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How to Write the Why Tufts Essay (and the other Tufts Supplemental Essays) 2018-19

UPDATE: There have been changes to the Tufts supplemental essays for 2019-20.  Check out our updated guide.

Tufts University, one of the most selective schools in the U.S., requires all applicants to write two supplemental essays, but the specific prompts you respond to depend on which Tufts program you’re applying to.

Remember, the Tufts writing supplement official page advises you to "Think outside the box as you answer the following questions. Take a risk and go somewhere unexpected. Be serious if the moment calls for it, but feel comfortable being playful if that suits you, too." To deliver on these essays, you'll need to dig deep and be true to yourself!


Let’s start by looking at the prompts for the essays you'll have to write if you are applying to the School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering, or the 5-Year Tufts/NEC Combined Degree

Applicants to the School of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering, and 5-Year Tufts/NEC Combined Degree answer the following two questions:

1. What excites you about Tufts' intellectually playful community? In short, "Why Tufts?" (200-250 words)

Try this approach: Brainstorm/freewrite about what the phrase “intellectually playful” means to you. Think of times in your life when you’ve exemplified that quality. That way you’ll have lots of specific details to work into your essay, without necessarily having to use the phrase “intellectually playful” in your response. Then, research specific opportunities at Tufts (classes, clubs, faculty) that will let you engage your intellectual playfulness. For inspiration, you can even check out samples of successful “Why Tufts” essays on the Tufts site.


Applicants to Arts and Sciences, Engineering and the NEC Combined Degree get to choose between two prompts for the second short essay. Let’s explore how to pick the prompt that’s best for you!

2. Now we'd like to know a little more about you. Please respond to one of the following two questions. (200-250 words)

A) Whether you've built blanket forts or circuit boards, created slam poetry or mixed media installations, tell us: What have you invented, engineered, produced, or designed? Or what do you hope to?

Pick this prompt if: you love creating things or expressing yourself through art/writing/music/film. You don’t necessarily have to attend Maker Faires to love creating things. Whatever your creative arena/area/activity, show readers how your creations reflect who you are. What experiences have inspired you? What have you learned from the creation process? What do you hope to achieve through your tinkering/designing/producing? If you decide to write about future plans, make sure still to connect them to specific experiences you’ve had.

B) Our Experimental College encourages current students to develop and teach a class for the Tufts community. Previous classes have included those based on personal interests, current events, and more. What would you teach and why?

Pick this prompt if: you have some burning questions or topics that you love to ponder, share, and discuss with others. Here’s an exercise: Brainstorm topics for which you—and none of your friends/relatives/neighbors—would make an ideal teacher. What are you something of an expert in? It doesn’t have to be rigorously intellectual, either. If it fascinates you, it’s bound to fascinate others too! You’ll want to describe your hypothetical course concisely, and then focus on the experiences and passionate interests that inspire you to create it, in order to show why you are uniquely qualified to teach such a class. Check out past and current ExCollege courses to get an idea of the wide-ranging possibilities and to make sure yours stands out as unique. Also, explore the Tufts course catalog to ensure something very similar to your course isn’t already offered.


If you are applying to the BFA or 5-Year BFA+BA/BS Combined Degree at the SMFA at Tufts, there’s no choice of prompts, so let’s look at what to focus on with each prompt so that your two responses complement each other well.

Applicants to the BFA or 5-Year BFA+BA/BS Combined Degree at the SMFA at Tufts answer the following two questions:

1. Which aspects of the Tufts curriculum or undergraduate experience prompt your application? Why SMFA at Tufts? (200-250 words)

The advice from prompt 1 above about being “intellectually playful” could also apply to the first question here, especially if you can connect that quality to your artistic interests. However, you’ll also need to specifically address the SMFA program. Since SMFA is big on art that’s big on ideas, you might try this approach: Brainstorm ways your artistic and intellectual interests intersect. Are there some specific projects for which you’ve combined these different areas of interest? Next, identify specific aspects of the Tufts/SMFA Combined Degree program that will help you explore those intersections.


2. Art has the power to disrupt our preconceptions, shape public discourse, and imagine new ways of being in the world. Whether you think of Ai Weiwei’s work reframing the refugee crisis, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald’s portraits of the Obamas reimagining portrait painting on a national scale, or Yayoi Kusama’s fanciful Infinity Mirrors rekindling our sense of wonder, it is clear that contemporary art is driven by ideas. What are the ideas you’d like to explore in your work? (200-250 words)

The previous prompt lets you show your commitment to an education that bridges disciplines. Here, you have the opportunity to highlight specific ideas that you’re passionate about expressing through art. Try not to get too philosophical about the ideas themselves here, but instead show how these ideas have grown from your unique experiences and perspective. Here’s an idea: Think about a favorite piece of art you’ve created. Brainstorm/freewrite about the story behind it. What inspired you to make it? What were you trying to say with it? Even if you’re not sure about that, what does it say to you when you look at it now? Next, look to the future and explore how these ideas might influence your choices and your artistic and academic pursuits at college and beyond.


To encourage playful, out-of-the-box thinking with your Why Tufts essay and your other Tufts supplemental essay, really spend some time brainstorming and let your imagination run wild! By surprising yourself with the material you come up with, you’ll be more likely to write a response that “goes somewhere unexpected” and stands out to readers. Although your Common App personal statement may be more on the serious side, in these essays feel free to let the playful side of your personality shine through and show readers how you’ll make a vibrant addition to the Tufts community.


Click here for our guide to writing the Common App Essay

Prompt’s Essay Specialists reviewed 13,000 admissions essays in 2018, helping thousands of students submit their applications with confidence.

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