How to Write the Oregon State University Essays 2019-2020

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Oregon State University is a public research institution in Corvallis, Oregon. OSU has more research funding than any other university in Oregon, and is known for its top programs in forestry, oceanography, and robotics. OSU is also home to the Oregon Agriculture Experiment Station and the Oregon Forest Research Laboratory. 

 

Oregon State University has 77% acceptance rate. Applicants can apply via the Common Application or an OSU-specific portal. OSU requires applicants Honors College applicants submit two supplemental essays in addition to their application. 

 

Required for Applicants to the Honors College

 

“It is failure that guides evolution; perfection provides no incentive for improvement, and nothing is perfect.” –Colson Whitehead, The Intuitionist (New York: Anchor Books, 1999), p. 38.

 

Whitehead invites us to think of failure as a positive influence because it drives progress. Perfection, on the other hand, does not exist, so there is always “incentive for improvement.” For example, there might be ways to improve cell phones, self-driving cars, social media, presidential elections, or the final season of Game of Thrones.

 

Identify something specific (not a person) that could be improved. Then, write an essay in 450-500 words in which you:

 

  1. Briefly outline its failures or limitations.
  1. Explore how those might guide its evolution.

 

Do not select yourself, a personal anecdote, or any of the above examples as the topic for your response. The best response will offer a unique and specific example that will stand out among the many essays the admissions committee will review.

The Honors College is a competitive program with a minimum 3.75 GPA or 1300 SAT score. The program offers honors-specific courses with small class sizes, access to a specialized living-learning community and learning center, and one-on-one faculty mentorship while preparing an honors thesis. 

 

This prompt seeks to assess your creativity and reasoning skills. Topic choice is crucial in effectively responding to this prompt. More specific topics will allow you to create effective and straightforward responses. Broad topics such as social media or cell phones will not be as effective as more specific topics like the iPhone 11 or Instagram. That said, you can’t select even more specific topics under the umbrella of “cell phones” and “social media” because the prompt explicitly states that you should not select any topics named above.

 

So, what should you pick then? While this prompt is not intended to evoke any personal anecdotes (again, the instructions explicitly tell you to avoid telling personal stories), you should think about things in your life that need improving. You want to still share some aspect of who you are and what matters to you in this essay. If you pick something you have direct experience with, you’ve also likely thought harder about ways it can be improved, which will make a stronger essay. 

 

For example, maybe you’re a runner and environmentalist, and you’ve thought a lot about how road races can reduce the amount of single-use waste they generate from paper cups. Or, maybe you’re a coder, and want to improve the user experience of the app that your school uses for grades, news, and communication with teachers. 

 

Once you have identified your topic, begin to outline its failures or limitations. Go beyond the limitations that anyone could easily acknowledge. However, make sure that your failure or limitation is something that can be addressed. Your solution should be something that can be feasibly implemented in the future.

 

For example, although you could say that traffic is especially bad on a road near your school, you shouldn’t suggest an outlandish solution such as flying cars. Stick with practical fixes, like adding a specific turn lane, or building a bike path to encourage students to bike. That’s not to say that you can’t be inventive or creative! Your solution should just be implementable immediately, without extra years of research to develop whatever you suggest.

 

Your failure or limitation should also be something that would substantially impact the general experience, and not something frivolous. For example, you may think that an app you use would look better in a different color scheme, but this improvement wouldn’t be substantial enough to meaningfully expand into a full essay. 

 

Once you have determined your topic’s failure or limitation, you should explain how the limitations will guide innovation. What will future iterations of your topic look like? How will future designs address these problems and create a stronger product or experience? Could any different issues arise out of these innovations?

 

As long as you carefully outline the implementable steps you would take, and show a strong ability to analyze and plan in your proposal, your essay should be strong.

 

Please select up to three extracurricular activities, leadership positions, jobs, or awards that have had the most significant impact on you and/or your community – rather than just listing your choices, please describe why your participation in them is important to you and/or your community. Please limit each description to 100 words or less. 

This prompt asks you to describe your non-academic activities that have had the most significant impact on you. Although it is tempting to choose your most objectively impressive activities, you should select the activities that have the most meaning to you and whose meaning you can easily articulate.

 

Consider which activities have the most meaning to you. Do you feel fulfilled every time you tutor elementary school kids with the Key Club? Does your role as President of the Drama Club allow you to develop your leadership skills? Did your efforts during the Thanksgiving Food Drive help feed 500 hungry families in the local community? 

 

Once you have decided on three activities or awards, begin to clearly articulate your role and why the experience is meaningful to you. You should clearly explain each activity and its impact on your life or your community.

 

For example, instead of saying that you find tutoring elementary school students to be fulfilling, explain that you find watching the students’ writing and math skills grow deeply meaningful. Instead of saying that your food drive feeds local families, describe that you received over 500 cans of food that when to fifty hungry families in your community. 

 

Although you can select up to three activities, you should make sure you have enough space in your piece to fully address each of them. It is better to have two thoughtful, well-reasoned examples than three vague examples. 

 

If there are additional circumstances that should be known to the selection committee but have not been shared in another section of this application, please explain briefly in your own words. (250 words)

This prompt broadly asks if you would like to share any personal information not otherwise addressed in your application materials. Use this space as an opportunity to explain aspects of your personal identity or background that would not otherwise be readily apparent. Topics can range from academic performance difficulties to financial hardship. Maybe you suffered from a concussion in your sophomore year, and your grades dropped because you had trouble focusing. Or, maybe you couldn’t participate in as many extracurriculars because your parents both worked two minimum wage jobs, and you had to take care of your younger siblings. 

 

Your circumstances should be important enough to warrant the consideration of the committee. While there is no right answer to the prompt, avoid superficial topics such as your interests in airplanes or bickering with your sibling. You can skip this prompt if you do not have an exceptional circumstances, as it will not adversely impact your application. In contrast, writing a frivolous response could negatively impact the admissions committee. 

 

Although the other two essay topics leave room for creativity, your response to this question should be concise and direct. Avoid extensive detail or metaphors as the prompt asks you to be brief. Simply explain your circumstance and why you believe it is relevant to your application.

 

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