How to Write the Clemson University Essays 2020-2021

Academics and activism combine at Clemson, one of South Carolina’s top universities. Founded in 1889, Clemson University is passionate about building a robust student body that’s dedicated to serving the larger community. Students have the opportunity to work with volunteer organizations like the Women’s Leadership Council and the Giving Tree Project. And with 80 undergraduate majors and hundreds of student clubs and organizations, there’s plenty to do both in and out of the classroom. As a bonus, more than 92% of Clemson seniors say they would choose this school all over again. 


Clemson, which is ranked #70 by US News, has a general acceptance rate of 47%. Its Calhoun Honors College accepts just under 10% of applicants. The Honors College offers its students specialized coursework with Clemson’s top professors, opportunities for independent research, exciting study abroad programs, access to the Honors Academic Activities Center, and much more! 


Want to know your chances at Clemson? Calculate your chances for free right now.


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


Calhoun Honors College Supplemental Essay Prompts


While the standard application to Clemson University does not have applicants write supplemental essays, the Honors College does. The Honors College application is separate from Common App. Let’s take a look at the essay prompts.


The essays constitute a critical part of your Honors College application. Thoughtfully and originally responding to the following essays will provide the selection committee key insights into your accomplishments, intellectual curiosity, and vision.


Prompt 1: Tell us ─ as best you can at this point ─ about your academic and professional goals. What experiences, talents, accomplishments, and/or personal qualities make you think you’d be happy and successful in the Honors College and in your future career? (500 words or fewer)


Prompt 2: What is something you thought you knew that you turned out to be wrong about? Why was this realization important? (500 words or fewer)


Prompt 3: Please use this space to share any special circumstances affecting your application that warrant consideration by the selection committee. (250 words or fewer)

Honors Applicants, Prompt 1 (required)

Tell us ─ as best you can at this point ─ about your academic and professional goals. What experiences, talents, accomplishments, and/or personal qualities make you think you’d be happy and successful in the Honors College and in your future career? (500 words or fewer)

This prompt is asking you about your life direction so far and how the Honors College could fit into it. You’ll want to approach the essay as a classic “Why This Major?” essay while focusing more heavily on explaining your future career goals. 


For your first paragraph, tell the story of how you came to develop the academic and professional goals you have today while linking the two together. For example, if your academic goal is to study marine biology and your professional one is to break into the aquaculture industry to make it more eco-friendly, you could introduce your essay with a personal anecdote. The start of such an essay could look like this:


“I first became interested in fish while watching tiny fries swim around in a small pond right outside the school playground. It was a ritual for my friends and I to visit the ‘PokéPond,’ observe how the fish were growing, and try feeding them on occasion. That all changed when the school groundskeepers accidentally tipped over a bag of fertilizer into the pond, and the fish were no more. 


After seeing the effects of pollution on the puddle, I became interested in the fish I had nostalgia for in a more scientific way. I read books on ichthyology and asked myself how I could recreate the PokéPond and its fries. I learned that aquaculture was the solution, and eventually came to dream of starting a sustainable and efficient aquafarm as my future career. 


To make my idea a reality, I will need to develop an in-depth understanding of osmosis and fish gills to take care of practical matters such as sanitizing fish tanks. That is where the Calhoun Honors College, with its innovative learning and individualized research opportunities, comes in.”


Start the second paragraph with a sentence that ties your academic and professional goals to the Honors College ─ something akin to the following statement would do the trick: 


“The Calhoun Honors College offers unparalleled resources, such as the EUREKA! 2.0 research program and Educational Enrichment Travel Grants, which would allow me to explore my passion for marine biology in new depth and take my aquaculture career to new heights.”


Continue down this vein to fully explain how the Honors College is the right fit for you. Specific details are crucial ─ take a look at the Honors College website and find programs and opportunities that would enhance your existing talents, accomplishments, personal qualities. Explain how you know that these programs are ideal for you because of your previous life experiences, e.g. studying fish in the puddle with your own microscope taught you the value of experiential learning, a goal which the Calhoun Honors College also holds dear. Avoid making this paragraph a laundry list ─ after you mention any resource at the Honors College, show how it would benefit you personally more than an equivalent resource at another university. 


Remember the wording of the prompt as you write ─ Clemson wants to know how you would be happy and successful at the Honors College and the future career it can open up to you. A good way to wrap up the essay would be to write a third paragraph about what success and happiness mean to you, and how the Honors College could help you achieve both. Start off this part with your definitions, and be sure to define success and happiness as something larger than yourself. For example, success could mean reducing pollution from aquafarms, while happiness could mean satiating your intellectual curiosity in an environment of diverse individuals. Explain how the Honors College, with its shared values of X and unique educational opportunities of Y, would allow you to achieve your version of happiness and success.

Honors Applicants, Prompt 2 (required)

What is something you thought you knew that you turned out to be wrong about? Why was this realization important? (500 words or fewer)

This essay is all about telling a story and taking the admissions readers through your thoughts. A quirky or unique and serious subject that has a philosophical lesson would be ideal ─ for example, the story of how you thought you knew that you could dig to the center of the Earth as a child, but quickly hit rock as you were digging and realized the importance of learning by doing. 


Begin the essay by explaining how you came to know your chosen piece of knowledge. Why were you confident that it was correct? In a new paragraph, explain how you realized that you were wrong and what feelings the realization came with. If you felt embarrassed or defensive, doubling down on your original ideas as you were proven wrong, describe how you finally gained the courage and humility to admit to your mistake. Though other people may have been instrumental in helping you see things in a different way, focus mostly on your internal thoughts and feelings rather than heated debates. 


Conclude with the realization of how being wrong was important not only for yourself, but for humanity. Ask yourself what lesson your story could teach others. For example, a student entrepreneur who started a single wheel skateboard company could write the following essay about learning the value of making bold change:


At that moment, as I walked out of the office, I threw my hands in the air. I had realized that I was wrong ─ not rocking the boat is not the way to live life ─ and I had raised my first round of angel investment for OneBlades as a result. My realization was so much bigger than myself. My example proved not only myself wrong, but all of the doubters in my life and all of the people in my shoes who doubt themselves everyday. I can now say that we must rock the boat, and rock it until it capsizes. Only then can we build something bigger.

Honors Applicants, Prompt 3 (optional)

Please use this space to share any special circumstances affecting your application that warrant consideration by the selection committee. (250 words or fewer)

Unlike for the other essays, we recommend answering this question directly and matter-of-factly rather than with an anecdote. Be sure to explain your circumstance in as much detail as needed, plus the subtle and obvious ways in which it affected you. Unlike other essays, there’s no need to take up the entire word count if not necessary.


This essay is truly optional in that not answering it will not show a lack of motivation on your part ─ the prompt exists for explaining circumstances outside of your control that affected your personal, academic, and professional development. Some of the circumstances that would fall into this category would be the following:


  • Since both of your parents had to work, you spent much of your time outside the classroom caring for your younger siblings instead of doing extracurricular activities
  • One of your family members had a long battle with cancer, and you spent lots of mental energy worrying about them
  • Your mental health suffered after a traumatic experience, and that caused your grades to fall
  • You were diagnosed with ADHD at 16
  • As a low-income student, preparing for the SAT was a challenge


If you did not have an unavoidable experience that came crashing into your life during your high school career, it would be best to not answer this prompt. You can provide additional details about your academics and extracurricular activities in other sections of the Calhoun Honors College application, as the application gives ample room to describe them. 


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