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How to Write the American University Essays 2022-2023

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Just northwest of downtown Washington, D.C. sits a suburban pocket of the city that is home to American University, a private research university at which over 8,000 undergraduates enroll each year. Just a fifteen-minute bus ride away from the downtown area of our nation’s capital, American University offers students the best of both worlds — a suburban campus feel with easy access to a thriving and exciting city.


AU requires all applicants to write one supplemental essay, and has additional prompts for its special programs, such as the Honors Program and 3-year accelerated Public Health Scholars Program. The special program essays must be submitted separately from the Common App, and can only be accessed through AU’s Future Eagle Portal.


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All Applicants

Why are you interested in American University? (150 words)

This is a very standard “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 university’s resources intersect.


You’ll want to establish at least a tangible connection with AU. This can be done by explicitly discussing resources and opportunities offered by the university that resonate with you. 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.


Make sure you tackle this task way before the deadlines – it’s a straightforward prompt, but you still need ample time to get into the weeds of the research process. Doing a meager amount of research and then going straight into writing will only detract from your application. This is because the admissions officers have been reading applications for a long time. They know how to spot students who only have a tepid interest in their university, and they will be able to tell if your research was rushed based on how generic your response looks.


You might also find it helpful to consult YouTube and social media sites like Reddit to find real experiences written by real students. Doing research along these alternative avenues may uncover things you’ll end up loving about AU that you didn’t know about before!


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 are 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 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 regards 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.


You only have 300 words to work with, so you should keep your response limited to one thing you’re deeply curious about (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. And 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 some 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 is a second-generation immigrant from Japan could 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 to attending local language exchanges and starting a podcast on 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 are 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 couple of 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. It’s also 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 of 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).


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

Reflect on who, or what, has had the greatest influence on your worldview. (300 words)

This is a fairly common type of prompt for both essays and interview questions, and it can be a bit difficult to answer without a lot of thought. The good news is that there’s really no wrong answer. You have your own individual worldview which has been informed and influenced by your own personal experiences. 


The key to writing a strong response to this prompt is to choose something that is truly meaningful to you. If your answer is sincere and has a lot of personal feeling, a lot of the hard work will already be done.


Before you jump into writing your response, make a list of the people and things that have changed 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.
  • People. The people you surround yourself with and/or admire – family, friends, mentors, community leaders, politicians, celebrities, athletes, musicians, actors, etc. – exert considerable influence on your attitudes, beliefs, views, and overall perceptions.
  • 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.


This is a lot to unpack, and it is very understandable if you aren’t sure which of these things exactly has had the greatest impact on your worldview. To help you figure that out, consider the following questions:


1. Have you recently developed or strengthened any particular views about the world that you consider so important that they define you?


2. If your answer to question 1 is yes, what is the view and what caused you to develop it? Whatever caused such a dramatic change in how you see the world is probably a good subject for this essay.


3. If your answer to question 1 is no, have you had any experiences that significantly changed your outlook on something? This can be a positive or negative event.


For example, if you lost a close family member to cancer, this could have changed your outlook on the importance of medical research. This might even have been an important enough life event to set you on a career path in medicine. A more positive example is something like seeing the outpouring of joy and gratitude when you volunteered at the soup kitchen. This interaction with people less fortunate than you may have completely altered your level of appreciation for the small things you receive every day.


4. If your answer to question 3 is yes, what was the event/experience and how did it change your worldview?


5. If your answer to question 3 is no, think about your formative years. Which person (or people) had the greatest influence on your current beliefs and views? How has their influence led you to the set of views you have today?


Don’t worry if you feel like you don’t have great answers for any of the above questions; you can always default to a safer, more common answer for your response. Remember, there is no wrong answer. Some common answers to this kind of prompt include a parent or parents, an older sibling, a teacher, coach, or other kind of mentor, and intellectual figures like philosophers or renowned professionals in a field of interest.


If you have a strong, unique answer to any of the above questions, your reflection on your chosen person or experience is fairly straightforward. Simply address who or what the subject of your essay is, then immediately describe this subject’s influence on your worldview. You may find it helpful to utilize anecdotes to make this point, but this isn’t necessary.


A good idea for structuring your essay is to begin at a time when your worldview was different, then, using an anecdote-driven narrative, describe how this worldview changed over time as a result of your essay’s subject.


If your subject is a more common, traditional one, we strongly recommend the use of anecdotes. This is because other students will likely have a similar topic, but you can make your response stand out by keeping it as personal as possible.


No matter what person or thing you choose to write about in this essay, make sure that your response is sincere. Express how your chosen subject has been so important to you and influential in your life. And, remember to specify the exact ways in which your subject has had an effect on your worldview.


Community-Based Research Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 1

Strong CBRS students are collaborative, empathetic, and dedicated to making a difference. Share one or two examples of experiences in your life that demonstrate at least  two of these qualities. How have they prepared you to participate in the CBRS program? (No word count given)

This is a straightforward prompt asking you to recount one or two experiences that demonstrate two of the given qualities. The qualities – collaboration, empathy, and dedication to making a difference – are fairly broad, which gives you some freedom in how you choose to write about them. That being said, the key to writing an effective response is to choose the right anecdotes!


We recommend keeping your answer around 200-300 words. You don’t want to write so much that it becomes redundant, but you should allow yourself enough space to make and support your point.


You can brainstorm topics in a couple different ways. You could pick the qualities that most resonate with you and think of ways you demonstrated them, or you could brainstorm meaningful experiences and think of the qualities you demonstrated through them. 


Once you choose an experience, you should share what happened, what your specific role was, and how you exemplified your chosen quality. Finally, you’ll want to explain how these experiences have prepared you for the CBRS program.


To write a strong response to the prompt, you should do research on the CBRS program. The CBRS website has a lot of information about the program that you can use in your response. You can discuss how the experience(s) you wrote about prepared you for a particular course or research project in the program.


Here’s an example of a good topics:


A student who was part of a group that painted murals to raise awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement might write about their collaboration and dedication to making a difference. They could explain how it was quite complex to coordinate which member would complete which part of the mural, but they helped organize a system using a visual designing tool that streamlined the process. They could also discuss how they mediated disagreements among members of the messaging they painted on the murals. 


Because of this experience, they want to continue to find ways to use art for social change, and they are equipped with the skills to tackle nuanced issues in a team, which is foundational to the program (in fact, they’re looking forward to the course Collaboration is Complex, which is specifically about creating collaborative artwork for social change).


Community-Based Research Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 2

Identify and describe one challenge faced by a group of people in your local community. How could your participation in CBRS help prepare you to contribute to local efforts to address this issue? (No word count given)

This prompt is meant to gauge a few things: your ability to recognize and describe community problems, the kinds of issues that pique your interest or are meaningful to you, and your critical thinking/problem-solving skills. This prompt is similar to the common community service essay, but instead of writing about prior experience serving the community, you’re asked to locate a problem and predict a potential solution. This is another prompt with no provided word count, so we recommend writing about 200-300 words.


Think about what bothers you about your hometown. Since CBRS is all about community-based service and research, you don’t have to limit yourself to a specific type of problem. You might be thinking of something social, something economic, something in the infrastructure or natural environment, or even a public health issue. The challenge faced by your community doesn’t need to be something large in scope or scale; it merely needs to be something that affects your local community and is important to you.


Besides things that bother you personally, think about subtle established issues that only affect a specific neighborhood or group of people. With your personal and community issues in mind, make a list of the ones you think are most important. Once you have your list, keep narrowing it down until you have the one challenge that most resonates with you and that you can connect to the CBRS program.


You’re not being asked to overcome the challenge or solve the problem outright, but you are tasked with writing about how your participation in CBRS can prepare you to help contribute to efforts to address this issue. To write an effective response, you’re going to have to do ample research on the CBRS website. You should have a good understanding of what the program entails before you even begin writing since you essentially have to write how the program’s resources and opportunities will prepare you to tackle a community issue.


For example, a student might come from a poorer neighborhood where there’s little access to fresh, healthy food. This has led to a whole slew of preventable health issues in the community, such as high blood pressure and obesity. He might explain how the CBRS program could help her design a rigorous study to figure out the most prominent health issue, interview residents to evaluate what they need, and work with local organizations and governing bodies to implement structural changes to increase access to healthy food.


This is an effective response because it outlines an issue the student has noticed in his community, describes why it is such an important challenge, and details how participating in the CBRS program will help him assist in bringing about a solution to the issue.


You will have crafted a strong essay if you address three things:


  1. What – Define the challenge thoroughly but concisely.
  2. Why – Describe why the challenge is important to you and to the community it affects.
  3. How – Detail how your participation in the CBRS program can prepare you to contribute to local efforts to resolve the issue.


Community-Based Research Scholars Program Applicants, Prompt 3

Describe a time when you chose to get outside of your comfort zone. What motivated you to make this decision? How could you use what you learned about yourself from this experience in the future? (No word count given)

This prompt is meant to gauge a few things: your willingness to do important things that might be uncomfortable at first, your reactions to unexpected situations, and your ability to learn from experiences whether they initially appeal to you or not.


Before you begin writing, think back to times when you urged yourself to do something you wouldn’t normally have done. List experiences outside your comfort zone that you can reflect thoughtfully on, and that show learning and growth. Once you have a list of experiences, try to narrow it down to one experience that exhibits three qualities:


  • This one seems obvious, but the experience should actually be something that was outside of your comfort zone. It may seem daunting at first, but sincerity about what made you uncomfortable will make your essay stand out.
  • The experience should ideally have had an important outcome, be it positive or negative. Anything too trivial will lack a substantial lesson, something the latter half of the prompt asks you to address.
  • The experience should be something you remember well enough to write about in detail. You don’t want to write an essay in which you sound uninterested or forgetful.


Here are some examples of experiences that you could write about:


  • You’ve always loved music, but you were too shy to ever share the songs you made publicly. Last year, however, you decided to confront your stage fright when your music teacher asked you to join the high school talent contest. Though you were petrified at the start of your performance, plucking the first note on your guitar made your nerves melt away. To your surprise, your song received a standing ovation and won second place in the contest. Since then, you’ve been more public with your music and even post many of your songs online.


  • Even though you thought you weren’t athletic or coordinated, you decided to join a dance-a-thon to help raise money for a friend with cancer. While you were initially nervous about the event, you ended up having a lot of fun and learning some new dance moves. This led you to eventually join the dance team, and it taught you to be more open-minded to new experiences.


The two examples above are experiences that had positive outcomes, but you don’t necessarily need to write about a totally positive experience. The prompt doesn’t specify that your story has to have the happiest of endings. It only asks what motivated you to make your decision and how you can use what you learned from the experience in the future. You might decide to write your essay using one of the following two approaches:


  • You stepped out of your comfort zone and experienced a positive outcome. This positive outcome led to some personal growth that motivates you to continue stepping out of your comfort zone more often. The lesson you learned involves taking more risks or confronting things you fear or dislike.


  • You stepped out of your comfort zone and experienced a negative outcome. Though the negative wasn’t a desired one, you learned something important about yourself or the world. You also accepted that stepping out of your comfort zone sometimes doesn’t work out, but that such uncomfortable decisions may still be worthwhile in the future.


No matter how your experience panned out, you can figure out a personal lesson that it taught you. Whether you choose to write about a positive experience or a negative one, emphasize how you’ve changed or what you’ve learned in your reflection.


Remember that this supplement has no given word limit. We recommend keeping your response around 200-300 words, but that’s still enough space to address every part of the prompt. Craft a concise but detailed narrative about the event itself, discuss your reasons for making the decision, and outline how the lessons you learned from the experience can be applied to your life in the future.


Be sure to answer all parts of the prompt, as it asks several questions. Your motivations and what you learned about yourself are frankly more important than the decision itself, so make sure that you leave yourself enough space to elaborate on those two things.


The admissions committee wants to know how you take initiative, how you react to uncomfortable situations and possibly disagreeable results, how and what you learn from your life experiences, and how you reflect on the decisions you make.


Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars Applicants, Prompt 1

AU’s Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars are talented, academically motivated students who are passionate in their interests and set the example for excellence at AU. Please tell us how you are uniquely qualified for this role. (200 words)

This prompt is essentially asking for a mini personal statement. Before writing, you should familiarize yourself with the program. The goal of the FDDS program is to “proactively prepare [its students] for academic, leadership, and career excellence” and it expects its students to “contribute to the intellectual, social, and political environment of the institution.” Low-income, minority, and first-generation students are especially encouraged to apply.


At its core, this prompt is trying to gauge who you are as a student and as a person. AU wants to know about you – your interests, your personal attributes, and your leadership qualities. 


The prompt specifies that “Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars are talented, academically motivated students who are passionate in their interests and set the example for excellence at AU.” In essence, this sets up the exact points your response should touch on:


  • Talents – Describe your biggest talent or a skill you’re proud of being really good at.
  • Academic motivations – If you have a desired major, this is something you should mention here. If not, talk about what truly interests you academically.
  • Passion for your interests – You can connect this to the previous point. Discuss specific aspects of your academic interests that you deeply care about so your passion can shine through.
  • How you can set the example for excellence at AU – This is a bit broad conceptually, but try to address your academic goals and describe how you intend to achieve them at AU.


You only have 200 words to work with, so you’ll need to be succinct. You should still strive to address most of the points so you can write a thorough response. Before you begin writing, consider the following questions to organize your thoughts:


1. What skills or talents are you best at and most proud of? Can this skill be linked to your academic life in any way?


2. What is your biggest academic interest? This can be your desired major, a general subject, or something else.


3. What do you like specifically about your chosen talent and academic interest? Instead of thinking about something vague like “reading” or “public policy,” think about “novels that explore existential themes” or “group theory vs. elite theory of public policy.”


4. Where did your passion for your interest come from? Is there a certain experience that was transformative in your life?


5. What are your academic and professional goals? In what ways can AU and the Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars program help bring these goals to fruition?


Once you have talents/skills, interests, and goals in mind, think about ways you can connect them to each other and to AU and the FDDS program. Your talents, interests, and goals might have a great deal of overlap.


In your response, be honest about who you are and what you want to get out of college. If you can show a sincere academic mindset and a passion for your interests, you will be off to an excellent start.


Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars Applicants, Prompt 2

This scholarship models its values in the legacy of Frederick Douglass—social reformer, orator, freedom fighter. Could you explain how your future goals align with the ideals of Frederick Douglass? (400 words)

This essay might seem daunting at first, but it’s actually fairly straightforward. The Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars program is looking for “ambitious, introspective, and optimistic student leaders with curiosity, strong academic records, outstanding self-awareness, demonstrated leadership experience, creative ability, and interest in having a meaningful impact as servant leaders in whatever fields, industries and organizations in which they chose to apply their passions, skill sets and intellectual curiosity.”


Frederick Douglass was a social reformer, abolitionist, orator, and activist who staunchly opposed slavery and espoused freedom of speech and the unversal kinship of all people. His ideals emphasized equality and promoted intellectual and moral development of oppressed peoples, specifically African-Americans. He believed that liberty was a natural right that could not be restricted by any governmental document. Douglass also emphasized the importance of literacy and speech in the pursuit of liberty.


Your goals might be very broad or very specific, but try to see how they are connected to the ideas that Douglass supported. For example, you might be a Hispanic student who does not like the way immigration is being handled in the United States. Perhaps you want to get a degree in International Studies in order to get a career in government where you can enact immigration reforms to support people like your family. These goals align with Douglass’s ideas of liberty, reform, and universal kinship.


Your goals may not be motivated by your ethnic/racial background at all. Maybe your primary goal is to work in government to create educational reform, thus ensuring that students across the entire country have access to necessary resources. A goal like this aligns nicely with Douglass’s belief in the role of education and literacy in preserving freedom and bringing about progress.


Before you begin writing, you may want to do some research on Frederick Douglass. There may be certain ideals of his that your future goals align with better than others. There are plenty of resources written about Douglass available online that discuss his beliefs and motivations.


Ultimately, you should describe how the things you want to accomplish in the future reflect Douglass’s ideals of liberty, education, and natural human rights in some way. These broad beliefs are core aspects of Douglass’s life and political thought. As long as you are specific about your goals, sincere about what you hope to accomplish, and detailed in the connections you draw to Douglass’s ideals, you will craft a thoughtful and engaging essay.


Frederick Douglass Distinguished Scholars Applicants, Prompt 3

Please describe a meaningful experience you have had or a challenge you’ve faced in your life. How has this experience or challenge shaped who and/or what you stand for? (400 words)

This is the classic Overcoming Challenges essay, so we recommend that you read our linked guide for advice and examples.


Global Scholars 3-Year BA 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 – all 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. Parts 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 directly affected by the current invasion crisis. 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 hunger in Venezuela as a result of governmental policies, hunger in Haiti due to food insecurity and currency inflation, and famine in parts of Ethiopia because of the Tigray War.


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 describe how it’s devastated different communities around the world, including their small coastal town, which has experienced worse and worse floods. They might hope to major in International Studies to eventually work in the United Nations and be part of the 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. They could describe how the US healthcare system fails many low-income people and how poorer countries lack the infrastructure and resources to treat easily-treatable illnesses. They hope to go to medical school and 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 3-Year BA 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 maximum)

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 altering life 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 that you would’ve been 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.


While you may end up writing about an experience that may apply to others, it is in how you tell it in relation to yourself and 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.


For the above example, you can conclude by writing about how you hope to apply what you learned from your experiences to your experience with 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. 


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. 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 are 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 further explanation of something that may already appear on your application. When selecting what to write about, try to fill in the gaps of your application. 


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 is 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 amongst 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 on not just your accomplishments with whichever experience you choose, but 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 2

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 not just to get a sense of your level of political engagement, but also give you a chance to attempt your first case study that will eventually serve as a gateway to the PPL program at large. It will require thorough research and deliberation, but it is also 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 becoming a laundry list of options, and may end up exhausting you before you can 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 may already be out there, rather to think creatively and critically about your environment and how your unique perspective can be valuable to solving your chosen issue.


As such, it may be more valuable 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 still legal, but actively occurs. Perhaps you know families or your own family has ties to the fracking business, and you feel as though current legislation and efforts trying 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 research on what issues have most recently surfaced in the country. For example, recent weeks have called attention to a migrant crisis that the United States is facing and how resources for these migrants are quickly diminishing.


 In 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.


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 will 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 connection 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 what you choose, you will 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 response by a hypothetical student:


“I was born in the United States to a family of Uyghur background. My upbringing and family history led me to develop a deep interest in human rights, especially on the global stage. Recent developments, including the United Nations report in August, have rekindled my passion for this concept. The Uyghur struggles in Asia are just one example of human rights violations around the world. I want to dedicate my life to the domain of international relations so I can contribute to efforts to ensure human rights protections globally.


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. And finally, it explicitly names resources (professors, specifically) 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 you don’t have a lot of words to work with, and 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. 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 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 is the classic Overcoming Challenges essay, so we recommend that you read our linked guide for more advice and examples.


While trying to decide on a topic, consider the following questions:


  • What major challenges have you faced in life? What unexpected events in your life have turned out to be formative experiences?
  • Once you’ve thought about those, create a list of challenges and one of unexpected situations. For each list, which experiences taught you the most important or influential lessons about yourself or the world?


Narrow your lists down until you have the one or two most important experiences left. For the challenge/unexpected event you choose, think about these questions:


  • What happened?
  • What did you think and how did you feel as it happened?
  • How have your emotions regarding the event changed over time?
  • How did the challenge/unexpected situation pan out? Regardless of the outcome, what did you learn from the experience?
  • 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?


Here’s an outline you may wish to follow when crafting your essay:


  • 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 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 can approach intercultural situations, then transition to a discussion of who you were before the experience, then discuss the experience and how it affected you.


For example, consider this response from a hypothetical student:


“My mother is Chinese and my father Mexican. Being biracial with such an uncommon mix had its challenges growing up. The Chinese kids didn’t really understand parts of my culture like the Mexican recipes my dad would make for my school lunches, and the Mexican kids didn’t understand how I could be Mexican and look so different from them. I didn’t know how to reconcile the two halves of my racial identity, so I began to sort of deny them both.


I acted like a very average American teen and stopped embracing the uniqueness of my two cultures. This helped me keep my head down and blend in with all the other students at school. It worked for a few months, but eventually something just didn’t feel right. I felt as though I was betraying my ancestors. My parents had each come to this melting pot of a nation to avoid discrimination. Their meeting and falling in love was a beautiful thing – it was the blending of two disparate cultures from opposite hemispheres of the planet.


A couple of years ago, I began accepting my identity for what it is. Since then, I’ve learned how to cook Chinese and Mexican cuisine, both of which I thoroughly enjoy no matter where I am. I have become fluent in Spanish and I’m an intermediate Mandarin speaker. Both halves of my racial identity define who I am, and I refuse to let the challenge of innocent childhood ignorance detract from my human experience anymore.


As a Sakura Scholar, I believe I will be very prepared to encounter the blending of cultures that the program cultivates. I am ready to confront issues of identity and intercultural situations, since I have been doing that my whole life. I have begun a club to teach people about both Mexican and Chinese culture. I hope that other biracial kids who feel like outsiders can use my club as a place to realize that being different is okay and that you don’t have to be 100% from any group to be considered a member.”


This example is 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 200-300 words. An essay longer than 300 words might get drawn out or redundant, and one shorter than 200 words might not leave you with enough space to be detailed.


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? Respond in no more than 500 words.

This prompt is meant to gauge two things. First, it is 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. Parts 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 a nuance to your essay for two reasons. First, simply stating that your issue exists and is important 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?” prompt. 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 cites 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 quickly. I look forward to taking the course Gender, Poverty and Health, which will explore the interconnections 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 with even more of 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 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. 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 will craft an effective essay that is sure to stand out to admissions officers.


AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants, 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)

Note: This scholarship is only available to international students. If you are not an international student, you may ignore these prompts.


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 essay, albeit in the future tense. Rather than describing how you helped solve an issue in the past, you’re going to write about how you foresee yourself contributing to the solution to a problem in the future.


Before you begin writing, think about what issues 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, so 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, but 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 a country entrenched in a 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 and began a war that continues to this day. My family thankfully fled and 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 swift end to this conflict. Each side blames the other, which halts any hope of negotiation. 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 broker a peace treaty myself, but I can no longer watch my home get torn apart. I want to help end this conflict by participating directly in the peace process. If I cannot be a part of the peace negotiations, I can at least use my education on the global stage to direct more eyes to this dreadful war. Ghanian 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:


  1. What – Define the issue thoroughly but concisely.
  2. Why – Describe why the issue is important to you and to the people it directly affects.
  3. How – Detail how your AU education will prepare you to contribute to efforts to resolve the issue.


AU Emerging Global Leader Scholarship Applicants, 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!


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.


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. 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. 


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, 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.


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 best to avoid leaders that would be generally named immediately. For example, you would not want to pick a figure like United States President Joe Biden, other former Presidents, or other well-renowned world leaders, as they would 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 is about showing the admissions committee your perception of what makes great leadership. 


After you have 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 on your perception of 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!


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