Seeking Summer Support: What Application Essays Reveal About Applicants to a Mentorship Program for Talented Teens

Date of Completion

January 2012


Education, Gifted|Education, Educational Psychology|Education, Special




Summer programs help many talented, motivated students further develop their talents, realize their interests, and actualize their goals. Extensive data are available that reveal the benefits of these programs on students' achievement, efficacy, and adjustment; however, little data exist that reveal—in students' own words—the perceptions, characteristics, and experiences of the program applicants themselves. In addition, although many of these programs differ in what they require for admission, some programs have more of a selective process that includes submission of application essays. Application essays are one of the few opportunities that applicants have to differentiate themselves in the admissions process, yet literature on application essays primarily focuses on those written for college admission. This research focused on the intersection between the application essay literature and the summer program literature. To determine what application essays revealed about their applicants and how they might vary across demographic subgroups, I conducted a content analysis of one year's corpus of 321 application essays to a summer program for talented adolescents. In their essays, applicants discussed themselves, their experiences, and their interests and goals—these are generally common application essay elements. However, closely examining these elements and how they were presented within the essays revealed more about applicants' perceptions of their experiences and relationships as well as their efforts to differentiate themselves from other applicants. Further examining the data across the different demographic subgroups revealed differences in how applicants presented themselves and their relationships, what educational experiences they desired, how they viewed altruism, how they projected college life, and how they attributed outcomes. These differences were found across subgroups of gender, program acceptance status, and school district status. ^