How to Write the American University Essays 2023-2024
American University has one optional prompt for all applicants about why you want to attend AU. Additionally, the school has prompts for each of its special programs.
There are three prompts for Honors Program applicants, two prompts for Global Scholars Program applicants, three prompts for Lincoln Scholars Program applicants, three prompts for Politics, Policy and Law Scholars applicants, two prompts for Public Health Scholars applicants, two prompts for Sakura Scholars Program applicants, and five prompts for AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship (International Students) applicants.
Since AU receives thousands of applications from academically strong students, your essays are your chance to stand out. In this post, we’ll discuss how to craft an engaging response to each of these options.
Want to know your chances at AU? Calculate your chances for free right now.
All Applicants Prompt
At American University, Inclusive Excellence is a cornerstone of the academic experience for our students, and we deeply value the learning that is inspired by the diversity of backgrounds and life experiences that all our community members bring with them. Please share why you would like to join this community. (150 words)
This is a standard instance of the common “Why This College?” prompt. Unless this is the first college you are applying to, chances are you’ve already seen a prompt like this before. There are no tricks here; this straightforward prompt is meant to gauge your interest in AU.
The admissions committee will use your answer to determine how you fit with the University and how you’ll make the most of all its opportunities. To help them figure these things out, your essay should show how your personal goals and the AU’s resources intersect.
A good approach to an essay like this is establishing a connection with AU. There are two kinds of connections—tangible and intangible. Ideally, you’ll be able to establish both, but a good response will establish at least a tangible connection.
Establishing a tangible connection can be done by explicitly discussing resources and opportunities offered by AU that resonate with you personally. To have a strong, specific response, you’re going to need to do some research. Don’t fret if you haven’t done this before; we’ve created a handy guide to help you research colleges effectively!
To begin, try to find your desired major’s webpage by consulting this list of degree programs. You should also look into faculty members in your department. To do that, you can use this searchable directory to find your department, which will have its own faculty list. Finally, look into the wealth of centers, institutes, and initiatives at AU.
Here’s an example of what a successful, specific response might look like:
“I am from a multicultural family; my mother is Jewish and my father Muslim. This background exposed me to some profound discussions of geopolitical affairs from a fairly young age. I am fascinated by international studies and I wish to contribute to initiatives that aim to reduce conflict between Israel and Palestine. AU’s International Studies program at the School of International Service offers in-depth classes that are highly relevant to this passion of mine. RELG-475 Religion and Violence and SISU-319 Arab-Israeli Relations specifically will grant me insights into the religious roots of the conflict that I simply cannot learn by just talking to my parents.
I am particularly interested in the work of Professor Mohammed Abu-Nimer. My mother showed me his book Evaluating Interreligious Peacebuilding earlier this year, and I found his thoughts on conducting evaluations in conflict areas illuminating, as they explain some consequences of fieldwork.”
This response does a few things effectively. First, it gives the admissions committee an idea of who the student is and where she comes from. Second, it establishes her motivations and passions. Third, it specifically discusses several courses and the work of one of AU’s faculty members, as well as why those resources are important to the student. You can do all these things while remaining within the small word limit.
Besides describing the particular resources to intend to make use of, you might also wish to express an intangible connection with AU. This isn’t necessary, but it would add to your application if you can do it. An intangible connection is just what it sounds like—a connection that isn’t based on the tangible resources offered by the University. Often, an intangible connection involves alignment between your personal values and those of the institution.
For example, perhaps you’re deeply invested in environmental conservation. You’ll be happy to know that AU is “the first urban campus, the first research university, and the largest higher education institution in the United States to achieve carbon neutrality.” It also achieved this goal two years ahead of schedule! You could write a bit about how much you appreciate AU’s sustainability initiatives to your response to establish an intangible connection.
Finally, there are a few things you’ll want to avoid doing in your essay:
- Name-dropping. Don’t write a laundry list of activities, classes, or professors that interest you without explaining why those things are important to you. Even though you are discussing facets of the university, this essay needs to be primarily focused on you.
- Empty flattery. Anyone can write that “AU is a well-respected institution with an amazing international studies program.” It’s nice to compliment the university, but you don’t have a lot of space, and empty flattery suggests that you don’t have anything more substantive to say.
- Generic remarks. Talking about AU’s good location, a strong program in some field, or small class sizes won’t add much to your response. These are generic things that apply to many schools.
Make sure that you do ample research, develop nuanced reasons for choosing AU, and write a sincere response, and you will be off to a great start!
American University Special Program Essay Prompts
Click on the link to be taken to the special program prompts.
- AU Honors Program
- Global Scholars Program
- Lincoln Scholars Program
- Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program
- Public Health Scholars Program
- Sakura Scholars Program
- AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship
AU Honors Program Applicants, Prompt 1
AU Honors students are distinguished by their sense of intellectual curiosity, both inside and outside of the classroom. Tell us what you are most curious about, and how that curiosity has influenced your life thus far. (300 words)
This prompt is fairly broad, so you can approach it in a few different ways. We recommend writing a sort of blend between a “Why This Major?” essay and an extracurricular activities essay. Focusing on an aspect of your intended major will show your passion for something inherently intellectual, and throwing in some of your other interests/hobbies will add nuance and personality to your response.
Before you begin writing, you’ll want to gather your thoughts so that your essay will have structure. Think of the following questions as a way to focus your thoughts:
1. What piques your curiosity and interest the most? What are your authentic reasons for being interested in this thing?
2. What are some specific examples of things that you enjoy with regard to this interest?
If this is something you’re truly curious about, you shouldn’t describe it generically. Instead of thinking “I love reading,” think “I enjoy reading novels that explore existentialist philosophical themes.”
3. How might pursuing this thing serve your life and/or career goals?
Is your curiosity about this thing a driving force in your plans for your future? For example, are you so curious about ocean life that your biggest life goal is to become a marine biologist?
4. Is this interest primarily academic or extracurricular? What are your best experiences with this interest both inside and out of the classroom?
5. Is there any recurring emotional experience that you have when exploring this thing that piques your curiosity? Why do you find that experience or state of mind appealing?
6. How has this thing influenced your development as a person? Have you developed or strengthened any personality traits or skills as a result of your object of interest?
Questions 4, 5, and 6 will be especially helpful when you’re trying to recall some anecdotes to support your interest and curiosity in it.
You only have 300 words to work with, so you should keep your response limited to one thing you’re deeply curious about (or maybe two if they’re related). A strong essay will do a few things:
- First, it will show that you have nuanced interests with intellectual depth.
- Second, it will talk a bit about the trajectory your life has been on as a result of your interests.
- Finally, it will display an important part of your personality that can give the admissions committee an idea of who you are as an individual.
There are a couple of common mistakes you should avoid when writing your response:
- Picking the wrong topic. Bad topics include: an interest you already wrote about somewhere else in the application; an interest that sounds impressive, but that you aren’t very invested in; one you haven’t spent much time on.
- Writing a generic statement about why the interest you chose is interesting or cool without addressing the personal connection you have with it. It’s great to appreciate your own interests, but you need to show the admissions committee why the thing that makes you curious is so important to you.
Some examples of strong topics would be:
- A student who’s a second-generation Japanese immigrant might be curious about the relationship between language and identity. She’s noticed while learning Japanese that it’s easier to have more complex conversations with her parents in their native tongue, and that they’re better able to express their personality. And as she’s become more comfortable speaking Japanese, she’s able to connect more with her heritage. This has led her to attend local language exchanges and start a podcast about the stories of the attendees and their thoughts on language and identity. She hopes to study Japanese at AU and become a translator.
- A runner who got tendonitis in his junior year may be curious about how the tendons and ligaments in our body work to support us during exercise. After doing physical therapy and healing his tendon, he decided to take an anatomy course and shadow his physical therapist. He wants to become a physical therapist or sports medicine doctor to help other athletes rehab their injuries.
AU Honors Program Applicants, Prompt 2
What aspect of the AU Honors Program piques your interest the most? (300 words)
This prompt is a slightly more specific version of the “Why This College?” prompt. However, you’re being asked why you’re drawn to the AU Honors Program in particular rather than to American University as a whole.
The prompt is meant to assess a few things:
- First, it’s meant to see if you know what you’re getting into with the program. If you’ve done your research on the Honors Program, you should have something detailed to say about it.
- Second, it’s intended to determine how you will fit in the program. The admissions committee wants to know what role you’ll have in the program and how you’ll make use of its resources to achieve your goals.
- Finally, it’s an effective way for the admissions committee to see which students are genuinely interested in the program.
Before you begin writing, make a list of the reasons you decided to apply to the program. You might find it helpful to explicitly jot down the things that drew you to the Honors Program in the first place. One of these reasons might very well be the subject of your essay. You should also explore the Honors Program website to make sure you don’t miss any of your reasons.
The prompt asks specifically for the aspect that most piques your interest, so you have to figure out if you want to write about an academic reason, an extracurricular one, or an intangible one. Let’s go over what makes each of these unique.
Academic reasons are as straightforward as they sound. Things such as the Honors Colloquium courses, the Honors Capstone, and research opportunities are academic aspects of the program that you might want to write about.
Extracurricular reasons include activities and opportunities that are supplementary to academics. Things such as Honors housing, the Student Advisory Council, and the Honors “Have You Ever Wondered?” discussion series are extracurricular aspects of the program.
Intangible reasons are those that involve values, beliefs, and other nonphysical things. The program’s commitment to interdisciplinary thinking and the BIPOC Affinity Group’s dedication to “an empowering and supportive environment” are examples of intangible aspects of the program.
Your reasons for being interested in the program don’t have to be the most exotic or outlandish; you can write an effective straightforward response to this prompt. The thing that piques your interest the most might be the Honors Colloquia, the opportunity to engage with Program Associates, or the opportunities in Honors housing. All these options are valid ways to establish a tangible connection with the program.
For example, consider a student who wants to do political science research in her future career. She might be most interested in the Honors Program’s curriculum. Her response can cover the rigorous nature of the program, discuss some of the Honors-specific courses, and talk about the ample opportunities to conduct undergraduate research (such as HNRS-398 Honors Challenge Course and the Honors Capstone).
Avoid name-dropping random courses, activities, or faculty members without elaborating on how they resonate with you personally. Doing so will make your interest look superficial or disingenuous.
As long as you can describe what in particular has drawn you to the Honors Program as well as why it did so, you will be able to write an effective response to this prompt.
AU Honors Program Applicants, Prompt 3
We all have meaningful experiences that shape us and inform our worldview. What aspect of your background would you most like to share with other students in the Honors Program? (300 words)
This is, in essence, a version of the common diversity prompt that many colleges provide. Colleges often include diversity prompts so they can learn something about your personal background and its influence on your worldview.
In June 2023, the United States Supreme Court struck down the use of affirmative action in college admissions. Nevertheless, the ruling allows colleges to consider race on an individual basis, which is one reason many schools are now including diversity prompts as one of their supplemental essay prompts. If you feel that your racial background specifically has impacted you significantly, this is the response in which you should write about that.
More generally, you can respond to this common prompt with a fairly traditional answer. One tried-and-true method you could use involves identifying the most important part of your identity, then discussing how that aspect of your background is relevant to you and your life experiences.
Before you jump into writing your response, think of aspects of your background that may have had an impact on the way you look at the world or the way you live your life. Some examples of things that have likely influenced your worldview include:
- Personal identity. Your race, ethnicity, gender identity, sexual orientation, age, etc. all have a profound influence on the way you think and perceive the world.
- Cultural identity. Your religious affiliations, political views, socioeconomic status, social class, and even the place you are from influence what issues you see the most, and what solutions you envision for these issues.
- Personal history. Things in your life may have an average trajectory. Maybe you’ve had a fortunate life with few obstacles to overcome so far, or maybe you’ve experienced a great deal of adversity or tragedy. The way things generally tend to go in your life will have a great impact on how you view life and the world around you.
- Interests. The things you’re really invested in can change how you perceive the world. If you’re a musician, for example, you might find musicality in the most mundane sounds out in the world on a daily basis.
That said, there are several angles with which you could approach this prompt. Some more specific examples of aspects of identity you might write about include:
- Having a disability that has changed your perspective on something in the world.
- Being a member of an ethnic group that has an interesting cultural practice.
- Fluency in another language that you use to help members of your community.
- Being a member of a fandom.
You have 300 words to work with, which is a considerable length, so feel free to structure your essay using an anecdote. You might begin with a time when your worldview was different, then describe how it changed due to the aspect of your background that is the subject of your essay.
One thing you should avoid is simply listing out things that generate diversity. Diversity includes everything mentioned above and more, but just writing out a list of things contributes very little to your application and also fails to respond to the prompt. The prompt asks you which singular aspect of your background you would like to share, so make sure to choose wisely and elaborate.
This prompt is one of the few opportunities you have to showcase your unique perspectives. Whatever aspect of your background you choose to write about here, make sure your response is sincere. Try to show as much individuality and specificity as you can in your response.
Global Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1
In your view, what is the greatest challenge facing humanity today and how do you envision yourself being part of the solution? (No word count given)
In this prompt, you are asked to give your opinion on the greatest challenge facing humanity today. This sounds like a very tall order, but don’t worry; it’s an opinion question, so any reasonable challenge you choose will be fine.
Admissions committees want to see specifics, so we often recommend not identifying too broad a problem. In the brainstorming stage, however, you can think as broadly as you’d like. Global poverty, world hunger, illiteracy in developing countries, human rights abuses—each of these things can be an effective starting point.
Thinking about your identity and values might help you determine which issues are most important to you. Aspects of your identity include your ethnicity, race, country of origin, language, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, hometown, income class, socioeconomic status, illnesses/disabilities, and even interests and activities!
Consider these different aspects of your background and list broad world issues that may have an impact on some part of your identity. For example, you might be Ukrainian and have family members directly affected by the current war. In this case, your ethnic background may compel you to write about geopolitical conflicts or human rights issues.
Be sure to narrow your topic to something specific once you begin writing. Even though the prompt asks what you think is “the greatest challenge facing humanity today,” you should be prepared to discuss concrete examples of that challenge.
For instance, if you want to write about world hunger, try to also describe particular situations and specific problems related to that broader issue—some things you might want to examine in such an essay can include widespread food and water shortages in Venezuela as a result of governmental policies, hunger in Haiti due to food insecurity and currency inflation, and the impending famine in Sudan as a result of internal conflicts.
The aforementioned examples can add a great deal of nuance to your essay for a couple of reasons. First, citing specific instances of your chosen challenge goes beyond simply stating that your challenge exists. It creates tangible reasons to be concerned about the issue. Second, having a few concrete examples demonstrates that you are informed and knowledgeable about the issue.
Once you have decided on a global challenge and have thought of a few examples to support your point, reflect on how you might be able to contribute to a solution to this problem. This program is offered by the School of International Service, so you will be pursuing a degree in International Studies.
You might already have some ideas about how you wish to help solve your chosen problem, but your essay will be even better if you can connect your goals to the school and degree. Read up on the BA in International Studies and the Global Scholars Program to inspire your writing!
There really is no wrong way to envision yourself as part of the solution. Consider the following hypothetical students to see how contributions can vary:
- A student who’s passionate about the environment might say that climate change is the greatest challenge facing humanity, and might describe how it has devastated different communities around the world, including his small coastal town, which has experienced worsening floods. He might hope to major in International Studies to eventually work in the United Nations and be a part of climate change conferences and agreements.
- A student who wants to be a doctor might say that lack of access to good, inexpensive healthcare is the greatest global challenge. She could describe how the U.S. healthcare system fails many low-income people, and how poorer countries lack the infrastructure and resources to treat easily treatable illnesses. She hopes to go to medical school then join Doctors Without Borders to help those in conflict zones and those facing disasters get the treatment they need.
This prompt is meant to gauge which global issues you deem important and how you intend to use your college education and degree to contribute to ongoing efforts to solve these issues. You’ll have a strong essay as long as you’re sincere and write about a problem you’re personally invested in.
Global Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2
Describe a situation in which you had to work harder than you expected. When and how did you know that your current efforts were not enough? How did you adjust? (500 words)
This prompt asks you to describe a time in your life when you faced a challenge that required you to put in an unprecedented amount of time and effort. What you choose to write about doesn’t have to be a singular experience; a situation in this context can be something much larger.
You can choose to describe any experience—academic, personal, extracurricular, and so forth—in your answer. Like most other prompts, the key will be in how you not only relate your chosen situation to your personality, but to the Global Scholars program at large.
Think first about your identity and your environment—are there any distinguishable experiences in which you have always felt that you’ve had an uphill battle or unfair disadvantage? Think about periods of your life in which you may have had to undergo a major transition or change.
Regardless of the situation you choose, remember that the best answers come out of asking yourself questions. This applies equally to a situation you may describe that does not involve your identity or environment—you can also approach this prompt by thinking about any life-altering events that forced you to pivot or make a change.
For example, maybe COVID-19 left one or both of your parents unemployed, and you had to pick up a job on top of your schoolwork. While you may have expected to be able to handle the part-time job, perhaps you saw your schoolwork and relationships begin to slip through the cracks and you were forced to really reevaluate your time management skills.
You may end up writing about an experience that is similar to that of other applicants, so it’s how you relate it to yourself and to your environment that will make you stand out from the crowd. Make sure you continue to emphasize your emotions and honesty throughout your answer, and lastly, try to relate your chosen experience back to the Global Scholars program at large.
You can conclude by writing about how you hope to apply what you learned from your life experiences to your participation in the Global Scholars program—how you hope to apply your newfound understanding of various financial or personal circumstances to learning about various cultural and global circumstances.
Lincoln Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1
Tell us about a morally complicated text that you think would lead to good discussion for first year college students. In what way is the text morally complicated and why do you recommend it? (No more than 500 words)
This might seem like a daunting prompt, but it can be easier than it seems. Don’t worry about having some grandiose, impressive tome to talk about for this essay. If you think creatively, you should be able to identify moral complications in simpler texts. This is the kind of essay that really benefits from careful argumentation.
Brainstorming your topic:
There are two kinds of texts that would probably make for a strong essay:
- Texts you’ve read recently, which should still be fresh in your mind
- Texts you’ve read a long time ago and still remember because they were impactful or profound to you
It’s important that you pick one of these kinds of texts because you’ll want to write about something you know well enough. If you choose a text that you don’t really remember, or worse, a text you haven’t read that looks impressive, your points will probably be shallow and superficial, which will drag the overall quality of your essay down.
As far as the text itself is concerned, you can write about nearly anything (just make sure it’s not too trivial, like a children’s book). Perhaps you have read a clearly morally complex text, such as Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables or Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. If you have, and you remember the details well enough to explain your choice, then by all means write about it!
However, if you haven’t read a text like that, that’s fine too. Think of things you’ve read recently that have moral dilemmas you might discuss. For some idea on how you might stretch the theme of morality, consider some examples:
- Lois Lowry’s The Giver, a young adult novel, discusses themes related to individuality and emotional depth and can be pitted against order and conformity. This moral conflict leaves a lot of room for debate, as the balance between individuality and societal conformity is one that is often hard for individuals to navigate.
- Marvel Comics’ Civil War, a seven-issue comic book storyline from 2007, has a plot centered around the U.S. government requiring super-powered individuals to reveal their identities to be superheroes under official regulation. While this may not be a traditional text, it has been acclaimed for its exploration of the conflicting desires of security and freedom that are still discussed in American politics today.
- Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs, the authorized biography of Apple’s co-founder, is a thorough look at the life of the controversial business magnate. It discusses not only his great achievements in the worlds of business and technology, but also his personality, which has been described as abrasive or difficult at times. This text allows students to examine the ways in which massive corporations, their employees, and their consumers can be directly affected by the very human individuals who lead them.
As you can see from the above examples, you can find and argue for moral complications almost anywhere you look. You might use a traditional example of a large, classic novel with clear and distinctive moral ambiguity, or you might explore some more creative options, such as biographies, YA novels, and even comic books or graphic novels!
Tips for writing your essay:
A good response will answer every part of the prompt. You should strive to identify the text, explain how it’s morally complicated, and detail your reasons for recommending it. The first and last part shouldn’t be too hard once you’ve settled on your text—naming the text and talking about why you’re recommending it are tasks that you can probably do easily if you know your chosen text well. After all, you know why you like the book.
It’s the second part of the prompt that will require some more careful thought. Effectively explaining how the text is morally complicated is only something you can do if you’re familiar enough with the text and its themes. Oftentimes, the moral complications of a book aren’t directly relevant to the plot—they’re often a thematic consequence of a character’s actions or are intended to be seen behind the main narrative, but not the focal point of the text itself.
That said, it might actually be a good idea to consult online summaries, videos, and study guides of the text you chose. Of course, you should absolutely have read the text and have a decent grasp of its material, but this isn’t a test for school—you can and should see how the moral themes are discussed by other readers. This will inform your argument that this text should be used in discussions among first year students.
Mistakes to avoid:
There aren’t too many ways to tackle this prompt incorrectly, but there are a couple of things you should avoid, which have already been mentioned but are worth repeating:
- Choosing a text you aren’t familiar with, just because it looks more impressive. It’s better to write a thoughtful, intelligent essay on a text that might be seen as lackluster than to write a shallow, generic essay on a text seen as impressive. Remember, the admissions officers aren’t making decisions based on books you have or haven’t read—they’re making decisions based on the quality of your essays.
- Choosing a trivial or juvenile text. Most young adult novels should be complex enough to be valid texts for this essay, but don’t try to be overly creative by writing about something for little children. Children’s books are intentionally written in a way that does not deal with the complex, intellectual themes that you’re tasked with discussing here.
As long as you pick a decent text (i.e., one you’re familiar with that isn’t too trivial), describe the ways in which it deals with questions of moral complexity, and make a good case for its use in Caltech’s first year classrooms, you’ll be well on your way to crafting a strong response.
Lincoln Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2
One goal of the Lincoln Scholars program is to encourage intellectual and political diversity on campus. What does this goal mean to you and why does a program with this goal interest you? (No more than 500 words)
- First, you’re asked about a particular goal and what it means to you.
- Second, rather than discussing the University as a whole or a particular major, you’re tasked with describing why a program like the Lincoln Scholars Program appeals to you.
Make sure to address both parts of the question to have a full response. You have up to 500 words to work with, so you can really go into detail about each part. A good approach would be to answer each portion of the question in turn.
Before you begin writing, think about what intellectual and political diversity mean to you. Note the wording of the prompt: “What does this goal mean to you?” You can take advantage of the nuanced meanings of the word “mean.” In a literal sense, the question is asking how you would define such a goal. But in another sense, it’s asking why the goal is significant or important to you.
It might be helpful to jot down some bullet points that you might want to build on in your response. You might end up with a list that looks something like this:
- Having a group of people with different fields of expertise work on one project from various angles
- Different viewpoints creating points for intellectual debate
- Multiple people of various backgrounds informing each other’s perspectives
- Generating varied approaches to the same problem with the shared goal of solving it
Whatever you think of, try to come up with a solid personal definition of intellectual and political diversity. From there, you can begin to describe why these kinds of diversity are important to you. Using an anecdote-driven narrative to explain this point is a good approach. For example, perhaps you participated in a school project in which a different perspective was the one that led to a solution. Or, maybe you were part of a debate club and learned to see a topic differently because of a well-informed persuasive argument on the other side.
As you develop your thoughts on why such a goal is important to you, transition into a discussion of the program and why it interests you. Here, it’s essential that you establish a connection to the program. Do some research on the program’s webpage to learn about resources and opportunities that are offered.
Perhaps one of the program’s courses is appealing to you because of its content. Or, maybe you resonate with the program’s mission “to explore the great questions of moral and political life in a context of intellectual and political diversity.” Be sure to describe how and why a program like this piques your interest.
Connect the goal of intellectual and political diversity to your personal goals and values. This is the strongest way to convey your interest in the Lincoln Scholars Program and in exploring big questions from multiple viewpoints.
Lincoln Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 3
List five texts, magazines, movies, websites, podcasts, music, or other media that you regularly engage with and explain briefly why you like each one. Please list a variety of types of media. (1-2 sentences per item, no more than 400 total).
This is a more niche prompt that you probably haven’t seen often, if at all. Luckily, there’s really no right or wrong answer! In fact, the program’s webpage lists some of the books that students have applied to the program with this year, and they include all kinds of works—ancient epic poems, classic novels, niche novellas, poetry collections, philosophical dialogues, and memoirs!
AU is curious about what interests you, how you think, how you’ve developed intellectually, and how you may have challenged yourself with the media you consume. Choose your examples carefully, but also be honest.
One great way to think about this prompt is through the idea of a “capsule wardrobe.” In a capsule wardrobe, each piece of clothing is unique and works well on its own—you might have a graphic tee, a leather jacket, a button-up shirt, and a few pairs of jeans. Even though each article of clothing has its own character, each also works toward your overall style—the entire wardrobe. Combining items into outfits can highlight different aspects of each item as well as similarities they share
The same idea applies to the texts, movies, websites, and music in your list. Each item should be compelling on its own, but should also contribute to the wardrobe that is your intellectual style. A great list will have items that complement each other, like a belt that matches with a pair of shoes. Some more style tips:
1. List items that build on each other. You want your list to have synergy. Just like wearing two matching items together can convey your sense of style, including two similar items in your list can display a sustained interest in a subject. For example, if you include both Romeo and Juliet and West Side Story in my list of films, you’re showing the admissions officer that you’re interested in exploring how the same story has been interpreted by different creatives from different times and places. Neither Romeo and Juliet nor West Side Story could demonstrate this idea alone—when included together, the message is greater than just the sum of its parts!
- Show multidimensionality. There’s something to be careful about. It’s possible to show sustained interest in a topic without indicating growth, and this is something you’ll want to avoid. For example, if your entire list consists of true-crime podcasts, it will look a bit one-dimensional and bland because each item effectively conveys the same message. Aim to list works that show your interest in the multiple angles of a topic. For example, listing the true-crime podcast Serial and Criminal Perspective as well as the journal Psychological Review and a blog on forensic psychology will add levels of intellectual nuance to your interest in the broad theme.
- Don’t overdress. You might want to only include the most impressive, difficult, intellectual media you’ve consumed to show that you’re intelligent and academic, but too much of that will probably make you look like you’re exaggerating for the admissions committee. Instead of doing that, balance the weightier, deeper items with some more relaxed or jocular ones. Hawking’s A Brief History of Time and Einstein’s Relativity: The Special and General Theory are going to look less like you’re pandering if you include something like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in your list. Balance the intellectual interests you wish to show off with your some distinctive personality.
- Don’t underdress. The opposite of the previous tip is also true. While throwing in some fun little books, movies, or music can add some dimension and personality to your list, they shouldn’t be the only things you include. You absolutely can (and should) include a sitcom or a non-academic novel on your media list, but make sure you don’t overfill the list with items of lesser substance. Also avoid including items that are too juvenile. Think smart casual clothing—you don’t need to wear a suit everywhere you go, but some places (like this supplemental essay) require a bit more than sweatpants and flip flops. Some nice jeans and a polo can be enough.
- Recognizable brands can be effective. Mentioning a couple of notable pop culture items will increase your list’s relatability in the admissions officer’s eyes. And, psychologically speaking, similarities on paper can help you in non-personal interactions. Just make sure you pick something that is well received both critically and by the masses, like a Beatles album or the movie Parasite—something that you and your reader could have a robust intellectual debate about.
- Moderation. If it’s not already clear by now, making a strong list is going to be a delicate task. You’re going to need to find the middle ground between casual and intellectual, specific and general, fiction and nonfiction, books and movies, etc. Don’t wait until the last minute to cobble together a list of random things just because this isn’t a fully fledged essay. Remember that you still need to explain and defend your choices. Devote as much time to this list and you do to your essays. The list reveals as much about you as an individual as a full essay does—be sure to treat it with the same respect.
- Be honest! You may be asked about this list somewhere down the road during the admissions process. Don’t get caught off guard by what you’re passing off as your own list. Nothing is more embarrassing and detrimental during this process than not having a clue about something you purport to have read/seen.
Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1
The Politics, Policy, and Law Scholars Program is an intensive course of study in which students from diverse backgrounds live and learn together. Given its intense and unique nature, why do you want to be a part of the program? Why do you think you would be a good fit for the Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program? (250 words)
This is essentially a “Why This College?” prompt, but applied to a special program rather than AU as a whole. Moreover, in addition to describing how the program is a good fit for you, you’re tasked with describing how you are a good fit for the program.
Brainstorming your essay:
A recommended strategy for prompts like this is to establish a connection to the program. Two kinds of connection you might try to establish are a tangible connection and an intangible one.
A tangible connection can be made by identifying specific program offerings that resonate with you personally. To find such resources, you should do some in-depth research on the program. A good place to start is the PPL Scholars website. There you’ll find the course of study, the applicable majors, information about the living learning community, and more.
You might write about things like the campus culture, specific classes or academic opportunities, particular professors, etc. Given the rather low word limit, try to stick to academic features, as others might come off as less important.
An intangible connection can be made by discussing how your personal values align with those of the program. The PPL program emphasizes “the principles, practices, and institutions of politics and law from quantitative and qualitative, philosophical, and social science perspectives.”
If your personal values deeply resonate with the ideas of practicing law, government, public policy, criminal justice, or a similar field, you might wish to discuss how those values will be supported and informed by those of the program. Be sure to take a look at the PPL Scholars FAQ webpage to get a little more insight into the program.
Tips for writing your essay:
Since you only have 250 words to work with, it would be a good idea to choose either a tangible connection or intangible one to discuss, rather than both. Remember, you need to save some space to discuss how you’re a good fit for the program.
Also note that it’s okay if you can’t develop a really strong intangible connection to the program—that is usually the harder kind of connection to write about. A strong tangible connection and a good explanation of how you’re a good fit for the PPL Scholars Program will make for a good response.
For example, consider a hypothetical student whose mother is a lawyer and whose father is a police officer. She might feel deeply connected to issues of justice and reform through the stories her parents tell her. She might write a response that begins like this:
“My parents are both deeply involved in the legal professions—my dad is a police officer and my mom is a lawyer. They have told me how the justice system isn’t perfect—both of them have seen the system succeed and fail many times. The passion with which they describe their careers has inspired me to go into a legal field too.
Having been raised by two parents in intense careers in legal fields has given me the resolve I will need to undertake such a career myself. I believe that my passion and determination, as well as my existing background knowledge about these fields make me uniquely equipped to take on the challenges of the Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program…”
This excerpt is an excellent start to this prompt because it explains the unique features of the students past that equip her with the skills needed to succeed in the PPL Scholars Program. Note that this blurb is only half the word limit, which should give you some perspective on how much detail you might go into.
Mistakes to avoid:
With prompts like this one, there are three things you will want to avoid doing in your response. These include the following:
- Name-dropping. It looks superficial and insincere to simply name certain courses or professors without elaborating on the ways in which these resources are meaningful or useful to you.
- Empty flattery. Don’t waste your word count talking about the prestige of the program or the University. There’s nothing wrong with being nice, but overdoing that in a prompt with a word limit might lead to you writing an essay that doesn’t answer the question.
- Naming general resources that are applicable to many schools. Don’t base your essay on things like good class sizes, strong political science courses, a nice location, etc.—these things apply to many schools and programs, and don’t showcase a personal connection to this particular program.
Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2
The Living Learning Community and cohort aspects are integral parts of the Politics, Policy & Law Scholars Program. Describe a specific project, course, or other experience that required you to work with others toward a shared goal or to resolve conflict and build consensus. How did you contribute to accomplishing the goal or resolving conflict? How did you engage with others? How has this experience prepared you for the PPL program? Be specific. (250 words)
This prompt asks you to elaborate on a team-based problem-solving experience that will give the admissions reader insight into how you will fit in with the PPL program at large. As an intensive program, PPL requires all students to be a part of their Living Learning Community, meaning that you’ll be working alongside fellow PPL students both in and outside of the classroom. As such, the admissions committee wants to ensure that you’re able to support a larger community of like-minded (or even sometimes diversely minded) students.
First, think back over your time in high school and try to identify any large-scale projects that you were involved in with a group. At the same time, keep in mind that this response should not just be more explanation of something that may already appear on your application. When selecting what to write about, try to fill in the gaps your application has.
For instance, perhaps you were on the Executive Board of Model UN, and hope to share an experience about how you organized a conference hosted at your high school. While that’s definitely a valid experience, this answer should be less about the what and more about the how.
How did that conference come together? How did you delegate responsibilities among your peers and which responsibilities did you take on? What challenges or obstacles did you face as a team and how did you overcome them together? Did you have to work through any conflicts when working with one another?
Ultimately, reflect not only on your accomplishments with whichever experience you choose, but also on the failures, conflicts, and honest strategies you chose to employ to keep the ship afloat. The next step will be highlighting the crucial lessons that the experience taught you, and how you hope to apply those lessons to your time in the PPL program.
In order to brainstorm how you wish to close out your response, remember that the PPL program will require you to live and learn alongside your peers—make sure your answer emphasizes that you were able to come together as a group to tackle a complicated problem, and ultimately come out not just successful, but as a closer group overall.
Politics, Policy and Law Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 3
You have been hired to advise a member of Congress or a state legislator (you can choose which one, but you should pick one) about the issues that affect Americans aged 18-26. You have been asked to identify one legal, political, or policy issue that will resonate with this group of Americans and recommend a policy proposal that he or she should support and promote. Explain the issue, explain why the elected official should highlight it, and propose a specific original policy solution. Provide support for your proposed solution. Your proposal should not simply be to support another individual’s already created policy. (650 words)
This prompt is less of a by-the-books response and more of an exercise, asking you to not only identify a major issue facing the country but also persuading a hypothetical elected official to pay attention to it and also brainstorm a possible solution.
The purpose of this prompt is to get a sense of your level of political engagement, as well as to give you a chance to attempt your first case study, which will serve as a gateway to the PPL program at large. This essay will require thorough research and deliberation, but, at its core, it’s just an expanded version of a typical Political/Global Issues prompt.
First, decide the scale of your chosen issue. Trying to brainstorm a list of possible issues to focus on will end up generating a laundry list of options, and might exhaust your brain before you even begin writing your response.
Something that may help guide you is remembering that you should have a unique perspective on your chosen issue. For example, you wouldn’t want to write your response about something general like the dangers of climate change if you genuinely don’t have anything to add to the conversation—the point is not to reiterate discourse that is already out there, but rather to think creatively and critically about the world and the ways in which your unique perspective can be valuable in trying to solve your chosen issue.
Therefore, it may be more useful to start small and then expand outwards. Look at your environment—what issues impact your community, your state, or your region? Looking again at the issue of climate change, perhaps you come from a state where fracking is not only legal, but still actively occurs. Perhaps your own family or a family you know has ties to the fracking business, and you feel as though current legislation and efforts to outlaw fracking stall because of pushback from these communities.
Tie your belief to your perspective—you may believe that fracking should be illegal, and your perspective can guide you in persuading an elected official to provide various incentives to those who rely on fracking for their livelihoods. As such, starting small will make your answer more specific and unique while still tackling a national issue like climate change.
If you don’t feel as though your environment has given you a distinct perspective on a current event, do some research on what issues have most recently surfaced in the country. For example, recent months have called attention to a migrant crisis that the United States is facing and how resources for these migrants are quickly diminishing.
Regarding this example, perhaps you are very active in community service and volunteering—how can you use that interest to frame your answer? Your proposed solution can involve rallying young people to volunteer and provide support to these migrant communities, while also trying to work with the opposing party to reach a solution.
Remember, your answer still needs an official policy proposal, so perhaps your proposed solution can immediately provide temporary shelter and resources for migrants while also opening the door to a firmer long-term solution. Your proposed solution doesn’t have to completely close the door on an issue, but it should showcase your understanding of the political process.
Public Health Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1
Discuss a Public Health issue of local, national, international, or personal importance to you. Explain why it is important to you and describe how you envision impacting this issue? (500 words).
This prompt is meant to gauge two things. First, it’s trying to find out which public health issues you consider important and why. Second, it wants to discern how you intend to use your college education and life experience to contribute to a solution to this issue.
Admissions committees are constantly looking for nuance and specificity, so we recommend that you choose a problem that isn’t very broad. A problem like “COVID-19” is too vague to write an effective essay on. Instead, choose something more narrow, such as “COVID-19 in impoverished communities.”
If you’re having trouble settling on a topic to write about, think about your identity and values. Aspects of your identity include your ethnicity, race, country of origin, language, religion, gender identity, sexual orientation, hometown, income class, socioeconomic status, illnesses/disabilities, and even interests and activities! There might be an aspect of your identity that is directly related to a public health issue.
Consider these different aspects of your background and make a list of public health issues that may have an impact on part of your identity. For example, African Americans are more likely to suffer from cardiovascular disease or stroke than white Americans. In cases like this, people with your racial background may be affected by a health issue more than people of other backgrounds.
To help add nuance to your essay, be sure to cite specific examples or your chosen issue. Concrete examples will make your essay more specific as well as help you transition into a discussion of how you intend to help contribute to solving the issue.
For instance, if you want to write about substance misuse and substance abuse, discuss some specific situations in which these issues take hold. In such an essay, you might want to write about things you have seen firsthand—these can include opiate abuse by the homeless population in your home city, overprescription of certain drugs in your area, a persistent community habit of failing to finish a full course of antibiotics, etc.
The above examples can add nuance to your essay for two reasons. First, simply stating that your issue exists and is important (even if that’s true) is not a compelling argument without concrete evidence. Providing examples shows your reader that there are tangible reasons to care about the issue. Second, having some real-life examples in your essay shows that you are both inquisitive and informed.
Once you’ve picked a public health issue that you can support with tangible evidence, ponder how your future college education and life experience can afford you the ability to help solve this issue. AU’s Three-Year Public Health Scholars Program is an accelerated course of study designed to help you get a BA or BS in Public Health in 3 years (possibly on a pre-med track as well).
You might already have plans for your future contributions to solving your chosen issue, but you can potentially elevate your essay if you’re able to connect your goals to the school and degree. Look at AU’s Three-Year Public Health Scholars Program website as well as the Public Health BA website and BS website to inspire your writing!
This essay is about your plans for a career in public health, so don’t worry too much about having a “right” or “wrong” answer. Here are a couple of hypothetical student bios to show you just how different effective ideas can look:
- Jane has been curious about psychology and mental health since middle school. Throughout high school, she has had many conversations with her uncle, a cognitive behavioral therapist, about the staggering lack of mental health resources across the United States. Jane is pursuing a degree in Public Health because she feels that this field is the key to developing lasting reform in the domain of mental health.
- Robert is a Chinese-American with a family history of cardiovascular disease. Intrigued by this recurrent issue, he has done a lot of independent research on prevalence rates. Robert found that Asian-Americans are disproportionately affected by cardiovascular disease due to several social determinants. He hopes to get a degree in Public Health so he can help spearhead initiatives that will provide care to his underserved ethnic community.
Public Health Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2
Why do you want to join a 3-year degree program? What skills and insight do you hope to acquire through this experience? Respond in no more than 250 words.
This prompt is a bit of a mix of two common types of prompt—the “Why This College?” and the “Why This Major?” prompts. It’s a very straightforward question meant to gauge your interest in the University, the field of public health, and the 3-Year Public Health Scholars Program. The admissions committee wants to see how you fit with the program and how you’ll make the most of its resources.
You’ll want to establish at least a tangible connection to the program. The best way to do this is to describe your interest in the field then connect it to your reasons for applying to the program.
Think about why you’re passionate about public health. For what reasons do you want to study it? What are some career and life goals of yours? How will this 3-year program help you achieve these goals?
Explore the program’s website as well as the sites for the Public Health BA degree and BS degree to help inspire your writing! Try to find unique features of the program that you can use to inform your response.
Look at this hypothetical response to see how you might establish a connection with the program:
“Growing up, I had a lot of problems with my weight and health, and I was shamed for not making ‘healthy choices.’ It was only when my dad got a promotion and we moved to a new neighborhood that I realized what the main issue was. In my old, poorer neighborhood, all we had access to were fast food restaurants and corner stores. In my new neighborhood, there were several grocery stores with fresh, healthy food within a mile. My weight and health have improved significantly ever since our move.
I want to get a BS in Public Health because I hope to make it easier for young, poor kids like I was to gain access to the resources to live a healthier life. A 3-year program will allow me to help these communities more effectively.
I look forward to taking the course Gender, Poverty and Health, which will explore the intersections between these topics and allow me to reflect on systemic ways to bring much-needed health resources to impoverished communities. Furthermore, the course Multicultural Health will allow me to approach my work through an intersectional lens, as there are many immigrants in low-income communities who face unique health disparities based on their backgrounds.
Good health is not as simple as just ‘making the right choices’ when there are systemic barriers to making those choices. I hope to help remove those barriers in my work.”
This example is effective for a couple of reasons. First, it gives the admissions committee an idea of the student’s background, motivations, and passion. Second, it answers each point of the prompt explicitly and clearly. The student describes why he is interested in a 3-year program, then lists the main skills he hopes to acquire through this program.
There are a few things you should avoid when crafting your essay:
- Empty flattery. Writing about how unique or prestigious the University/program is might sound nice, but you shouldn’t talk about how cool a program is to you without elaborating on why. This kind of approach is vague and doesn’t add any nuance to your essay.
- Name-dropping. Don’t simply list a bunch of classes, professors, or activities that appeal to you without describing why they’re interesting to you.
- Being generic. A good location, a strong program in public health, a nice core curriculum, etc. are things that apply to many schools and programs. They are too vague and will make your essay stand out less.
As long as you give a genuine answer and you have solid goals that this program will help you achieve, you’ll craft an effective essay that is sure to stand out to admissions officers.
Sakura Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1
The Sakura Scholars program requires students to study in both the United States and Japan, learn the Japanese language, focus on regional topics in East Asia and the Pacific, and complete a capstone for the joint bachelor’s degree in Global International Relations. Why are you interested in this program? What are your personal and/or professional goals and how will this program help you to reach them? (500 words)
This prompt is similar to the common “Why This College?” prompt, but more specifically applies to the intercollegiate Sakura Scholars program. This prompt is meant to gauge your reasons for applying to the program to see if you’re a good fit for it and if it’s a good fit for you.
To write a successful essay, you‘ll need to establish a connection with the program and express how your goals are best served by being a part of it.
There are two kinds of connections that you can make with a college, program, major, etc. The first kind is the tangible connection. This involves identifying specific concrete reasons for applying to the program. To do this effectively, you will need to do in-depth research on the program and its offerings.
If you’ve made it to this point, you have probably written your response to the All Applicants prompt that was covered at the beginning of this guide. If you have, doing research on the program will be very similar to doing research on American University broadly, as you did earlier. If you haven’t done that essay yet, don’t worry! We have created a guide to help you research colleges (and programs) for this type of essay.
Go to the program’s website to begin your research. Scroll through the main site and the FAQ page to learn more about the program. In this program you have the choice of starting your undergraduate career at American University or Ritsumeikan University, so be sure to check out Ritsumeikan University’s program site as well! This will help you determine where you want to spend your first semester. Regardless of which school you choose, you’ll spend four semesters at AU and four semesters abroad.
The program awards a degree in Global International Relations, so a good approach to this essay is to describe why the field of international relations is important to you and how the program is uniquely equipped to help you achieve your goals in this field.
One direct way to establish a tangible connection between the program and your goals is to find courses or faculty members that really resonate with you. Since the program is between two universities, you should look through the faculty lists of both American and Ritsumeikan.
Consider the following excerpt from a response that might be written by a hypothetical Uyghur student, whose ethnic background has many people suffering human rights violations abroad:
“The Sakura Scholars program is the perfect opportunity for me to study international relations in the United States and Japan. It would give me unprecedented access to Western and Eastern perspectives. I am particularly interested in the work of Professor Jeffrey Bachman at American University and that of Professor Rieko Kitamura at Ritsumeikan University.
Prof. Bachman studies genocide, political violence, and human rights, and Prof. Kitamura has done work on human rights protections. Studying under the supervision of these professors will offer me the chance to delve deeper into specific regional issues. The degree awarded by this program will offer me new ways to help end the plight of my people.”
This response is very effective for a number of reasons:
- First, it establishes a personal background that helps the admissions committee understand the student’s personal motivations.
- Second, it showcases the student’s sincere interest in the Sakura Scholars program.
- Finally, it explicitly names resources (specifically professors) at both universities that will be assets to the student’s education and to the realization of the student’s personal goals.
The second kind of connection you can make with the program is an intangible connection. This involves things like seeing if your values and those of the program are aligned. For example, you might appreciate how the program takes place in the East and West, emphasizing “voices, experiences, and theory from a truly multicultural, multiregional, global perspective.”
There are some things you’ll want to avoid when writing your response:
- Name-dropping. Don’t simply list activities, courses, or professors that interest you without explaining why you’re interested in them. This essay needs to be about you more than the program itself.
- Empty flattery. Anyone can write about the reputations of AU and Ritsumeikan. Compliments are nice, but empty flattery suggests that you don’t have anything more substantive to say.
- Generic aspects of the program. Talking about good locations, a strong program in international relations, or small class sizes won’t really add to your essay. Try to write about unique aspects of the program or things that are rare.
Make sure you give yourself plenty of time to do deep research before you begin writing. Also be sure to write about nuanced personal motivations for applying to the program. Most importantly, write a sincere response! Honestly will go a long way, both in the application process and beyond.
Sakura Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2
In this joint degree program, you will gain first-hand comparative international experience as you spend two years at American University and two years at Ritsumeikan University. Think of a time when you faced a challenge or found yourself in an unexpected situation. Explain what happened, what you learned, and how this experience might help you adapt to different intercultural situations, and work through future challenges as a Sakura Scholar. (No word count given)
This prompt is a very standard example of the Overcoming Challenges essay. You’re being asked about a challenge you faced as well as the lessons you learned from it. These questions are to give the admissions committee an idea of how you handle moments of adversity or surprise, and how you learn from adverse or unexpected experiences.
Brainstorming your topic:
Before you begin writing, you should plan out your topic as thoroughly as you can so that the writing process can move smoothly. When trying to decide on a topic, think about any major challenges you’ve faced in life. Also consider any unexpected life events that may have turned out to be formative experiences. The prompt specifies that challenges and unexpected situations are both fair game, so don’t feel restricted to thinking only of negative experiences.
Once you’ve thought about possible experiences you could write about, create a list of the challenges that came to mind and a separate list of unexpected situations. For each list, ask yourself which experiences taught you the most important or influential lessons about yourself or the world.
Finally, after deciding on the best experience to talk about in this essay, ask yourself the following questions about it:
- What happened?
- In the moment, what was your reaction to the situation? How did it affect you, your thoughts, and your emotions? How have these emotions changed over time?
- Why was this experience so important to you? What is its personal significance?
- Consider the steps you took to manage the situation. Were they successful? Why or why not?
- Reflecting on the outcome of the event, how did the experience allow you to grow and mature as an individual? What did you learn from the success or failure of your approach? What lessons did you learn, both broadly and specifically?
- How did the experience prepare you to face occurrences like it in the future? How has it equipped you to adapt to different intercultural situations?
Once you’ve chosen a topic and answered these questions, writing the essay shouldn’t be so daunting.
Tips for writing your essay:
Maybe you don’t have a clear answer for every question above. That’s fine, but be sure that you can do at least three things to effectively respond to the prompt:
- Describe the event/experience.
- Explain the most important lessons you learned from the experience.
- Detail the ways in which these lessons have improved your ability to adapt to different potential intercultural situations and your capacity to be a strong Sakura Scholar.
With regard to structuring your essay, you may find it helpful to frame it with a narrative format. After all, part of your response requires an explanation of the experience, which would benefit from an anecdote.
Here’s an outline to help you organize your writing:
- If you choose to use a narrative format, begin with an anecdote—a vivid and evocative retelling of the event to draw your reader in.
- After introducing the topic through an anecdote, describe yourself (your attitudes, beliefs, motivations, etc.) prior to the event that you learned from.
- State specifically how the experience was a turning point for you. How did your life change? What did you learn about yourself, others, and/or the world? The lesson should ideally reflect the way you now embrace challenges or unanticipated occurrences, and the ways in which you’re better equipped to tackle intercultural issues.
- If storytelling is one of your strong suits, you might choose to rearrange the order in which you describe events. For example, you might start with a summary of who you are now and how you’re able to approach intercultural situations, then transition to a discussion of who you were before the experience, then discuss the experience and how it affected you.
A hypothetical student might write about an experience related to his multiracial background. Perhaps the student felt like he had to deny both of his ethnic backgrounds to fit in with the American teens around him at school. He began to embrace his identity and eventually overcame his fear of being judged. He learned that innocent childhood ignorance was not a reason to detract from his own identity, a lesson that will help him later on because he has spent years confronting issues of identity in a multicultural context.
This example would be effective because it explicitly outlines the challenge the student had to confront, his response to adversity, what he learned about himself from overcoming the challenge, and how it has prepared him to undertake life as a Sakura Scholar in this multicultural program.
There is no word count given, but you should try to keep your response around 300 words. An essay longer than 350 words might become drawn out or redundant, and one shorter than 250 words might not leave you with enough space to be sufficiently detailed.
A Note About the AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Prompts
The following five prompts are all required for applicants to the AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship. This scholarship covers all billable AU expenses (full tuition, room, and board) for one international student who will need a non-immigrant visa (preferably an F-1 or J-1 student visa) to study in the United States.
Since the scholarship is only being offered to international student applicants, you can disregard the next five prompts if you’re a U.S. citizen, U.S. permanent resident, U.S. pending permanent resident, or dual citizen of the U.S. and another country. You are also not eligible to apply if you’re enrolled in or have already begun any post-secondary studies at another university in your home country or the U.S., or if you graduated secondary school earlier than 2022.
AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants (International Students), Prompt 1
Discuss a significant issue in your home country about which you are passionate and describe how you would use the education you obtain at our institution, American University (AU), Washington, DC, to create positive civic and social change once you return home. (250 words)
This prompt is intended to help you reveal a few important things about yourself—your ability to find significant civic and social issues around you, the types of problems that are important and interesting to you, your critical-thinking and problem-solving skills, and your plans for using your college education to its full potential after graduation.
This prompt is a bit like the common community service prompt, albeit in the future tense. It’s different in that rather than describing how you helped solve an issue in the past, you’re tasked with writing about how you foresee yourself contributing to the solution to a problem in the future.
Before you begin writing, think about the issues that truly bother you in your home country. Since you’re just brainstorming a list right now, these problems can be big or small. To have an essay that stands out, however, you should ultimately pick something substantial when you begin writing.
Your problem doesn’t have to be within any specific domain as long as you can envision civic and social change being integral to the problem’s resolution. As you think, consider social, economic, political, governmental, environmental, war-related, and public health issues.
The prompt isn’t asking you to write a whole textbook on the issue, but be sure that you research it well enough to describe its important points at the very least. You need to write a description of the problem, as well as some ways in which your American University education will help you tackle the problem back in your home country.
That being said, you should have a good understanding of what the problem entails. You might want to pick an issue in which you have some personal investment so you can add a nuanced perspective to your essay.
You only have 250 words to address every part of the prompt, so be succinct and direct in your explanation of the issue. Don’t only talk about the basic facts, though. Be sure to also touch on why the problem is important to you. Be careful not to let bias direct how you report the facts. Try to strike a balance between straightforward reportage and personal interest.
For example, consider a hypothetical student from Ethiopia, a country still facing the effects of a yearslong civil war. Perhaps he has noticed that the problem primarily stems from a lack of communication between the government and the rebelling military faction. He might write a response like this:
“In December 2020, my family fled its home, the Tigray Region of Ethiopia, at the outset of war. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front, a political party that ruled Ethiopia for decades, held an election during the COVID-19 pandemic that the current federal government ruled illegal. This debate escalated to violence, beginning a war that, despite a ceasefire, still has lasting impacts.
My family fled and thankfully found a safe haven in Europe, but so many other families did not have such luck. Hundreds of thousands of people have been displaced or killed in this senseless conflict that is ravaging my homeland.
It is my hope that a strong education will equip me with the skills and knowledge to go back home and contribute to a more definite end to this conflict. Despite the ceasefire, some occupations continue and famine is widespread. I believe a degree in International Studies will help me better understand the causes of war and the preconditions necessary to end it.
I cannot solve this issue myself, but I can no longer watch my home get torn apart. I want to help resolve this conflict by participating directly in the peace and rebuilding processes. If nothing else, I can at least use my education on the global stage to direct more eyes to this dreadful time period. Ghanaian diplomat Kofi Annan once said, ‘Education is the premise of progress, in every society, in every family.’ I know in my heart that he was right.”
This is an effective response. First, it provides a fairly detailed outline of an issue in the student’s home country. Second, it describes why the issue is such an important problem and why it’s so hard to solve. And finally, it discusses how a degree from AU can help the student contribute to awareness of the issue and attempts to resolve it.
You will craft a strong essay if you can address three things:
- What – Define the issue thoroughly but concisely.
- Why – Describe why the issue is important to you and to the people it directly affects.
- How – Detail how your AU education will prepare you to contribute to efforts to resolve the issue.
AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants (International Students), Prompt 2
Discuss your current involvement in community service projects and volunteer activities. Describe what you have learned about yourself as a result of these activities. (250 words)
This is a prime example of the community service essay. Schools that use this prompt want to know about your level of engagement with the people and environment around you. The Emerging Global Leader Scholarship—a program that emphasizes “leadership development and global engagement”—is especially interested in your impact on your community.
Be sure to check out CollegeVine’s guide to writing the community service essay for some in-depth tips and examples!
Brainstorming your topic:
Since you only have 250 words, you won’t be able to write about many activities. In fact, we recommend sticking to 1-2 really meaningful and long-term projects. These are the projects that tend to show a genuine commitment to community service. If you only have short-term projects to write about, then you can mention 2-3 in your response.
When picking a topic, try to think about any projects you do that might be less common. For example, painting murals on old buildings to brighten up the neighborhood is less common than volunteering at a food drive or soup kitchen. There’s nothing wrong with writing about a more common volunteering experience in this essay, but if you have a unique project to write about, it may make your essay more engaging.
If you deem all your volunteering activities and community service projects are fairly commonplace, try to choose the ones that are more meaningful to you. If you feel more connected to a particular experience over the others, your writing about it will be more passionate and vivid.
Tips for writing your essay:
Once you have decided on an activity (or a few), think about these questions:
- What happened during the activity?
- What went through your mind and how did you feel as this was happening?
- How have your emotions regarding the activity changed over time?
With your activity and motivations in mind, think about how you want to structure your essay. If you’re writing about a singular experience, consider taking a narrative approach. An essay that simply lists facts lacks important emotion. Tell about your experience with vivid imagery—show, don’t tell. This is a good way to draw your reader into the experience.
For example, perhaps you speak Spanish and do volunteer work where you can serve as a translator. Maybe you have seen firsthand the impact that speaking someone’s native language can have. Lessons this experience might have taught you about yourself can include the following:
- Your ability to switch between two languages is better than you thought.
- You can take on a leadership role even under the pressure of needing to speak a second language.
- You have more patience than you thought you did.
- You’re really good at working with the elderly, and you didn’t know that before.
As you can see, there are plenty of lessons you can glean from even one volunteering experience. These might include skills, abilities, personal attributes, or something else entirely.
Mistakes to avoid:
This shouldn’t be a difficult essay to write, but you should note that there are three particular things to avoid:
- Listing out everything that happened. You have 250 words to work with. While this is ample space, you should use it wisely. This isn’t a play-by-play, so stick to the most important details. Your essay should focus more on the lessons you learned.
- Using a privileged tone. You’ll want to maintain a balanced, humble tone. Looking entitled or pretentious is not going to help your application in the least. Show how the experience is important to you without painting yourself as some kind of savior.
- Clichés. You might think it’s a good idea to quote a famous person or to use a trite, old life lesson, but we actually recommend avoiding these strategies. Admissions officers have seen them hundreds of times, so they won’t contribute much to your application.
When you write your response, be genuine about your motivations, honest about your impact on the local community, and specific in your descriptions of activities. Doing all those things will ensure a strong essay.
AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants (International Students), Prompt 3
Describe an obstacle or challenge you have faced in your life. How have you overcome this challenge and grown from this experience? (250 words)
This is the classic Overcoming Challenges prompt, so we recommend that you read our linked guide for advice and examples.
AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants (International Students), Prompt 4
The AU Diplomats are a diverse group of current AU international students and US Global Nomads who have been selected by the AU Admissions team to form and maintain connections with new and prospective American University (AU) students, and to represent AU to the international community.
Our Emerging Global Leader Scholar is expected to play an impactful role in the work of our AU Diplomats group. What outreach, communication, and/or intake strategies would you employ to inform and welcome new and prospective students to American University, Washington, DC? (250 words)
This prompt tasks you with highlighting how you envision yourself connecting with new and prospective students who may also be international students. While it may seem daunting to have to think ahead to welcoming and guiding others to a University you yourself are currently applying to, the answer is really based more on your experience than you may think.
Think about how your application process has felt so far. Applying to a school in a country different from your own may have been an overwhelming process, and it’s perfectly all right to write about that feeling—in fact, it may even guide your answer.
Imagine you were in contact with an AU Diplomat or a current Emerging Global Leader scholar. What questions would you ask now or would you have asked in the past? Doing some role-reversal will help you imagine the kind of Emerging Global Leader Scholar you can be to help new and prospective students like yourself.
Additionally, reflect on what you wish you knew prior to the application process. How did you find American University? Did anything or anyone help you along the way? How did you engage with American University prior to applying? And eventually, what advice would you give to a younger student who will soon be in your shoes?
For example, perhaps you live halfway across the world, and had trouble attending virtual information events at many schools because of the time difference. Maybe American University offered some information sessions specific to your country or region of the world—how did that make you feel more connected to the school? Maybe you want to volunteer for these events to give more prospective students the opportunity to learn about the school, and maybe even reach areas that haven’t yet been reached.
Your strategies will come from your personal experiences, so be open and honest about your past and present—even though your own future may still be undetermined.
AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants, Prompt 3
Describe an obstacle or challenge you have faced in your life. How have you overcome this challenge and grown from this experience? (250 words)
This is the classic Overcoming Challenges essay, so we recommend that you read our linked guide for advice and examples.
AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants, Prompt 4
The AU Diplomats are a diverse group of current AU international students and US Global Nomads who have been selected by the AU Admissions team to form and maintain connections with new and prospective American University (AU) students, and to represent AU to the international community. Our Emerging Global Leader Scholar is expected to play an impactful role in the work of our AU Diplomats group. What outreach, communication, and/or intake strategies would you employ to inform and welcome new and prospective students to American University, Washington, DC? (250 words)
This prompt tasks you with highlighting how you envision yourself connecting with new and prospective students who may also be international students. While it may seem daunting to have to think ahead to welcoming and guiding others to a University you are applying to, the answer is really based more in your experience than you may think.
Think about how your application process has felt so far. Applying to a school in a different country than your own may have been overwhelming, and it is perfectly all right to write about that feeling – in fact, it may even guide your answer.
Imagine you were in contact with an AU Diplomat or a current Emerging Global Leader scholar. What questions would you ask or would you have asked in the past? Doing some role-reversal will help you imagine the kind of Emerging Global Leader Scholar you can be to help new and prospective students like yourself.
Additionally, reflect on what you wish you knew prior to the application process. How did you find American University? Did anything or anyone help you along the way? How did you engage with American University prior to applying? And eventually, what advice would you give a younger student who will soon be in your shoes?
For example, perhaps you live halfway across the world, and had trouble attending virtual information events at many schools because of the time difference. Maybe American University offered some information sessions specific to your country or region of the world – how did that make you feel more connected to the school? Maybe you want to volunteer for these events to give more prospective students the opportunity to learn about the school, and maybe even reach areas that haven’t yet been reached.
Your strategies will come from your personal experiences, so be open and honest even though your own future may still be undetermined.
AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants (International Students), Prompt 5
What are the characteristics of leadership that you most admire? Who is a leader that exemplifies those qualities, and why? (250 words)
There are two main approaches you can use to navigate this prompt. You can certainly begin by brainstorming a list of leadership qualities you find most important and then find a leader you admire, but it may actually be wise to work backwards and reverse-engineer your answer—essentially, choose a leader you admire first and then identify the qualities that make them a great leader. Choosing someone you already admire may make your response more sincere and detailed.
There are no real wrong answers to this prompt, which also means that the more specific and unique you can get, the better. It is, however, best to avoid leaders who would be generally named immediately. For example, you would not want to pick a figure like the current President of the United States, other former Presidents, or other well-renowned world leaders, as they will likely be a common answer to this question.
Instead, think about whether your home country has any leaders—political, social, environmental, etc.—that would make for a strong response. Remember, this answer isn’t just about proving why your choice is a strong leader, it’s about showing the admissions committee your perception of what makes for great leadership.
After you’ve selected a leader, analyze the characteristics of that leader that resonate with people. Are they a great public speaker? Have they managed to unify a wide populace of differing perspectives? What is their public image? What impresses you most about their accomplishments?
These questions can help you identify how your chosen leader reflects your perspectives on great leadership as a whole, and will allow you to craft an answer around your thesis rather than the other way around.
Where to Get Your American University Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your AU essays? After rereading your essays over and over again, it can be difficult to spot where your writing could use some improvement. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!