Expert panel: 

Elena Castenellos (Claremont McKenna College) and Gerardo Hurtado (Pomona College)

Question:  What makes a good scholarship or application essay?

  • Tell a story only you know.
  • Good essays are really good stories.
  • Speak to your audience… Understand to whom you are speaking.
  • Write well.

Question:  When do I start applying to scholarships?

  • Opportunities start opening up now!
  • Programs and scholarships are not quite the same.

Question:  What goes into a college application and what makes you competitive?

  • Statistics:  How are you as a student?
    • GPA. test scores, course choices, rank, etc.
  • Writing:  How do you think?
    • Broad questions for all colleges
    • Supplements 
      • Specific questions for majors or schools
  • Activities List: What do you care about and how have you contributed to your community?
    • clubs, sports, community service. leadership, hobbies, helping at home…. basically anything that takes up your time. 
  • Context:  Where are you coming from and how does it impact your performance?
    • School community, family, finances, personal history
  • Anything extra
    • You have the opportunity to include anything  that you feel isn’t in your application that you want to make sure that admissions officers know about you

Question:  What do you do when you do not feel confident?

  • Talk to a trusted advisor, mentor, or friend and get feedback and pep talks.
  • Trust that you have something unique to contribute to the world.  Do the work to figure out what it is.
  • Embrace your passions.
  • Do not compare yourself to others…. you are fabulous and unique.
  • Do not take yourself out of the running, because you never know.

Question:  How do you handle the uncertainty of majors, colleges, careers, etc?

  • Be open to opportunities.
  • Be patient with yourself; you may change your minds many times!
  • It is normal to change your mind when you get more information.
  • It is ok to change!
  • Find your passions and follow them.


Common Application: First-year essay prompts

1. Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, please share your story.

2. The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

3. Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

4. Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma — anything of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.

5. Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

6. Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

7. Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.