All undergraduate students, regardless of freshman or transfer applicant status, have had to answer question number 30 on the Office of Admissions’ application to gain acceptance to Temple.
Falling right before the signature line, it’s the last question on the application and perhaps the most difficult.
It’s the required short essay.
Unlike many colleges throughout the country, Temple has left its admission essay open to allow for individuality, resulting in a revealing group of essays that are as diverse as Temple’s student body.
Heather Detwiler, a freshman at Temple, wrote her essay on a two-week student activism trip she took in high school that was sponsored by the Odd Fellows Lounge and the United Nations Pilgrimage for Youth.
“It was a trip that really changed me in a lot of ways,” she said. “It was an eye opening experience that I feel really prepared me for college.”
Timm Rinehart, the director of admissions at Temple, said that by the April 1 application deadline the university had received 17,000 applicants, a 3,000-applicant increase from last year.
On the whole, Rinehart said students mainly gaze inward and talk about their life history and what has had a big impact on their lives, both for better and worse. They try to use the essay to explain why they think the way they do, and most of the time it’s pretty revealing.
For Laura Donnelly, a senior at Cherokee High School in Marlton, N.J., the essay was an opportunity for her to discuss her involvement in volunteerism and its effects on her.
“I wrote about a mentally challenged boy that I worked with over the summer,” she said. “He died. Working with him affected me a lot.”
Admissions officials say acceptance is generally decided by the applicant’s class rank, SAT scores and high school grades, but the written essay plays an important role in the final decision.
Most students use the essay to explain something they feel needs to be explained, Rinehart said.
“It gives them the chance to make clear what’s behind the numbers and grades,” he said. “This type of essay normally comes from a student applicant with poor grades in high school. They use the essay to explain their poor performance.”
Another kind of essay Temple receives typically discusses an influential person or event in their life. Officials say these essays, often about a grandparent or parent, tell how the person has helped change the student’s life.
This was the kind of essay that transfer student Andrew Satinsky decided to write about when he applied to Temple last September.
“I wrote about this guy that I met in Buffalo Ridge, S.D., while traveling the country in a van with some friends,” he said. “This guy sold fireworks and made his own buffalo jerky. It’s amazing how passionate he was about it. He knew everything there was to know about jerky.”
Rinehart sees the essay as an opportunity for the applicants to be themselves and reveal the person behind the numbers.
“It’s the only thing that gives the student a chance to make their case,” he said.
Of the 17,000 applicants for the 2002-2003 school year, 8,500 will be accepted, Rinehart said. He said the admissions office anticipates 3,350 of them enrolling.
After reading so many essays Rinehart said he has been given insight into the student body and society that few people have. He is disappointed that some colleges are not putting as much emphasis on the essay as they once did.
Rinehart believes that the essay is a crucial part of the application. Without the essay, personal information that might skew the applicant’s admission package would go unknown to admission counselors.
Chris Powell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org