How to Write the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities Essays 2018-2019
The University of Minnesota — Twin Cities is a large public university, offering a huge variety of resources across two campuses in two cities: Minneapolis and St. Paul, sister cities that are approximately three miles apart. In the 2017-2018 school year, UM –Twin Cities enrolled just over 51,000 students, about 31,000 of whom were undergraduates.
UM — Twin cities offers top-caliber research, with faculty including 29 Nobel Prize winners. It is currently ranked #79 on the US News and World Report’s National Universities list and is ranked #30 on the US News Top Public Schools list.
UM — Twin Cities typically accepts about 45% of applicants; accepted students’ average GPA is 3.78 and their SAT scores average a 1360 composite.
Essay Questions Overview
UM — Twin Cities requires supplemental essays only for specific majors. Prospective dance majors and mortuary science majors are required to answer an array of questions specific to their field. Responses to all applicable questions must fit onto two double-spaced pages.
Dance majors are required to answer three questions: What has brought you to dance? Why do you plan to pursue a degree in dance? How do you imagine the relationship between writing about dance and dancing? Additionally, there is an optional question about diversity, which asks you to explain how you might contribute to, or benefit from, UM – Twin Cities’ diverse community of scholars.
Prospective Mortuary Science majors must answer four questions. The first asks about a time when you handled a difficult situation professionally. The second asks for an example of your compassion or empathy making a difference in another person’s life. The third asks for an example of your tact and level-headedness under pressure. The fourth asks you to describe a time when you made an important decision and the impact of that decision on yourself and others.
There are also additional essays for applicants to the Freshman Nursing Guarantee Program. These consist of three 250-word essays. One question asks you to explain why you have chosen to pursue a nursing career. The next asks about how your studies and activities have prepared you to be a nurse. The last question asks you to reflect on why the Freshman Nursing Guarantee Program fits your degree and career plans.
Essay Prompts for Dance Majors
Essay Prompt 1:
What has brought you to dance?
This question is an intentionally broad starter question: the admissions committee is giving you the chance to open your two-page response with a “thesis” of sorts about your deepest motivations or most personal connections to dance. While you can–and should–include specific stories or the timeline of your dance discovery in your response, you should begin by taking a step back and consider your high-level strategy. Also, keep in mind that “brought you to” can be interpreted in two ways: in a strict sense, as the literal thing or person that introduced you to dance; or, more broadly, as the thing that really made you passionate about or committed to dance.
Your essay ideation process should include three basic elements:
- Coming up with a “thesis” about what dance means to you.
- Selecting concrete examples from your life–”moments” or anecdotes–that can show this thesis
- Determining the best structure for your essay and creating an outline.
Below, these steps are outlined in the order they are listed above. However, these steps can be somewhat modulated. Some writers will already know that they want to tell a story–for example, one about how their older sister introduced them to dance. Other writers might have a clear idea of how they’d like to open but need to think more about what their underlying thesis might be. What really matters is completing all three points before you begin writing.
This is the theoretical core of your essay: the essential information about you that you want to make sure your readers understand. This thesis, however, is not something that you will necessarily write as a “topic sentence” at the end of your paragraph. Instead, your thesis is something to guide your thought process as you plan your essay so that you have a clear idea in your mind of what you are trying to get your reader to understand.
Of course, some writers will include more explicit thesis statements than others–and that can work well. However, for planning purposes, you should think of your thesis as something that you want the reader to understand from the story you tell. As you might have already guessed, if you’ve had some experience with college essays, this means showing not telling (more on this later!).
Now, how do you actually come up with a thesis? Try responding to a slightly different question from the one that the prompt asks. Ask yourself: what do you love about dancing? Or, what is meaningful to you about dance? The answer to these questions is, ultimately, what your essay should convey. This thesis could be something very simple: dancing makes me happier than anything else. Or, it could be a little more complex: dancing makes my mind and body feel connected. It could also be more external: dance is a language that allows me to communicate my experiences with others, and understand their pain and joy.
Choosing an Anecdote
Before you figure out what structure your essay will take, you need to consider what anecdote, story, or example you can use to show the reader your thesis. At this point, you should feel free to dive into your early memories of dance, or even more recent ones that you feel really crystallized your love for the art. Do you have just one moment you want to share or a few different memories? Is there a particular person who introduced you to the world of dance?
With each anecdote you consider, ask yourself, “Can this convey my thesis? If so, how?”
Here are a few examples:
Thesis: Dance has allowed you to find a sort of inner peace.
Anecdote(s): For a thesis like this, you likely will need to convey some sort of change over time. You could open with a story about your early childhood; perhaps you were tempestuous in elementary school, struggling to acclimate socially or academically. Pick a specific “moment” from those days to illustrate these tendencies–this could be a classroom argument, a test you did poorly on, or a moment when you felt left out. Then, you could describe your first dance class, contrasting the peace you felt with your instructor and peers
Thesis: You were able to work through personal hardship with the help of dance.
Anecdote(s): To show the reader this thesis, you’ll need to think of a specific time that dance really helped you through hardship. For example, you could discuss how you processed a parent’s sickness or a difficult relationship by pouring your emotions into dance. Perhaps before this, dance was merely a hobby for you. Use a detailed depiction of this painful experience–and how you danced through that pain–to show the reader how dance became more than just a hobby for you, that is, to show how this experience “brought you” to dance as a true passion.
Your Essay’s Structure
The particular anecdotes you choose, along with your thesis, will ultimately determine the length of your essay. If you want to simply articulate how happy dancing makes you, then telling a short story about the first time you felt that pleasure might be the perfect choice. If you want to explain how you’ve learned to communicate through dance, your narrative might need to involve a few anecdotes that show this progression. The key is to center your essay around a “moment” or “moments” that depict the core of what dance means to you, and what has made you choose it as your major.
Essay Prompt 2:
Why do you plan to pursue a degree in dance?
This prompt asks a more concrete version of the question asked in the first prompt. This actually will make your response to this second prompt easier, since you will have already touched on the deepest reasons why you love to dance. Now, you have a chance to build on that initial response with a practical description of your interests in a dance degree.
There are three main approaches that you can take to this prompt:
- Career-focused: If you have a specific career goal that requires a degree in dance, then you can focus your response on this practical reality.
- Personal aspiration-focused: If you have a broader, more abstract personal aspiration (understanding your own love of dance, keeping dance as a part of your life as you grow), you can focus your essay on this desire.
- Civically-focused: If you see dance as a social tool or public good, you can focus your answer on more altruistic motives for pursuing a degree in dance.
Of course, there can be endless variation and intermingling in these broad buckets. However, these categories can be a good starting point for brainstorming as you consider what approach to take to this essay. If one of these categories speaks directly to you, it can help you define the approach that you’ll take to this essay, which will help you focus and expedite your drafting process.
Articulating Specific Goals
Take a step back and ask yourself: What goals will I fulfill by earning a dance degree?
Some of these goals are likely too general or too random to fit cohesively into a focused essay for a specialized program (for example the general satisfaction and usefulness of having a college degree or the excitement of getting to tell people you studied dance).
Other goals, though, will link to one of the broader approaches mentioned above. Perhaps you want to help people express themselves; perhaps you want to teach dance; perhaps you want to direct arts programs in your community; perhaps you want to become an academic who studies dance, too; perhaps you want to study something you are truly passionate about. Though you’ll likely think of a number of goals, you should choose just a few that fit well together. For example, teaching dance and promoting arts could easily be synthesized in one essay–however, it might be too much to try to thread together aspirations to pursue a formal academic career, a career as a dance teacher, and a career as an arts program director.
Outlining the steps to that goal
Once you’ve come up with a goal, you need to explain how this particular program can help you achieve that goal. This will require doing some research into the program’s offerings and requirements. Find specific resources, and explain how those resources, part of a dance degree, will enable you to reach your goal.
If you want to become a dance teacher, you should mention specific pedagogical resources available through UM — Twin City’s dance program. You could discuss how the practical aspects of the program (actual dancing) will refine your own technique and personal experience of dance instruction; then, you could transition to discuss how the theoretical aspects of the program would give you a rich understanding of dance’s history, thereby enabling you to give your students an appreciation of their art’s significance and potential.
If your goal is to help others express themselves, you might acknowledge that you won’t necessarily stay in the “dance world” forever. Therefore, you might identify particular aspects of the program (courses, internships, talks) that focus on how dance can facilitate broader personal expression. In an essay focused on a broader goal like this, your overall approach should be to focus on the skills and knowledge that this program provides, describing how these skills can be transferred to domains beyond dance.
Essay Prompt 3:
How do you imagine the relationship between writing about dance and dancing?
The purpose of this question is pretty straightforward: you are applying to an academic program, to receive a degree in dance. This means that you will not only be dancing, but also doing scholarly work on dance–that is, theorizing about dance, reading about dance, discussing dance, and writing about dance (and, of course, dancing). For many applicants, this will be new terrain. Most high schoolers do not take academic courses where they get to discuss and write about dance (or any arts) in-depth, from a theoretical and analytical perspective.
The admissions committee knows that you’ll likely be jumping into something new: combining two parts of your life that might have been separate up to this point–your academic endeavors with your passion for dance. They want to hear your best argument for why you’re prepared to merge these two spheres. Of course, this question isn’t phrased as “Convince us you can write about dance, and that you want to do it, too”–the use of the word “imagine” in the prompt invites you to be a bit creative, too (even though you absolutely should convince the reader of those things).
So with this baseline approach, how do you proceed?
Research and Reflection
A good first step would be to familiarize yourself a little bit with the sort of writing and reading on dance that you’ll be required to do in this program. This means reading through course syllabi, skimming scholarly articles or more general pieces on dance, and thinking about which strategies and approaches to writing about dance you find to be meaningful and effective. If you’ve already written extensively about dance, or are familiar with formal and informal writing on dance, you might be able to skip or truncate this step.
Then, as you consider both any experience you have writing about dance and others’ writing on the topic, ask yourself: What do I like? Why do I like it? How does writing help me understand dance? What relationship do I see between writing and dance?
Note that my suggestions so far assume that your focus will be on writing about dance. However, keep in mind that the relationship can also go the other way: you can talk about how writing (potentially not directly about dance) inspires your dance or shapes your understanding of dance. However, keep in mind that your response should touch on the more analytical aspects of writing about dance, since (as mentioned above) this will be a component of your experience as a dance major.
Once you’ve developed an answer to this question, it’s time to come up with a thesis.
Articulating a thesis and finding anecdotes
At this point, you should come up with a clear “thesis” in answer to the prompt. Here are a few example theses:
- Writing helps me explain my love of dance to other people.
- Writing allows the general public to understand the power of dance.
- Writing about dance–and reading about dance–gives me a deeper understanding of my art form, and inspires me to new creative heights.
- Much of my inspiration as a dancer comes from writing–both scholarly work on dance and fiction written on unrelated topics.
Once you’ve developed a thesis, try to think of concrete examples of either how you’ve already experienced this relationship or of how you imagine this relationship will play out in your future.
If your thesis is focused on explaining your love of dance through writing, you could tell about a time that you wrote a piece in your school paper describing a performance, in hopes of encouraging your peers to come, but also just to share your art form with them.
If your thesis is focused on sharing the power of dance with the general public, you could describe, using specific examples, your ongoing frustration with the low attendance at local dance performances. Then, you could describe–again, using specific examples linked to the problem you identified–how you believe more writing on dance could encourage both academics and the general public to take dance more seriously.
A few words of caution
Avoid an overly-theoretical, impersonal response.
With a somewhat abstract prompt like this, it’s far too easy to write a response that’s replete with broad statements and about writing and dance–but includes no concrete examples. Take care to not make wide overgeneralizations about dance and writing (“Writing has long allowed non-dancers to understand the mysterious world of dance…”) and avoid obvious, broad comparisons between the two (“Writing and dance could not seem more different–but, in fact, they are both art forms…”).
Your response should certainly have a strong theoretical component, and can even reference other writers, dancers, or thinkers. However, this broader thesis should be conveyed as your personal view (remember, the prompt asks “how do you imagine”), and substantiated by personal experiences and examples.
Essay Prompt 4 (Optional):
The University values diversity, broadly defined to include diversity of experiences, perspectives, backgrounds, and talents. Enrolling a diverse community of scholars interested in learning with and from each other fosters discussion and discovery inside and outside of the classroom. Please share briefly how you might contribute to, or benefit from, our community of scholars.”
As is almost always the case when it comes to “optional” college essays, this essay is not really optional. You should view every essay as a precious opportunity to share a little more about yourself. There are only two reasons not to write this essay. First, remember that you’re limited to two double-spaced pages for all your responses. If you need every line for your major-specific essays, skipping this one would be acceptable. Second, it’s better not to respond to this prompt than to write something tone-deaf or downright offensive in response (more on that later).
This prompt is a classic example of the “diversity question” that a number of universities now include in their applications. The intention is to get a sense of how you think about diversity–and, more importantly, how you will engage with your peers in an unfamiliar environment populated by people who are different from you in myriad ways.
Your goal should be to: thoughtfully convey (1) your appreciation for and understanding of diversity, along with (2) your practical knowledge of how to navigate and grow in/contribute to a diverse environment.
Considering how you engage with diversity
You should begin by considering whether you want to focus on what you’ll contribute to, or what you stand to gain from, a diverse community of scholars. If you come from a group typically underrepresented in higher education, your angle on this essay might be somewhat easy to find.
For example, most college campuses have very low numbers of Native Americans enrolled. If you are of Native American heritage, writing about your own experiences and traditions and how you could share those with your peers could be very powerful. After all, it’s almost guaranteed that the very grounds students will walk on each day were once trodden by Native Americans–as such, there are a number of points you could make about the value of adding this underrepresented historical perspective to the campus community.
(Note that, for this particular example, your heritage should be verifiable, preferably through tribal membership, not just speculative. Many families have stories about Native American ancestors, which, though powerful for that particular family, do not meet institutional standards for claiming a Native American identity, and, in a drastic case, might make it look like you’ve misrepresented yourself.)
If you don’t have an obvious “diversity hook,” there’s no need to worry. Take a step back and consider how you fit into your community, who you enjoy interacting with–or even any “blind spots” you have. A carefully-constructed essay focusing on a non-traditional type of diversity (are you the only literary geek in your STEM-focused school?) could work here, though you need to be careful not to write an essay that implies that you misunderstand or undervalue “diversity” in the more traditional sense of the word.
Excellent responses on this topic also can address the self-awareness that you haven’t experienced much diversity yet. Do you attend an almost all-white, single-gender private school, where most students are from similar economic backgrounds? You could use a detailed description of this environment as a jumping off point to describe your eagerness to experience a more diverse setting and your awareness of how much you have to learn. Keep in mind that, in a case like this, you shouldn’t strive to put down your current environment, but rather to express an eagerness for new experiences.
No matter what your level of diversity or experience with diversity, there is an “angle” for you here. The key is to ensure that you make it clear that you understand the value of diversity and have something to contribute to or learn from it. This means that the only “wrong” answers are answers that woefully misconstrue diversity (i.e. focusing myopically on your own feeling of being “different” without drawing broader connections to the myriad ways that people in college will be diverse) or discount its value.
Developing a Thesis
Like most essays, your response to this prompt should have a strong thesis–that is, a central theme that guides your writing, and a main, high-level claim that you want to convey to the reader, even if you don’t explicitly state it. Note that this is not a typical five-paragraph high school essay, so this thesis does not need to be stated at the end of your introductory paragraph.
After you’ve thought about how you engage with diversity, take a step back and state, just for your own “framing” purposes, what you think your thesis should be. In this process, you should decide whether you want to focus on “contributing to” or “benefitting from” diversity–or both. Here are a few strong examples of experiences you could draw on and theses you could develop from those theses:
- In an ethnically and economically homogeneous high school environment, I have not had a chance to learn from those with different experiences from my own. As someone interested in developing policy solutions to health issues, I think it’s crucial that I gain insight in college, so my proposals can address diverse needs.
- As the only Asian athlete on my school’s football team, I’ve learned firsthand how, even in an accepting environment, it can be difficult to come from a different background from my peers. In college, I look forward to helping others who might not see many people like themselves in their fields of choice work toward their dreams.
Sentences like these should not necessarily be included in your essay. These thesis sentences are not statements to be inserted in your essay. Rather, they are the guiding principle that could build a strong essay. Once you’ve developed this thesis, you can begin outlining and drafting your essay
Writing your essay
This response will likely be fairly short, but you should still start off with an outline. As usual, the best way to convey your thesis is to “show not tell,” so begin thinking of an example or anecdote that can show your experience with or perspective on diversity.
For the first example thesis given above, this could mean describing a policy discussion that the writer has had with his/her friends, in which he realized that, though they offered intelligent thoughts, they all shared the same experience/perspective. For the second example thesis given above, this could mean describing a moment during football practice when the writer was reminded of his different ethnic identity by a well-meaning, but perhaps inconsiderate, teammate.
Examples like these usually works best near the start of the essay, though they certainly can be integrated throughout. Next, consider how you’ll frame your example: perhaps you want to use it to introduce the reader to your relationship to diversity; perhaps you want to use it to elaborate on a point later in the essay; perhaps you want to use it to close out your essay with a powerful image.
Once you’ve decided how to use your example(s), you can begin to flesh out the rest of the outline. What other crucial information do you need to convey? Specific information about what you want to learn in college? A particular perspective that you hope to share with others? Carefully consider how this information will interact with your example, and then structure your outline around this relationship.
Once your outline is done, you’ll be ready to start writing!
Essay Prompts for Mortuary Science Majors
Essay Prompt 1:
Describe a time when you had to manage a difficult circumstance or situation in a professional manner.
Mortuary Science is a specialized program for those who want to dedicate their lives to helping others through the loss of a loved one. Committing to a life path like this in high school is not something to take lightly, and requires a certain serious, professional character that, frankly, most students will not sufficiently develop in high school.
As a professional in this industry, you’ll need to deal with incredibly difficult situations on a daily basis–situations that aren’t about you, but rather about the family has suffered a loss. This will require professionalism, empathy, but also stoicism: your job will not to be to weep with the family, but rather to remain steady throughout emotional turbulence. This reality informs all of these Mortuary Science prompts: their purpose is to test out your maturity, professionalism and thought process, to see if you have the instincts and learned character traits necessary for such a delicate, emotionally demanding career.
This does not mean that you need to pick examples of times that you comforted friends or relatives who had recently experienced a personal loss. However, you should focus on specific examples of times that you remained cool (yet caring), decisive and compassionate, in situations of stress and emotional difficulty. The above points apply to all four Mortuary Science prompts.
In the case of this particular prompt, note that the focus is on professionalism. This means that you should begin by thinking about your understanding of professionalism, particularly in the context of dealing with customers/clients who are in the midst of a difficult experience. Note that, for this question, an example from your family or personal life might not be a good fit, since it is not typically very appropriate to treat close family and friends with “professionalism.”
Note also that this prompt asks about “a time,” which means that they are clearly looking for a concrete, detailed description of a single example. While it might be tempting to offer a smattering of stories to show how professional you are, resist this urge: in general, it’s better to focus on quality, not quantity in college essays–and when the prompt explicitly asks about a time, you should absolutely adhere to this guideline.
Picking an example
With this basic understanding in mind, it’s time to dive in and choose a particular example. Aside from the basic guidelines I’ve listed above–sticking to just one example, not choosing personal or family scenarios–there’s a lot of leeway in terms of what example could fit. In fact, it’s not so much that the example itself matters. What really matters is what you do with it–which we’ll get to next.
With that said, try to start by considering your professional experiences. Do you have a job? Or have you held an internship or research position? If so, these are natural scenarios where you’ve likely had to stay professional in the face of some sort of challenge.
Here are some examples of scenarios you could choose, and what aspects you should focus on to best tailor your response to the prompt:
A time when someone in your lab made a mistake, which you noticed and were falsely blamed for.
- The key with a situation like this is to focus on how you managed your own emotions. You can briefly describe how hurtful it was to be falsely blamed, but then focus on how you contained and managed that emotion.
- Then, walk the reader through how you calmly addressed the situation, following lab procedures and ensuring that the work was done correctly even as you politely but firmly defended yourself.
A time when you dealt with an irritated customer at your food service job.
- Again, the key here is to show both how you had strong feelings, and how a lot was “on the line,” and how you remained professional.
- You could open by describing the situation in some detail, being sure to “show not tell” your own conduct.
- Make sure the reader can see how you refused to be ruffled, and how you maintained your workplace’s standards even as you did your best to calm the customer.
A time when one of your coworkers struggled with a personal issue while on shift, and you had to step in as junior manager.
- In this example, you have a position with some responsibility, and so your main focus is on keeping the workers below you on-task. You can describe those tasks in detail, explaining how the employee’s emotional distress impeded their ability to work.
- As you describe this, your focus should be on depicting how you both acted compassionately toward the employee and stayed focused on your professional responsibilities, and on maintaining a professional relationship with your coworkers.
- Again, the key here is to show not tell. Don’t state “I calmed my friend.” Instead, describe “at the moment” how you did so.
Writing your Essay
Luckily, with a prompt like this one, most of your work will be done once you’ve picked and developed your central example. All that’s left to do is to write the essay, which should take up about ¼ of a double-spaced page (a fairly short essay).
This means that you’ll need to really dive in and show not tell. Focus on giving basic background information to orient the reader as part of your description. Don’t waste words on summary sentences (“Last summer I worked at a local print shop, in a managerial role…”). Instead, dive right into the example and incorporate details that make this context clear (“As I walked up to the print shop where I worked, I heard a noise…”).
Your focus should be on (1) concisely depicting the difficulty of the situation, (2) concisely depicting how you managed your own feelings and deliberately chose which actions to take and (3) depicting the outcome (as applicable).
Essay Prompt 2:
Share an experience where your compassion and empathy made a concrete difference in another person’s life.
The overall purpose described above, for the first Mortuary Science prompt, applies here. Keep this in mind as you move forward with this essay. This essay is, similarly, asking you to pick a particular example–in this case, an experience that shows your compassion and empathy.
As the prompt indicates, the key here is to convey your ability to sense and respond to others’ emotions–not just in an abstract way, but with purpose and action that “made a concrete difference.”
Like the first prompt, this prompt will require a concise, focused response that centers around your depiction of a particular anecdote. As such, your main task will be choosing one specific example.
Choosing your examples
For this question, it’s fine to consider more personal examples–in fact, the strongest responses are likely to be about times you comforted and helped those close to you, though a discussion of a time when you showed compassion and/or empathy to a stranger could also be very effective.
The key is to come up with an example that both shows your feeling and ability to respond to others and shows the efficacy of that response. Many people try to reach out to and help others, but this prompt is asking for something more: evidence that you can actually make a difference to those in pain.
Here are a few examples of potentially strong responses:
An essay focused on a time when you comforted a friend who was really depressed after her grandmother’s death.
- First, a note: this example, and ones like it, are in a sense “too perfect” a fit for this prompt, since comforting someone who has lost a loved one closely mirrors the actual work you might someday do after graduation. However, this doesn’t mean you need to shy away from such an example–just be extra careful to “get it right.”
- The key to “getting it right” is really honing in on how you made a “concrete difference.” This could mean describing how you reflected on your friend’s personality and struggles, realizing that her pain was suppressing her positive memories. Then, you could describe how you recounted wonderful memories of the person’s grandma, and how that inspired that friend to make a photo montage of her grandmother, breaking through her depression.
An essay about a time when you were there for your mom when she lost her job.
- In an example like this, the key would be to show that you understood and empathized with your mother’s predicament, even though you yourself had probably never been in such a situation.
- Then, describe the action you took: perhaps you offered to help with household tasks to give her time to work on her resume and on job applications; perhaps you put subtle reminders around the house that showed her how successful and qualified she was, which inspired her to apply for a job that she had thought she couldn’t get.
Writing your Essay
Much like the first Mortuary Science prompt, this will be a relatively simple process once you’ve chosen your central example. As much as possible, strive to “show not tell.” Be sure that you hit on the following points:
(1) Offer sufficient background to make sure the reader understands the severity of the situation, and why you felt a need to intervene;
(2) offer a specific depiction of your thought process–that is, how you put yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to consider how to best help them (this is how you show your compassion/empathy); and
(3) offer concrete examples of the concrete impact that this had on the other person.
Essay Prompt 3:
Relate an instance when your tact and ability to remain level-headed under pressure had positive results.
The high-level logic behind this essay is much the same as that of the first two essays. Your main goal here is to relate one particular scenario in which you stayed calm under pressure. This prompt is, actually, quite similar to the first prompt, since a large component of “professionalism” is staying calm and collected no matter what you face.
As such, you should strive to pick a different kind of example for this prompt. Rather than focusing specifically on a professional situation, try to think of examples from new areas of your life, that you haven’t covered in your first two responses, which can illustrate more than just your professional sensibilities. Here, you have the chance to take the reader a little deeper and show your overall temperament and general conduct in wider areas of your life.
Choosing an Example
With this in mind, consider what areas of your life you haven’t yet covered with the examples you’ve given so far. You can broadly think of the different areas of your life as work, academics, extracurriculars, personal life, and miscellaneous. If you touched on work in your first example and your personal life in the second, then it might be a good idea to think about your academics, extracurriculars, or miscellaneous experiences. This last category could include travel experiences, artistic or performance endeavors, or unexpected crises.
Note that it’s also OK to pick an example from a category you’ve already covered, too. The key, however, is to make sure that your example doesn’t feel redundant. Two examples of work crises or two examples of times you’ve comforted a loved one will “show” the same dimension of your character, and so won’t be an optimal use of the limited space you have.
Here are a few examples of a good potential instance, and how you could develop each one:
A time when you were part of a local theater performance and had to cover for a peer who forgot his/her lines.
- This situation has obvious pressure since you’re on stage in front of possibly hundreds of people. The key is to both depict the pressure that you felt (describe your beating heart, the tension in your body, for example!), but to show how you ignored or moved past it.
- You can show both tact and level-headedness by describing how you found a way to gently help your peer without making him/her look bad by improvising a bit.
- You can show “positive results” by describing not only how the show went on smoothly, but also how your peer regained confidence and performed well then–and in the future.
A time when a fellow adventurer was injured during a hiking expedition, bringing your group’s movement to a dangerously slow pace as dusk neared.
- In this scenario, the pressure would, again, be obvious: just by describing the scene–the woods, the treacherous terrain, impossible to navigate after dark–you could clearly show the reader the pressure of the situation.
- Here, calmness would clearly be necessary to maintain focus and find a solution; tact would be necessary to help your friend without embarrassing him/her or making him/her feel guilty for a situation that can’t be reversed, anyway.
- You could describe how you took control of the situation, using your knowledge of first aid to splint your friend’s injury, then redistributing the items in his/her pack, then quieting other hikers’ grumbles.
- The positive results would be, in a sense, basic and obvious: your survival. However, you could also highlight how you maintained harmony and positivity in the group, despite everyone’s concerns and frustration.
Writing Your Essay
As in the first and second essays, once you’ve chosen your example and thought out how it fits each aspect of the prompt, you’ll already have done most of the hard work. The key here is to write your essay in a way that zooms in on the “moment,” showing the reader: (1) your tact, (2) your level-headedness, and (3) the positive results that came directly from those two attributes.
Essay Prompt 4:
Detail an occasion in your life in which you had to make an important decision, and how the outcome of that decision affected your own life, as well as the life of another person(s).
Many of the principles that applied to the first three essays apply here: you need to zero in on one particular moment to answer the prompt, and you should be focused on how your example reflects on your ability to pursue a mortuary science-related career.
However, this prompt isn’t trying to assess traits like professionalism, compassion/empathy, calm under pressure, or tact: it’s trying to assess your decision-making ability, particularly under pressure. It’s useful to consider why this matters for prospective Mortuary Science majors before we move on.
Firstly, there is the “meta point”: you’re making a big decision at a young age by choosing such a specialized major. The admissions committee wants to see an example of your ability to make weighty decisions; essentially, they’re trying to assess whether or not you have the awareness of what constitutes a weighty decision and the experience in making weighty decisions that they deem necessary to make one here–that is, in the weighty decision of choosing your major/career.
Secondly, the admissions committee is trying to assess your ability to make decisions that impact others. As a mortician or funeral director, you will regularly be confronted with choices that impact others–particularly those in a vulnerable state due to the recent loss of a loved one.
Choosing an Example
The best way to convince your reader that you’re both prepared to make this academic/career decision for yourself and to make potential decisions for future customers is to choose a strong example. There are two major pitfalls here to avoid.
The first is picking an example that is too trite or immature. If you choose to describe a time that you picked out a birthday gift for a friend or a color to paint your room, you likely will give the impression that you really don’t have the serious decision-making experience necessary to enter the program.
The second pitfall is that you pick an example that either only impacts someone else or only impacts you. The key here is to pick a “two for one” example, as the prompt asks: one that had tangible impacts (that you will discuss in your response) on both you and someone else.
Try to think of decisions that you’ve made that you feel have shaped your “life path” or seriously altered someone else’s experience or worldview. Needless to say, these examples should, generally, be of “good” decisions, though some “mixed” examples–that is, a time when you made a choice that had a combination of positive and more negative results–could also work in some scenarios.
Here are some strong potential topics, along with explanations of how they would need to be tailored to fit the prompt:
An applicant could write about a time that he decided to refer a student he tutored to a mental health professional, after seeing risky behaviors.
- This decision obviously important, since it concerns another person’s health.
- This decision obviously would have implications for the student, since it could potentially save or improve their life–and the lives of those who love them.
- This decision could also impact the applicant in myriad ways. He could more concrete impacts, like the impact on his own income (perhaps he tutored to earn money while helping others, and by referring them to therapy he knew he would ultimately lose that student). The writer could also focus on more abstract impacts: the effect on his own emotional state, or his own perspective on mental health.
An applicant could write about a decision that she, her family and her grandma had to make regarding sending her grandmother to hospice, rather than pursuing aggressive cancer treatment.
- A topic like this can be delicate since it’s likely a decision that the applicant reached after a lot of reflection and group discussion–and it’s clearly not a decision that she would make on her own. However, if the applicant and her family are close, her perspective might have played an important role in this group decision.
- If this was the case, the applicant could describe the process she went through to conclude that she wanted to support her grandma’s desire to stop chemo and instead enter hospice (end-of-life) care.
- In this case, the applicant’s reflection on how it affected her own life would be highly personal: letting someone go in this way is never easy, but affects everyone in different ways.
- The applicant’s reflection on how it affected her grandma could also take a number of forms. However, she shouldn’t focus on the difficult fact that her grandmother eventually died. Instead, a strong essay would focus on the peace and clarity that this collective decision gave her grandma.
Writing the Essay
As before, once you’ve chosen and worked through an example to fit it to the prompt, your work will be almost done. As you write, be sure to “show not tell,” and to hit these three points:
(1) Provide the context that shows the importance of the decision;
(2) show how it affected you; and
(3) show how it affected someone else.
Essay Prompts for Nursing Majors
Essay Prompt 1:
Why have you chosen to pursue a nursing career? Explain how your experiences shaped your decision. (250 words)
This question, like most questions for specialized or guaranteed-admission programs, is intended to assess your commitment to a difficult, long-term path–as a high school senior. As such, your primary focus here should be to convey, with concise focus and concrete examples, your commitment to and passion for this path.
Furthermore, in such a short space, it’s crucial that you remain focused. There might be a million reasons that you want to be a nurse–and that’s great! Just don’t list them all here. Your reader won’t assume that this response is an exhaustive list of all the reasons you want to be a nurse–instead, they’ll assume that you’ve chosen one or two of the most compelling experiences you’ve had to illustrate the core motivation behind this aspiration.
This brings me to the final important thing to note: With why-driven essays, your focus should be on digging beyond basic explanation. Try to show not only the experiences that have inspired you but also what your deepest motivations and aspirations are. What drives you? What makes you tick? What do you aspire to do with your life? Use specific examples to offer insight into these important, deeply personal questions, even as you explain why you want to be a nurse.
Though strong responses will have an abstract/aspirational dimension, your response should still be grounded in concrete examples. This means that your writing process should still begin with some brainstorming as you search for concrete examples. Think back: is there an obvious experience that made you go “Aha! I want to be a nurse?”
Strong experiences to focus on can include:
- Family or close friends in health-related fields who have inspired you.
- Your own medical experiences, as a patient.
- Experiences with close family members or friends who have been patients and who have been cared for by excellent nurses.
- An internship or shadowing experience.
- An academic or pre-professional course that exposed you to nursing.
The experiences you choose to depict should be vivid and meaningful enough that you can offer a brief, but detailed, description that shows the reader how they impacted you. As such, a brief glimpse of a nurse on a break from work or an impression you got from watching a TV show might be too superficial to develop as an experience that “shaped your decision.”
One note of caution: Note that the next prompt asks about how your “studies and activities” have prepared you for a career in nursing. This means that you’ll get a chance later to focus on specific academic or extracurricular things that have given you the skills and knowledge to dive into nursing studies. Here, your focus should be on motivations and interests, not preparation.
Digging a little deeper
Once you’ve chosen your example, take a moment to consider what this experience touched in you. Was it your desire to help others? Your anger at the suffering in the world? Your fascination with biology and the mechanisms of the human body? These sorts of more abstract motivations are what, ultimately, will provide a deep, satisfying answer to this question’s “why.” However, you need to “pull” these sorts of deeper points out of your examples.
If your deeper motivation is a fascination with the human body and a desire to help others, you could focus on a personal medical experience.
- Describe a moment of reflection as you sat in your bed while a nurse drew your blood. You could watch her care and consideration intently, moved by it, but also fascinated by the procedure itself. This “moment” could be framed as helping you realize that these two passions could go together.
Structuring your response
A strong response will seamlessly interweave introspection/deeper reflection and concrete examples. In order to plan your essay, you should consider the relationship between your motivations/interests and the example(s) you’re giving. It’s sort of a “chicken and egg” question, but your job is to decide which came first.
Perhaps you had an interest in helping others, which motivated you to pursue an internship at a local hospital, which, in turn, cemented your desire to become a nurse.
- In this case, you might start by describing that initial impulse, then jump into the example of your shadowing experience, then reflect on how it shaped/specified your long-term aspirations.
Perhaps you really hadn’t realized your passion for the science of the human body until a particular medical experience you had.
- In this case, it might make sense to dive right into the “moment” when you found yourself in a hospital, fascinated by the procedures going on around you/happening to you. Then, you can extrapolate from this example, discussing what you realized about yourself and your long-term goals.
Essay Prompt 2:
How have your studies and activities prepared you for a career in nursing? (250 words)
This is a fairly straightforward question. However, as with the previous question, the key here is to not go overboard. Your focus should not be to exhaustively list everything that has prepared you in any way for a career in nursing. Instead, pick 2-4 specific academic and/or extracurricular activities to discuss.
Crucially, this should not just be a list: for each example, go into detail. Explain what specific skills or information each experience you cite has given you; explain how this has prepared you to become a nurse.
Choosing your examples
This essay should cite specific studies and activities, so your first order of business should be to pick which studies or activities you want to discuss. However, your examples shouldn’t be chosen just because they “seem” like the good nursing prep. Instead, try working backward.
First, think about what skills and knowledge you have that would make you a good nurse. Then, think about how you acquired these competencies. Whatever comes out of this last reflection will be a potential “study or activity” to include in your response. Given the framing of the prompt, however, you should try to focus on clearly defined things, like courses or extracurriculars, rather than on personal experiences.
Strong examples could include:
- Your anatomy course.
- Your internship at a local hospital.
- Your job, which has given you strong administrative skills (record-keeping is essential for nursing!).
- Your biology course.
- Your food science course, which has taught you a lot about nutrition (also key for nursing, though not always adequately covered!).
- Membership in a club like Best Buddies that lets you connect with and help those who might be differently-abled than you are.
Importantly, avoid choosing redundant examples. Each course or activity that you describe should touch on a different aspect of your preparation.
Writing your Essay
Once you’ve chosen your examples, the key is just to weave them together. The key, however, is to make sure that for every example you give, you do three things: (1) Explain the study experience activity in some detail; (2) describe what skills or knowledge you gained; and (3) explain how this has prepared you to become a nurse.
If several of your examples do show similar knowledge/skills, you can group them together.
For example, if your overall thesis is that you have the specific knowledge of the human body and practical experience of engaging empathetically with others that you’ll need to be a nurse, you could have two main paragraphs.
The first could focus on your knowledge of the human body, describing your anatomy course and your experience working in a physical therapist’s office.
- You can explain how this knowledge base will allow you to rapidly develop efficient mastery of everyday procedures that nurses must conduct.
The second could focus on your experiences empathetically helping others: you could describe your involvement as a peer mental health counselor and your volunteer work at a local nursing home.
- Then, you could explain how this comfort with comforting and helping others will allow you to be an effective and compassionate nurse.
- The first could focus on your knowledge of the human body, describing your anatomy course and your experience working in a physical therapist’s office.
If your examples all feel quite disparate, that’s fine. Each paragraph can focus on a different skill/area of knowledge–just be sure that all three components (example, detailed description, and explanation of how this will allow you to be a good nurse) are present. Then, try to add transitions and tie all your examples together in a strong, specific, personal conclusion.
Essay Prompt 3:
Given our unique structure, please provide a brief reflection about why you feel the University’s Freshman Nursing Guarantee Program and the University of Minnesota School of Nursing will be the best fit with your degree and career plans. (250 words)
First, a note about what this prompt is not asking: This prompt is not asking you to explain why you want to be a nurse (you’ve already done that, hopefully, in your first response!) or why you like the University of Minnesota in a broad sense. This is a very specific question about why this particular program fits your degree and career plans.
Given this, your response should contain three elements:
(1) A statement of your career and degree plans;
(2) a reflection on key elements of the University of Minnesota’s Freshman Nursing Guarantee Program; and
(3) an explanation of how these elements facilitate the achievement of your plans).
These elements can be combined in different ways, but all strong essays will contain all three in some form.
Defining your goals
Unlike most essays here, this one doesn’t require the incorporation of specific examples, though you might end up giving specific examples of what you aspire to do with your life.
Instead, you should begin stating your goals. What undergraduate degree do you want to get? What do you aspire to do with your nursing degree? Note that you need to go beyond “I want to be a nurse” as your career plan–this is already self-evident. Instead, you should explain the particular kind of nursing you want to practice, or, more abstractly, the kind of impact you want to have on your patients.
Furthermore, you might also mention aspirations beyond simply working as a nurse: perhaps you would like to eventually advocate for better nursing practices on a policy level, or work in a more managerial or administrative role in a hospital. Feel free to be as specific as you like here. The more clearly you set your “targets,” the more focused, personal and powerful your essay will be.
Familiarizing yourself with the program
Though you are hopefully already familiar with the program, take some time to brush up on its essential features. Identify particular requirements that really fit your goals. Go beyond what is readily accessible on their website’s front page.
Try making a list of all the unique features of the program that excite you and that you know you couldn’t find on a regular undergrad-nursing school path. Then, dig a bit deeper. Find specific mentors, courses, labs, etc., that really excite you.
Once you have this list, go back to the goals that you’ve defined. Which of these resources fit your goals? Can you draw a line from one particular offering of UMTC’s Freshman Nursing Guarantee Program to achieving that aspiration?
Linking Program features to your goals
This brings us to the final step: explaining exactly how the features of the Freshman Nursing Guarantee Program fit your goals. Remember, the key here is to show how this program will better fit your aspirations than a normal path (undergrad, then nursing school). You should not spend too many words explicitly making negative statements about a “normal” path–however, you should avoid elaborating on things that a “regular” path could also provide to you.
- If you’re really interested in supporting patients suffering from cognition-altering brain conditions, you might want to talk about how the opportunity to work closely with faculty from an early point in your education will really steep you in different approaches to brain trauma. Emphasize how this sort of close study and mentorship simply wouldn’t be possible in another program; you could explain how this sort of close work early in your studies will allow you to focus, as you continue to take classes, on problems and questions that arise as you start to learn more about current approaches to brain maladies and trauma.
- If your long-term goal is to work in hospital administration, trying to raise nurse’s voices in hospital decision-making, then you might focus on aspects of the program that will allow you to become more familiar with administrative dimensions of nursing. You might also emphasize that the accelerated aspect of the program will give you more years to gain nursing experience before you try to transition to an administrative role.
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