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Intelligence Plus Character Essay Sample

Our offices in California help a lot of kids apply to LMU.  And let me tell you, LMU's essay questions are doozies.  They’re pushing kids to think critically about the questions, which actually gives those with a sincere interest in LMU a huge opportunity. Those applicants are much more likely to take the time required to really think about these questions than are the students who were hoping to just toss an application in. 

Before we give you some tips for the specific prompts, keep two things in mind. 

1)  Remember that the best essay responses shed more light on who you are. 

The LMU prompts are asking you to comment on other peoples' statements, and in the case of prompt #3, to actually describe another person's actions in the essay.  But remember, a college is always looking to learn more about you, your thoughts, your personality, your priorities.  If you write an entire essay about how wonderful your youth group leader is, they'll learn a lot about him, and not much about you.  But if you write about how wonderful your youth group leader is, and how his example has inspired you to make changes in your own life, now we've got something.

2)  Be focused and clear. 

You are allotted up to 1,000 words to answer one of the three prompts.  But there really is no reason why you shouldn’t be able to make your points succinctly enough to get it done in 500-600 words.  Brevity is a mark of good writing.  Be focused.  Be clear.  Make your points forcefully. 

3)  Think (hard) before you write.

A lot of students don’t understand what the LMU prompts are really asking for.  And while we can’t just come out and explain to our Collegewise students what the prompts mean (the whole point is for applicants to think and benefit from the exercise), we can ask leading questions to get them to think about their own lives, which helps them understand what the prompts are asking.  Here are the prompts, and some examples of the questions we ask our students.  Think (hard) about the questions, and compare your answers with the information that’s mentioned in the prompts.  You’re likely to be pleasantly surprised by connections between the two.  

Prompt #1

In his homily at the Class of 2005’s Baccalaureate Mass, LMU’s President Fr. Robert Lawton, S.J., said: ‘‘So what is the answer to this deep insecurity we all feel? The answer, I think, is to embrace the adventure of becoming deeply, and fully, ourselves. This is what God is really calling us to. It seems like the riskiest of all journeys, this journey to be oneself. But it’s ultimately the journey that leads us to happiness, that leads us into God’s dreams for us.’’

Why do you think Fr. Lawton says the ‘‘journey to be oneself’’ seems the riskiest of all journeys? What risks lie ahead in your college career as you embark on the ‘‘adventure’’ of discovering and becoming yourself?

Questions to ask yourself:

1. What does it mean to "embrace that journey of becoming yourself?"  Are you not yourself already?  What if someone didn’t embrace this journey or didn’t take it at all?  What do you think that person’s life would be like?

2. Is there anything, besides a college degree, that you think is important for you to experience or learn during your college career?  What will you have to do to experience them?  Are there risks involved?

3. Do you think God has a plan for you? What do you have to do to identify what that plan is?  Can you think of a time in your life when you did something you weren’t sure would be the right thing for you?  Do you think that situation was part of God’s plan for you?

Prompt #2

Speaking about education, Dr. Martin Luther King once said, ‘‘The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character—that is the goal of true education.’’ 

Critical thinking is a central goal of Jesuit education, and at LMU you’ll be asked to think critically and intensively in every class. Dr. King suggests that critical thinking results in our ability to inform intelligence with character, and strengthen character with intelligence. Please talk about a situation that demanded critical thinking from you, and how your choices or decisions integrated intelligence and character.

Questions to ask yourself:

1. A good start is to think about the difference between thinking intensively and thinking critically.  Do you know the difference?  If not, head over to www.dictionary.com and look up the definition of the words “intensive” and “critical."  Seriously, it’ll help.   

2. Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you just didn’t know what to do, something where the “right answer” wasn’t so obvious, or where the right path wasn’t such an easy one to take?  What made this situation, or the choice you had to make, so difficult?   Looking back, do you think you made the right choice?  Are you proud of what you did?  Why or why not?

Prompt #3

A motto often associated with Jesuit and Marymount schools is “Educating men and women for others.”  Pedro Arrupe, the former head of the Jesuits, once said that “our prime educational objective must be to form men and women for others, who believe that a love of self or of God which does not issue forth in justice for the least of their neighbors is a farce.”

What do you think Fr. Arrupe meant when he said this? Please give an example of someone you know, other than your teachers and parents, who works for justice for the least of their neighbors.

Here are some questions to consider before you answer that:

1. Who is someone that, if they asked you to donate your kidney to save his or her life, you would consider doing it?  Is there a person or a type of person for whom you would not consider doing do this?  What is the difference between those two people?   I’m not implying that you should necessarily be willing to donate a kidney to anyone who asks.  But this will get you thinking about what the “least of their neighbors” means.

2. What do you think Fr. Arrupe means when he says, men and women should be “for others”?   To whom do you think he is referring when he says “others”?  Do you think he means just good people, or people who go to church, or people who seem to deserve the help? 

3. Have you personally witnessed a person helping the least of his or her neighbors, something that was really memorable to you?  How did this impact you?  Are you any different today as a result of witnessing this?

In college, you're going to pushed to think hard, not just to get your assignments done.  That's why LMU has prompts like this–to see who's ready to embrace the exercise of thinking about difficult questions and answering them thoughtfully.  The key lesson here is to think before you write.

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.

Filed Under: Advice for specific colleges

It’s simple. Character counts because character increases well-being and leads to a life of fulfillment. 

It is widely acknowledged that character  –not beauty, high test scores, or wealth – account for life satisfaction. So how do children develop character during their academic climb from kindergarten through high school?

Educational goals of developing intelligence are well articulated and their outcomes can be measured. Until now, however, character strengths were less defined and not as measurable.

Martin Luther King Jr. understood why character counts most.  At a speech at Morehouse College in 1948, he said, “We must remember that intelligence is not enough.  Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”

When I reflect on King’s statement, I think of my closest friends and the people I most respect.  I am drawn to them by forces beyond intellect and success.  I admire their character strengths, the values they hold, and how they treat me as a fellow human being.  So when we think of education in the broadest sense of the word, it is important to consider how kids develop character during childhood and adolescence that determine the kind of adults they become.

This is the first in a series of articles on character — why character counts, and ways we help foster character strengths in children.  This article defines character strengths and presents a framework for understanding them.  As adults who model character to kids each and every day, it’s helpful to begin by taking inventory of our own character strengths!

Character Counts Throughout Life

While researchers are not in total agreement, there has been effort in recent years to define character strengths. The academic goals of education are often well-articulated and outcomes can be measured.  Until now, however, character strengths were less defined and not as measurable.

In their highly acclaimed academic book, Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification, Christopher Peterson and Martin Seligman attempt to define these inner virtues and strengths.  Researchers have also developed ways of measuring character strengths.  You can read extended definitions of all these strengths at the nonprofit VIA Institute on Character, but simply put, they fall into the following six categories:

  • Wisdom and Knowledge: Creativity, Curiosity, Judgment and Open-Mindedness, Love of Learning, Perspective
  • Courage: Bravery, Perseverance, Honesty, Zest
  • Humanity: Capacity to Love and Be Loved, Kindness, Social Intelligence
  • Justice: Teamwork, Fairness, Leadership
  • Temperance: Forgiveness and Mercy, Modesty and Humility, Prudence, Self-Regulation
  • Transcendence: Appreciation of Beauty and Excellence, Gratitude, Hope, Humor, Religiousness and Spirituality

It’s important to note that this is one framework used to understand character strengths. Personally, I like the VIA Institute Model because it is backed by lots of empirical research. But every model has limitations and it’s best to consider them helpful guides.

The value of any kind of framework is in how it is understood and applied in the real world — in homes, classrooms, and out-of-school-time activities for children. It is that link from theory to practice that I hope to facilitate in this blog.

Getting Started: Understanding our own Character Strengths

One of the best ways for parents, educators, and community leaders to better understand character strengths is by first examining our own.  I did this and so can you.  More than a million people worldwide have taken the online survey through the VIA Institute on Character.

The survey for adults takes 30-40 minutes and produces a free report of your top five strengths.  There is also a survey designed for youth ages 11-17 that takes 40-50 minutes. If you want a detailed report of your 24 strengths, the fee is $40.

My daughter, age 28, and I both took the survey last week.  I opted for the free version which listed my top five strengths and what they mean.  Mine were:

  1. Appreciation of beauty and excellence – You notice and appreciate beauty, excellence, and/or skilled performance in all domains of life, from nature to art to mathematics to science to everyday experience.
  2. Creativity, ingenuity, and originality – Thinking of new ways to do things is a crucial part of who you are.  You are never content with doing something the conventional way if a better way is possible.
  3. Gratitude: You are aware of the good things that happen to you, and you never take them for granted. Your friends and family members know that you are a grateful person because you always take the time to express your thanks.
  4. Hope, optimism, and future-mindedness: You expect the best in the future, and you work to achieve it. You believe that the future is something that you can control.
  5. Industry, diligence, and perseverance: You work hard to finish what you start. No matter the project, you “get it out the door” in timely fashion. You do not get distracted when you work, and you take satisfaction in completing tasks.

My daughter chuckled at my results, saying they fit me to a tee. Anyone crazy enough to get a Ph.D. in mid-life has to have a lot of ingenuity and perseverance!

Being in the middle of a job search, my daughter opted for the $40 report which we thought might be helpful in understanding her strengths as they related to a career choice. The 18-page report rank-ordered all of her strengths, not only giving her a top five but also information on how she could develop strengths that she didn’t use as much.  It was a very helpful document.

My daughter’s top five strengths were completely different from mine, which was not surprising.  Through our conversations, we both learned a lot about each other, how we differ, and why we admire each other’s strengths. Yes, we agreed, character counts!

Want to learn about your own character strengths?  Take the VIA Survey of Character. When you have finished, you’ll understand your own strengths and take the first step to learning how to foster character strengths in young people!

The second article in this series looks at ways parents’ help children identify and discuss character strengths at home.  The third article shows how one teacher is building a classroom environment based on character strengths. And the last article examines how character strengths can be instilled by community leaders.

Articles in the Series on Character: 

Part 1: Why Character Counts (Reading Now)

Part 2: How Families Develop Character in Children

Part 3: Teachers Develop Character Strengths

Part 4: Character Development: A Role for Community Leaders


Photo Credits: Barrett Web Coordinator; Chrissy Ferguson

Published: May 6, 2011

Tags: character strengths, parenting, positive youth development, teachers

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