2a. Discuss how the mission of Tuskegee University connects with your career goals. (500 words max)
At its heart, this is a “Why us?” essay that Tuskegee is using to get to know why they’re your GOAT. (Don’t get the? Then you haven’t yet done enough research. Keep going!) These prompts are one of the most common, and for good reason: They’re designed to generate responses that show why you and a school are a perfect match.
While most “Why us?” prompts ask you to consider the school as a whole—its academics, extracurriculars, and other opportunities—this one is asking you to focus on just. That means tying in its values with not only your own values, but your career goals too. (And because the third time’s a charm, here’s one more link to the for you to nail down those values.) So, for example, you might connect Tuskegee’s vision of developing “applications of knowledge to help resolve problems of modern society” with how you plan to develop and implement anti-bullying programs in elementary schools to reduce the incidence of teen suicide. Or you might tie together the vision of education as a “continuing process and lifelong endeavor for all people” with your love of aerospace engineering and your plans to study propulsion and structural dynamics to design spacecraft that travel progressively farther, faster. In either case, the key is to use Tuskegee’s offerings (courses, professors, activities, etc.) to show how you’ll create the road map of (and to) your future.
And what happens if you’re not quite sure what your career goals are? Deep breath. It’s not only OK to not know, you’re also in great company. In this case, connect Tuskegee’s values with those that are important to you and that you want to further explore and develop during your time on campus. For a fuller guide on the “Why us?” essay,.
While we don’t have any Tuskegee-specific essays to share with you, this essay, responding to a similar prompt for another school, does a pretty good job at showing you how to craft a “Why us?” essay, with just a few tweaks needed for Tuskegee.
Mark Twain was a steamboat pilot. Agatha Christie was a nurse. Robert Frost was a light bulb filament changer. The best writers do not only write beautifully, but also integrate their personal experiences and knowledge outside the world of literature. By combining the study of literature, media and perhaps law, I believe the University of Michigan will provide the education necessary for me to evolve as a journalist.
A journalist cannot reach the peak of his craft if his knowledge of literature and critical thinking skills are weak, which is why I’m excited to explore what the Department of English has to offer. I look forward to courses such as Academic Argumentation and Professional Writing, as I believe these will provide me with a firm basis in journalistic writing technique and improve my abilities to write analytically and develop well-supported arguments. Furthermore, the Professional Writing course will teach me how to write in a concise, straightforward style, a skill vital to a journalist.
At The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, I will be able to apply the skills learned in class with media studies in and beyond the classroom. The Honors Program provides an opportunity for independent research into the field of mass media, which will allow for intensive group studies and in-depth research opportunities, and the superb networking opportunity provides the chance to meet and engage with prominent figures in media-related studies, which will provide a deeper insight and knowledge into the field. Outside the classroom, I can see myself writing scripts for the student-run television station WOLV-TV, or composing headlines for The Michigan Daily.
And although journalism is the path I’m currently on, I want to remain open to other opportunities I may encounter at UM. The Pre-Law Advising Program is interesting because I want to explore the intricacies of law and policies that govern this world. I believe that the judicial role of a lawyer is closely related to the expository skills of a writer, and I look forward to exploring this new field of study that wasn’t offered in my high school education.
But all these are what UM has to offer me. I realize that, as a member of the UM community, I’ll want to give back as well. The various volunteer programs offered by Volunteers Involved Every Week appeals to me, as does the possibility of volunteering at the Boys and Girls Club of Southern Michigan, as I have previous experience with elementary school teaching. And as an international student, I know the pains of learning English as a second language. I believe I can contribute to the ESL teaching program either at UM or abroad, and see this as an opportunity to have an impact not only at UM, but in Washtenaw County and beyond. (466 words)
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Tips + Analysis
Offer 3-4 reasons you’re a fit, and then support them. By identifying three distinct ways in which Tuskegee’s values align with yours, and then supporting them with specific examples, you can a) keep your essay neatly organized and b) show the different sides of you that mesh with the Tuskegee mission. This student has four paragraphs to support their “thesis,” and they’re neatly divided into individual topics: the Department of English, the The College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, and the Pre-Law Advising Program.
Don’t limit yourself. It’s easy to think you can talk only about the direct “do not pass Go, do not collect $200” academic route to a career. But one of the great things about college is the opportunity to explore your interests, then seeing how they could tie into your future. This student sees themselves writing television scripts and engaging in the pre-law advising program as key stepping stones in their future journalism career.
Draw the reader in—quickly, if you can. With 500 words available to you, don’t feel you have to jump right into your statement that you and Tuskegee are a perfect match. By the same token, don’t spend 150 words meandering through a well-written but only maybe-relevant anecdote. This essay’s hook is just 40 words long, works well, and gets to the point. Maybe-controversial (but true) perspective: Does your essay even need a hook? Nope.
2b. If you could live your life fighting for one cause, what would it be and why? (500 words max)
Roman poet Ovid said, “Dripping water hollows out stone, not through force but through persistence.” Many important changes—civil rights, world peace, food security—didn’t (or won’t) happen easily. Frustrating, but true. But often, the causes that require so much of our effort and dedication are those that deserve to happen the most.
It’s no surprise that by asking what cause you’d go to the ends of the earth for (figuratively speaking—or maybe not), Tuskegee wants to learn not just what you’re interested in, but what you’re excited about. What really matters to you? What’s the change you’re committed to being (or seeing) over the long term?
Your response will show Tuskegee if you’re the kind of critical, action-oriented thinker school officials want on campus, leading the drive for future change. You may not have the answers to how you’ll effect that change, and that’s OK. Often, it’s recognizing the need for change and taking that first step that’s important.
As you consider your response, know that your cause can be related to your major or future career path, or it can be one that’s arisen from volunteer service or work. Whatever direction you take, make sure it’s a cause you’re genuinely jazzed about—and that you can say a lot (or around 500 words’ worth) about it.
Again, we don’t have a Tuskegee-specific essay to share. But we do have an essay written for a similar UPenn prompt that could work, with a trimming of the word count to the 500-word maximum and a few other tweaks, shared below.
If I could pursue only one goal for the rest of my life, it would be taking measurable action towards gender equality. Since the age of six, I have observed the difference in how I am treated because of my gender–when playing sports, during mealtimes, or at social gatherings. I have tried to counter the effects of gender bias through social entrepreneurship, and now I would like to gain insight into the societal constructs that underlie these issues.
At UPenn, I hope to study Gender, Sexuality, and Women’s Studies with a concentration in Feminist Studies and Global Gender and Sexuality Studies in the College of Arts and Sciences. Through Professor Kathleen Brown’s “Gender & Society” class, I will learn how complex social identities such as race and gender impact economic exchange and demarcate opportunities available to minorities. I hope to further explore the consequences of electoral quotas and their effect on women’s mobilization transnationally with Dawn Teele in her class, “Sex and Power.” Such classes will help me ensure that I am not working for one cause at the expense of another, and will arm me with the skills necessary to analyze social, economic, and political dynamics in the real world.
Last summer, I spent a month at UPenn, living in Harnwell College House and incubating my social impact startup, Straw’d, through the LaunchX program held at the Pennovation Center. At the program, MEAM Professor Jenna Shanis spoke about her work designing soda machines with Coca Cola. Presenting us with a simple task (“design a way for humans to enjoy flowers”), she showed us that the first solution is usually never the best solution, and that innovation is most effective when it is iteratively brainstormed and cross-fertilized. Material Science and Engineering Professor Vanessa Chan, inventor of the tangle-free headphones ‘Loopit,’ inspired me to take on the challenge of creating a consumer good instead of a company in the service industry. These two professors, along with others who spoke, have given me a new perspective on integrating theory into practice, critical thinking into activism.
Given my interest in building new social enterprises, I would like to join the Penn Social Entrepreneurship Movement to learn more about empowering women economically in different countries. Through events like “Social Impact Talk Series” held by PennSEM, I will learn about the multi-faceted industry of social entrepreneurship and gain exposure to issues such as food innovation and food policymaking. Additionally, planning [email protected] events has been an integral part of my four years of high school, and I will continue this passion through TEDxPenn by finding women speakers from underrepresented industries and helping to elevate their voices.
I’ve been an artist longer than I have been an activist. Through classes such as “Photographic Thinking—a Benjamin Franklin Seminar” and “Art, Design, and Digital Culture,” I will learn to use design as a vehicle to fight for gender equality in the future, as digital art is currently heavily influencing the way social movements develop momentum through media.
While at UPenn, I noticed that many youth from surrounding neighborhoods grow up with difficult socioeconomic circumstances, and I hope to empower women of color from these neighborhoods as I study how race and gender impact economic opportunity. I will join the Community School Student Partnerships to lead social impact and entrepreneurship workshops at the after-school programs in high schools. I’ve experienced firsthand how entrepreneurship training can empower individuals, and by training girls from underrepresented communities, I hope to help them solve the problems they experience. Joining CSSP would give me the opportunity to give back to the Philadelphia and Penn communities while continuing my passion for empowering young females.
The GSWS program at UPenn is a perfect fit for me. Its interdisciplinary training and intersectional approach would provide me with the knowledge, mentorship, and resources I need to continue growing as a social justice advocate and champion of equality. (649 words)
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Tips + Analysis
Be specific about your cause. If this cause is important to you, you’ve likely had at least one specific experience that’s fundamentally impacted you. Tuskegee wants to know exactly what you’ve seen, heard, and lived through and why doing something about it is so important. This student dives right in, using the first paragraph to set up the gender discrimination she’s experienced since she was a child, so there’s no confusion about her mission.
Back it up. Efforts to enact change come in many forms, and once you’ve established your cause, it’s time to show you walk the walk. What have you done—big or small—to move toward resolution or equity? While you want to show your enthusiasm, reconsider telling any story that describes you participating in any grey-area activities (like violence or vandalism) no matter how well-intentioned. (While Tuskegee does ask what cause you’d fight for, they don’t mean literally fight for.) Instead, keep your focus on positive, nonviolent efforts. This student supports her mission by recounting her time spent planning [email protected] events and building social enterprises.
Don’t minimize your contributions. It’s easy to think you’re not really making a mark on the world if you aren’t spearheading big changes on a community or state level. But big changes often start with small steps—especially when those small steps are taken enthusiastically and authentically. What are the small but meaningful actions you’ve taken to initiate change? Had she been writing to this prompt, this student may have used details from her past experiences and activities—a conversation that made someone see gender equality in a new way perhaps—to show how she realizes how even one small act of change on an individual level is no less meaningful than the larger efforts she’s planning on a global level.
Add in your “how.” So you’ve got your “what” and “why.” Now, implied in the prompt, is how Tuskegee will help you achieve your goal. With 500 words at your disposal, we encourage you to use them. How will the academic, professional, and extracurricular resources on campus let you move toward resolution? While we would’ve encouraged this student to elaborate more on her “why” if she were responding to the Tuskegee prompt, her “how” is spot-on. She covers professors, classes, programs, and outside opportunities to guide us down her well-planned road map toward gender equality.
Special thanks to Julia for contributing to this post.