Exciting news! The Common Application has officially released the 2019-2020 undergraduate applications, including prompts for the writing supplements.
If you're reading this, you've probably had the chance to check out the University of Southern California (USC) application -- and realized that it is one of the longest, most comprehensive applications you'll be writing this year.
But it's also the most fun!
The prompts are mostly the same as they were in 2017 and 2018, with a few tiny differences. So let's go over the whole thing, including the 250-word essays and the super short answers.
Remember: this is supposed to be fun! And you don't need to be anyone but yourself!
Now let's get started!
First, let's warm up with the super-short answers. Remember: it's supposed to be fun. HAVE FUN. PUT SOME THOUGHT INTO IT. BE CREATIVE AND UNIQUELY YOU.
Do this, because 80% of applicants are going to give lazy, one-word answers, so this is an awesome opportunity for you to stand out.
Before you start, think about some of the major themes of your application, and some of the most interesting achievements, quirks, and personality traits you have -- some of which you have previously mentioned and wish to elaborate on, some of which you might not have had space to mention earlier.
First, USC wants to know, in 25 characters per word or less:
Describe yourself in three words.
You can put up to 25 characters in each box. Meaning you have a TINY bit of space to elaborate on each word. Obviously, with such a small character count, it's going to be hard to "show, not tell." But... it's not impossible. For example, here's my brainstorm (try to come up with several ideas before committing to one):
Intelligent. Athletic. Competitive. #BringItOn
What I like about this is that it's a pretty good summary of who I am. The addition of "Seriously - bring it on!" shows the silly, fun and creative side of me without me having to explicitly say it.
But... should I call myself athletic? That's pretty boring. Anyone could say that. But what does it mean? Maybe instead of "athletic," I could go with:
Intelligent. Record-breaker. Competitive. #BringItOn
Intelligent. Nationally-ranked. Competitive.
Intelligent. Stuff-blocker. #ROOF Competitive. #BringItOn
Intelligent. High-scorer. Competitive.
Intelligent. Ironwoman. Competitive.
Or whatever. Any of those synonyms is way more interesting (though, also more specific, and therefore exclusive of other sports I'm good at) than athletic.
Same for intelligent, though. Anyone can say they're smart. How are you smart?
Problem-solver. Record-breaker. Competitive. #BringItOn
Mathlete. Stuff-blocker. #ROOF Competitive. #BringItOn
Media-maven. Ironwoman. Competitive. #BringItOn
Lectiophile. High-scorer. Competitive. #BringItOn
Book-bosomed. Nationally-ranked. Competitive. #BringItOn
This list is starting to look a lot more interesting. And it's starting to say a lot more about me. If you want, you can continue thinking about a better way of saying "competitive"... or you can mix it up with the hashtag.
Or! Maybe you've decided that you really want to expand on the "book-bosomed" nature of your intelligence. Perhaps you want to show your love of reading, language and words. You could go with:
Bibliophagist. Logophile. Sesquipedalian.
The first word means "devourer of books." The second means "lover of words." The third means "characterized by long words; long-winded". I like this -- it shows, rather than tells, a love of language and reading. But it also expresses self-awareness.
I'm just worried that the reader might not know the definition of one or more of these words, and might not take the time to look them up. Hence, before submitting this answer, I would get a second or third opinion.
Creative. Curiosophile. Neologistic.
Another example of "showing, not telling" -- in 75 characters or less!
First of all, I'm pretty sure no one else is going to pick the last two words. For those who don't know, a neologism is a new (neo) word (log). A "curiosophile" is, presumably, someone who loves (phile) curiosity -- I've never heard it used, so I may very well have made it up.
You're definitely allowed to do that!
Which is why I think this answer is funny, and it reflects my love of both curiosity and word play.
Grit. Purpose. Passion.
This is a perfectly fine answer. Grit and purpose are pretty hot words in education right now, so it suggests I have something they want. But you're definitely telling, not showing.
Which, actually, could be fine. If THIS is the theme of your longer essays and you think it would strengthen your application to explicitly say that here, then do it.
Fun-loving. Creative. Indecisive. No -- wait...
It's fun -- I made a little joke at the end. Jokes are funny. Self-deprecation is often endearing. But indecisiveness isn't necessarily a good trait, so...
Second-person. Reflexive. Pronoun.
Although I like the idea of literally interpreting the question (again, something most other applicants probably would not do), I think doing so here may be a lost opportunity (unless you're applying for writing, literature or English programs).
The main point of including this suggestion is to demonstrate a way of thinking. How else could I answer or interpret this question?
1u2-3ov4ng. I2te334gent. Enigmatologist.
Okay, so this is pretty involved. But I wanted to give you another example of showing, not telling.
Say you're someone who loves puzzles -- in other words, an enigmatologist.
You can show this love of puzzles by making this section into your own substitution puzzle.
If they solve your puzzle, they'll realize that you are Fun-loving. Intelligent. Enigmatologist.
Chances are, you're not a puzzle-lover. So what are you? And how can you SHOW that here?
The next question, with a 100-character limit, is:
What is your favorite snack?
For me, the answer is easy: burritos and Chinese food. BUT. In the name of good brainstorming, I would come up with at least five answers before picking one.
Burritos and Chinese food. What? You can't possibly expect me to pick between those!
Burritos and Chinese food. To me, cost and quality seem inversely related!
Burritos and Chinese food. I could eat only this for the rest of my life and always be happy.
Burritos and Chinese food. My best friends are the ones who accept this is all I ever want to eat.
Burritos and Chinese food -- because OMG YUM!
So there are my five answers. Before picking one, I'd ask myself, "Are there any other foods I really like, that I could say something interesting about?"
I wasn't paid to intern at 3D PrintTech, but I ate my weight in Barry's Chocolate-Covered Bananas.
Kombucha. At first, it tasted like the musty, standing water in my barn. But somehow, I'm hooked.
Kombucha, which both sparked my interest in the microbiome, and inspired me to be a home brewer!
I drink a gallon of kombucha per week. Thanks to its hefty price tag, I've learned to brew my own!
Frosted Mini Wheats. But not the actual squares -- the sugary crumbles at the bottom of the bag.
Chocolate-covered almonds with sea salt. Psychology says feeling fancy helps you do homework!
You could even say something sentimental, personal or unique about yourself, like:
The catfish that I catch in the summer with my grandpa. Nothing says "family" like an Iowa fish fry!
The farm fresh eggs that I collect before school each morning.
The farm fresh eggs that I collect before school each morning. They're too good for ketchup!
Farm-raised chicken. Slaughtering animals isn't my favorite chore, but you can't deny how delicious it is.
Anything from my garden -- cherry tomatoes, purple beans, strawberries. You name it!
Notice that pretty much everything from the last two lists is better than everything in the first list. Burritos and Chinese food are great, but I can show/tell admissions officers more about myself.
Best movie of all time:
Remember: be authentic. Don't be like, "Oh, this super dry and boring documentary was the best thing ever" -- unless you actually thought it was, and can explain why.
Either way, don't just tell me what. Tell me why.
Back to the Future II. By rewriting their own script to revisit 1955, The Bobs did something no one else could.
Back to the Future. I love even more since reading We Don’t Need Roads: The Making of the BTTF Trilogy.
Back to the Future II. Its 2015 is a perfect example of MAYA (Most Advanced But Acceptable) design.
Clueless, a feminist icon (Hollywood wasn't into movies about women) and timeless adaptation of Emma.
Clueless. This punchy adaptation of Emma is just as relevant now as it was in 1995.
Pick a movie you love, and pick it for a reason.
This can be real, or completely made up. If you have professional goals, state them here! There's nothing wrong with, "Software engineer at Electronic Arts," or "Animator at Pixar."
If you don't know yet, give a few ideas. Show something about yourself.
Remember: no right or wrong answers.
Here's my brainstorm:
Self-Help Travel blogger. I'd teach the world to heal itself through travel.
NYT Bestselling Author of The Happy Talent: Improving Your Life Through Playfulness.
NYT Bestselling Author, Everything I Need to Know About Life, I Learned from Basketball.
Marine Biologist in the Cocos Islands, studying hammerheads and turtles.
Founder and Principal of The Traveling School, a 9-12 grade school that's always on the move.
Again, each says something about me, my interests, and my possible future goals. Yours should, too.
The next question is:
If your life had a theme song, what would it be?
Again -- don't worry about your choice being "sophisticated" (or whatever) enough for USC. As I wrote in 6 Lessons Entrepreneurs (and Writers! And EVERYONE!) Can Learn from Back to the Future (I told you I was obsessed!), two of USC's most successful alumni were guys who loved watching movies for the average Joe.
Plus, the people reading this are experts at detecting authenticity. If you tell them you love Chopin and you don't... it's probably going to show.
Here's my totally honest, totally me, brainstorm:
Red Riding Hood's jingle from Into The Woods. Imagine hearing that every time you skipped onstage!
"I Know Things Now," from Into the Woods. It's about optimism vs. realism and risk-taking.
Suite: Judy Blues influenced my songwriting AND my life motto (Don’t let the past remind us of what we are not now.)
Suite: Judy Blues. Fun and upbeat, with a message. It's influenced my own songwriting.
My original, Respect the Call. It uses the best sport (basketball) to show the importance of acceptance.
Spice Up Your Life, by the Spice Girls. It's all about positivity -- and you can dance to it!
Stuck Inside of Mobile With the Memphis Blues Again, because life doesn't always make sense!
Jefferson, a song I wrote about historical figures with complicated legacies. No story is ever simple!
This can be real or imaginary. This can be a city, a country, a conference, a competition, or anywhere that tells me something I don't already know about you.
Secret Knock. It's THE "can't miss" conference for entrepreneurs. It's exclusive, though, so I've got my work cut out!
A Taylor Swift concert in Fiji. That way, I can experience the best scuba diving in the world AND meet my songwriting inspiration.
Disneyland. A passionate designer, there is no better place for me to witness genius "user interface".
Machu Picchu. After taking History of Mathematics, I'm obsessed with traditional sciences.
West Sumatra, Indonesia, to meet one of the world’s only matriarchal societies.
Hogwarts. I'd love to collect DNA samples and be the first biologist to study the "Wizard gene."
What TV show will you binge watch next?
Again, don't worry about sounding fancy. Just be your most interesting self.
Here's my brainstorm:
Jane the Virgin. I love the over-the-top yet self-aware telenovela style of storytelling.
Never Had I Ever, which I’m producing on the Public Access station now that I’ve finished the 20-hour training.
Stranger Things. I love shows about how people had fun before technology.
Defending Jacob. I devour legal fiction books, and just learned my favorite is going to be a show!
House of Cards, the original British version. A fun way to supplement my study of the UK government!
Which well-known person or fictional character would be your ideal roommate?
I believe this is a new one for 2019! Don't just tell me who -- tell me why!
Paul Simon. He's one of the most brilliant lyricists of all time, and I'd love to learn from him.
Jane Goodall. A brilliant, trailblazing scientist who's extraordinarily passionate and compassionate.
LeBron James. I don't just want to learn his drive-right floater; I also want to learn his business savvy.
Check back soon for my next post on USC, which will cover the 250-word essays.
Eva Glasrud completed her B.A. and M.A. at Stanford. She is now a college counselor and life coach for gifted youth.