Tufts Admissions Essays That Worked

DISCLAIMER:  Below, I’ve included and reflected upon the essay of an applicant to last year’s class who became a Tufts student.  His name is John.  This is not what your essay should look like.  You are all unique snowflakes, and this is not a “one size fits all” process.  But I’ve pulled out aspects of this essay that worked for John.  These same aspects (in concept, not in exact execution), could work for you too if you make them your own.

And now, John the 2018 Jumbo celebrates his nerdy side:


A few months ago I bought a new collection of Chopin’s greatest hits, and the next day, I eagerly inserted it into my car’s CD player and drove to school. What I did not know, however, was that as I sat in my school’s morning traffic, Chopin’s Polonaise in A-flat major escaped through the glass of the windows and into the street. The “piano music,” as a friend/witness described, drew the attention of about half-a-dozen pedestrians, who glimpsed me gesticulating wildly to the airy melodies with one hand and furiously beating the steering wheel of my ancient minivan with the other. Personally, I don’t see my display of nerdiness as being particularly unusual. Listening to one of Bach’s preludes, or Debussy’s Arabesques is like reading literature; the first time through, you grasp the general ideas, but rereading once or twice gives you insight into the minute details. You notice how the instrumentation, articulation, tempo, and dynamics combine to create a mood, tone, and narrative. Analyzing the composer’s score is like putting together a puzzle, assembling the array of notes into a cohesive progression of chords and revealing the piece’s message. The most vivid connection occurs when I translate the black and white symbols on the page into positions on a piano keyboard or trombone slide and recreate the music through my own unique lens, adding my own personality to a timeless story that so many others have embarked upon.


Nearly a year later, I still like this essay.  Here’s why:

  1. Its tone is authentic:  I know this for two reasons.  First: all of John’s essays were in the same tone.  I’d call it… ramblingly-smart-and-worldly-with-a-touch-of-sass/drama-and-down-to-earth-nonchalance.  Second: his teachers described the kind of student I imagined.  Words like intelligent, introspective, intellectual, humble, mature, true to himself, and unique were common.  I know the student I was seeing/hearing was the same one who came to class each day.
  2. Its message is genuine: The take-away from this essay is an honest one.  That John is the kid/nerd who unabashedly makes a fool of himself in the name of his deep love of music.  It’s not glamorous or unique, but it’s an authentic morsel of who he is and what he’s all about.  And while we could see his love of music in his list of extracurriculars (which included items like jazz trombone, piano, and pep band) it’s the essays that give it color.
  3. It’s Tuftsy:  Our review of your application is partially about you, and partially about us.  Lots of great young people come through our doors (aka our online portal) who are lovely and smart, but not necessarily a great “fit” for Tufts.  “Fit” is that nebulous thing you’ve been asked to assess in your search process, and it’s something we think about a lot, too.  I often describe Tufts students as intellectual, unpretentious, and authentically engaged in the things they care most about.  The type of kid I see in this essay, the one who can geek out in a high minded way about how classical music mirrors literature, but sees no shame in looking ridiculous in the school parking lot while doing so, is a good little Jumbo.
  4. It got him in:  Not necessarily this essay alone, but the sum total effect of all his essays in conjunction with his recommendations put John in the class.  Without these, there was nothing wholly remarkable about his application (sorry, John!).  His grades were very good, but he wasn’t the valedictorian.  His scores were perfectly solid, but not flawless.  His involvement outside of school was laudable but not earth shattering (i.e.- no cure for cancer, no Daytime Emmys, no non-profit founding, no Olympic level athletics).  He comes from a middle class home in the suburbs of Boston, raised by two college educated parents.  In our thousands of applications, many are like John.  But the voice of his application (seen largely in the essays) painted a picture of the kind of kid we were eager to bring to campus. 

Again, it is unlikely that your strongest application will look like John’s.  But keep the core strengths of his essay in mind as you pen yours.  Is the tone authentic to you?  Is the message genuine to you?  Is it Tuftsy in a way that is true to you? (Note: if you are applying thoughtfully and felt that sense of “fit,” being “Tuftsy” should come naturally.)  You’ve got this, guys.  Keep up the hustle, and let me know if you have questions.

(Photo cred: Chris Christodoulou, Gustavo Dudamel at the London 2012 Festival, Featured in LA Times)

Let Your Life Speak

Looking for examples of past college essays that worked? These are some admissions essays that our officers thought were most successful from last year.

Amir Abdunuru Rwegarulira '20
Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

I grew up knowing exactly what it felt like to have parents everywhere. Of course, my biological parents - a retired social worker and an economist - had nothing omnipresent about them, it's just that in my immediate neighborhood, every adult automatically became my parent. This ideology was based on a Swahili saying “mkono mmoja hauuguzi mtoto” meaning one hand cannot nurse a child. I learned to respect neighbors the way I do relatives. There were no wedding invitations or funeral ceremonies that one could excuse oneself from attending. Everything was done with the welfare of the community as a whole in mind. As children we could not pass by a woman carrying a bucket of water without helping her, and adults would take the liberty of escorting us all the way home if we were returning late from school. Regardless of age or gender, there was an intangible sense of obligation that unified everyone and its importance was deeply instilled in me from a young age.

My life is still speaking; as I scale the ladder in education, sports and personal life. I continue to see the world through the lenses created by my community and treating everyone I encounter as part of it. Whether it is a primary school student struggling to finish his homework or a friend grieving over a lost loved one, I know that I am responsible not just for my own self but also for the people around me.

Sacdio Ali ’21
Jamaica Plain, MA

When I was in second grade, I wished my mom could talk to my teachers like the other parents did. Instead, I had to translate from English to Somali so that my mom could understand what was going on. Since my parents never went to school and I am the oldest of my siblings, I was used to this: if I went home, I had to be my own homework help, so I often stayed late at school to get help from my teachers. I was sad to see my friends working at home with their parents because I couldn't do that with my mom. I wanted to be them so badly--but even more, I wanted that for my siblings. I managed to do well in school thanks to my mother's constant encouragement, but I promised myself that I would never let my siblings feel sad that they couldn't come home for help. When my siblings were growing up, I read to them. Before they started school, I taught them how to read and do simple math. With time, they looked up to me for guidance and any help they needed outside of school. The strong connection I developed with my siblings helped me realize how much I enjoy working with children. I started helping other students like my classmates, which inspired me to become a school counselor so that I can explore how the environment and people around a child can influence his or her life.

Emma Tombaugh ’21
Oradell, NJ

Dinnertime  in the Tombaugh household is seldom dull. I sit down, never knowing what topic will be introduced that night. When the standard chatter subsides, and the last bits of food are being plucked off the plates, any innocent query can launch itself into a lengthy scientific discussion. Why does my dad's watch have a ratcheting bezel around the edge? I'm plunged into a lesson on why decompression stops are necessary for scuba divers. (Nitrogen bubbles in the blood vessels...Who knew?). Evidence for the theory of evolution is presented as neatly as the silverware next to my plate. I now know more than I ever thought I would about mimicry in animals and antipredator adaptation. The justifications for the demotion of Pluto (our favorite planet, discovered by Clyde Tombaugh) are hotly contested. Scientific and mathematical concepts are explored, debated, and questioned. How does one classically condition mice? Let me count the ways. Together, we marvel at the sheer enormity of the universe and in an instant might be awestruck by the small size of a single cell. Conversations like these feed my insatiable appetite for learning. I regard the world around me with inquisitive eyes; there is always something new to discover. Scientific phenomena exist to be doubted and scrutinized. In cultivating these investigations, my family has stimulated me to be curious and engaged. Never satisfied with the facts that are placed in front of me, I am constantly on the lookout for the hows, the whys, and the what-ifs.

Looking for more insider tips on the admissions process? We can help! The admissions officers blog about every aspect of applying to college here!

Joe Hyatt ’21
Nashua, NH

Five years ago, I became the member of a new community, a community of siblings. I was an only child for over twelve years. Life was great-  I had my parents' undivided attention and no one stealing my toys. Then my world changed dramatically. Our family was blessed with three baby girls.  I went from being the center of the universe ,to one of Pluto's moons. My life of order spiraled into disorder.  "Me time" became "story time."  Now I'm in high school with three baby sisters. They cry at my basketball games when the buzzer blares, escape onto the court during volleyball warm-ups, but melt my heart nonetheless. Plenty of my friends have younger siblings, but none are babies. While my friends were teaching their siblings how to skateboard and throw a fastball, I was changing diapers and rocking babies so my mom could shower. While buddies were helping their sisters with homework, I was feeding mine oatmeal in their high-chairs so my dad could grill.   My sisters are finally old enough that I can teach them to shoot a basketball and skip and to create snowflakes from popsicle sticks and sparkles.  I can now explain simple math on their fingers and perform science experiments with a coke can and a flame. Above all, I now also understand the meaning of the phrase "herding cats."  My new micro-community has turned my world upside down, changing me forever.  I wouldn't trade it for the world.

Celina Vidal ’21
Larkspur, CA

From age three until nine I attended a Waldorf school, or as I affectionately refer to it, the "school of fairies and gnomes". While my high school classmates spent their childhoods decorating coloring books and watching cartoons, I crocheted a poncho, played the violin, and learned a type of rhythmic dance that allowed me to spell words with my body. As archaic and unproductive as these activities might sound, I am eternally grateful for the person I have become due to my lack of media exposure and excess of wooden toys throughout my youth. Primarily, I developed in an environment where I had the opportunity to test my creative outlets. This innovative drive has continued to fuel my academic experience through high school, and I constantly find myself searching for interactive ways to obtain knowledge rather than turning to textbooks. Also, in a society overrun with technology, having the prior knowledge of detachment allows me to observe my surroundings, not my phone screen, and inspires me to explore my community. Fond memories of third grade nature days in which we gained a basic knowledge of botany established my lasting appreciation for the outdoors. Finally, having a safe place to believe in fairy tales for so long preserved an innocence in me that guides me through our often disturbing world. As I continue to inquire and create during my college experience, I hope my Waldorf background will help me imagine new discoveries and inventions no matter how fantastical they may seem.

William Wilson ’21
Lewiston, ID

I grew up in a town whose one traffic light only flashed yellow, there were more churches than gas stations, and the nearest clothing store was a thirty minute drive along a dusty road. Despite the barren land of the prairie, I kept busy by helping with chores around my household, serving pancakes as a cub scout at Lions Club feeds, and volunteering at the library to help my fellow peers with homework. My parents were both dynamic members of the city council in my home town. My mother worked as a courthouse clerk, my father was the mayor, and both were leaders in the local fire department as volunteer firefighters. Their impact on the community had an equal impact on me; I was encouraged to influence my surroundings in any way possible. This influence continued after I moved. I quickly found haven volunteering to help in children's education classes. In high school, I jumped at the opportunity to be in student government by running a campaign every year I was in school. My parents' active roles in my neighborhood inspired my love for having a positive influence on those around me. As I continue to grow, I aspire to enrich not only myself but also anyone else that I can impact.

Want to hear more from current students? Jumbo Talk has blogs from current students talking about every aspect of life at Tufts here!


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