DISCLAIMER: Below, I’ve included and reflected upon the essay of an applicant to last year’s class who became a Tufts student. His name is John. This is not what your essay should look like. You are all unique snowflakes, and this is not a “one size fits all” process. But I’ve pulled out aspects of this essay that worked for John. These same aspects (in concept, not in exact execution), could work for you too if you make them your own.
And now, John the 2018 Jumbo celebrates his nerdy side:
A few months ago I bought a new collection of Chopin’s greatest hits, and the next day, I eagerly inserted it into my car’s CD player and drove to school. What I did not know, however, was that as I sat in my school’s morning traffic, Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat major escaped through the glass of the windows and into the street. The “piano music,” as a friend/witness described, drew the attention of about half-a-dozen pedestrians, who glimpsed me gesticulating wildly to the airy melodies with one hand and furiously beating the steering wheel of my ancient minivan with the other. Personally, I don’t see my display of nerdiness as being particularly unusual. Listening to one of Bach’s preludes, or Debussy’s Arabesques is like reading literature; the first time through, you grasp the general ideas, but rereading once or twice gives you insight into the minute details. You notice how the instrumentation, articulation, tempo, and dynamics combine to create a mood, tone, and narrative. Analyzing the composer’s score is like putting together a puzzle, assembling the array of notes into a cohesive progression of chords and revealing the piece’s message. The most vivid connection occurs when I translate the black and white symbols on the page into positions on a piano keyboard or trombone slide and recreate the music through my own unique lens, adding my own personality to a timeless story that so many others have embarked upon.
Nearly a year later, I still like this essay. Here’s why:
- Its tone is authentic: I know this for two reasons. First: all of John’s essays were in the same tone. I’d call it… ramblingly-smart-and-worldly-with-a-touch-of-sass/drama-and-down-to-earth-nonchalance. Second: his teachers described the kind of student I imagined. Words like intelligent, introspective, intellectual, humble, mature, true to himself, and unique were common. I know the student I was seeing/hearing was the same one who came to class each day.
- Its message is genuine: The take-away from this essay is an honest one. That John is the kid/nerd who unabashedly makes a fool of himself in the name of his deep love of music. It’s not glamorous or unique, but it’s an authentic morsel of who he is and what he’s all about. And while we could see his love of music in his list of extracurriculars (which included items like jazz trombone, piano, and pep band) it’s the essays that give it color.
- It’s Tuftsy: Our review of your application is partially about you, and partially about us. Lots of great young people come through our doors (aka our online portal) who are lovely and smart, but not necessarily a great “fit” for Tufts. “Fit” is that nebulous thing you’ve been asked to assess in your search process, and it’s something we think about a lot, too. I often describe Tufts students as intellectual, unpretentious, and authentically engaged in the things they care most about. The type of kid I see in this essay, the one who can geek out in a high minded way about how classical music mirrors literature, but sees no shame in looking ridiculous in the school parking lot while doing so, is a good little Jumbo.
- It got him in: Not necessarily this essay alone, but the sum total effect of all his essays in conjunction with his recommendations put John in the class. Without these, there was nothing wholly remarkable about his application (sorry, John!). His grades were very good, but he wasn’t the valedictorian. His scores were perfectly solid, but not flawless. His involvement outside of school was laudable but not earth shattering (i.e.- no cure for cancer, no Daytime Emmys, no non-profit founding, no Olympic level athletics). He comes from a middle class home in the suburbs of Boston, raised by two college educated parents. In our thousands of applications, many are like John. But the voice of his application (seen largely in the essays) painted a picture of the kind of kid we were eager to bring to campus.
Again, it is unlikely that your strongest application will look like John’s. But keep the core strengths of his essay in mind as you pen yours. Is the tone authentic to you? Is the message genuine to you? Is it Tuftsy in a way that is true to you? (Note: if you are applying thoughtfully and felt that sense of “fit,” being “Tuftsy” should come naturally.) You’ve got this, guys. Keep up the hustle, and let me know if you have questions.
(Photo cred: Chris Christodoulou, Gustavo Dudamel at the London 2012 Festival, Featured in LA Times)
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.