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Tufts Supplement Essays

Tufts University 2017-18 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 short answer of 50-100 words and 2 essays of 200-250 essays.

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why, Community, Oddball, Short Answer

This year, the Tufts supplement is a classic, starting you off with two classic prompts and then offering up a selection of quirkier questions. Despite the slightly off-the-wall offerings of this supplement, there’s really no trick to nailing it. When selecting your essay of choice, go with your gut. Which question speaks to you? Which prompt immediately brings to mind a few experiences or stories?

Short Responses (Required of all Applicants)
Think outside the box as you answer the following questions. Take a risk and go somewhere unexpected. Be serious if the moment calls for it but feel comfortable being playful if that suits you, too.


Which aspects of Tufts’ curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? In short: “Why Tufts?” (50–100 words)

If you’ve read some of our other guides, by this point, you know the drill. A quick refresher: don’t just say that you liked the campus and your mom went there and also it’s close to home but not too close (ya dig?). Go to the website and get some facts. Show admissions that you can go the extra mile by listing the clubs you’d like to join, classes you want to take, and activities you’d like to take part in. The acceptance rate is 14% and you only have 50-100 words, so make them count.

There is a Quaker saying: “Let your life speak.” Describe the environment in which you were raised – your family, home, neighborhood, or community – and how it influenced the person you are today. (200–250 words)

First things first: Tufts is not a Quaker school! The university’s secular roots should make you give this opening quote an extra look. Beyond what it might mean in the Quaker tradition, the words point to a near-universal truth about good writing: show don’t tell. So, as you approach this classic community essay, think about a story from your life that speaks for itself, that truly speaks to who you are as a person. As you contemplate the communities that have influenced the person you have become, think about something interesting or peculiar about your upbringing or surroundings. Did you grow up as the only boy in a family of seven girls and, if so, did that experience influence your understanding of gender roles? Did you grow up in a bustling city that taught you how to have street smarts from a young age? How did that help you succeed in life later on? Maybe you are part of a small Korean community in a tiny town in Kansas and your community has taught you how to embrace your differences and use them to your advantage. And remember, a community can be any group that has impacted your life. If your participation in an online community of fantasy writers defines you, that’s a legitimate choice too! Whatever your community may be, make sure the one you choose tells admissions something new about you.

Now we’d like to know a little bit more about you. Please respond to one of the following six questions (200-250 words).
Students applying to the School of Arts and Sciences or the School of Engineering should select from prompts A-E. Students applying to the SMFA at Tufts’ BFA program or the Five-Year BFA + BA/BS Combined Degree program must answer prompt F:


A) It’s cool to be smart. Tell us about the subjects or ideas that excite your intellectual curiosity.

If you are going in with a declared major, this is the perfect opportunity for you to expand on why you have chosen this field of study. If you’re going in undeclared, Tufts gives you the opportunity to expand on any subjects or ideas that excite you, which is perfect! You don’t have to commit to any one subject, instead you can talk about your love of trigonometry and how that has complimented your interest in design. You can talk about evolution and how you love to imagine what dogs will look like in a thousand years (how cool would it be if they had gills though?). What gets you thinking? Which questions excite you? What problems do you most want to solve? (Hint: if you chose to write about Common App prompt 6, you might want to pick a Tufts prompt that pushes you into more uncharted territory.)

B) In a time when we’re always plugged in (and sometimes tuned out), tell us about a time when you listened, truly listened, to a person or a cause. How did that moment change you?

Tufts wants to know what you’re passionate about, what gets your blood pumping, which few words cause you to rip out your headphones every time. This generation has the reputation for having its nose in a phone at all times, so admissions wants to know what makes you disengage from your favorite app and engage with those around you. Did a local politician’s speech ignite your desire to affect positive social change in your community? What steps have you taken to follow through on this yearning? Did Trevor Noah’s comedy special open your eyes to racial microaggressions in your community? Did his words allow you to examine your own upbringing and see the world in new ways? When you answer this prompt, make sure to include who, what, and why.

C) Celebrate the role of sports in your life.

Athletes: halt! This prompt may seem tailor-made for you, and perhaps this is your golden opportunity to wax poetic on the many ways cross-country running has shaped you as a person. On the other hand, we’ve got a hunch you’ve probably mentioned sports elsewhere on your application: your activities list, your Common App essay, maybe even your recommendations. This essay of choice section is your absolute last chance to tell Tufts something it didn’t know before, so consider going another way. Consider this prompt your last resort.

Now, for the rest of you. If the closest you’ve ever been to playing sports is that time in gym class when you tripped over the bat, you could skip this prompt. Or you could explore how being uncoordinated has become an increasingly important part of your identity every time someone yells at you to “catch!” (But remember, the prompt specifically asks you to “celebrate” your relationship with sports!) It could also be that you really do love sports, but more as a spectator than a participant. Has your love of soccer connected you to a world well beyond your small town? How have baseball statistics become a major source of father-daughter bonding? No matter what story you tell, be sure to check out our video about sports essay dos and don’ts!

D) Whether you’ve built blanket forts or circuit boards, produced community theater or mixed media art installations, tell us: what have you invented, engineered, created, or designed? Or what do you hope to?

Do not be overwhelmed by this prompt! You don’t have to have curated an art gallery in Chelsea to impress admissions with your response here. The prompt even says itself, your invention could be as seemingly unimportant as a blanket fort, admissions just wants to know how you think. What kinds of things do you make and what motivates you to make them? This prompt is as much about ingenuity and problem-solving as it is about creativity. Did you build a lemonade stand when you were in third grade that allowed for customers to select their own plastic cup without contaminating any others? Did it increase sales or make your mom proud?

E) What makes you happy? Why?

Don’t worry, be happy (or something like that). What makes you happy? This is almost as open-ended as the choose-your-own-adventure prompts because you can talk about almost anything! Maybe your community of unicorn lovers makes you happy. Perhaps starting on your school soccer team fills you with joy. Or maybe you just love spending afternoons taking care of your baby brother before your mom gets home. You can talk about any community you belong to, activity you take part in, relationship that matters to you, or achievement you’ve made. If you’re going to recycle an essay from another supplement here, just make sure to tweak it so it answers the question.

F) Artist Bruce Nauman once said: “One of the factors that still keeps me in the studio is that every so often I have to more or less start all over.” Everyone deals with failure differently; for most artists failure is an opportunity to start something new. Tell us about a time when you have failed and how that has influenced your art practice.

If you’ve scrolled this far, welcome to the bottom. You are stuck here. Just kidding! This is a great question, but it’s also eerily similar to prompt 2 on the Common App. If you already wrote your Common App personal statement in response to prompt 2, we would recommend finding a new failure and lesson to discuss here. That said, do stay within the parameters of the prompt: it’s not just asking about the lessons you have learned from failure, but about how they have influenced your art. Perhaps a kiln-related mishap taught you a lesson about how your materials can shape themselves. On the other hand, you don’t have to limit your stories to the realm of your art practice. How have challenges from other parts of your life impacted the work you make? Maybe neglecting your first goldfish led you to become fascinated with water, and later, watercolor. This prompt is asking you to be vulnerable about your own weaknesses and demonstrate the self-awareness required to make meaningful art, but remember that a prompt about failure should still lead you to tell a tale of triumph. How has each hurdle made you a better, stronger human and artist?

Today, we continue with the third post in our College Essay Prompts series.

The supplemental essay as a whole usually gives application readers more insight into the student’s character and interests than the Common App does on its own.  When I was an admissions officer at Tufts, this final essay was always my favorite; it provided the biggest and clearest window into the applicant’s personality. With the following six, very different, options to choose from, Tufts applicants got to write an essay they wanted to write, about something that actually mattered to them.

  1. Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf—the first elected female head of state in Africa and winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize—has lived a life of achievement. “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough,” she once said.  As you apply to college, what are your dreams?
  2. What makes you happy?
  3. Science and society are filled with rules, theories, and laws such as the First Amendment, PV=nRT, Occam’s Razor, and The Law of Diminishing Returns. In baseball, three strikes and you’re out. A green light on a roadway means “go.” Pick any law and explain its significance to you.
  4. It’s cool to be smart. Tell us about the subjects or ideas that excite your intellectual curiosity.
  5. Nelson Mandela believed that “what counts in life is not the mere fact that we have lived.  It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”  Describe a way in which you have made or hope to make a difference.
  6. Celebrate the role of sports in your life.

In the essay a student chose to write in response to one of these prompts, I often most clearly heard the student’s voice. I loved what this prompt did for applicants. So I was surprised, then when transitioning to the counseling side of the desk, to see how many students feel particularly nervous about those prompts. “Why are they asking this? What do they expect to hear?” While my answer to those questions is relevant for every single college essay, it is particularly true for these prompts: tell the story that you want to tell; don’t worry about what the reader wants to hear or how literally you answer the question.

Those of you who play varsity athletics do not have to answer the prompt asking you to “celebrate the role of sports in your life,” nor do you need to avoid that prompt because you are worried about seeming one-sided. And even though “it’s cool to be smart,” you don’t have to talk about particle physics or cutting edge philosophers (is there such a thing?) in order to come across as thoughtful and intelligent. Ditto the “happy” prompt – feel free to talk about Taylor Swift or driving home from school, if either of those subjects allow you to open up about the way you engage with the world.

As with any essay, make sure you are the protagonist of your story, rather than offering a spot-on but glib overview that would be better suited for the Southwest Airlines in-flight magazine (which, I must confess, I love). Remember that the readers want to connect with you, not judge you; a topic you’re excited about, that you discuss with energy, will always be welcome.

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