written by
Clay Phillips

University of Michigan Essay Guide 2020-2021

6 min read
Photo courtesy of University of Michigan

Having trouble answering the University of Michigan’s three supplemental essay prompts? Look no further! In this University of Michigan Essay Guide, we will cover how to approach the 2020-2021 supplementary essays. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

1. Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (max 300 words)

Ah, the classic community essay. Not so different from the traditional extracurricular essay, this prompt seeks to find out how you connect with others and work toward common goals. As a very large community, the University of Michigan thrives on the initiatives of and interactions between its members. Here, Michigan wants you to reflect on your experience as a member of one particular community, discussing how you’ve grown and how you’ve helped others grow through your role within it.

You might be asking yourself, “What qualifies as a community?” Michigan has already alluded to their very broad definition of community in the prompt itself, giving you lots of freedom to choose what you identify most with. A community could be an extracurricular activity, a neighborhood, a religious congregation, or even a group of friends with a shared hobby. The possibilities here are truly limitless.

Pick a community that has impacted you significantly by helping to shape your values, interests, personality, and/or perspective. What kinds of things have you done as a part of this community that are particularly noteworthy or important to you? What about the community keeps you coming back?

The more details you can put in, the better you will be able to recreate that sense of community within your essay. Whether it’s the road trips with your dance team that have helped you appreciate life’s many journeys or the Sunday afternoon tradition of making chicken tikka masala with your Indian grandmother that has brought you closer to your heritage, make the admissions committee feel like they’re a part of it.

Remember that this prompt is a two-way street: as much as you should discuss what you’ve gained from this community, don’t neglect to emphasize what you’ve contributed to it. What space do you fill? Why has this community been better off with you in it? Demonstrate that you’re proactive and capable of positively influencing one of Michigan’s many sub-communities, and you will achieve what this prompt is getting at.

2. Describe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests? (max 550 words)

This is a variation of the classic “Why School?” prompt that you will likely see for several other schools on your list. The University of Michigan wants to ensure that you’ve done your research, and that you’ve put some thought into how you will take advantage of its resources to achieve your goals. Basically, you need to express how you and the school/program you’re applying to are an excellent fit for each other.

In order to do this, you first need to clarify exactly what your interests are. A good way to do this is by starting your essay off with a short anecdote that encapsulates your academic interests. For example, a prospective biology major applicant to Michigan’s College of Literature, Science, and the Arts might begin their essay with a glimpse into the AP Biology class project that inspired their love for anatomy. Demonstrating your interests with a fun hook can be much more effective than just telling the admissions officers what they are.

Next, you want to discuss how you will explore those interests within your chosen school. The most important piece of advice I can give you here is be specific. What classes are you interested in taking, or which professors are you excited to work with? Mention them by name and explain how they will equip you with the certain skills you need to reach your goals. What current research projects happening in school-associated labs would you want to hop on and why? Is there anything unique about the curriculum or department of your anticipated major that sets it apart from programs at other schools? What programs, events, organizations, etc. unique to the school would help further your passions and set you up for success? In other words, what features or characteristics of the school, college, or program that you’re applying to will you take advantage of?

For example, if you are looking to combine your knack for design with your desire for community impact, you might bring up the College of Engineering’s Center for Socially Engaged Design. Or perhaps your dream is to serve as a nurse in underprivileged areas of the world. In that case, you could discuss how minoring in population health in a global context and embarking on one of the nursing school’s numerous summer global field experiences would help you make this dream a reality.

With 550 available words available, you should have plenty of space to mention at least 3 specific resources or qualities that make this school the best fit for you. And don’t just list off examples for the sole purpose of naming them — always make sure to connect them back to your concrete interests and goals.

Once you’ve completed a draft, read it over and ask yourself if your essay could have been written about any other university. If the answer is yes, it needs more specificity! So spend some time gathering information on Michigan’s website, scrolling through curriculum offerings, and connecting with current students in your major in order to submit the essay that will leave the admissions committee with no choice but to admit you.

3. If you could only do one of the activities you have listed in the Activities section of your Common Application, which one would you keep doing? Why? (max 150 words)

In this prompt, University of Michigan wants to know what really gets you going. There’s no secret to picking the ideal activity here — just be honest! What could you not live a single day without doing? Pick that activity. This is your chance to show to the admissions committee what matters to you as an individual, so teach them something new about yourself.

You only have 150 words to work with here, so the key is to be short and sweet while making sure to address all parts of the prompt: describe the activity, discuss why it’s important to you, and explore ways you can continue to do this activity while at Michigan.

Instead of wasting precious words telling Michigan what activity you would pick (i.e. “If I could only do one activity on my list, I would pick soccer because …”), show them with short anecdotes or action moments specific to your experience. Dive into the details, the core of what makes it indispensable to you.

Maybe you live for the rush of being on stage because it allows you to overcome your social anxiety. Or perhaps you’re forever grateful for the English tutoring you received as a child of first-generation immigrants, so you give back in the same way to those children whose shoes you were once in. Whatever your reason, illustrate the emotion behind it.

To cap off the essay, talk about how you will continue this activity in college in the last sentence. This could be by joining a similar club, organization, or otherwise. This shows that you’re committed to the activity in question and have brainstormed ways to get involved in the Michigan community.


This essay guide was written by Clay Phillips, Vanderbilt ‘20. If you want to get help writing your University of Michigan application essays from Clay or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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