Whether you're interested in business, engineering, or something completely different, the University of Michigan is an excellent place to begin the next step of your education.
However, because UMich attracts so many qualified candidates, they don't make it easy to apply! In addition to your Common Application essay, you need to write three supplemental essays.
I've worked with dozens of students on their U-M applications, so I know what mistakes and cliches to avoid. Use the tips in this post to write unforgettable supplementals that are uniquely you.
If you could only do one of the activities you have listed in the Activities section of your Common Application, which one would you keep doing? Why? (Required for all applicants. Approximately 100 words)
They say approximately 100 words. But this essay can be up to 150 words long. Something to keep in mind.
This is a reasonably straightforward question. What's your favorite extracurricular? Why?
However, I often recommend taking a not-straightforward approach, because 90% of these essays begin with something boring, like:
"I have been passionate about Activity for four years, and plan to continue it in college. In fact, UMich is the perfect place for me to continue this activity because blah."
Instead, think about the things you've accomplished in this activity. Think of the things you've built, written, sold, or done. Think about your proudest moments in this activity. Think about everything that makes you special or different from other applicants.
How can you incorporate this into your essay?
So, for example, say I love basketball. I can (and most people do) write:
Of course, this doesn't really say much about me, other than I'm "compassionate" and find sports to be "stress relieving."
Here's a much better version of the basketball essay:
Everything I know about life, I learned from basketball.
Of course, this could come off as rather aggressive, especially since I'm a woman, and people are sexist. Saying I want to make my opponents think I'm about to humiliate them might rub people the wrong way. It might not. I have to decide if I'm willing to take that risk in order to show an important part of who I am.
A slightly less aggressive version of this essay would be:
Everything I know about life, I learned from basketball.
This version might be a safer bet, since I show other ways of winning the mental game -- ways that are more self-focused than other-focused. It also shows that I play basketball outside of organized leagues, for fun. Which is a much better way of saying you have passion than saying, "I have passion."
Another thing you'll notice about my second two essays compared to my first one is that, even though the essay is approximately 100 words, I still broke it into several paragraphs.
No one -- NO ONE! -- likes to read 100-word paragraphs.
Anything you can do to make the physical task of reading your essay will score you points with the poor reader, who has 100 more of these to read before lunch.
Plus, it's just better writing.
Now let's look at the second UMich prompt:
Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (250 limit)
A lot of students get hung up on the "community" thing. They think because it's a "community," you have to write about something you've been a part of for a long time, or perhaps something you're a part of because of some circumstance or identity beyond your control.
But a community or group can mean anything.
So here's how I would approach this prompt:
1. Is there a group/community that's hugely important to you, that you haven't already written about in your other essays?
If yes, write about that. If no:
2. Is there anything else special, amazing, or different about you that they don't know yet? What is it? Focus on that -- and then tie it in to a group or community you're a part of.
So, for example:
Things that are special about me:
Here's the thing -- any of these traits could be written about in the context of community. For example:
"Good conversationalist" essay:
”What would you do if I went, Raaah! and shoved your arm off the armrest?”
If I were an admissions officer, an essay like this would read like a breath of fresh air. I'll've read hundreds of essays about people's families; ethnicities; sexualities; schools; and extracurriculars. Yawn.
So reading an essay about something completely different -- something that redefines the whole question -- is something I'm going to remember.
I suppose an argument could be made that this doesn't address the prompt. That's why you should always get a second opinion. But if someone showed me an essay like this, I would say, "Bravo!"
So what about the "seeking opportunities" essay -- how does that fit into a "communities" prompt? I'll show you:
I’m part of a very exclusive community of teenagers who eagerly rise before 5am in pursuit of… something special.
Again, this is a very different take on the prompt. It's a perfectly valid one -- especially considering that they already know what activities I do. They already know what color my skin is. They already know whether I come from an affluent community or an inner city development.
So this take on the community essay can tell them something they don't already know. It tells them about my sense of wonder. It tells them I explore opportunities -- from new sports to challenging electives to leisure activities I can enjoy on my own.
Okay... what about the "four years of Latin and Greek" essay? How about this:
“GUM? HOW DARE YOU!? I’LL RIP YOUR TONGUE OUT!”
I think you get the idea. Your "community" essay can literally be about anything -- and your best strategy here is to really think about what makes you unique, qualified and interesting FIRST. THEN make tie it into a community.
Now, let's move on to the big essay. FIVE HUNDRED WORDS about why you want to go to Michigan. Specifically:
Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests?
500 words is a lot -- especially considering that these kinds of essays are really hard. They require more than just personal reflection. They require actual research on your part.
So you go and do your research... and, honestly, there's not much you can say about UM that you couldn't say about any other top university in the world: great faculty, great study abroad programs, research opportunities, student-teacher ratio.
Dig deeper -- the whole point of this essay is to filter out applicants who were too lazy to do the research.
Because here's the thing: college is a business. Rankings matter. One factor that goes into a school's ranking is its yield -- in other words, Of all the students you admitted, how many enrolled?
If a large percentage of your admits choose to go somewhere else, your ranking falls. Meaning alumni donations fall. Your ability to attract top students, faculty and athletes falls.
So one thing admissions officers are thinking as they read this essay is, "If we admit this student, how likely are they to actually come here?"
If you don't take time to do research, admissions officers will interpret that to mean you're applying to UM as a safety, or just because whatever.
So do some research. Google "University of Michigan" + "thing you're interested in" to get more personalized results. (If you've tried this and you're still stuck, check out my Services and Prices page, then Contact Me. I'm happy to help find programs, clubs and opportunities at UM that could be exciting specifically for you.)
Here are a few UM opportunities I found that I would be excited about:
For reference, it took me about seven minutes to find out about these opportunities. Seriously -- just Google U-M + your interest, and see what you come up with. (Or contact me.)
So now you've done your research -- awesome! But you're not done yet.
See... UM admissions officers each read thousands of these essays per year. Plus, they work at UM. Chances are, they already know about every possible opportunity you could possibly write about.
That's why it's important to not just write about U-M. You need to spend a large portion of this essay writing about yourself.
Recall in Essay #1 when I told you to brainstorm all the things that are special about you. It's time to do that again. Ask yourself: what makes me different from other candidates? This can be world expertise about a certain topic... or it can be something about your personality. It can be a project you've worked on. It can be a poem you wrote.
Think about what this could be for you -- and then start your essay by talking about that.
For example, say I'm a high school senior who is interested in engineering, and maybe business. Yes, I want to talk about the qualities about UMich engineering that appeal to me -- but I should start by saying something like:
If business success is a presidential quality, Paris Hilton is much more qualified for the U.S. Presidency than Donald Trump.
See what I did there? Instead of boring them with a list of things that are interesting about their school, I showed them how and why those things matter to me. I didn't just reach for the low-hanging fruit, and I made an effort to make the essay entertaining for them to read -- which, really, is the least I could do, considering they have to read thousands of these every year.
But, seriously. You cannot answer this question well if you don't spend at least 15-20 minutes researching the University of Michigan. This is something you can talk to your college counselor (or me!) about, since, honestly... as a high school student, you probably have no idea where to start. You don't know what a co-terminal program is. You don't know about grants and fellowships. You don't know the difference between a seminar and a section and a practicum. So it's going to be hard for you to immediately seek out the opportunities you... don't even know you want.
I hope you found this guide helpful. Feel free to check out my services and prices page if you're interested in setting up a one-on-one session, and check out my other blog posts about writing your USC essays, Stanford short answers, UNC Fast Facts, and University of California (UC) application.
10/3/2017 10:36:48 am
You are a life saver. Thank you very much.
10/16/2017 07:19:22 am
You carry the light!!
10/28/2017 07:24:43 am
9/10/2018 04:37:20 pm
Thanks for the great post! I was wondering if you will be writing a new Michigan post for the 2018 application season? Also, I was curious if you might be willing to write a post about how to apply to NYU and MIT, two other schools I plan to apply to. Your detailed posts are very helpful. Thanks, Kevin.
1/17/2019 12:29:31 pm
Thank you so much. You have a true gift. I looooved your perspectives.
10/27/2019 05:53:24 pm
Thank you soooo much!!!
12/15/2022 02:24:24 pm
Thanks for sharing thhis
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Eva Glasrud completed her B.A. and M.A. at Stanford. She is now a college counselor and life coach for gifted youth.