How to Write the Oregon State University Essays 2020-2021

Oregon State University is a public research institution located in the bucolic city of Corvallis, Oregon, in the midst of mountains, rivers, and forested streets. Like the beaver on OSU’s crest, OSU students prioritize hands-on solutions and learning: OSU receives more research funding than any other university in Oregon, and is esteemed for its top programs in forestry, oceanography, and robotics. OSU is also home to the Oregon Agricultural Experiment Station and the Oregon Forest Research Laboratory. 

 

Oregon State University has 77% acceptance rate. The middle 50% ACT range is 22-28, as of 2019. Applicants can apply via the Common Application or an OSU-specific portal. OSU requires applicants Honors College applicants submit six supplemental essays in addition to their application. 

 

So get ready to sink your beaver teeth into the quick of these supplemental essays! In this guide, we’ll walk you through how to tackle each and every one of Oregon State’s supplements so that your Honors application will shine!

 

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

 

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

 

Required for Applicants to the Honors College

Prompt 1: “I try to show what it is about language and music that enthralls, because I think those are the two elements of poetry.” – Rita Dove

 

Drawing insights from the connection of multiple subjects or perspectives is the basis of interdisciplinary thinking, a central part of the Honors College curriculum. In the quote above, the poet Rita Dove observes that poetry gets its particular power from the combination of language and music. Choose something that is important to you, identify two of its components, characteristics, features, or attributes, and write an essay in which you examine how the two parts work together to make an outcome that is uniquely meaningful or important.

 

Be creative with this! “Something” can be anything – you can choose an academic subject, concept, activity, or a passion of yours. Successful responses will offer a unique and specific perspective that will stand out among the many essays the admissions committee will review (450-500 words)

 

Prompt 2: List any college credits you have completed. Include grades if applicable. (800 words)

 

Prompt 3: Knowledge in a field/creativity: Describe any special interests and how you have developed knowledge in these areas. Give examples of your creativity- the ability to see alternatives; take diverse perspectives; come up with many, varied, or original ideas; or willingness to try new things. (100 words)

 

Prompt 4: Dealing with adversity: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to address this challenge. Include whether you turned to anyone in facing the challenge, the role the person played, and what you learned about yourself. (100 words)

 

Prompt 5: Handling systemic challenges: OSU remains committed to creating an inclusive environment and dismantling systems that perpetuate discrimination at various levels. How, specifically, will you contribute to furthering this commitment? (100 words)

 

Prompt 6: Goals/task commitment: Articulate the goals you have established for yourself and your efforts to accomplish these. Give at least one specific example that demonstrates your work ethic/diligence. (100 words)

Honors College, Prompt 1

“I try to show what it is about language and music that enthralls, because I think those are the two elements of poetry.” – Rita Dove

 

Drawing insights from the connection of multiple subjects or perspectives is the basis of interdisciplinary thinking, a central part of the Honors College curriculum. In the quote above, the poet Rita Dove observes that poetry gets its particular power from the combination of language and music. Choose something that is important to you, identify two of its components, characteristics, features, or attributes, and write an essay in which you examine how the two parts work together to make an outcome that is uniquely meaningful or important.

 

Be creative with this! “Something” can be anything – you can choose an academic subject, concept, activity, or a passion of yours. Successful responses will offer a unique and specific perspective that will stand out among the many essays the admissions committee will review (450-500 words)

As specifically stated at the end of the prompt, this essay is not a personal narrative: it is a response to the question of “interdisciplinary thinking,” so your focus should be on your subject matter. 

 

Who was Rita Dove? Dove is a world-renowned poet and former Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress. OSU commended her with the Stone Award for literary achievement in 2016. Let’s look at her quote one more time: “I try to show what it is about language and music that enthralls, because I think those are the two elements of poetry.”

 

Here, Dove chose to explore the art of poetry, her personal specialty and passion, through two other disciplines: language and music. Thus, we arrive at your task: to write an essay about “something” and identify two of its components. The equation is A + B = C, but the ingredients should be surprising. OSU is essentially asking you to come up with your own version of “How is a raven like a writing desk?” The more random and incompatible you make the components A and B, the more likely you are to have a striking and memorable solution (C).

 

A successful essay will:

 

  1. Identify and present your “something” in a nuanced and intricate way.
  2. Dissect the nuances of two of its components, showing their interdisciplinary nature and how they contribute holistically to the “something.”
  3. Reveal an outcome that is “uniquely meaningful and important.”

 

Let’s begin!

 

1. Identify and present your “something” in a nuanced and intricate way 

 

Dove is a master of her craft. But this fact should not intimidate you – it should inspire! Dove is a master of poetry; what are you a master of? If an idea is not immediately coming to mind, don’t fret. Ask yourself the following questions:

 

  • What odd thing could I talk extensively about?

 

Your expertise should be unique. This can be anything from multivariable calculus to crocheting. Start drafting a list of anything that comes to mind. Can you make the best chocolate chip cookies you have ever had? Solve a Rubix Cube in under a minute? Are you a photojournalist?

 

  • What unique talents do I have?

 

The key word is Some fascinating essays come from the smallest, most unique parts of ourselves. Are you a gymnast?  Are you a physics whiz? Dig deep!

 

Once you have asked yourself those questions, narrow your list down until you choose the most memorable and unique expertise. That should be your “something.”

 

Now, you have to present it in an engaging way. Because the prompt specifically explicates to stay away from personal stories, you might want to not start with an anecdote. Ways to possibly start the essay include: a brief history of your interest in the subject; a problem that you have faced with this expertise; your favorite thing about your “something,” etc. Here’s an example:

 

I struggle to understand things I cannot see—the insolubility of immunoglobulins below a certain temperature, the tiny movements of electrons, the division of a cell. Although I’m a lifetime science enthusiast, it’s hard for me to visualize things that happen at a sub-microscopic level. In 9th grade, I lost my intellectual curiosity for science, because I was exhausted from rote memorization and opaque concepts. I missed my childhood experiments with magnetism, combustion, and projectiles. 

 

This all changed when I began to study physics.

 

Thermodynamics is the branch of physics that deals with energy, temperature, heat and work. I was asked to calculate the coefficient of friction on a car tire—something I had seen and could understand. I could picture an apple falling from a building and could calculate the trajectory of a thrown football. 

 

Here, we describe the “C” of the equation. What is this essay going to be about? Physics. You draw the reader in with a hook (“I struggle to understand things I cannot see….”). You can create a sense of conflict (no longer curious about science as you once were). Finally, you should create a setup for your “A” and “B” components. 

 

2. Dissect two of its components, showing their interdisciplinarity and how they contribute holistically to the “something”

 

Now that you have identified your “something,” you need to break it down into two distinct and unique parts. These parts should be specific, and, ideally, unexpected. Think back to Dove’s A + B = C quote: while “language” (A) seems like a logical component of “poetry” (C) Dove’s inclusion of “music” (B) is a bit more unexpected.

 

For example, given the physics example from above, you might use the formula A + B = C in the following manner. 

 

A = Mathematics. This is somewhat expected for physics. Perhaps you are fascinated by the reliability of formulas, or the satisfaction of getting the correct answer. The mathematical concepts reveal larger universal truths, and represent monumental discoveries. 

 

B= Imagination. This is the more unexpected component. Thermodynamics involves intense visualization. You can picture a car skidding around a banked curve. You can see the spiral of the football’s projectile. Thermodynamics involves drawing and directional force, which takes an intense imagination. 

 

C= Thermodynamics or Physics. 

 

This is just one example. Talking about swimming? Maybe that’s the perfect combination of physics and discipline. Talking about baking? Maybe that’s the perfect combination of science and improvisation. Even academic subjects should have two different, distinct parts. Mathematics? Structure and art. Ecology? Curiosity and kindness.

 

You should ensure that you have distinct points for each discipline. They should be different enough that there is zero, or little, overlap between them. Try to choose something that is not obvious—that provokes conversation and makes you a memorable applicant.

 

Here’s another example:

 

Daunted with the possibility of a white canvas, I know I can always rely on two ideas when I am stuck. Optical art, after all, is an amalgamation of mathematics and innovation.

 

When I was younger, I was fascinated by the geometry and mathematical concepts that occur naturally within nature. I would study the hexagonal outline of honeycombs, the concentric spread of tree rings, and the triangularity of palm leaves. When I am stuck—unable to choose what direction to take a work of art— I consider first, the shapes. What lines am I using? I look for parallelism and lines, scanning my piece for right angles or swirling parabolas. How is shape contributing to this piece?

 

But true art requires not just maths, but innovation. When I begin a work of art,, I am reminded of T.S. Eliot’s famous line from “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock:” “Do I dare disturb the universe?” As an artist, I must not just copy the universe – I must disturb it. I plan out my piece of art on several pieces of paper beforehand, trying to find the most innovative ways to communicate—whether that is through perspective, color, composition, or medium. I study the work of artists like Manami Sasaki, who creates stunning work out of toast. I am always looking to push the envelope and to expand boundaries.

 

Here, we have relied on the trustworthy A + B = C formula presented in the prompt. We start with an engaging hook to introduce “C”– a visual of a white canvas to represent art. Then, we present the two ideas: innovation (A: somewhat expected) and mathematics (B: somewhat unexpected). 

 

3. Reveal an outcome that is “uniquely meaningful and important”

 

Finally, what does your something accomplish? A great college essay will always “zoom out” to consider a larger societal picture, bigger problems, or how one’s subject is important for the world at large. For Dove, poems have motivated some of the greatest thinkers, have started revolutions, and have inspired creativity. What does your “something” (C) accomplish on a wider scale? Take care to also mention how each of its A + B components contribute to that.

 

For example, take an applicant who’s combining history (A) with communication (B) to get her result – baking (C). She can talk about how baking enables intergenerational encouragement to everyone, no matter their background. For example: 

 

 In the kitchen, I’m often greeted with a condescending smile or pat on the shoulder. “That is so cute that you bake cookies!” they’ll say, unknowingly.

 

“This cookie is a piece of history that you will never understand,” I want to tell them. I think of my great grandmother, painstakingly writing out her recipe on an index card with immaculate cursive. I think of the generations of women who have traced her spindly handwriting, eager to follow the next step. I think of my mother and her mother, and my grandmother and her mother—of the sheer power and strength of the women in my family.

 

“This cookie is my own,” I want to tell them. I want to tell them of the alterations I have made over the years, the trials of shortening the baking time, the addition of caramel, the introduction of sea salt and pretzel.

 

But I don’t tell them either of these things. I watch as they take their first bite. Their furrowed brow relaxes. Their posture shifts: closed to open. And a smile begins to creep across their face, perhaps the first one in a while. I am reminded of the picture book, The Gardener, I used to read with my mother in bed when I am younger, about the Great Depression.

 

“A cake is worth a thousand smiles.”

 

A cookie may seem like a small achievement, but it carries a huge cultural story. Generations of watching others smile. Generations of following and breaking (baking) rules, and not getting caught. Small success? Well. maybe. But in my opinion, the smallest victories always taste the sweetest.

 

Concluding with an outcome that is “uniquely meaningful and important” can be difficult–as you run the risk of sounding trite or cliche. Here, we reintegrate A and B to prove our thesis. Baking is an act of historicization, that is often unseeable or unnoticed. Baking is also a testament to trial and error. While both of these things are personally important, the real positive outcome is the joy it sparks in other people, however small. 

 

Honors College, Prompt 2

List any college credits you have completed. Include grades if applicable. (800 words)

While a standard question, this essay has a surprisingly large word limit. If you have taken college credits, this is an opportunity to share more about the course(s), give a brief description, and address any successes or areas for growth.

 

Because you have so many words to work with, it’s advisable to share a narrative perspective of how you engaged with this college class – which is a huge undertaking. Fully flesh out what your experience was like, and how it influenced you as a scholar.

 

“This year, I was invited to take Introduction to Physics at the University of Connecticut (UConn) in Storrs. The class was a quantitative study of the basic facts and principles of physics with a particular emphasis on electromagnetic phenomena, including electromagnetic radiation and waves and electric circuits.”

 

Articulate why you sought out the college course, opposed to any comparable high school courses. This can involve any future goals you wanted to achieve, or how you wanted to get ahead on a college major. 

 

“There were some fundamental differences in the curriculum between my high school and the university. The course at UConn, for example, had a laboratory component, which offered me more fundamental training in a research setting and the scientific method. Electromagnetics, furthermore, has been an enduring interest of mine, and I wanted to spend a few months on it, rather than the few weeks we would have taken in AP Physics.” 

 

As the prompt asks about grades, feel free to talk about any challenges you faced. A lower grade in a college course isn’t anything to be ashamed of, and it may allow you to discuss how you dealt with a steep learning curve. 

 

“Mathematically, I was behind all the other students in the class. While I understood the physics concepts, I often had not learned the math to help prove them. This was my biggest challenge in the class and was, quite frankly, a very steep learning curve. The first few tests, I floundered; however, I met with the Calculus teacher at my high school and received extra help in the morning. I raised my grade drastically, and am on track for my second semester.

 

As my transcript reflects, this course was my lowest grade. As a perfectionist, I found earning a “B –” in this class extremely frustrating. But now, I am thankful for the opportunity this class has provided. While I do not want to study physics at university, I am proud that I allowed myself to be challenged. The skills of perseverance and the ability to ask for help academically are well worth the small inconsistency on my transcript.”

 

This is a good response because it: 

 

1. Concisely presents the course and its curriculum. What was the class and what did it cover? 

 

2. Explicates your interest in seeking a college-level education. What was your reasoning for taking this course? Did it follow a specific interest of yours? Provide a significantly larger challenge academically? 

 

3. Elucidates Your Challenges. How was your academic performance in this class? What were some major challenges that you faced? This section can address your grade. It is important to not make excuses for yourself, only to present the obstacles you faced. 

 

4. Concludes with Your Successes. What is your major takeaway from this course? Was it the material? Did it serve as a testament to your ability to persevere? Did you make a good connection with the professor? End on a high note! 

 

Honors College, Prompt 3

Knowledge in a field/creativity: Describe any special interests and how you have developed knowledge in these areas. Give examples of your creativity- the ability to see alternatives; take diverse perspectives; come up with many, varied, or original ideas; or willingness to try new things. (100 words)

Like the first question, this one is asking you to choose a creative “something.” So try not to repeat the subject you discussed in the Rita Dove prompt. Or, if you do, pick a niche or subset of the larger subject: “mystery fiction” as a subset of “writing,” for example.

 

The second part of the prompt is wordy; break it down. As a sentence, it bombards you with a lot of phrases: “the ability to see alternatives; take diverse perspectives; come up with many, varied, or original ideas; or willingness to try new things.” But if we look closely to related words like “alternative,” “varied,” “original,” “new,” etc, we can break it down to one necessary element: a time you thought outside the box. 

 

Be brief and vivid. Because the word allowance is only one hundred words, use a quick hook (a striking anecdote, a question, even a word or sentence fragment, etc.) to encapsulate your creativity in your field.

 

“I love music the same way I love science: there is structure, but there is also improvisation. Jazz is freedom: at the piano, I deviate, explore within the key, but try out new melodies. When I finish, my neighbor claps. He is an accomplished classical musician and can play any sheet music.

 

We both want what we don’t have. He tells me he wishes he could improvise, and I tell him I practice daily, but don’t have close to the technique he does. We’ll never be content, we joke, but maybe we don’t need to. Music is like a boundless world: we can map whole regions, but there’s always more.”

 

This response is successful because it quickly introduces your field of creativity, in this case, music. It presents a developed knowledge (improvisation) and an opportunity to take a diverse perspective and try new things (a more classical approach to music) and explains your insatiable quest of the acquisition of knowledge and mastery over a topic! All within one hundred words!  

 

Honors College, Prompt 4

Dealing with adversity: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to address this challenge. Include whether you turned to anyone in facing the challenge, the role the person played, and what you learned about yourself. (100 words)

Hint: this is about an event, but also about your core identity, culture, or values. You should use this space as an opportunity to explain aspects of your personal background that would not otherwise be readily apparent in your application. This could range from any academic performance difficulties to financial hardship your family is experiencing. Maybe you suffered from a concussion in your sophomore year, and your grades dropped because you had trouble focusing. Maybe you couldn’t participate in as many extracurriculars because your parents both worked, and you had to take care of your younger siblings. Or, maybe, your dyslexia is a major impediment in your learning. 

 

Make sure the problem is significant: while there is no right answer to the prompt, avoid superficial topics such as getting a C on a single test or bickering with your sibling. Writing about minor setbacks will make it seem like you haven’t thought hard enough about your autobiography.

 

But the problem is only half the essay: whatever you choose to write about, demonstrate your ability to persevere and overcome something. Consider writing about: 

 

  1. How your perspective changed
  2. How your values changed
  3. Something you had to compromise about
  4. Strategies you used
  5. A goal you set
  6. A belief you gave up 
  7. A fear you conquered

 

You have only 100 words: be brief! Avoid long, complicated anecdotes or metaphors, and explain yourself quickly.

 

Nod towards the future. Conclude by summarizing how your way of looking at the world is different, and what you plan to do with that knowledge. Mention any problems, either with yourself, your circles, or society, that you’ve been inspired to deal with. 

 

For example: 

 

“Whenever a teacher asks me to read aloud in class, I experience a feeling I can’t define. It straddles embarrassment and fear, frustration and anger. 

 

I have struggled with dyslexia my whole life. 

 

After years of specialists, I began to love reading, but only under certain conditions: privately and slowly. In class, I drag my finger along the words and try to remain calm. 

 

At first, I was frantic to “fix” myself, but I’m learning to accept that I read differently from others. Dyslexia will always be the albatross around my neck, and yet, I choose to keep climbing. I find the feeling of success is greater than the temporary embarrassment of inverting sentences or mispronouncing words. I’m not ashamed of dyslexia, because I want to show others that they shouldn’t be, either.”

 

This example is a good start, because it pinpoints a problem, highlights a personal shortcoming, and gestures to how the narrator solves her own problems and a larger, societal problem. 

 

It’s also fantastic in that it starts with a jolt of emotion and includes concrete details (“I drag my finger along the words”). And in an essay about reading, the Coleridge allusion doesn’t hurt, either. 

 

Honors College, Prompt 5

Handling systemic challenges: OSU remains committed to creating an inclusive environment and dismantling systems that perpetuate discrimination at various levels. How, specifically, will you contribute to furthering this commitment?  (100 words)

Your answer should be verb- and action- based. Here, OSU shares their ethos, but also their actions. Oregon State University is “inclusive” – but keep in mind that while “inclusive” is technically an adjective, it’s actually a disguised verb: “include.” Same with “dismantle oppressive systems” – that’s a verb. And the operative word of the question – “how?” – is another word that’s fundamentally concerned with verbs. At the forefront of your mind, remember: the question is not “What do you believe?” but “What will you do?” It may be a good idea to brainstorm a list of verbs. If you like certain OSU programs (nouns), what verbs to those programs perform.

 

Touch briefly on your motivation. This could be through a cultural backstory or “identity,” which can give you a sense of the actions you want to perform. For instance, someone who has experienced discrimination or ostracization might have a clearer view of what policies, laws, or initiatives are needed to address the problem. Note that “identity” isn’t a concrete list of topics OSU wants you to pick from: don’t feel like you have to come at this through the traditional descriptors of race, color, class, gender, creed, and sexuality. You may not feel qualified to, and you may not want to. Instead, you could talk about other “identities”: a misunderstood hobby; regional origins; speech patterns or dialect; types of learners; access to computers and resources; clothing and appearance; lifestyles and cultural differences; housing; age; intra-group conflict; etc. 

 

Instead of “identity,” you might choose a values lens instead. How have your values shaped who you are? How do your values dovetail with OSU’s values of acceptance, diversity, and inclusion?

 

Remember to relate it back to OSU. They actually hide the most important part of the prompt towards the beginning, and that’s OSU’s environment. Although your inspiration for combating oppression might come from a distant place, like your parents’ time living in the USSR, you should angle your focus back to what you want to do (verb!) on campus. 

 

Here’s an example: 

 

“Growing up, my seven-person family lived in a two-bedroom apartment. I wore secondhand, dated clothes, which drew ridicule from my classmates. When I came home crying, my mother would play the song “Coat of Many Colors” by Dolly Parton—a ballad which teaches us that being rich with love is the only thing that matters. 

 

Dolly made me feel better, but I wish her kindness towards those with financial problems could have been practiced culturally and publicly – not just in the privacy of our home. And because finances is such a pressing topic in college, I want to do my part to make its discussion less taboo. My current priorities include volunteering as a tutor for students in need and pressing health centers to address socioeconomic obstacles to services. As an aspiring engineer, I would also love to join OSU’s chapter of Engineers Without Borders, to apply my skills at design towards needed projects in disadvantaged regions.” 

 

One hundred words seems like very little; however, you are able to pack in a lot of details! This essay “works” because it presents a quick anecdote about how this goal is personal to you (in this case, a personal experience with poverty) and your goals to make this interest actionable at OSU (Engineers Without Borders, volunteering, etc.).

 

Honors College, Prompt 6

Goals/task commitment: Articulate the goals you have established for yourself and your efforts to accomplish these. Give at least one specific example that demonstrates your work ethic/diligence. (100 words)

For this question, it’s best to begin with a clear list of 1-2 general goals, and then move into specific actions towards them. Don’t think small: a general goal might be a broad characteristic you want to acquire (“cosmopolitan,” “organized,” “financially stable”). By having such a large goal, you’ll 1) be able to think of contributing actions and projects more easily, and 2) show OSU your priorities on a macro level. Big goals and life aspirations aren’t bounded by time: for example, my “Italian 102 class” might be over, but my desire to “reconnect with my family’s roots in Palermo” is a lifelong quest that will continue to bear fruit. 

 

Remember the limit. Because you only have one hundred words, forego flowery language and anecdotes, although you should still put some interesting detail into your chosen example (“that demonstrates your work ethic”). 

 

Brainstorm examples of “work ethic.” This could mean a lot of things. Food for thought:

 

  1. A project that took an exceptionally long time
  2. A project for which you hunted down elusive information
  3. A subject that pushed you out of your comfort zone
  4. A journey with multiple long steps
  5. A time you stayed up late, or got up early
  6. A time you were on the cusp of giving up
  7. A risk you took
  8. An instance where you were tempted to cut corners or cheat
  9. A time you paid attention to the smallest detail
  10. A time others told you your product was “good enough,” but you kept perfecting it
  11. Something that required an investment of effort, money, or resources
  12. A task that put you through boredom, tedium, or pain

 

OSU wants to hear that you’re willing to engage in the parts of your interest that don’t involve “fun,” “passion,” or “inspiration.”

 

In praxis, your essay might look something like this, or follow a similar structure:

 

“My goals have always been simple: to do my personal best, treat others kindly, and foster a welcoming community. While all of these can intersect, I have found myself emphasizing “community,” especially in my final year of high school. After four years on the Student Council, I noticed a massive inequity between the lowerclassmen and the upperclassmen. Freshman and sophomores were often scared to speak at meetings, and sometimes, offered no contributions to the discussion. Inspired by my brother, who attends OSU, I brought in a copy of routine Guidelines for Dialogue: assume best intentions, don’t interrupt, and acknowledge impact versus intent. For two weeks, I kept data on how often members spoke, which proved the disparity. I presented it to the Council, and I offered a 3-Step Plan to make all voices heard. It was a success, and our community became more welcoming. I should know: I kept logging the data.”

 

This is an effective answer, because it presents a broad goal (“community”) at the outset – and also in the conclusion. The narrator discusses a concrete strategy that demonstrates “work ethic” – in this case, going above and beyond to generate persuasive data. Even without the bonus points for having an OSU brother, this essay would mark the applicant as someone who walks the walk when it comes to goals.

 

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