How to Write the Brigham Young University Essays 2020-2021

Founded in 1875, Brigham Young University is a private University in Provo, Utah, and is the flagship school of the BYU system. Established with the intention of educating members of the Church of Latter Day Saints and preparing them for success, BYU Provo tends to draw many applicants from religious backgrounds.

 

In fact, 99% percent of the student population identifies as Mormon, demonstrating the strong influence of religion on this campus. Religion permeates most aspects of BYU life, from academics to day-to-day life; the latter is expected to follow the guidelines listed in BYU’s LDS-inspired Honor Code.

 

However, despite the influence of religion on this campus, you do not necessarily need to be a member of the LDS church to attend BYU. Potential applicants only need to be endorsed by an ecclesiastical leader in order to be eligible for admission.

 

With an undergraduate population of 30,745, BYU Provo also has the distinction of being the nation’s largest religious university. Although it attracts students from across the country and beyond, it tends to be particularly attractive to in-state students; approximately one-third of the student population at the university hails from Utah.

 

In addition to cultivating a rich religious identity, the school also stresses other Aims of a BYU Education. Before applying and writing supplemental essays, students should read these thoroughly to get a better idea of what the school is looking for. If you wish for anecdotal explanations of these aims, BYU’s enrollment services have a page dedicated to helpful speeches and articles that can serve as inspiration during your application process. 

 

If you’re considering applying to “The Y” and want to know how to effectively answer the supplemental essays, read on to learn how to make your application stand out from the pile. Want to know your chances at BYU? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Want to learn what BYU will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering BYU needs to know.

 

BYU Supplemental Essay Prompts

Prompt 1: Describe a topic, idea, or experience that you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. What have you done to learn more or engage further in the topic, idea or experience? What resources do you use to learn more? (2000 characters)

 

Prompt 2: Have you become aware of significant needs in your family, school, and/or community? Please explain how you have worked toward meeting those needs. (2000 characters)

 

Prompt 3: Briefly describe a time that your efforts have fallen short, a goal was not accomplished, or an aspiration was not achieved. (500 characters)

 

Prompt 4: What steps did you take to recover from this defeat? What resources did you use? How and why are you different today? (2000 characters)

 

Prompt 5: We strive to create a rich and varied educational environment through admitting students with a wide range of:

Goals

Interests

Skills and talents

Life experiences

Perspectives

Cultures

Tell us your story. What will you contribute to our university community? Be specific. (2000 characters)

 

Prompt 6: Thoughtfully consider the extracurricular activities you have been involved in and select two to write about. Enter your first activity below and the second activity on the following page.

 

Select an activity you would like to write about:

 

Please provide a short description of the specific activity: (300 characters)

How long have you participated in this activity?

 

Why did you choose to participate in this activity? How have you benefited from your participation? (1500 characters)

Prompt 1

Describe a topic, idea, or experience that you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. What have you done to learn more or engage further in the topic, idea or experience? What resources do you use to learn more? (2000 characters)

This essay prompt is designed to gauge your love of learning and genuine interest in scholarship. One of BYU’s Aims is Intellectually Enlarging, meaning the school is looking for people who have a desire to learn and who seek out answers to questions beyond what is required or mandated by school or work. It is an opportunity for admissions officers to learn something about you that isn’t conveyed or fully developed on other parts of your application. 

 

Potential examples of topics might include:

 

  • A scientific concept that blows your mind
  • A type of media you enjoy consuming
  • A unique hobby or skill you taught yourself
  • A favorite sport you can play for hours 

 

Your topic can be literally anything—as long as you can write about it with an academic tone. Just avoid overly casual topics or language as these will not illuminate your personality in the most flattering light. For example, an applicant that writes about bingeing Netflix shows has a much weaker essay than one that couches their Netflix addiction as a side effect of their love of screenwriting. 

 

When determining your topic, make sure to delve deep and choose something that is specific enough to differentiate your essay from others’. For example, instead of writing about a generic academic subject, choose a concept or theory that resonates with you the most. Here is an excerpt of a response that achieves this:

 

“Ever since I can remember, math has given me severe test anxiety. From the timed multiplication sheets in second grade to geometry proofs, crunching numbers was bound to give me the spins—or at the least, an unpleasant headache. I was convinced that my rocky relationship with math was permanent and that I was doomed to struggle with the subject for the rest of my academic career; that is, until a late-night YouTube binge led me to discover the Fibonacci sequence. I found that the simple act of adding consecutive numbers while envisioning a spiral keeps me grounded and helps me time my breathing. Recounting this sequence has helped me ground myself during exams when my thoughts get too out of control.” 

 

From here, the student can go multiple directions with their response. They can explore how the Fibonnaci sequence has helped them navigate other academic subjects or anxiety-inducing situations. Or, they can talk about how learning how to identify the sequence in nature has allowed them to gain a deeper appreciation of the vibrant foliage on their favorite hiking trail. 

 

The next portion of the prompt asks how you have advanced your understanding of the topic on your own and what resources have helped you do so. Avoid mentioning school-mandated resources like classes or required readings; rather, mention ways that you have explored the topic outside of any structured obligation. Have you checked out library books on the subject? Do you dive into Reddit subthreads or fashion YouTube playlists to learn more? Is there an organization or community you founded or joined to help you gain knowledge? Here, it is important to keep up reader engagement by showing, rather than telling, how you sought out additional resources. 

 

Another key element of your response is a future-facing component. One of BYU’s Aims stresses Lifelong Learning and Service; you should try to incorporate this sentiment in the last couple lines of your response. This will give admissions officers an idea of how you plan to continue exploring this topic in the future, or sharing your love of it with others. Going off of the previous example, a fitting conclusion might go like this: 

 

The Fibonacci sequence has allowed me to think differently and observe my surroundings in a new light. I can see myself using it during my time at BYU, and exchanging test-taking techniques from my peers as we study for midterms and finals together.”

 

However you choose to relay your topic, make sure to maintain a narrative-like quality and include specific, descriptive details. The point is to make your essay so unique that no one else could write it. The more well-thought-out and engaging your essay is, the more likely it is to resonate with admissions officers.

Prompt 2

Have you become aware of significant needs in your family, school, and/or community? Please explain how you have worked toward meeting those needs. (2000 characters)

This prompt asks you to recount your participation in community service. One of BYU’s Aims is Lifelong Service, so it might help to read their website’s breakdown of what it means to their school before you start writing. 

 

To brainstorm for this essay, think about times where you’ve addressed needs for others. This could be anything from babysitting your younger siblings while your parents work full-time to making blankets for dogs at your local animal shelter. Try to make your topic something that isn’t necessarily apparent from the rest of your application. If you choose an organization already listed out in your extracurriculars, make sure to focus on a specific instance rather than generalizing your role. Here are two examples of potential responses to this prompt: 

 

Weak: “As a Girl Scout, I have participated in multiple community service projects in my community. I have baked cookies for the elderly, written letters to soldiers overseas, and helped make blankets for my local animal shelter. I organized and executed these activities because community service is important to me.”

 

Strong: “At lunch, some kids played soccer. Others texted or played iPhone games. I made blankets. For my Girl Scout Gold Award, I decided to target a community near and dear to my heart: the animal shelter. As a weekly volunteer, I saw how many of the dogs had nothing in their concrete kennels and I vowed to change that. I created a school-wide fundraiser to raise money for supplies and spent my Saturday mornings shopping in our downtown textile district. During our lunch period, a few volunteers and I would make no-sew blankets and toys out of various fabrics.”

 

The first response states the author’s contributions in a straightforward manner that does not convey exactly what efforts they put into improving their community. The overall general descriptions do little to set them apart from other applicants. Meanwhile, the second essay takes readers through specific actions that the author took towards their goal. It is more vivid and immersive in nature, which allows admissions officers to get a better idea of the student’s personality. The first response tells admissions officers that the student is dedicated, while the second shows them through specific details. 

Prompts 3 and 4

Briefly describe a time that your efforts have fallen short, a goal was not accomplished, or an aspiration was not achieved. (500 characters)

 

What steps did you take to recover from this defeat? What resources did you use? How and why are you different today? (2000 characters)

These next two prompts go together; here, admissions officers want to see how you deal with adversity. When choosing a topic, try not to pick something overdone like a poor grade or losing a sports game. Instead, write about something that is unique to you. 

 

For the first prompt, you need to establish the context of the defeat. Talk about the instance and the way it made you feel. Use an active voice and vivid details to give it an anecdote-like quality. 

 

For example, someone who was training for a half marathon might not have achieved their personal record time despite training daily for 4 months. 

 

Another student might not have been accepted into a pre-medical program that would have helped them gain field experience and choose a career path. 

 

The next prompt will contain the majority of your response. Think about how you moved past the failure, and what specific steps you took to ameliorate the situation. Show admissions officers how you felt by taking them through your thought process; this added vulnerability will make your essay more personable. 

 

Writing about frustration, anger, or sadness is valid, but make sure you do so in a way that isn’t overly victimizing or putting down others. It is important to keep your tone professional while conveying these feelings in order to make your essay resonate the most strongly.

 

After writing your reaction, walk readers through the steps you took to recover from the failure. The prompt asks you multiple questions: how you recovered, resources you used, and how and why you are different. You should touch on all of these but it is okay if within the limited response you don’t elaborate on all of these. Keep these questions in the back of your mind while writing the prompt, but don’t answer them sequentially; rather, phrase your answer like a narrative for the most ideal flow and compelling response. Keep your response forward-facing and focus on what you did to fix the situation instead of dwelling on the failure; this will show your character to admissions officers.

 

The applicant who was training for a marathon might talk about how they reframed their mentality to revolve around how they felt while running rather than breaking their personal records. They can describe mixing up their training regimen and changing their diet to make running a more pleasurable experience, rather than a competitive one.

 

An essay about being rejected from a pre-medical program might have made the author question their desire to be a doctor. However, by compiling their own resources and seeking out volunteer experience, they learned that they are willing to put in the work to pursue the field, which has underscored their desire to become a medical professional.

 

By describing the steps you took to work around the failure in a narrative-like manner, you can create a compelling essay that demonstrates your character to admissions officers. 

Prompt 5

We strive to create a rich and varied educational environment through admitting students with a wide range of:

Goals

Interests

Skills and talents

Life experiences

Perspectives

Cultures

Tell us your story. What will you contribute to our university community? Be specific. (2000 characters)

BYU wants to know what sets you apart from other students. This is an opportunity for you to mention something that is not mentioned elsewhere on your application. Think about your various identities and the unique ways they intersect. This topic might seem overly broad, but just think of it as there being no wrong answer. As long as your essay remains academic in tone, you can craft a masterful narrative about anything.

 

Avoid mentioning clichés or being redundant on your application. For example if you have already discussed your career interest in another essay, make this essay about something completely different. Also, avoid being too general with your topic. For example, instead of mentioning the culture you are a part of in a holistic manner, name a couple specific traditions that you enjoy participating in and elaborate on those.

 

If you need inspiration or a starting off point, read over the school’s Aims and look at the website with example essays. Doing so may jog your memory or provide you with a better idea of what kind of candidate the school is looking for. A good check to see whether you have selected a good topic is to take a step back and think if anyone else could have written your essay. If the answer is no, you’re in good shape! If the answer is yes, make your topic even more personal and specific.

Prompt 6

Thoughtfully consider the extracurricular activities you have been involved in and select two to write about. Enter your first activity below and the second activity on the following page.

Select an activity you would like to write about:

 

Please provide a short description of the specific activity: (300 characters)

How long have you participated in this activity?

 

Why did you choose to participate in this activity? How have you benefited from your participation? (1500 characters)

These next prompts go together and allow you to elaborate on your current extracurricular activities. This is an opportunity for you to expand upon your application and give some of your activities more than a simple description. While your short description and how long you’ve participated in this activity should be relatively straightforward, answering why you chose to participate in it and how you have benefited should take on a more narrative-like quality.

 

Here is an example of a potential response.:

 

“Donate Life is a club dedicated to raising awareness about organ donation and transplants. I have participated in this club for four years, first as an active member and then as a board member, and eventually, President. However, my connection to organ donation goes farther back than high school. When I was thirteen, my cousin was able to receive a heart transplant from someone who had recently passed in a car accident. Seeing her recovery inspired me to make this opportunity available for more people. In this club, I hold weekly lunch seminars during which students can learn more about how they can contribute to the movement. We participate in marathons and other nonprofit events to get the word out and to encourage people to sign up to donate their organs. This past summer, we were able to get over 5,000 signatures pledging to sign up for organ donation in the event of the person’s passing. My Donate Life family and my real family experiences have shown me the importance of being an active community member who pushes for positive change and encourages others to do the same.”

 

Whatever you choose to write about, make sure that your voice shines through and that you list your specific contributions by mentioning the work you did in a tangible manner. 

 

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