This prompt is about more than just your favorite novel. At its heart, this prompt is asking you to tell a story about your own personal development through your relationship to a work of art.
It might be tempting to choose a fancy piece of literature in order to show off your intellectual prowess. But you should not feel pressured into claiming that you’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow every summer since you were eight years old. The admissions committee is more interested in seeing that you are a thoughtful person who is capable of reflecting on how you have changed. If you can tell that story best by writing about Pokémon, Episode 70, “Go West Young Meowth,” so be it.
You might say that as a child you were mostly drawn to the flashy drawings and silly cartoons. But maybe when you saw that episode again in your high school years, you were fascinated with how it imagines that an animal might learn to speak “human language.” This might have been one piece of your growing interest in the philosophy of human-animal relations and the different ways that species communicate with each other.
Of course, not everything that we read as a child ages well. One way to approach this essay is to talk about something that you might have once loved, and perhaps still love, but has come to seem more problematic. For one example of what such an essay might look like, you might turn to Daniel Jose Ruiz’s essay on Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. For Ruiz, the fantasy world where mice and badgers were good guys and weasels and ferrets were bad guys was a place where he felt included as a child:
I felt a kinship with the badger characters. They were large, strong, a bit stubborn, with big tempers, but they were good guys and heroes. Redwall seemed to say that I could be a good guy and a hero even though I was big for my age, stubborn, and volatile.
But as Ruiz grew older and read more, parts of the Redwall books called out for critique:
You can do a pretty thorough Marxist reading of Redwall as a parable of the righteous nature of bourgeois property relations. The mice, hares, and badgers are metaphors for the inherent superiority of the ruling class, while the vermin are symbols of the degenerate nature of the proletariat.
In the real world, however, few people just decide to become bandits unless their situation dictates that this is one of the better options for survival. I can’t recall a single time where the [mice and badgers try] to establish a mutually beneficial agreement with the vermin, as opposed to occasional acts of charity that don’t address systemic issues.
However you choose to write about your changing relationship to a piece of art, your focus should be on how you and your interpretation of that work have changed over time. You do not want to get bogged down with lots of plot summary. Notice how, as you read Ruiz’s essay, no sentences are given over to just describing the plot: Every sentence weaves summary and analysis together, with constant references to his own personal story.
Finally, there is one last possibility for how you might approach this prompt that is a little bit more experimental. The prompt asks you to address how your developmental story changed the way you understand a work of art. But what if you reversed the prompt and asked how a work of art changed the way you understood your own developmental story? Perhaps a relevant essay in this vein is Ashon Crawley’s poetic meditation on Barry Jenkins’s Oscar winning 2016 film, Moonlight.
“Sometimes fiction functions to produce memory,” Crawley says, and then goes on to tell the story of how he grew through three different nicknames (Berry Berry, Cookie, and Ashon) parallel to, but not exactly the same as, the film’s main character who is known as “Little,” then “Chiron,” then “Black.”
Even if you end up structuring your essay in a more traditional manner, it is worth noting how Crawley zooms in on precise details that might have been mundane but vibrate with meaning in the force of his prose — a change in email address, a choir membership card, a Walter Hawkins song…
As you respond to Villanova’s prompt, you will not be able to tell the admissions committee every twist and turn in the story of your maturation, but your essay might become bland if you only speak in vague general terms. Ashon slices through this dilemma by focusing on precise details, little snippets from his life, that tell some, but not all, of his story. As you write, it is worth considering what little moments you might choose from your own life’s story to represent how you’ve changed.
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Bryn Mawr College Application Essay Prompt
The Bryn Mawr Honor Code and Self-Government Association (SGA) affirm the importance of our academic and social communities. In your response please reflect on how you see the Honor Code and/or SGA shaping your experience at Bryn Mawr.
This classic type of essay prompt essentially asks the applicant to respond in terms of how she sees her Bryn Mawr experience coming to fruition. You should take note of the emphasis that the prompt places on the Honor Code and the Self-Government Association — two documents that have been specifically crafted to establish the campus culture at Bryn Mawr.
In order to successfully respond to this prompt, you should closely read through the documents and make an effort to understand the impact they have on student life; and more importantly, the specificimpact they would have on your life. Links to the reads (Honor Code and SGA Constitution) are available, and every applicant should digest them prior to developing her response, so as to set a mental framework about how to create the best possible response.
A quick glance through the Honor Code details Bryn Mawr’s intention of creating an environment in which every student can reach her maximum potential, all the while maintaining integrity and respect for one another, as well as creating a strong bond between members of the college community. It highlights the importance of gaining perspective through not only academic learning, but also through exposure to students of various backgrounds.
As you develop your thoughts, it would be wise to include any experiences that relate to your interaction with various communities in the past, whether similar or different from what you are used to.
This could include an experience in which you spent a spring break in an American city rebuilding homes, and you stayed with a local family; stayed at a local community college’s dorm one summer as part of academic camp and had to talk about upcoming global issues with students of diverse backgrounds; or even your experiences as a contributor to a media outlet (news, publication, etc.) in which pitched ideas are constantly challenged because different people must agree on what ideas to pursue.
Whatever experience you choose to write about, you should try to point out your response to being confronted with ideologies foreign to you. Moreover, a strong essay might include how exposure to a community challenged you, and more importantly, how you benefited from it. Then, explain how your thinking and approach to life has changed as a result of your interaction with the academic/social community.
Your finished essay should not be focused on either the Bryn Mawr institution itself or the Honor Code/SGA Constitution, since admissions officers are already fully aware of whatever praises and facts you may offer them. Rather, it should present an analysis of how your goals align with the academic and community-oriented support system that Bryn Mawr has established for its students.
Whether you have decided to invest your time studying the humanities while playing a sport, or if the sciences combined with playing the violin are your calling, your interests and aspirations — as they are particularto you — should shine through in your essay. Basically, the goals you mention should reflect how much in-depth thought you have given to your own personal development, and why Bryn Mawr is the perfect catalyst for your personal advancement.
These admissions officers might question any admissions essay that lacks either uniqueness or demonstration of some high-level introspection. By combining your specific goals with an understanding of how Bryn Mawr will bolster your efforts to achieve those goals, you will create a more competitive essay. As always, when writing this essay, responses should be specific and not easily replicable by other applicants.
This does not mean that you need to have your future plans clearly outlined in great detail; rather, this means that you should have an idea of your current situation and what you think you need in order to succeed. Remember that many students can have a similar goal at first glance, but the success in college admissions comes when you effectively present your story — which includes the emotions, motivations, and method of achieving your dreams. This is where you can individualize your essay.
For example, an applicant may start by writing about how as a competitive person with high-reaching goals, she seeks to take advantage of various opportunities at Bryn Mawr College. She might then go on to explain how these goals relate to and tie in with the strong community so heavily elaborated in the Honor Code. For this example, a key component of this response might make note of the inherently competitive nature of such a tight-knit community, and how as a competitive person, such an environment gives her the perfect opportunity to better herself.
This prompt gives you creative license in interpreting the principles set forth in the Honor Code and SGA Constitution, and how they relate to your ambitions at Bryn Mawr College. As always, you should take advantage of this creative freedom, as long as the goals you describe are within the scope of reason. It is important to strike a balance between being ambitious, and yet remaining grounded enough to be realistic about what college can offer a developing scholar. Be sure to share your essay with a reliable reader (or several!) before submitting it in order to get an idea of how effective your finished product is.
These tips should give you a basic understanding of what you need to create an excellent Bryn Mawr admissions essay. Our team at CollegeVine wishes you the best of luck in your writing!
If you still feel like you could use some more help writing your essay, feel free to reach out to our CollegeVine admissions specialists or just submit your essay to us so one of our consultants can review it before you submit.