- In the college admissions process, personal essays help students stand out in a crowded field of applicants.
- But colleges and universities often have different demands for what each essay should have. To shed light on the process, Insider is reaching out to students in different schools and asking them to share the essays that got them into college.
- The week, Insider spoke to a first-year nursing student at the University of Michigan who shared her success story.
- In one of her two essays, she wrote about her involvement in a traditional Chinese dance. In the other, she explained the personal experiences that drew her into medicine.
- Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.
One of the hardest parts of college admissions, for some students, is the personal essay.
On top of school, standardised tests, and a seemingly never-ending pile of pending applications, students are asked to express themselves in just a few hundred words. But those essays, frustrating as they may be, are sometimes the best options available for students to describe the complex parts of their personality that might get lost in an application process increasingly driven by numbers.
Knowing what to write about – and how to write about it – can be challenging. Those looking for guidance can take solace in the fact that millions of other students have already gone through this very same process and come out on the other side.
To find out what types of essays work for which schools, Insider is reaching out to currently enrolled students all around the world and asking them to share the essays that helped get them into their dream schools.
This week, Insider took a look at the University of Michigan.
Michigan students work hard and play hard
The University of Michigan is known as a well rounded top-tier university. The school simultaneously offers rigorous academics – especially in the fields of business, engineering, and medicine – while still maintaining a fun, raucous state school atmosphere through spirited football and basketball games. The university is also famously where former president Gerald Ford completed his bachelor’s degree. Today, the university’s school for public policy and one of its main libraries is named after the 38th US president.
With an acceptance rate hovering just around 23%, the University of Michigan is one of the most difficult public universities in the US to gain admission to. Applicants have to complete The Common App, send over a high school transcript and SAT or ACT scores, and answer three essay questions.
University of Michigan first-year nursing student Zhike Wang agreed to share two of her essays to help illuminate just what Michigan’s admins are looking for.
Below is one of the prompts that University of Michigan applicants are faced with when they apply. Applicants were asked to describe one of the communities they belong to in no more than 300 words.
“Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by 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.”
In her response to this question, Wang told a personal story of leading a traditional dance performance at a Chinese school she attended to learn more about her culture:
“The red and gold outfit contrasted brightly against my skin. I brought the fan up and over my head, then fluttered it across the front of my body. The stage lights were bright and my visibility was low, but that made it easier to get over the stage fright. I allowed the music to move my muscles- slow, smooth, and calculated. As the music comes to an end, my group and I shuffled backstage, and I immediately undid the ribbons holding my hair in tight buns. I could hear the roaring applause still echoing through the auditorium. Finally! After weeks of learning to lead a group of children for this dance, we’d finally performed on stage, for the chinese community festival held annually.
For six years of my life, I went to Chinese school to learn more about the language and the culture of the country of my origin. I was born in southern China but moved to the United States before I was a year old. Though it is more difficult to keep in touch with the culture, I continue to speak Mandarin at home and indulge in the cuisine. It always takes me back to every time I’ve gone back to my hometown. The community is tight-knit and vibrant- people are outspoken and upbeat, and everyone treats each other like family. For a while, it was complicated to balance the two sides that make up my identity, but I soon recognised that my power comes from being able to balance the roles and identities in my life. I am now an active participant in enlightening those around me with the beauty of chinese culture by performing and volunteering for these festivals- from the dragon boat races to the events that raise cultural awareness on the asian community.”
Another University of Michigan essay prompt asks students to explain why they have decided to focus on their particular area of study. This time, applicants were told to answer this question in no more than 550 words. Here’s the full prompt:
“Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate college or school to which you are applying. How would that curriculum support your interests?”
In her response, Wang walks through her lifelong fascination with hospitals and medicine. Wang took the essay down a personal route by reliving her mother’s hospital visit after she’d been involved in a hit and run accident.
Through the course of her essay, Wang makes it clear that she’s seriously invested in the idea of being a doctor and simultaneously demonstrates her knowledge of the ins and outs of Michigan’s medical program.
Read Wang’s full essay:
I have always been fascinated with going to the hospital. I loved going for a doctor’s
appointment or annual check up; I would watch every time they gave me a shot and could
spend my time waiting playing around with the three dimensional models of ear canals and
skulls. There was something intriguing about the environment and I remember being impressed
with how doctors and nurses could answer questions on why my arm felt sore and whether or
not I should be worried; I couldn’t believe the endless mountain of different medications they
could prescribe to help fix the issue.
My interest deepened into a true passion when I was in and out of the hospital every day for a
few months, watching the nurses help bring my mother back to full health after she’d been in a
hit and run accident where she was hit by a car whilst crossing the street. They were nurturing,
informed, and created genuine connections with their patients. I could truly see myself being
that figure for other families.
University of Michigan’s School of Nursing could be the major step to help me reach my
ultimate goal of working with patients and gain knowledge in many other related topics in
humanities and social and behavioural sciences. The interprofessional education is very
interesting; connecting between disciplines has been prevalent throughout my high school life
and I’ve become exposed to how important it is to have well-rounded knowledge along with
your main focus, instead of only one strength or point of interest. I appreciate Michigan’s
embrace of diversity through their education- such as the many global opportunities for me to
be able to work in several global clinical settings and get an inside look at how international
health policies are formed through intergovernmental organisations. I believe this would
strengthen my future understanding and connection with my patients and give an in-depth
look on health on both a local and a globalscale.
Michigan nursing also emphasises research, unlike many other schools, which is something I believe is very important and key in forming a strong foundation in my studies. Research is also a great way to explore specific interests, and Michigan students have carried out several intriguing ones. I was especially interested in the research project carried out by UMSN students last year on how trauma care is taught in clinical and didactic settings because I recognise how beneficial trauma-based care would be.
From the research to the collaborative nursing environment, Michigan would be an absolutely wonderful experience. With a college experience at Michigan, there are hundreds of doors I could open, each with its own challenges. I know that with Michigan, I will have the opportunity to reach my full potential in a variety of areas: critical thinking, performing my own research, understanding nursing on both a bigger and smaller picture, how my role will play out locally and globally, and of course, satisfy my desire to be in an environment where I know my passion will only continue to grow.
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