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Teacher Tips and Answers

Prewriting for College-Entrance Essays

Thinking about your next step after high school can be overwhelming. You may suffer "paralysis by analysis"—too many options and too little direction. You can find some direction by thinking about yourself—strengths, experiences, hopes, and dreams.

Prewriting to Reflect on Who You Are

By answering a series of questions about yourself, you can gather information to provide on school applications.

  1. What three words would friends use to describe you and why?

    They would probably say "intelligent, funny, and nice." I'm a good student because I work hard on homework and speak up in class. I like to make jokes, but I try not to make them at other people's expense. I know what it's like to not be one of the popular kids, so I don't want other people to feel left out.

  2. What three words would your parents use to describe you, and why?

    They would say "respectful, kind, and smart." They don't put up with bad attitudes or disrespect. I also have a sibling with special needs, so my parents have taught me that I need to be kind. They also want me to get good grades and work hard.

  3. What three words would your teachers use to describe you, and why?

    They would say, "cooperative, respectful, and bright." I try to get along in class with teachers and other students, and I want everyone to feel respected. I work hard in class and try to take a real interest in the things I'm learning about.

  4. What are you passionate about?

    I love politics. I follow political races like other people follow baseball or football. And it's not just modern politics. The Civil War era fascinates me, and I'm a big fan of Teddy Roosevelt and FDR. I like all of the thinking involved and the great speeches, which is where policy and people collide.

  5. Briefly describe at least two important moments or meaningful activities in your life.

    I've gotten to travel twice to Washington, D.C. I love seeing the monuments and museums and being where the Capitol and the White House are. On the second trip, I went to the Smithsonian Museum of African American History, which was amazing and powerful. I also got to travel to Denmark as an exchange student and learn about life in Europe. My parents said I had to earn half of the money to go, so I worked a couple different jobs to save up for the trip.

  6. What are your goals in life? (They do not need to relate to school.)

    I want to be an elected official. I've served for three years as a student representative on the City Council and have participated in all kinds of discussions about how our community is developing. At some point, I'd like to be an official representative. I also want to travel the world, which I've gotten to do some by going to Mexico and to Denmark. Still, I want to live here in the United States and have my own home and a family someday.

Reflect on who you are.

Answer the following questions to think about who you are and the goals you have for the future. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

  1. What three words would friends use to describe you and why?

     

  2. What three words would your parents use to describe you, and why?

     

  3. What three words would your teachers use to describe you, and why?

     

  4. What are you passionate about?

     

  5. Briefly describe at least two important moments or meaningful activities in your life.

     

  6. What are your goals in life? (They do not need to relate to school.)

     

Prewriting to Think About Schools

After you've reflected on who you are and the goals you have for the future, you can think about courses of study and colleges that can get you there. Another set of questions can guide you.

  1. What fields of study would help you achieve your goals? (Think of technical degrees as well as college majors.)

    I am interested in something related to social studies or science. I would like to get a law degree, and try to work in politics, or get a degree in economics or business. If not though, I would be interested in working for the CDC and studying virology. So, I guess I'm interested in pre-law, economics, or some sort of biology.

  2. What three schools (tech, college, or university) offer these fields of study?

    UW- Whitewater, UW-Madison, or UW-Milwaukee

  3. What are these institutions proud of? What do they have to offer that other schools don't?

    Whitewater—Number one political science school in the UW system
    Madison—Number one university in Wisconsin, number 41 in nation
    Milwaukee—Top-rated research institution

  4. What about the location of each institution? What benefits/drawbacks do they have?

    Whitewater—Small-town setting, safe, close to home
    Madison—State capital, near to state government, between two lakes, great small city
    Milwaukee—Largest city in state, great arts and music, near Lake Michigan

  5. Search your three schools and try to find an admission essay prompt for each. Copy it below.

    Whitewater—Write an essay that explains what is most important to you and why. Recount events that made it so important. Indicate how it influences who you are and your goals for the future.
    Madison—Write an essay that introduces us to who you are. Tell us about a particular life experience, talent, commitment, or interest you have. Explain how your presence will enrich life on campus.
    Milwaukee—Consider something in your daily life you think goes unnoticed and write about why it’s important to you.

Think about schools.

Answer the following questions to think about schools that could help you reach your goals. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

  1. What fields of study would help you achieve your goals? (Think of technical degrees as well as college majors.)

     

  2. What three schools (tech, college, or university) offer these fields of study?

     

  3. What are these institutions proud of? What do they have to offer that other schools don't?

     

  4. What about the location of each institution? What benefits/drawbacks do they have?

     

  5. Search your three schools and try to find an admission essay prompt for each. Copy it below.

     

Teaching Tip

To complete this activity, students will need to have access to the Internet. If all of them have cell phones, they could search at their desks. However, you might want to schedule this assignment in the computer lab or when students have access to tablets or other Internet devices.

Prewriting to Gather Qualifications

You might feel nervous about listing your qualifications for applying to a school after college, but when you think back over your accomplishments, you may be surprised at all that you have done. Yes, schools care about academics, but they also care about extra-curricular activities, community involvement, and special interests and achievements. Another set of questions will help you gather a bank of data to use on applications.

  1. What classes have you taken to prepare you for studying after high school?

    AP US History and AP World History can help me in political science and international studies. Biology, Anatomy and Physiology, Statistics, and Pre-Calculus can help me in medical studies. AP English and AP Psych can help me in all of my classes.

  2. What extra-curricular high school activities have you participated in, and for how long?

    Jazz/Pep Band (3 years), Golf (2 years), Student Government (3 years), Honor Society (2 years), Danish Exchange Committee (1 year)

  3. What community organizations, charities, fund-raisers, or events have you participated in?

    CATHE Youth Theater, Haylofters Community Theater, CATHE Big Bash fund-raiser, Tall Tales Music Festival Fund-Raiser, Chocolate Fest Fund-Raiser, Red Cross blood donations

  4. What work experience do you have and for how long?

    Veterans' Terrace Crew (2 years)
    Burlington Menswear Assistant (1 year)
    Neighborhood lawn care (4 years)

  5. What three people (teachers, administration, employers, community members) could you ask to write you letters of recommendation?

    Mr. Jenkins, Mrs. Orano, Miss Waucona

Gather qualifications.

Answer the following questions to gather your qualifications. Afterward, provide a copy of your answers to each person you ask for a letter of recommendation. That way, the letters can reference your experience and target your higher-education goals. Make a copy of this Google doc or download a Word template.

  1. What classes have you taken to prepare you for studying after high school?

     

  2. What extra-curricular high school activities have you participated in, and for how long?

     

  3. What community organizations, charities, fund-raisers, or events have you participated in?

     

  4. What work experience do you have, and for how long?

     

  5. What three people (teachers, administration, employers, community members) could you ask to write you letters of recommendation?

     

Teaching Tip

Note that college applications will also ask students to send in their high school transcripts, which will show grade-point average, class rank, grades, class history, and high-stakes test scores. Make sure your students understand how to submit their transcripts.

This lesson is a part of the Writing College-Entrance Essays unit.

Click the title to view more information about this unit and a full list of lessons that are included.

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