Apply Yourself

Get into the minds of the Millennial Market by asking the questions they are expected to answer


To be or not to be? That is the question, or at least one of the questions that have weighed heavily on the minds of mankind throughout history.

We, both as individuals and as a society, are forever searching, wandering and pondering our way through time, looking for answers to questions that bother us so.

Who’s on first?

 Who let the dogs out?

 What went wrong with the No. 1 pencil?

Inquiring minds want to know, none more so than the administrators who spend their autumns buried not under piles of leaves but mountains of essays, mandatory components of the millions of college applications submitted this time each year.

This fall, there are more than 20 million students pursuing some sort of post-secondary education. If you figure the average application requires one 500-word essay, that’s 10 billion written words worth of thoughtful consideration. Millennial Marketers endeavoring to get inside the minds of the campus consumer base might be well served to get first into the thought processes of Generation Why? before they even get into college.

Think about it . . . that’s exactly what the colleges themselves are trying to do. Admissions essays aren’t designed to result in answers as much as they are created to reveal the thought process of the essayist. There’s no right and wrong, only write and reveal.

Otherwise, how would anyone ever accept the challenge of some of the essay prompts unique to certain schools?

At the University of Virginia, where students regularly – almost daily – paint messages on Beta Bridge, a railroad overpass near campus, one of the essay prompts for this year’s applicants is to consider, What would you paint on Beta Bridge and why is this your message?

One supplemental essay option for applicants to the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill this year is: You get one do-over of any moment of your life. What would you do over, and why?

The University of Chicago has long been renowned for its provocative essay questions (it admits as much verbatim on its website).  If you don’t like any of the ones offered this year, you could choose a favorite track off the Admissions Office’s All-Time Greatest Hits playlist. Would you care for an exploration of a word impossible to directly translate from its original language? Or are you more in the mood for an examination of the way the mantis shrimp views the world differently (better?) than we are capable of?

These are great questions, right? When we romanticize the intellectual expedition that is the college experience, we think of long nights spent discussing and debating these very subjects. (Admittedly, among my friends, our focus was more on fried shrimp than mantis).

So much of Millennial Marketing strategy is fixated on the behaviors of today’s on-campus consumer, and necessarily so. But when you stop to consider the deep contemplation going on inside college-aged crania, it gives you a greater appreciation for the people you are striving to connect with.

Which is why we, at Newbridge, invite you to do as they do. Listed below are the five essay prompts included on the current Common Application, which will be used to help determine admissions for the 2016 Fall semester.

Take a moment to read through these questions. If you were applying to college today (as your actual consumer base of the near future is actually doing right now), which essay prompt would you prefer?

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from failure can be fundamental to later success. Recount an incident or time when you experienced failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you challenged a belief or idea. What prompted you to act? Would you make the same decision again?
  • Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.
  • Discuss an accomplishment or event, formal or informal, that marked your transition from childhood to adulthood within your culture, community or family.

Some of these may sound familiar to you. Some of you may be experiencing long-dormant angst from your own essay writing days. For that, we are sorry. But we do not apologize for jump-starting your curiosity. Already, you are a step closer to understanding your Millennial audience.

We don’t seriously expect anyone to unsheathe their sharpened Ticonderogas actually write a 500-word essay. But if you do, it won’t go to waste. Email it to us and we’ll consider sharing excerpts in an upcoming blog.

At the very least, we encourage you to take a moment to think about what you would say if forced to write one of these essays. It just may help you see your marketplace with clearer eyes.

Kinda like a mantis shrimp.

David Seigerman’s latest book, Take Your Eye Off The Ball 2.0 (Triumph Books)
will be released this fall. Follow him at @dseigs18.

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