Posts under Advice

<<< Back to Blog Home
Search Our Blog

College admissions advice, college essay advice, and general college application help and guidance.

How to Write the "Tell Me About Yourself" Essay

October 03, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Essays, Advice, Personal Statement


You've probably seen some form of this prompt a million times:

"Tell us about yourself. What makes you you?

Be careful — this prompt is a trap!

You should very rarely be telling a college how great you are. Instead, do what’s worked for countless successful applicants and show them!

By the time an admissions reader has reached your personal essay, they’ve read about all of your activities and accolades, skills and strengths.

The “tell me about yourself” essay is the opportunity to put the resume away and begin revealing more personally insightful information.

Many applicants can fill-in correct bubbles on a Scantron sheet just like you, many applicants can sit down at a piano and play Debussy’s Clair de Lune just like you, and many applicants can recount their high school service projects just like you.

But these other applicants don’t handle adversity just like you.

They don’t have a special relationship to their father just like you.

They don’t interpret moments of formative introspection and personal development just like you...

These types of experiences and, especially, relationships, are fantastic insights into your character, your identity, and the exact sort of personality-sculpting topics which university admissions officers are dying to know about.

Here’s a personal example of my own successful application to Harvard: I have a tremendously special relationship with my brother.

Although we grew up sleeping just three feet away every night, eating breakfast at the same kitchen counter, the unpredictable and often regrettable events of life have granted each of us vastly different arrays of opportunities, capacities, and limitations.

My closeness with him has guided me to reshape how I define and am aware of my privilege, and he inspires me to approach every day with an enhanced sense of gratitude and a desire to become a champion for the improvement and support of special education programs.

The key in an essay such as this one was to show rather than tell about this relationship through anecdotes and concrete instances that shaped how I view the world.

In my essay, I focused on demonstrating a capacity for introspection, gratitude, empathy, and selflessness, and the vehicle by which I did that was through this personal subject and the lens of my brother and my relationship.

I emphasized how I was striving towards a better version of myself rather than arrogantly stating that I was always that better self.

I demonstrated vulnerability that neared on self-deprecation in revealing the often difficult realization that I benefited from a host of great privileges that I have not outright earned but rather have been arbitrarily granted.

These themes of humility, gratitude, vulnerability, personal progress are essential for a strong personal essay.

These ideals are often best achieved, almost counterintuitively, by writing about someone else.

The personal essay should transcend arrogance without arriving at self-pity, and writing about a significant relationship allows you to walk that line tactfully.

Here’s a condensed but generally effective set of guiding questions:

  1. What is an experience or relationship that significantly changed the course of your personal development?

  2. What path were you on before?

  3. What path have you made efforts to follow now?

Does Your Choice of Major Impact Your College Admissions Chances?

Be careful when "declaring" that you're an undecided or undeclared major

July 04, 2020 by Veritas Essays Team | Declaring, Majors, Advice, Admissions, Application, Mistakes, Carnegie Mellon, Cornell, UCLA, UC Berkeley, Harvard, UCs


Should I declare an intended major on my college application?

If not, does being undeclared or undecided hurt my admissions chances?

The short answer to both questions is YES, your declared major or the specific program to which you are applying can have a significant impact on your acceptance chances.

Even if schools pretend otherwise, the statistics bear this out (as shown later in this article).

Students who demonstrate interest in different majors/programs have widely different acceptance rates at certain colleges.

I've listed 5 case studies of different schools below to illustrate how the way in which you choose a major for your college application can improve or decrease your admissions chances.

UCLA

At UCLA , different programs have vastly different admissions rates (shown below).

UCLA

Additionally, even within the pool of students interested solely in engineering, the School of Engineering explicitly evaluates students by the specific engineering major that they intend to pursue.

Harvard

At Harvard , students interested in “humanities” are admitted at almost double the rate as students interested in “engineering”:

Harvard

Carnegie Mellon (CMU)

At Carnegie Mellon (shown below), the acceptance rate of different programs ranges from 7% to 26%!

CMU

UC Berkeley

At UC Berkeley , applicants intending on studying “computer science” have an 8.5% acceptance rate, compared to 17% overall.

Cornell

At Cornell , each application is individually considered by the specific college that a student applies to.

As Cornell Vice Provost of Enrollment Jason Locke stated in The Cornell Sun,

"Unlike many other colleges, which review all applications from a central undergraduate admissions office, Cornell has a 'somewhat unique system,' according to Locke.

Once an application is submitted, it will be given to the one — and only — college or school that the student is applying to, where his or her material will undergo what Locke called a 'first review.'"

This leads to wildly different outcomes for students who apply to different schools. For example, the undergraduate acceptance rate for Cornell's School of Industrial & Labor Relations was triple the rate of applicants to the College of Arts and Sciences.


What causes this statistical difference?

There are two main factors which make your choice of intended field of study important on your college application.

  1. Colleges have different strengths. Johns Hopkins’ world-renowned Biomedical Engineering (BME) program is much stronger than its English department. MIT’s Computer Science (CS) department is much stronger than its History department. Thus, more students interested in BME will apply to Johns Hopkins, and it will be harder to distinguish yourself as an applicant interested in BME. Same goes for applying to MIT as a CS major.

  2. Colleges have different weaknesses . Every program or school that a college offers represents a significant investment of time, money, and resources. Applicants that have the potential to dramatically improve relatively weaker programs (e.g. English at Johns Hopkins, or History at MIT) offer a larger marginal return on being admitted than students who would have to be literally world-class (e.g. win a Nobel Prize) to make a noticeably lasting impact on their stronger departments.

Use this knowledge to your benefit!

Most colleges will allow you to switch majors after enrolling.

If you can frame your application to provide an unmet need or fill spots in an under-enrolled program, you can greatly increase your admissions chances .

To learn more about college admissions from Ivy League students who’ve successfully gone through the process themselves, check out the services we offer here