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Around the country, high school seniors are working on personal essays to submit as part of their college applications.

UT this year made the essay a required part of its applications. The priority admissions and scholarship deadline is November 1; the regular application deadline is December 1.

“UT’s new requirement for short-answer essays gives our team an opportunity to learn more about the student beyond the academic benchmarks of test score and GPA—and in their own voice,” said Kari Alldredge, interim associate provost and director of undergraduate admissions. “As part of our holistic review process we consider a number of factors, and while we want to see strong academic preparation, we also want to learn more about our applicants’ goals, interests, and how they will contribute to our Volunteer community.”

“The short-answer essays give students the opportunity to share their story in their own voice, what makes them special, and how they believe UT can help them accomplish their academic and life goals. A student’s GPA and test score tell us about their academic accomplishments and preparation, but we believe there is more to who a student is.”

At UT, students are given two topics to address: “Why are you interested in attending the University of Tennessee, Knoxville?” and “Discuss your reasons for pursuing your choice of major.”

“There is not a specified length for the short-essay responses. We encourage applicants to be thoughtful, craft an authentic response, and let your passions come through,” Alldredge said. “There is no right or wrong answer. But we hope to learn more about the student as both a scholar and a person in their essay responses.”

So given these parameters, how can a student craft a personal essay that is creative, genuine, and memorable?

Two UT experts—Kirsten Benson, director of the Writing Center, and Stephanie Kit, interim director of the Center for Career Development—offer these brainstorming tips and tricks:

  • Start early and give yourself time before the deadline to craft a well-written statement. Begin with an initial brainstorm or draft that you can come back to and revise.
  • The essay is a chance for the admissions office to learn more about you and your goals. Say something about yourself that is not already included elsewhere in your application.
  • Organize your essay so that each paragraph develops and supports the major point you are trying to communicate.
  • Meet the requirements issued in the instructions, but also give your writing a personal touch.
  • Write in a natural, yet formal, voice. Be expressive and show your personality, but do not overdo it by using flowery language or words that obviously come from a thesaurus. Include a mixture of academic and personal information.
  • Your essay could be among one of forty or fifty read in a day. Make it stand out. Include an attention-grabber that interests readers from the start.
  • Avoid slang words, repeating the same words too often, and beginning your sentences with the same words.
  • Ask yourself, “Is my essay interesting, memorable, and relevant?”
  • Proofread carefully after you are satisfied with the substance of your essay. Use spell check and have a fresh set of eyes—a parent, friend, or teacher—read your essay before you submit. Make sure their edits are fixing grammar errors, not rewriting content. You want your essay to clearly reflect your voice.

UT is the state’s leading public teaching and research university. In addition to the essay requirement, freshman applicants are required to submit proof of completion of core academic subjects, core high school GPA, standardized test scores, and other personal information.


Amy Blakely (865-974-5034,