How to Write the Arizona State University Essays 2019-2020

Did you know your essay makes up 25% of your college application?

Get free advice right now to write an amazing college essay that will stand out to admissions officers. Sign up now to get access to all of our free essay guides and courses.

Arizona State University (ASU) is an academic juggernaut, with over 80,000 students currently enrolled. Students apply directly to one of the five campuses spread across the metropolitan Phoenix area, choosing from Tempe, Downtown Phoenix, Polytechnic, West, and Thunderbird School.

 

Additionally, 30,000 students enroll in online degree programs and work to complete their schooling from anywhere in the world. Whether students attend in-person or remotely, these “Sun Devils” are dedicated to tackling tomorrow’s challenges using the foundation they built at ASU.

 

ASU doesn’t require any college-wide essays, but does for the Honors College and the School of Music. Read on if you’re applying to these programs! Want to know your chances at ASU? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

For Honors College Applicants

Prompt 1

 

Applicants must select ONE of the following three options and respond in no more than 500 words.

Option A: “A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably.” – Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Maturity is a virtue that we all strive for but often find difficult to obtain. It is a quality that we must acquire at some point in our lives as we become adults. What do you think it means to be a mature person?

 

Write a well-organized essay in which you describe what you think are some of the qualities that make a person mature.

 

Option B: We experience many types of relationships with our family and friends during our lifetimes. Some of these relationships survive over the years, while others deteriorate. What qualities are important to learn and develop in order to sustain healthy, lasting relationships?

 

In a well-developed essay, discuss those qualities that you feel contribute to a healthy relationship. Support your answer with specific details or examples from your own experience or reading.

 

Option C: Many people have argued that the skills needed to be successful in today’s workforce have changed. What skills do you feel an individual needs to be successful in a job today? Why do you feel these skills are most important?

 

In an essay to be read by a teacher, identify the skills you feel are most needed by an individual to be successful at work and provide reasons to persuade your teacher that these are the most critical skills for success.

 

Prompt 1, Option A

“A mature person is one who does not think only in absolutes, who is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally, who has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things, and who walks humbly and deals charitably.” —Eleanor Roosevelt

 

Maturity is a virtue that we all strive for but often find difficult to obtain. It is a quality that we must acquire at some point in our lives as we become adults. What do you think it means to be a mature person? Write a well-organized essay in which you describe what you think are some of the qualities that make a person mature. (500 words)

The Honors College hopes to enroll students who are the cream of the crop, not only in academics but also in personality. This essay offers you a chance to demonstrate that you are capable of the introspection and insight required to excel in this program. For that reason, your main goal for the essay should be to come across as a thoughtful, mature individual.

 

As you plan your response, start by breaking down Eleanor Roosevelt’s quotation. To review, she thinks a mature person:

 

  • Does not think only in absolutes
  • Is able to be objective even when deeply stirred emotionally
  • Has learned that there is both good and bad in all people and all things
  • Walks humbly and deals charitably

 

Do you agree with her assessment? If so, which bullet stands out to you as most true? What experiences in your life have taught you what it means to be mature, according to Roosevelt’s definition?

 

If your personal definition of maturity would be different, go ahead and share other qualities that you believe make a person mature. For example, maybe taking responsibility for one’s actions, or being there for others are how you define maturity.

 

No matter what your opinion is, be sure to ground your argument in a personal story. Think of experiences that made you more mature. It could be taking care of your siblings while your parents were at work, making a mistake at your job, or going away to boarding school. 

 

Alternatively, you can write about someone else and how their example has impacted you. If you do focus on another person in your essay, be sure the reflection still ties the essay back to you. Your readers don’t just want to see how someone else was mature. They want to see how that person’s good example affected you. You should also avoid writing about someone who you consider immature, as this could come off as, well, immature and mean-spirited. 

 

Prompt 1, Option B

We experience many types of relationships with our family and friends during our lifetimes. Some of these relationships survive over the years, while others deteriorate. What qualities are important to learn and develop in order to sustain healthy, lasting relationships?

 

In a well-developed essay, discuss those qualities that you feel contribute to a healthy relationship. Support your answer with specific details or examples from your own experience or reading. (500 words)

This prompt has a few hidden questions buried in it. To answer well, you first have to address what makes a relationship healthy in the first place. Is it honesty? Open communication? Trust? Compassion? Respect? A stable power dynamic?

 

Once you identify what qualities are at play in a healthy relationship, ask yourself what the people in it can do to foster that healthy relationship. Maybe you think having frank conversations helps to cultivate an honest relationship. Alternatively, you may choose to focus on speaking kindly, listening carefully, or making a point of staying in touch.

 

Most essays will focus on a specific relationship in the applicant’s life. Have you seen a long-term relationship fall to pieces suddenly? Has a healthy relationship ever cropped up in the least likely of places for you? Either of these scenarios make for great essay topics.

 

In most cases, we recommend against writing about romantic relationships. Unless your story is truly exceptional, consider choosing another relationship to discuss. This is simply because it’s difficult to write about romantic relationships without coming off as juvenile, bitter, or cheesy. 

 

A few applicants might explore the dynamic at play between two fictional characters. If you do that, it’s important to identify why their story resonates with you.

 

Regardless of which relationships you use as an example, make sure your finished product reflects how relationships grow and change over time. The admissions committee wants to see that you know how to sustain healthy long-term relationships with your friends, mentors, colleagues, etc. 

Prompt 1, Option C

Many people have argued that the skills needed to be successful in today’s workforce have changed. What skills do you feel an individual needs to be successful in a job today? Why do you feel these skills are most important?

 

In an essay to be read by a teacher, identify the skills you feel are most needed by an individual to be successful at work and provide reasons to persuade your teacher that these are the most critical skills for success. (500 words)

Unlike the previous two options, this prompt invites you to use your analytical rather than introspective capabilities. The modern workforce incorporates new technology, management strategies, and potential employees every year. While you may not have held a full-time job yet, ASU wants to see that you’ve thought about what future employers may require of you.

 

We recommend brainstorming several possible answers before settling on one. A number of popular terms, like “technology” and “leadership,” come to mind instantly, so you can be sure that the bulk of essays will be on those topics. Set yourself apart by spending 15 minutes jotting down reflections on which skills you think are most attractive to employers. You’re more likely to identify a more personal and substantial response that way.

 

Next, you’ll want to gather some evidence. Regardless of which skill you choose to identify as most important, substantiate that claim with case studies, data, or anecdotes. Turning to Forbes, Wired, or the Harvard Business Review is a great way to find support for your argument.

 

Keep in mind that admissions officers are not looking for any one particular answer. They want to see that you can think deeply. If you can weave in a few ways you have sought to cultivate the skill you recommend, that’s great. At the end of the day, though, your main goal is to demonstrate to your reader that you have an eye to the future and have thought deeply about how to prepare for it.

 

Want to calculate your chances at your dream school?

Using your unique profile, our free guidance platform helps you calculate your chances at hundreds of schools. We'll also help you understand what areas you need to improve to get into your dream school.

 

Prompt 2

 

Keep the following in mind. We have a deep interest in knowing why you are considering Barrett, The Honors College. Our admissions committee values intellectual curiosity. The essays will contribute to our assessment of your ability to write effectively, a key skill for success in the honors curriculum. Reply to ONE of the following four prompts in 300-500 words. Your response may be critical or creative.

 

Option A:  Biologically speaking, whales are mammals. However, author Herman Melville famously claimed that since they look like fish and in most ways behave like fish, they are fish no matter what science says. Defend Melville’s position. 

 

Option B: Many individuals, groups, and organizations enhance Barrett through their support (scholarship gifts, internship positions, alumni mentorship, etc.). As a student, given these external contributions to the honors college experience, what (if anything) would you owe to others?

 

Option C: Author Bell Hooks says, “It’s in the act of having to do things that you don’t want to that you learn something about moving past the self. Past the ego.” Reflect on how this quote applies to a particular moment in your life. 

 

Option D: Water.

 

Prompt 2, Option A

Biologically speaking, whales are mammals. However, author Herman Melville famously claimed that since they look like fish and in most ways behave like fish, they are fish no matter what science says. Defend Melville’s position. (300–500 words)

This definitely makes it onto the list of surprising prompts we have seen. Because most applicants do not sit around contemplating Melville’s opinions on whales, this prompt allows applicants to demonstrate creativity and, for those more scientifically minded, an appreciation for the natural world.

 

If you want to go all-in on a scientific discussion of how animals are classified, make sure you do your research. In addition to refuting the common scientific understanding of whales, you might also discuss how and why scientists practice taxonomy.

 

Most students will take this essay in a more abstract direction by exploring the tension between theoretical vs. practical knowledge. Sure, a whale may be a mammal, but it appears in many ways to be a fish. It’s common to find oneself in a situation where theory says one thing but apparent reality says another. What tools do you use to make a decision when theory and practice are misaligned?

 

Finally, there’s the creative approach. Maybe you do want to defend Melville using his distinctive literary voice. Perhaps a humorous poem about whales is best-suited to your purposes. Or you can write a work of biting satire—the possibilities are endless. 

 

Whether the scientific, philosophical, or artistic approach is the one for you, we recommend spending a little extra time on this essay. The unusual prompt makes it hard to ace on the first try.

Prompt 2, Option B

Many individuals, groups, and organizations enhance Barrett through their support (scholarship gifts, internship positions, alumni mentorship, etc.). As a student, given these external contributions to the honors college experience, what (if anything) would you owe to others? (300–500 words)

The vast majority of responses to this question come from students who do feel obliged to give back to the community out of gratitude. If you choose to respond to this prompt, be sure to explain your moral reasoning. Why do you feel it’s your duty to give back?

 

Make it clear just how you expect to benefit from the generosity of others, using specific examples whenever possible. You can find a handful of examples of alumni mentors on the Alumni Mentorship webpage. You can also find possible internships on the Internships webpage. Address how your aspirations can be met with the help of resources like these.

 

When you transition to talking about how you hope to give back, include ways you can serve the community both as an undergrad and after you graduate. Are there any clubs, volunteer activities, or student support initiatives you hope to join at Barrett?

 

Looking ahead, how will your professional pursuits put you in a position to help others? It’s okay to talk about support you will give to other members of society, not just the Barrett community.

 

Your essay should reflect kindness, thoughtfulness, and a vision for your future. You want your readers’ prevailing emotion after reading your essay to be excitement for who you are becoming and what your future holds.

 

Prompt 2, Option C

Author Bell Hooks says, “It’s in the act of having to do things that you don’t want to that you learn something about moving past the self. Past the ego.” Reflect on how this quote applies to a particular moment in your life. (300–500 words)

The secret to writing a great essay in response to this prompt is to focus on the positive aspects of a negative experience. If you spend too much of your essay describing the awful thing you had to do, the selection committee will write you off as pessimistic. Instead, focus on how the worst of circumstances actually made you a better person in the end. 

 

For example, maybe your parents pushed you to get a service industry job; you resisted at first since you thought you were overqualified, but you later learned to respect those in the service industry, as the work requires strong interpersonal skills and is physically demanding. Or, maybe your younger sibling insisted on joining you for your runs; you initially were annoyed, but it turned into a great way to bond. 

 

This essay has a narrative arc built into it—a beginning, middle, and end. Begin with a vivid description of the unpleasant task. How did it come into your life? What makes it unpleasant? Be sure to focus on difficulties of various kinds. Discuss what makes it undesirable not only in the moment, but also in terms of the constraints it puts on your time, emotional energy, or finances.

 

Once you have established how bad the task is, address how doing it has helped you look outside yourself. What about this activity makes you think about yourself less and others more? When did that shift occur? Be specific—describe the moment you realized you were changing.

 

From there, zoom out to focus on the bigger picture. In what ways has this shift in attitude altered the way that you view the initially unpleasant task? How will you live differently, now that you have experienced this transformation? Why is it important for people to look past themselves?

 

You can focus on one of these questions or address several. To finish strong, you’ll want to show that your insights are not limited to this one experience you have described. Demonstrate how you are forever changed as a result of doing something you did not want to do.

Prompt 2, Option D

Water. (300–500 words)

You can tell the prompt writers had fun coming up with this one. “Water” represents a huge challenge, since they have not given you many clues as to what they want out of this essay.

 

Despite the unorthodox prompt, the Honors College is still looking for the same basic features you would find in any good essay:

 

  • Write clear, coherent content
  • Demonstrate a capacity to think deeply
  • Be respectful
  • Show how you have grown and matured
  • Highlight your strengths

 

Depending on the direction you take this essay, your essay may have some of these characteristics more than others. The first three points are non-negotiable, while the remaining two appear in most—but not all—great essays.

 

Here are a few ideas for how to write an essay about water:

 

  • For water sport players, describe your relationship with your sport.
  • Talk about your memories that occurred in the rain.
  • For future marine biologists, explain why you love the study of life underwater.
  • Draw comparisons between the chemical nature of water and your own life.
  • Explore how the theme of the sea, as addressed in a book you read, spoke to you on a personal level.
  • Elaborate on a time you needed water, such as during practice or a marathon.
  • Discuss the shortage of clean water in developing countries, why this issue matters to you, and potential solutions.
  • Write an aquatic poem!

 

You should not feel limited by these prompt ideas—they are just the tip of the iceberg in terms of essay topics. A prompt this creative offers you an invitation to think outside the box when writing your response.

 

Prompt 3

React to the following: What do other generations misunderstand about yours? (300–500 words)

There are two potential pitfalls you can fall into when writing an answer to this prompt: being vague and sounding whiny. The question is broad, asking about trends at the generation level. However, your response needs to focus in on something specific and well-substantiated.

 

Spend a little time identifying what other generations misunderstand about yours. Don’t just go with your gut reaction, as many students are likely to pick whatever is popular, even if they don’t relate to the issue.

 

Once you have brainstormed an idea that you like, make sure you can think of two or three examples when this misunderstanding has taken place. They can be anecdotal or drawn from studies or readings.

 

Avoid general statements, such as “All baby boomers think young people are irresponsible.” Instead, build specific claims around the examples you have found. Here’s a better, more detailed way of stating the same claim with an example:

 

“‘Boys will be boys!’ my grandmother said when my brother was sent home for starting a fight in 7th grade. ‘Boys will be boys!’ again she said when he was caught with contraband at our summer camp. It was her favored refrain, delivered flippantly whenever my mother or I expressed concerns. Grandma accused us of being too cautious, as if his age and gender gave him blanket permission, even compelled him, to misbehave. My good grades, gentle voice, and respect for others were seen by her as an aberration, a discredit to my rough and wily gender. But perhaps I am being too hard on her—after all, Grandma will be Grandma.”

 

This example is good because it identifies a specific moment when another generation misunderstood something about the writer’s generation, specifically modern boyhood.

 

Don’t just leave it there with examples. Use them to unpack your ideas. The majority of this essay should be your original ideas. You want to give examples, but don’t let the examples overpower the essay.

 

Make sure you answer all these questions in the scope of your essay:

 

  • What do other generations misunderstand about yours?
  • Why don’t they understand correctly?
  • What way is there, if any, for other generations to better understand your own?

 

For Applicants to the School of Music

Describe your educational background, objectives and future career plans. Composition applicants should prepare an additional essay describing previous experience as a composer or arranger and the types of music (e.g., choral, jazz) composed. (300–500 words)

I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

I am text block. Click edit button to change this text. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo.

Want more college essay tips?

We'll send them straight to your inbox.


Short bio
Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work. Learn more about our consultants