In this prompt, admissions officers are looking to both demystify what a Jesuit education is as well as allow you to advocate on behalf of your own values, fitting your personal and academic goals into these Jesuit tenants. “Personal goals and academic interests” are relatively easy topics to approach (just talk about yourself), but fitting that into the Jesuit ideals will be the challenge. The objective of this essay is to move your goals and interests forward into the years you will spend in, possibly, a Jesuit college like BC.
The prompt lists four different subsections, so feel free to touch on one of them or all of them. However, just be wary that if you choose to tackle a multitude of these ideas, your substance and depth may take a sharp hit.
With “the importance of the liberal arts and sciences,” admissions officers want to see a passion for the wide gamut of learning as not just a career preparatory tool, but a rigorous process to tackle the great problems our world faces. If you want to be a chemist and study chemistry, but also want to fully take advantage of a liberal arts curriculum and a more humanistic approach to chemistry, talk about how you are also passionate about classes like Roman Religion and Introduction to African Diaspora Studies, both of which BC offers.
With “character formation,” you could talk about a test of character that you’ve faced or a difficult circumstance you’ve had to overcome. Talk about how that trial influenced your personal goals and academic interests, and how it will continue to do so in college. Maybe you want to major in biology at Boston College because of a close family member that passed away from cancer — you want to fight for not only people like her, but also low income patients in rural areas who may not have access to a state-of-the-art medical facility.
With a “commitment to the common good,” you can easily slide in work that you’ve done to benefit those around you, whether it is through a volunteering organization, a personal project, or an experience away from home. This could then tie into what you want to study and how you want to grow in college to keep pursuing a similar line of work. If you are passionate about education, you could talk about how you want to pursue activities at Boston College like the school’s branch of Project Sunshine, in which you work with kids suffering from medical challenges.
With “living a meaningful life,” think about the values you want to live by. Are they the values espoused by your religion, a personal role model, or your own identity? For example, if you are active in a mosque, talk about how you will join Boston College’s Muslim Student Association to further involve yourself with the Muslim community. Feel free to mention what you want to study and what you want to do after college, as long as you supplement these thoughts with why you want to do them, and what motivated you to do them. Fit these values into the mission of Boston College, and you will be good to go!
As the government begins its crackdown on essay mill websites, it’s easy to see just how much pressure students are under to get top grades for their coursework these days. But writing a high-scoring paper doesn’t need to be complicated. We spoke to experts to get some simple techniques that will raise your writing game.
Tim Squirrell is a PhD student at the University of Edinburgh, and is teaching for the first time this year. When he was asked to deliver sessions on the art of essay-writing, he decided to publish a comprehensive (and brilliant) blog on the topic, offering wisdom gleaned from turning out two or three essays a week for his own undergraduate degree.
“There is a knack to it,” he says. “It took me until my second or third year at Cambridge to work it out. No one tells you how to put together an argument and push yourself from a 60 to a 70, but once you to get grips with how you’re meant to construct them, it’s simple.”
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The goal of writing any essay is to show that you can think critically about the material at hand (whatever it may be). This means going beyond regurgitating what you’ve read; if you’re just repeating other people’s arguments, you’re never going to trouble the upper end of the marking scale.
“You need to be using your higher cognitive abilities,” says Bryan Greetham, author of the bestselling How to Write Better Essays. “You’re not just showing understanding and recall, but analysing and synthesising ideas from different sources, then critically evaluating them. That’s where the marks lie.”
But what does critical evaluation actually look like? According to Squirrell, it’s simple: you need to “poke holes” in the texts you’re exploring and work out the ways in which “the authors aren’t perfect”.
“That can be an intimidating idea,” he says. “You’re reading something that someone has probably spent their career studying, so how can you, as an undergraduate, critique it?
“The answer is that you’re not going to discover some gaping flaw in Foucault’s History of Sexuality Volume 3, but you are going to be able to say: ‘There are issues with these certain accounts, here is how you might resolve those’. That’s the difference between a 60-something essay and a 70-something essay.”
Critique your own arguments
Once you’ve cast a critical eye over the texts, you should turn it back on your own arguments. This may feel like going against the grain of what you’ve learned about writing academic essays, but it’s the key to drawing out developed points.
“We’re taught at an early age to present both sides of the argument,” Squirrell continues. “Then you get to university and you’re told to present one side of the argument and sustain it throughout the piece. But that’s not quite it: you need to figure out what the strongest objections to your own argument would be. Write them and try to respond to them, so you become aware of flaws in your reasoning. Every argument has its limits and if you can try and explore those, the markers will often reward that.”
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Fine, use Wikipedia then
The use of Wikipedia for research is a controversial topic among academics, with many advising their students to stay away from the site altogether.
“I genuinely disagree,” says Squirrell. “Those on the other side say that you can’t know who has written it, what they had in mind, what their biases are. But if you’re just trying to get a handle on a subject, or you want to find a scattering of secondary sources, it can be quite useful. I would only recommend it as either a primer or a last resort, but it does have its place.”
Focus your reading
Reading lists can be a hindrance as well as a help. They should be your first port of call for guidance, but they aren’t to-do lists. A book may be listed, but that doesn’t mean you need to absorb the whole thing.
Squirrell advises reading the introduction and conclusion and a relevant chapter but no more. “Otherwise you won’t actually get anything out of it because you’re trying to plough your way through a 300-page monograph,” he says.
You also need to store the information you’re gathering in a helpful, systematic way. Bryan Greetham recommends a digital update of his old-school “project box” approach.
“I have a box to catch all of those small things – a figure, a quotation, something interesting someone says – I’ll write them down and put them in the box so I don’t lose them. Then when I come to write, I have all of my material.”
There are a plenty of online offerings to help with this, such as the project management app Scrivener and referencing tool Zotero, and, for the procrastinators, there are productivity programmes like Self Control, which allow users to block certain websites from their computers for a set period.
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Look beyond the reading list
“This is comparatively easy to do,” says Squirrell. “Look at the citations used in the text, put them in Google Scholar, read the abstracts and decide whether they’re worth reading. Then you can look on Google Scholar at other papers that have cited the work you’re writing about – some of those will be useful. But quality matters more than quantity.”
And finally, the introduction
The old trick of dealing with your introduction last is common knowledge, but it seems few have really mastered the art of writing an effective opener.
“Introductions are the easiest things in the world to get right and nobody does it properly,” Squirrel says. “It should be ‘Here is the argument I am going to make, I am going to substantiate this with three or four strands of argumentation, drawing upon these theorists, who say these things, and I will conclude with some thoughts on this area and how it might clarify our understanding of this phenomenon.’ You should be able to encapsulate it in 100 words or so. That’s literally it.”
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