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For more information, please see full course syllabus of Application Essays
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Lecture Comments (1)

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Post by Kathleen Etzel on August 6, 2015

Dear Prof. Hendershot,

    From the point of view of an admissions officer, does it look better for a student to write about a topic of his choice or to just answer the listed prompts?  I am not sure if there is a bias, but I just thought I would ask.


P.S.  I absolutely LOVE all of your videos!  They are not only educationally interesting, but just down right funny!  Thanks for the laughs.

Choosing a Topic

  • Look at the prompt. What kind of prompt is it? (For the five kinds of prompts and how to answer them, see Lesson 2.)
  • Look for key words in the prompt that will tell you its main idea, and choose a topic that addresses that idea.
  • Listen for the tone of the question to detect its theme, and make sure you interpret your topic in a way that aligns with that theme.
  • Look for technical specifications (like word count or formatting requirements) that may influence your choice of topic.
  • Analyze the quote or anecdote you’ve been given (if any).
    • Look at the literal meaning.
    • Look at the metaphorical meaning.
    • Look at the context, both in the source and in the author’s life.
    • Look at how others have interpreted the quote or anecdote.
    • Do a little research. How do your ideas intersect with what the question asks? Is there anything you need to find out before you can write? Is there a “hidden” topic in your area of interest that would make a good essay?
    • Write what you know. Search your own knowledge and experiences for ideas. Stay on topic, but tell a good story too.
    • When in doubt, remember what Flannery O’Connor said: “Anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days.” You have at least one good topic in you—it’s your job to find it.

Choosing a Topic

Lecture Slides are screen-captured images of important points in the lecture. Students can download and print out these lecture slide images to do practice problems as well as take notes while watching the lecture.

  • Intro 0:00
  • Lesson Overview 0:07
  • Read the Prompt 0:39
    • Kind of Prompt
    • Look for Main Idea
    • Describe a Character
    • Look for the Underlying Theme
    • Role Models
    • Look for Technical Specifications
  • Choose a Topic 6:59
    • Analyze What You're Given
    • How to Analyze a Quote
    • Do a Little Research
    • Write What You Know
  • When in Doubt 12:15