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How to Write the Tufts University Supplement Essays 2017-2018

Tufts is a private research university in Boston, Massachusetts. Located only 5 miles from the city hub of Boston, Tufts has the appeal of being a suburban campus with close urban proximity. With a total undergraduate enrollment of 5,290 and an acceptance rate of 14%, Tufts stands as one of the more selective universities. Tufts ranked #29 in U.S. News & World Report’s 2017 edition of Best National Universities and maintains a freshman retention rate of 97%, an indicator of student satisfaction at the school.


Although Tufts is known for its Engineering, Biological and Biomedical Sciences departments, students can choose from over 70 undergraduate majors. Tufts has a student-to-faculty ratio of 9:1, and 67.5% of its classes have fewer than 20 students.


Tufts operations are supported by a $1.6 billion endowment, which helps it maintain an excellent array of study-abroad programs. It also offers a variety of campus services such as the Women’s Center (an institution that offers counseling and information on intersectional feminism, gender identity, and other gender-related issues), academic tutoring (on subject, writing, time-management, and oral communication), and health services (an on-campus health care site that offers walk-in appointments).


Read on to learn how to tackle the Tufts 2017-18 writing supplement.

Tufts University Supplemental Essay Prompts

The Tufts writing supplement consists of 3 required short-response questions. These questions are the perfect opportunity to show off your creative side and write an unconventional essay that conveys your personality through the tone of the writing. So let’s dive right in!

Prompt #1

Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short: ‘Why Tufts?’ (50–100 words)

In order to write an effective response, it is important to understand why Tufts University is asking this. Students typically apply to several colleges, so this question is meant to see how serious the applicant is about attending the school. When answering this question, you should be asking yourself, why would I rather attend Tufts as opposed to any other college?


This mindset will help you discover unique reasons that make Tufts stand out from other universities. It is very important to be specific with this response. If you can replace the word Tufts with the name of another school, then it needs to be refined further to include Tufts-exclusive details.


For example, if there is a specific program that Tufts specializes in, such as the International Relations program, definitely mention that. The nature of the program itself does not have to be unique, but the descriptions about it have to provide unique insight that is not applicable to any other school. For instance, International Relations itself is not an exclusive course of study; in fact, Stanford, the University of California-Davis, and the University of Southern California all offer such a major in their undergraduate program.


However, only Tufts requires a capstone component which can be fulfilled through intensive seminars in one’s chosen concentration or directed research mentored by one of the professors. Therefore, when citing the International Relations program as one of Tuft’s allures, it is insufficient to mention its prestige; instead, discuss how the capstone project will allow you to develop your perspective on the tensions between world superpowers under the seasoned guidance of Professor Hitchner.


Because of the restrictive word limit, choose one aspect and describe it in an in-depth manner. The most important thing is to demonstrate how your personal strengths can contribute to that unique facet of Tufts. Doing so allows the admissions officers to understand that you are a good fit for the school, not just the other way around.

Prompt #2

There is a Quaker saying: ‘Let your life speak.’ Describe the environment in which you were raised — your family, home, neighborhood, or community — and how it influenced the person you are today. (200–250 words)

College essays are designed to reveal aspects of your personality that the admissions committee would have no other way of knowing. This question is the perfect opportunity to tell the importance of your life story.


Note the distinction: You are telling the importance of your life story, not your actual life story! With a question like this, it is very easy to fall victim to a “tell all” approach and overwhelm the admissions committee with too much (and often irrelevant) information about your life.

In order to avoid this, follow these rules:


  • Choose only one aspect of your life – Whether it’s your family or high school, make sure you only describe one element. This makes the essay more cohesive and easy-to-follow, hence allowing that one factor to be more memorable in the admissions officers’ mind.


  • Connect your environment to how it influenced your future self – While your past environment may be interesting, it is not nearly as interesting as your future. Avoid describing your environment too much so that you do not have space to talk about how your present and future actions are a result of your surroundings’ nurture. The recommended distribution is to use 50-100 words to introduce your environment, and 150-200 to analyze how it influenced you today.


  • Avoid clichés – Another common pitfall is to use cliché sentiments such as how you have become more mature because you have seen how hard your parents have worked. Though these sentiments may be true, admissions officers typically read a lot of essays centered around these “go-to” topics, and hence writing about them will not make you stand out. In order to answer this question successfully, the way you were influenced should be very specific. In other words, make sure the “I” in your response cannot be replaced with the name of another person and still makes sense.


  • Show, Don’t Tell – The goal of this response is to see whether Tuft’s resources and community will have a positive impact on your attitude and approach towards work and life. The admissions officers will also use your analysis of how your chosen experience has impacted you to judge whether you as a person will learn and take advantage of Tufts social and academic opportunities. Remember, show, don’t tell. This means if you are claiming to have become a more self-aware citizen, mindful of your civic duty, show this by explaining your food-drive initiative at the local orphanage and your volunteer work with the 2016 presidential election. Illustrating by example is much more effective than simply stating that you take your civic duty seriously.

Prompt #3

Now we’d like to know a little bit more about you. Please respond to one of the following six questions (200-250 words). Students applying to the School of Arts and Sciences or the School of Engineering should select from prompts A-E. Students applying to the SMFA at Tufts’ BFA program or the Five-Year BFA + BA/BS Combined Degree program must answer prompt F:

A) It’s cool to be smart. Tell us about the subjects or ideas that excite your intellectual curiosity.


With this prompt, Tufts wants to know what motivates you to learn and whether that drive will enable you to further your knowledge at the school. Admissions officers also seek to understand which classes, professors, and co-curricular activities pique your interest. Avoid anecdotes that imply a desire to study the subject because of the associated external rewards, such as fame, prestige, or wealth. Try and think of a specific instance in which your intrinsic motivation to study the subject drove you to exceed a project’s standard criteria and perform extra work.


Perhaps you marveled at the idea that every molecule in our air, water, and body is governed by the intermolecular and intramolecular forces that we cannot feel. Hence, you wrote an addendum to your chemistry research paper specifically discussing the strength and importance of those forces in maintaining our daily life.


Or perhaps your grandparents recount the incessant lines of people who lined up to try to find work during the Great Depression every Christmas when you visit, and hence you are determined to study Economics to minimize the likelihood of such a catastrophe reoccurring. With your response, make sure to connect how you want to pursue this interest at Tufts and how your expertise in the subject would enhance other students’ academic experience.

B) In a time when we’re always plugged in (and sometimes tuned out), tell us about a time when you listened, truly listened, to a person or a cause. How did that moment change you?

This question can be particularly difficult because it is rare to experience a life-changing event from a single moment. This is why it is important not to focus on a single moment, but rather the lasting effect that it had on you and how your approach toward people, school, and your personal endeavors changed as a result of this encounter. Again, you don’t need to have witnessed a dramatic event.


Life-changing encounters can be subtle, and you may not even realize it was one when you experienced it. Perhaps it was a quote in Swann’s Way, or maybe it was a word of advice from your favorite teacher. You did not know when you read and heard those words that they would carry you through numerous trials. However, whenever you faced a challenge, those words reminded you of the infinite mental strength you possess, and thus enabled your ultimate success.

C) Celebrate the role of sports in your life.

Here, “sports” can have many meanings. You can take “sports” literally and talk about how your passion for basketball built you into a people-oriented, charismatic team leader. If you are a non-athlete, take a different approach. The prompt never dictated that you needed to have played the sport, so you can write about the miraculous recovery of an inspiring swimmer whom you saw in an interview on 60 Minutes, or how watching the Superbowl together with your dad has been an indelible bonding experience.


Whether you are assuming the perspective of a player or spectator, remember to narrate one memorable anecdote about your chosen sport in detail before elaborating on how witnessing/experiencing that incident has changed your outlook on life. The phrasing of “sports in your life” implies that the impact should be lasting, and it would be most suitable if you have had contact with sports for a long period prior to penning this essay. Do not choose this prompt if you have never given sports any thought or if you have absolutely no interest in it.

D) Whether you’ve built blanket forts or circuit boards, produced community theater or mixed-media art installations, tell us: What have you invented, engineered, created, or designed? Or what do you hope to?

Get creative with this prompt. Below are a couple of approaches you can take:


Talk About Your Future Career Plans

If you have a concrete idea of what you want to pursue in college and beyond, write down what exactly it is that you want to do, and some of your career goals. Just make sure to connect your plans to Tufts and explain how the classes, professors, mentors, connections, and organizations at Tufts will help you achieve your goal.


Talk About Your Past

This is a great chance to write about your past accomplishments, but make sure that they are focused around the central theme of innovation and convey a message about your ability to create. Try to reveal something about yourself through discussing the invention. For instance, if you built an indestructible robot that demolished all of its opponents in the statewide robot sumo-wrestling competition, emphasize how you troubleshooted its weaknesses, tried different materials, and positioned parts at different angles to ultimately construct the final successful model.


Do not spend all your time describing the specifics of the robot. You are not trying to sell them your invention; instead, you are selling yourself. In order to do so, ask yourself: What challenges or obstacles did you have to overcome? Did it involve teamwork? How did you guide your team when your team members started arguing and lost focus? What skills (hard or soft) did you employ to perfect your creation?

E) What makes you happy? Why?

This prompt provides the most intimate glimpse into an applicant. While there are many things that might make you happy, it is important to choose wisely. The most important thing to note is that the admissions committee is using this question to get a glimpse of your personality and see how you will change the Tufts atmosphere.


In order to answer this question, you need to understand the campus culture at Tufts. For example, what do Tufts students talk about in their conversations outside of the classrooms? At night, will you find more Tufts students in the library researching or chilling in their dorm rooms? What do Tufts students like to do in their spare time on the weekends? It is advantageous for you to reach out to current Tufts students through your contacts to gather their responses to the aforementioned types of questions.


While Tufts students take their work very seriously, they don’t take themselves too seriously. Therefore, feel free to crack an intellectual joke in your essay. Humor is important; if you are able to make an admissions officer in the middle of reading her 100th essay that day laugh (in a good way), then the writing will certainly work in your favor.


Still, remember to connect what makes you happy to yourself. While you might love your dog, the admissions committee wants to learn about YOU, not your dog’s favorite pastimes. So if reading makes you happy, explain how it relaxes your mind with stories of a plethora of fortunate and unfortunate human experiences without having to physically experience those extremes.

F) Artist Bruce Nauman once said: “One of the factors that still keeps me in the studio is that every so often, I have to more or less start all over.” Everyone deals with failure differently; for most artists, failure is an opportunity to start something new. Tell us about a time when you have failed and how that has influenced your art practice.

This is a very typical type of essay found on many college applications: the “response to failure.” The admissions committee asks this question to see how you recovered and used the incident as fuel to exponentially improve in your future/other ventures. The best approach to this essay is once again the anecdotal one. Choose a time in your life when you failed and spice up the story by narrating it with dialogue, onomatopoeia, and reasonable hyperbole, if applicable.


For example:


On my first day in the lab, I broke the entire set of beakers we were going to use.


The sentence above can be re-written as:




Five pairs of eyes behind safety goggles turned to glare at the pile of shattered glass at my feet. Realizing that I had single-handedly destroyed all the beakers we needed to use for today’s experiment, I sheepishly ducked my head and attempted to clean up the mess.


Of course, not every part of the story can be recounted with that level of detail given the word count. However, doing so at critical points makes the story more realistic and memorable to the admissions officers.


Ultimately, make sure to connect the failure to your later successes. Questions to consider include:


  • How did destroying all the equipment on your first day as intern change the way you approach research in the lab?
  • How has this change in attitude affected the results of your study?

The Bottom Line

As you write your Tufts supplemental essays, keep in mind that each question is designed so that a different aspect about yourself can be shared with the applications committee. If you get stuck, ask your friends and family what the most unique things about you are and then connect these memories or characteristics to your past accomplishments, future goals, and of course, future at Tufts University.


Best of luck, and happy writing!


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