A teacher at one of my recent college essay workshops asked,
“What are some good ways for kids to approach the Common Application essay prompt about a person who’s influenced them?"
Here a few tips.
1. Remember what “influence” means.
Influence is defined as, “the action or process of producing effects on the actions, behavior, opinions, etc., of another…” The fact that you admire someone doesn’t necessarily mean they’ve influenced you. There needs to be some action or change in your actions, behavior or opinions. That means you'll need to give specific examples of those things. Deciding to improve your behavior in school, visiting a particular college you previously refused to see, spending more time volunteering at the soup kitchen—if you did those things because of someone else, that’s influence.
2. Don’t choose this prompt to try to sound impressive.
The Common Application actually gives you five choices of essay prompts. A lot of students who choose this one write about a famous activist, politician, or someone else notable in an effort to sound impressive. Again, you have to remember what “influence” means. The admissions committee doesn’t need to be convinced that Martin Luther King or Gandhi are admirable. Unless you can point to specific examples of how someone famous really has affected your actions, behavior or opinions, choose someone else (or chose a different topic).
3. Focus on the influence, not the person.
The exact wording of the question is, “Indicate a person who has had a significant influence on you, and describe that influence.” The subtext there is that you shouldn’t spend the entire essay describing why this person is so wonderful. Spend the essay talking about you—your behavior, actions and beliefs—and how those have changed or strengthened as a result of this person’s influence.
4. Write an essay nobody else could write.
An essay about how your mother has inspired you to work hard is a nice essay. But it will read exactly like hundreds of other students’ essays. Instead, be specific. Give details. Write an essay that no other student could write. And if it’s about your mom, give enough specific examples so that nobody else’s essay about their own mother will be quite like yours.
You can find even more advice in our video, “How to Write Great College Essays.” It’s $12.99 and available as a streaming download.
Filed Under: College essays
This prompt is only required for applicants interested in receiving a Bachelor of Science in Engineering and those who mark it as one of their possible degrees of study on their application.
Given the word limit and subject matter, a strong approach to this essay is to perhaps begin with a short anecdote or a few sentences that interestingly convey to the reader your interest in engineering, and perhaps what ignited your curiosity.
After that, you should discuss practical experiences in the field and how they shaped your interests. When discussing your exposure to engineering, it can be easy to fall into the trap of simply going through your resume and listing experiences or activities. Instead, you should make sure that your discussion of your experiences with engineering have a cohesive flow to them, as opposed to simply being unlinked events in conjunction.
Finally, they give you a chance to speak to “why Princeton Engineering,” specifically, what programs, organizations, opportunities, classes, research projects, etc. pique your interest. This is a chance for you to convince the admissions committee and Engineering department that not only would you thrive in Princeton’s Engineering department and take advantage of their resources, but also that you would be an asset to the field.
This section of your essay can be enhanced by discussing opportunities that are highly specialized to your interests and experiences; perhaps there is a professor who is conducting research in a highly specific area that suits your interests. On the other hand, discussing very common engineering opportunities (such as the ACM club) could be detrimental to the entire essay, as it fails to demonstrate why Princeton, specifically, is a strong fit for you.
Overall, this is likely intended to be less of a creative essay, and more of a prompt designed to simply tell Princeton why you are particularly interested in engineering, and why Princeton’s departments are suited for these interests.
Hopefully, after reading this guide, you feel much more confident and prepared to craft a compelling supplemental application to Princeton University that will distinguish you from your peers.
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