教我们 《大学申请咨询》课的老师也在大学招生办工作多年。她告诉我们，因为申请人数众多，每一份辛辛苦苦花费学生数日甚至数周准备好的申请材料，平均只获得１０ 到１５分钟被浏览。除非有突出的成就，象全国竞赛冠军之类的，大多数背景，成绩相似的学生靠作文拼出高低。成绩等数字是死的，罗列课外活动是纸上谈兵，唯一能把所有经历和成绩生动地串连起来，让学生本人”活”在考官面前的只有 College Application Essay。比如GPA同样3.75，份量可因学生成长的环境大相径庭。除此以外，作文的目的还有:– Opportunity to provide information that supports and augments other parts of the application – Adds clarity, depth and meaning to information collected in other parts of the application – Provide evidence of achievement that can’t be adequately explored in other parts of the application.
课 本第１４章 Rising to the Challenge of the College Application Essay 对大学申请作文做了很好的总结，建议学生把它当做和招生办老师的对话，用自己的声音，让陌生人在几百字内了解自己独特的性格，人生观和喜好。作文应该“真 实而生动” (authentic and lively) ，避免华丽词汇的堆积，不知所云，或重复自己简历上的成就，味同嚼蜡。
能陈述自己背景，特点和观点的作文有三种：首先是 Common Application (https://www.commonapp.org) 的 essay。因为拥有５００多大学会员，其中包括 Harvard, Yale, Princeton 等名校，Common Application 是众多学生申请大学的首选途径。它的作文有５个题目，供学生选择自己最能发挥的一个:
Instructions. The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don’t feel obligated to do so. (The application won’t accept a response shorter than 250 words.)
• Some students have a background or story that is so central to their identity that they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
• Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what lessons did you learn?
• Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
• Describe a place or environment where you are perfectly content. What do you do or experience there, and why is it meaningful to you?
• Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community, or family.
很多私立大学在以上命题作文外还有 supplements 题目供学生选择，比如：¡ University of Pennsylvania — You’ve just written a 300-page autobiography. Send us page 217. ¡ Stanford — Attach a small photograph of something important to you and explain its significance. ¡ Santa Clara University — If you could go back and change one day in your life, what would you change and why? ¡ William and Mary — If you were to develop a Mt. Rushmore representing the 20th century, whose faces would you select and why? ¡ Princeton — What is your favorite quotation and why? ¡ NYU — Write a haiku, limerick, or short poem that best represents you.
芝加哥大学 (University of Chicago) 的题目一向标新立异，比如：
¡ How do you feel about Wednesday?
¡ Have you ever walked through the aisles of a warehouse store like Costco or Sam’s Club and wondered who would buy a jar of mustard a foot and a half tall? We’ve bought it, but it didn’t stop us from wondering about other things, like absurd eating contests, impulse buys, excess, unimagined uses for mustard, storage, preservatives, notions of bigness…and dozens of other ideas both silly and serious. Write an essay somehow inspired by super-huge mustard.
¡ U Chicago professor W. J. T. Mitchell entitled his 2005 book What Do Pictures Want? Describe a picture, and explore what it wants.
¡ How are apples and oranges supposed to be compared? Possible answers involve, but are not limited to, statistics, chemistry, physics, linguistics, and philosophy.
另外一种作文是加州大学 (UC) 系统的 Personal Statements。以下三个题目中有两篇要在２００字内，自选一个题目 (choice of extended response) 可以写到６００字内。
Prompt 1: How have you taken advantage of the educational opportunities you have had to prepare for college?
UC seeks to enroll students who take initiative in pursuing their education (for example, developing a special interest in science, language or the performing arts; or becoming involved in special programs such as EAOP, MESA, Puente, COSMOS or other similar programs). This question seeks to understand a student’s motivation and dedication to learning.
– What opportunities have been available to me?
– Why did I choose to take advantage or not take advantage of these opportunities?
– How have I grown as a result of these opportunities?
Prompt 2: Tell us about a talent, experience, contribution or personal quality you will bring to the University of California.
UC welcomes the contributions each student brings to the campus learning community. This question seeks to determine an applicant’s academic or creative interests and potential to contribute to the vitality of the University.
– What talent, experience, contribution or personal quality best expresses my character?
– How does it define my ability to contribute?
Prompt 3: Is there anything you would like us to know about you or your academic record that you have not had the opportunity to describe elsewhere in this application?
This question seeks to give students the opportunity to share important aspects of their schooling or their lives —such as their personal circumstances, family experiences and opportunities that were or were not available at their school or college— which may have not been sufficiently addressed elsewhere in the application.
• What in my application needs explaining?
• What about ME deserves further explanation?
大学申请表格上还有问题让学生提供百字左右的回答 (short answer)，也是一个表现自己性格，特点的机会。
老师和课本反复提醒，命题作文没有固定答案，格式更可以尽心发挥，可以是诗歌，对话等，并不局限于标准的５段议论文，也不一定有明确的结论，只要能让 essay reader 看到：
• Who they are and what they think?
• A genuine response with clarity and well-chosen examples that get right to the point
• Information to complete the application (answers to the questions they have about your application)
· 真实 Authenticity: a clear voice to reflect a real, identifiable person so one can picture the writer energetic, curious, thoughtful, etc. without using those words.
· 清楚独特的观点 Originality: a real opinion, viewpoint or reaction to show engagement with the topic
· 具体Specificity: detailed anecdotes, descriptions, narratives, or character sketches to make the topic come alive, e.g., do not just talk about the importance of teamwork, write about your four years riding the bench of school soccer team and why it was important for you to do that.
· 关心时事 Awareness of the world: being able to comment thoughtfully on political or world conditions or what’s happening in one’s own neighborhood
· 成熟 A vision of growth and maturity: do not use childlike language
· 幽默 Humor: especially more sophisticated forms such as irony
· 和其它申请材料的相关 A clear connection to the rest of the application
大学都有自己独特的地方，都为 自己感到骄傲。所以学生要多了解自己申请的学校与众不同的地方，在文章中多体现自己的选择是有的放矢，清楚自己要什么，目标明确才能给招生老师留下深刻的 印象。比如去年一位高中生了解到她心仪的南加大最流行的手势是象征胜利的Ｖ字型，于是在申请表上要求选三个词形容自己时就写下 Vivid, Vanguard, Veracity，而且作文中处处体现了自己活泼，勇敢，诚实的方面，和她优良的成绩，多彩的校园活动（武术队长）等相映成章，被顺利录取是水到渠成。
课本建议高中生不要临时抱佛脚，平时就要多阅读优秀的作家作品 (如 Ralph Waldo Emerson’s Nature, Jonathan Swift’s A Modest Proposal, etc.) 及时事杂志，如 The Atlantic, Harper’s, National Review, Science, The New Yorker, Foreign Affairs, etc.积累精彩的文章结构，句型等。再加上高中英文课有老师指导多用类似题目练习，到时候才能下笔成章。作文写完后给有经验的（关系好的）老师或成人过目，看文章的说服力有多强。其它的细节，如语法，拼写等自己也要多注意。