St. Olaf Essay Question

I was just about to send out a "What the new application essay prompts are" email to students with whom I work. Right in the middle of writing it, it dawned on me that everyone should have access to this information, especially since it's not that easy to find. And so I decided to write a HuffPost blog.

I am well aware of how busy students are now with AP tests, finals and other end-of-year activities. In the middle of this hustle-bustle, however, I have heard from any number of juniors (and parents) wanting to know what students should be doing during the summer re: college admissions and application essays. Here is what I have to offer:

If you haven't already, pull together and then finalize your college list. HuffPost is full of blogs that tell you how to do this, including "Seven Steps to Putting Together a Great College List," and "5 Biggest Mistakes Applicants Make When Putting Together Their College Lists." You need to know where you're applying to college before you even start thinking about writing essays.

Create an activities resume. There are so many ways in which you can use a resume, including submitting it to colleges through The Common App. A resume is an essential tool in making sure you fully answer the 5-item Honors space and 10-item Activities Grid on the Common App. Finally, a resume is perfect for evaluating your involvements and talents in order to focus on what's important and meaningful in college essays. For information about creating and using an activities resume, read "Activities Resumes: A Surprising First Step to Having a Successful College Application."

The following notes the different applications colleges use for their respective admissions programs. Of course, many colleges have their own unique applications. Determine which applications the schools on your college list use.

The Common Application now has more than 600 colleges signed up to use their application service.

After school is out, begin filling out the different spaces in The Common App. As you may have heard, The Common App has a new policy that allows students to sign up for a 2015-2016 Common App account AND begin working on it. What's new is that the account you create can be rolled over to the 2016-2017 Common App. This is HUGE! To learn more, go to The Common App's "Five Things to Know about Account Rollover."

Another thing to do is begin identifying the potential topics you want to consider for your Common App Personal Statement essay. You will be glad to know that the Personal Statement prompt options for 2016-2017 are the same for 2015-2016. Here they are:

In 650 words or less, please respond to one of these prompts:

PROMPT #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

PROMPT #2: The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

PROMPT #3: Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?

PROMPT #4: Describe a problem you've solved or a problem you'd like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma-anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution

PROMPT #5: Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.

Colleges who make use of The Common App may also require other essays as Supplements to the above essays.

To know how to write over the top essays for college applications, read these HuffPost blogs: "7 Steps to Writing a Captivating, One-of-a-Kind College Application Essay," "Do's and Don'ts in Writing College Application Essays,"


44 colleges make use of The Universal Application, including American University in Bulgaria, Bay Path, Beloit, Brandeis, Bryant, University of Charleston, University of Chicago, Christian Brothers University, Colgate, Cornell, Dean, Duke, Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Emerson, Fish, Gardner-Webb, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, Johnson & Wales, Lake Erie, Landmark, Lawrence Tech, Lynn, Milwaukee School of Engineering, Monmouth, Nazareth College, Newberry College, Notre Dame of Maryland, Princeton, Randolph College, Rensselaer Polytechnic, Rice, Rochester Tech, University of Rochester, Roger Williams University, Savannah College of Art and Design, Southern Vermont College, University of Tamp, Utica, Vanderbilt, Wentworth Tech, Westminster, Wilson College and the University of Wyoming.


PROMPT #1: In 650 or fewer words, please write an essay that demonstrates your ability to develop and communicate your thoughts. Some ideas include: a person you admire; a life-changing experience; or your viewpoint on a particular current event.

PROMPT #2: In 100-150 words, tell us about one of your extracurricular, volunteer or employment activities.

Colleges who make use of The Universal App may also require other essays as Supplements to the above essays.

While The Common App essay prompts are the same, the UC questions are TOTALLY different. The directions are to answer four of the eight questions and limit your responses to 350 words each. Here they are:


1. Describe an example of your leadership experience in which you have positively influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time.

2. Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side.

3. What would you say is your greatest talent or skill? How have you developed and demonstrated that talent over time?

4. Describe how you have taken advantage of a significant educational opportunity or worked to overcome an educational barrier you have faced.

5. Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement?

6. Describe your favorite academic subject and explain how it has influenced you.

7. What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?

8. What is the one thing that you think sets you apart from other candidates applying to the University of California?


In case you haven't heard, 80 "elite" colleges and universities are coming together to offer an alternative to The Common Application starting 2016. Their goal is "to improve the college admission process for all students" and it's free!

The colleges include American, Amherst, Bates, Bowdoin, Brown, Bryn Mawr, Cal Tech, Carleton, Claremont McKenna, Clemson, Colby, Colgate, College of the Holy Cross, William & Mary, Colorado College, Columbia University, Connecticut College, Cornell, Dartmouth, Davidson, Duke, Emory, Florida State, Franklin and Marshall, Olin College of Engineering, Georgia Tech, Grinnell, Hamilton, Harvard, Haverford, Illinois State, Indiana University, James Madison, Johns Hopkins, Miami of Ohio, Michigan State, Middlebury, Mount Holyoke, North Carolina State, Northeastern, Northwestern, Oberlin, Ohio State, Penn State, Pomona, Princeton, Purdue, Ramapo, Reed, Rice, Rutgers, New Brunswick, Skidmore, Smith, St. Olaf, Stanford, SUNY, Geneseo, SUNY Binghamton, SUNY, Buffalo, Swarthmore, Texas A &M, College Station, College of New Jersey, Tufts, Union, University of Chicago, University of Connecticut, University of Florida, Gainesville, University of Georgia, Athens, University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, University of Iowa, University of Maryland, Mary Washington, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities, University of Missouri, Columbia, University of New Hampshire, Durham, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, Notre Dame, University of Pennsylvania, University of Pittsburgh, University of Rochester, University of South Carolina, Columbia, University of Vermont, Burlington, University of Virginia, Charlottesville, University of Washington, Seattle, Vanderbilt, Vassar, Virginia Polytechnic, Wake Forest, Washington University, St. Louis, Wellesley, Wesleyan, Williams and Yale.

The Coalition essay prompts directions say that applicants should choose one essay and recommend that the answer be no longer than 500-550 words.


1. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

2. Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.

3. Has there been a time when you've had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?

4. what is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What is the best part? What advice would you give a younger sibling or friend (assuming they would listen to you)?

5. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

It goes without saying that many colleges have their own unique applications, and do not make use of any of the above.


Students who do this usually end up submitting much more complete, creative, powerful and better written applications because they have the time and energy to do the best job they can. That really pays off in their potential for admission.

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With roots in a"Norwegian heritage," St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minnesota, provides students "a wonderful liberal arts education" with a strong focus on "classical music appreciation," while still offering "academic opportunities for everyone." St. Olaf emphasizes the need for "globally conscious citizens." To help them "[build] a global perspective," St. Olaf encourages students "to ask questions and explore their beliefs." Students agree that "the professors here are simply phenomenal in every respect, and their approachability is absolutely a hallmark of this campus." Nearly everyone we heard from praised their professors as "readily available to help," offering "late night review sessions," encouraging "academic conversations outside of the classroom," and "[extending] office hours to all five days a week the week before" major projects are due. St. Olaf students feel their professors "care about their students as whole people." But "this does not mean that they are lax and let students walk all over them." St. Olaf faculty maintain "high expectations" for their students, "but [they] want to see students succeed" as well. "Being a professor isn't just a 9-to-5 job for them," one student explains, "but a life they truly enjoy." While the school is affiliated with the Lutheran church, students assure us that "even if you aren't religious, you won't feel out of place at St. Olaf," explaining how "the religious aspect of the school" is rooted in its history "and allows those that are religious to find a community of people who are religious as well."

Student Body

Students express concern about the "lack of diversity on campus," but they hold one another in high esteem. "It's an accepting and trusting community" where students are comfortable "leaving laptops and backpacks around" without worry, and "if you lose your ID or wallet, you can expect it to appear in your PO box within a few hours." Students tend to be "a little preppy, type A personalities" who are "trustworthy" and considerate: "a local florist sells 'Friday flowers'—which people buy for their friends and leave in their POs with notes." These "sincere" students "wear Norwegian sweaters non-ironically" and exude a "very mid-western. . .niceness." Olaf is an alcohol-free school, and "although it definitely has a presence on campus," students "agree that there is no pressure to drink" from fellow Oles. "I would say if you're not into socializing at parties and are into good clean fun," one student explains, "then there are options for you." With such strong music programs, it is no wonder that "music is very important to the average St. Olaf student, especially choir."

Campus Life

Oles enjoy an active and engaging campus life where "most students are busy on school days and nights either studying or attending school functions." Olaf students take their community and club involvement seriously. With "250 student clubs and organizations" that "[provide] opportunities for students to explore and nourish their passions," students find that "it is really easy to get involved in multiple activities." While this can make it so their "days are pretty full, sometimes hectic," "being an Ole means you are fully devoted to your school or your community." Even so, Oles say they have "a pretty good work/life balance since there are so many opportunities to de-stress and spend time with friends (even if you are just working in the same room)." Among the "million extra activities" that Oles love, "choir and music are hugely popular-—[about 25 percent] of students are in a music ensemble and [many] students participate in the nationally renowned St. Olaf Christmas Festival." During the Christmas Festival, "alumni from all over [flock] back to the Hill to relive their Ole days. The campus is decorated everywhere, and the cafeteria even serves Norwegian food for the big weekend.' And for Oles this "close knit, inquisitive student body" is "literally home." "I leave for break, excited to see my family" one environmental science major explains, "But to be honest? I find myself longing for the day when I come back to campus. Back to my home."

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