How Long Should the ApplyTexas Essay Be?
This question comes up a lot. Mainly because the application allows for up to 120 eighty-character lines of text. What’s that? You’re not up on your character count layout for a standard page? A typical single-spaced page of average size font is about 50 lines of text. ApplyTexas allows you to enter something more than twice that long; but, I beg of you, do not take them up on that!
As the ApplyTexas application becomes more and more popular (more than 1.4 million applications were submitted this past year with about 300,000 of those applications coming from students outside of Texas), the ApplyTexas folks seem to be working to simplify and clarify their process a bit more each year. When the 2016-2017 application opened a few days ago, I noticed they added some guiding text on the essay page directly answering this question:
- ApplyTexas recommends that you keep your essay to between 350 and 500 words in length, with no more than 650 words.
I recommend heeding their advice, especially if you’re applying to a school requiring more than one of their prompts. For example, if Texas A&M is on your list, they require a response to Topic A and Topic B, but they also encourage you to submit Topic C if you don’t qualify for automatic admission. That’s three major essays! Now think of the admission officer reading all those essays. I promise, no matter how good of a writer you are, your admission officer does not want to read three 1000 word essays when she has a pile of other applications to get through that day.
If you haven’t yet, check out the new prompts for the 2016-2017 application cycle. ApplyTexas has mixed things up quite a bit this year and the prompts are a lot of fun—especially Topic C. Make sure you’re looking at current information, as some of the schools have changed their requirements to reflect the new prompt choices (namely UT-Austin!). For years University of Texas at Austin required Topic C and a second of your choice. This year they have changed to requiring topic A along with a second of your choice.
While the ApplyTexas platform isn’t the prettiest and might be a bit clunky (if I’m being kind), they do have an incredibly helpful set of FAQs posted on their site. Be sure to check out what they say about submitting their essays.
In order to write this essay, it is helpful to take a step back from the sometimes panic-inducing task of focusing on your college applications and instead look around. As you go about your day, maintain awareness of things that ordinarily seem insignificant, to the point that you may be taking them for granted.
For instance, remind yourself of the neighborhood you wake up in every day, the foods available to you for breakfast, and how you feel as you pass through your community on your commute to school. Reflect upon the impact your surroundings have on your day-to-day life and the ways in which they have fostered your personal development. You are probably familiar with your surroundings, to the point where they don’t seem particularly remarkable to you, but you are trying to introduce yourself to an admissions committee that probably knows very little about your hometown.
After reflecting on this exercise, you might realize that your work ethic stems from your gratefulness for the sacrifices your immigrant parents have made in order to give you a chance to succeed, or it could take the shape of your precocious desire to study geriatric medicine and hearing-loss pathologies because you have grown up in a town where the majority of your community is of advanced age.
This thought experiment is the perfect way to start dissecting what it is about your surroundings that has shaped you into the person you are today. Most importantly, it will show your essay reader that you have matured enough to be able to speak about yourself in a frank and vulnerable way. As long as you speak your truth, there is no wrong answer.
That being said, as you tell your story, you will want to avoid clichés and stay true to the complexity of your experience. If you have struggled to overcome obstacles, you don’t need to present yourself as a heroic individual that has achieved success because of your own grit and determination. You can acknowledge the bonds of friendship or family that helped you hold yourself together during tough times. There is nothing wrong with asking for help, and indeed having the courage to reach out and the humility to acknowledge your support network is one way to demonstrate maturity.
If you needed to watch after your father while he was suffering from early onset Alzheimer’s, you might talk about how you had to work with your sister to watch him in the evening, and how sometimes you needed to get out of the house and play soccer with your friends in order to be able to come back inside and commit yourself to the work of care all over again. Maybe that experience is part of what made you want to get into nursing, not only to help patients suffering from Alzheimer’s, but also to encourage patient’s family members to take care of themselves.
If you describe poignant tales of overcoming hardship and obstacles in your response, that is fine, as long as it is the truth. Some applicants might think that exaggerating their tales will score with admissions officers, but admissions officers are not judging your essay based on the level of hardship you have overcome. Rather, the question they will ask is what you’ve learned from your experiences and what kind of person you will be when you join the Texas A&M community.
One last word: As we’re revising this guide for the 2017 application season, the rains have only just barely stopped falling after Hurricane Harvey. The environmental, economic, and political dynamics of this disaster will be thought about and debated in the coming years as people try to rebuild more resilient cities in a changing climate. The students, faculty, and staff at Texas A&M will be taking part in this conversation.
If you were affected and feel so moved, you can certainly talk about your experience of the storm in your essay, even if you think that a lot of other applicants will also be talking about the storm as well. A major disaster contains a multitude of narratives, and if you focus on the particularities of your experience — what you lost, what you saw, how you imagine going forward — you will be making a contribution to a conversation about Harvey that will continue for years to come.