority) of applicants. Whatever you choose to talk about, you should be able to talk about it with great specificity. If woodworking is your passion, you should be able to talk about the smell and feel of the woodworking shop; the best advice that you got from a mentor; a particularly challenging project that you undertook and how you succeeded (or what you learned in the process of failing); and the ways that you have tried to share your passion, whether it be by going to competitions, teaching others, or helping to repair a community center.
In order to identify the thing that is “essential” to you, you might try a simple thought exercise: try to imagine what your life would be like if it were missing something. How would you feel if you didn’t have a soccer game to play, if you didn’t have a friend to practice your German with, if you weren’t able to play the trumpet…
Eventually, you will come across something that’s absence will feel the most noticeable and impactful, and then you should make a clear mental note of why it feels so much heavier than the absence of something else. At this point, you have found at least one thing that defines you in an essential way, because if it were to be removed from your life, you would no longer feel like your true self.
Additionally, it would be helpful, although not necessary, to discuss a passion you have towards something that you could keep working on while at Texas A&M. Most important, however, is the fact that you want the subject of this essay to harmonize with the central theme of your entire application — do not define yourself by something that would appear random or out-of-place to an admissions officer. For example, if you’re a political science major who has held internships in law offices each summer, writing about your interest in astrophysics might seem a bit incongruous.
Afterward, it is time to begin putting these thoughts on paper. An effective strategy is to start with a narrative explaining how your interest formed, coupled with an explanation of the role it now plays in your life. For instance, if you decide to focus on your rowing career, you might describe the point at which it went from being a hobby forced upon you by your parents, to something that has allowed you to travel all over the United States and meet new people.
While you might want to include some mention of the awards you’ve won in rowing, woodworking, or piano playing, you should remember that an essay is different from a resume. The admissions officers already have your activity list, and if you’ve won a statewide piano competition they will already have that information. The more important thing to analyze — the thing that the admissions committee cannot get from reading your activity list — is a sense of what you have learned from pursuing your passion.
The most important thing that you can convey about the work you’ve put into your standup comedy routine is probably not that you won your high school talent show, but rather the fact that the first time you performed at an open mic night you bombed — but were able to hold it together, go back next week, and try again. If you are truly passionate about something, it probably means that you care enough about it to come back to it even after you have failed. Even though it can seem like your application wants you to paint one story of uninterrupted triumph, many universities are trying to teach their students to take risks and recover from failure.
If you are writing about “identity,” you might be a little bit uncomfortable with the prompt’s suggestion that your identity is “essential,” and you are certainly talking about something that is conceptually distinct from a hobby that you chose to pursue, like rowing or marching band. If you are talking about being black, or trans, or Latinx in the United States, you might be thinking about how your life’s story is embedded in a history that makes your identity an important part of your daily experience — whether you like it or not. While Texas A&M could probably have worded this prompt a little bit better, it is still possible to write an insightful essay about your “identity.”
If you are writing about identity, one way to approach this essay is to move from your own personal experience of “difference” to the larger historical, social, and political context that gives weight to that experience. For example, what did it mean to you when you went to the county courthouse for the first time and saw a monument to Confederate soldiers outside its door? As the events of this last summer suggest, these monuments have a contentious history, rooted not just in the Civil War itself but also in how different groups have interpreted and remembered that war in the early and mid-twentieth centuries.
You might also consider how “difference” has played a role, not just in your life but also in the lives of those you are closest to. For example, if your mother uses a wheelchair to get around, what have you learned about the way your community facilitates access for people with disabilities by going out to lunch at restaurants with her?
Finally, if you have a unique background, it does not mean that you need to commit to answering the “diversity question” that asks you to focus on your own personal experience. For example, if you’d like to talk about your family’s history, you might write a response to the previous prompt about how you have been interviewing your great aunts and great uncles about their experience of the 1947 partition of India and Pakistan.
Optional Essay Prompt
You’ve got a ticket in your hand. Where will you go? What will you do? What will happen when you get there? (Must be no longer than 120 eighty-character lines of text, including spaces and blank lines. ApplyTexas recommends that you keep your essay to between 500 and 750 words in length.)
For all the young high school graduates bursting with wanderlust, this essay is for you. While you may be tempted to talk about that trip via yacht to New Zealand or Monaco you have always fantasized about taking, those dreams will not barter any favor with your essay reader at Texas A&M University.
Despite what some may believe, these sorts of questions definitely have right answers. For this prompt, the dream trip that your essay reader wants to see is not the same dream that you would describe to your friend. Either way, this prompt is an amusing way to exercise your imagination in a productive manner.
Pretend this prompt says that the ticket in your hand is for the purpose of professional, academic, or personal development, and then you can begin brainstorming about what it will be used for.
You should think about which experts in your field you have fantasized about meeting; which company headquarters’ strategy room you wish you could visit; what it would be like to go to the training site of your favorite professional soccer team after 12 years of playing the sport; or how it would be to have a 1-on-1 session with a famous editor you admire, since you are working on some script ideas.
Whatever its purpose, your ticket must be used for something creative that sheds light on your interests and personality, so try not to mention something trivial that would not ultimately benefit you in the eyes of an admissions officer.
It would be ideal to relate your ticket to an opportunity offered by Texas A&M, such as a boarding pass to Barcelona in order to study Spanish at a study-abroad program you read about on the university’s study-abroad page, because you work with Latinx immigrants in your community center and feel the need to bridge the cultural gap between you and your clients.
Describing the purpose of your experience will inform your essay reader of your interests, how far you are willing to go to fuel them, and most importantly, if you were given the chance, how you would take advantage of the opportunity to gain more experience in your interests. As you discuss what will happen when you reach your destination, remember that there are no limits to what could happen during this experience, so be creative!
Regardless of what you choose for the purpose of your ticket, your essay will fare best against the creativity of all your competitors if you are able to relate it to the activities, courses, and general experiences you would pursue at Texas A&M University.
We at CollegeVine wish you good luck!
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