Recruiting and marketing materials that colleges publish to attract new students to their campuses offer some of the best insights into how to approach application essay questions and prompts. If you think about it, the process of researching and building your list of potential schools involves extensive review of not just photographs of the school, but the words that detail everything it offers as well. The pictures likely catch your attention, but it's the words that hook candidates into saying "Yes!" and applying for admission. It's this exact experience and result you want to create for admissions officers who'll be reviewing your college application packet so they say "Yes!" to you.
Study the language that is used on college websites, brochures, and other informational materials
How language is used varies greatly from one institution to the next. Depending on where you're applying, see if it's possible to get your hands on marketing materials to gather clues of how the college prefers to portray itself. Here are several questions to seek answers for:
Are they casual in their presentation or do they take a more formal approach to connecting with the public?
Do they refer to their school's mission regularly or do they mention it only once or twice?
What do they highlight the most, e.g., faculty achievements, research initiatives, classes offered, campus atmosphere and landscape, student life and activities, corporate partnerships, community service, athletics, etc.?
What types of words do they use to describe the personalities, characters, attitudes, and goals of their faculty and students? Do they use vocabulary that align with and focus more on academics, social life, both, or other?
What knowledge, skills, and abilities do they mention as being important across their student body?
Take note of the contents included in photographs. What do you see? How does it make you feel when looking at it? For instance, a photograph of a student surrounded by textbooks looking focused as he holds a pencil to his notebook under his right hand while resting his forehead on his left hand can put you in an academic mindset. You'll likely sense that the school puts high priority on scholarly efforts and supporting students with their personal educational goals. On the other hand, imagine looking at a picture of a few students walking across a wide-open lawn on campus with snow-capped mountains in the distance, wind blowing through their hair, and each of them smiling from ear to ear. You'd probably sense that they're socializing, relaxing, and enjoying each other's company in a casual environment. This may send the message that the school values life balance, nature, and friendships. Pictures, which present a different form of language, provide insight into the atmosphere and experiences colleges want you to buy-in to just as much as the words they choose to use in posts, articles, and other publications.
You have a sense of how they use language to market their school. Now what?
Now that you have more information about your colleges of interest, take some time to organize what you've discovered and plan a strategy that incorporates what you've learned about them in your style of and approach to writing. Your approach to each application response should be specific to where you are applying. Remember that marketing materials are written by professionals, and as such, could help you to really polish up your writing style. Once you have your writing approach and strategy, it's time to get down to business!
By applying the elements you've observed during your college research process, you'll quickly see how you're better able to align your responses with what the school is most likely looking for in applicants. As with most things in life, there are no guarantees that you'll be accepted to attend your choice college; but, by taking this step of researching your future educational home, and designing and phrasing your responses so they align with how they present themselves, you'll show your level of effort and genuine interest to be a member of their college community. As a result, you'll give yourself a much better chance of being welcomed to walk through their doors in the upcoming academic term.
A final word…
If this tip has piqued your interest, give it a try and see what you discover. This doesn't require hours of research or extensive amounts of marketing materials to comb through; rather, it calls primarily upon your focused attention, observation of details, and awareness of what those elements evoke in you. Once you have these pieces, dive in and start writing your response. If you've tried this out but feel you need additional support with making this tip work for you, contact us here and we'll do our best to help you.