How to Write the Oregon State University Essays 2021-2022

 

Oregon State University requires Honors College (HC) applicants to submit five supplemental essays in addition to the standard application. The essays will give you the opportunity to show the admissions committee: 

 

  • Your ability to think creatively 
  • Your interests, and how you make them your own
  • How you deal with adversity
  • How you would strive to make OSU a more inclusive community as an Honors student
  • What your goals are 

 

The HC essays are your chance to stand out from thousands of other motivated applicants. This post will explain how you can respond to each of the HC prompts in the creative and captivating way that the admissions officers look for.

 

Read these OSU essay examples to inspire your writing.

 

Want to know your chances at OSU Honors College? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

OSU Honors College Supplemental Essay Prompts

 

All Applicants

 

Prompt 1: “Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin, “As Much Truth as One Can Bear”

 

“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.” – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

 

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

 

Respond to one of the above quotes in a well-organized and thoughtful essay that

 

1) analyzes what the quote is saying, and

 

2) shows how this meaning connects to something specific that’s important to you, such as an academic subject, profession, current event, concept, activity, or a passion of yours. Be sure to support your points with examples — and remember to identify the quote you’ve selected! (450-500 words)

 

Prompt 2: 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. (20-100 words)

 

Prompt 3: 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. (20-100 words)

 

Prompt 4: 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? (20-100 words)

 

Prompt 5: 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. (20-100 words)

 

 

Prompt 1

“Not everything that is faced can be changed. But nothing can be changed until it is faced.” – James Baldwin, “As Much Truth as One Can Bear”

“Paying attention is a form of reciprocity with the living world, receiving the gifts with open eyes and open heart.”  – Robin Wall Kimmerer, Braiding Sweetgrass

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”  – Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God

Respond to one of the above quotes in a well-organized and thoughtful essay that

1) analyzes what the quote is saying, and

2) shows how this meaning connects to something specific that’s important to you, such as an academic subject, profession, current event, concept, activity, or a passion of yours. Be sure to support your points with examples — and remember to identify the quote you’ve selected! (450-500 words)

This prompt is designed to be a testa test of your ability to engage in the world around you with curiosity, think creatively, and express yourself artfully. Your goal with your response should be to think outside the box and write an essay that only you could have come up with.

 

With a 450-500 word limit, you have enough space to give the admissions committee a vivid insight into how you think. While you have room to tell a story using expressive metaphors and specific details, you should choose stories which will not require too much context to explainthis one prompt really functions as two, and both parts will need to seamlessly combine in a limited space.

 

You should begin crafting your essay by brainstorming an answer to the second part of the prompt: what is something that is important to you? Think through this question first and then pair it with one of the three quotes to choose from. By working in reverse, you can ensure that both parts of your response will work together in harmony.

 

Think about the big picture of your OSU application while brainstorming. You want to ensure that your response to Prompt 1 is about a different subject than your Common App essay as well as the other four prompts. Prioritize this essay before the other prompts, and write about your most unique experiences here. 

 

The way to create a list of truly one-of-a-kind essay topics is to explain each one in detail and tie a personal story to it. Add details to your main interest to the point where it becomes unique to you. For example, instead of writing about why chemistry is important to you, explain that you find studying aluminosilicate minerals important because they could be used to reduce the carbon footprint of the trucking industry that your small town’s economy depends on.

 

Once you feel that you have found a good topic after brainstorming, pair it with the most relevant of the three quotes in the prompt. For the example about aluminosilicate minerals, the quote by James Baldwin would work well. The essay could take the form of an adventurous coming-of-age storyone about a small-town kid seeking, against all odds, to use his available resources to get his local community one step closer to becoming carbon neutral. Analyze the quote by breaking down what “face” and “change” have come to mean to you through your life experiences.

 

Good ways to start your response include summarizing the quote and then launching into a story, or starting in the middle of your story (known as an in media res introduction). Identifying the quote is best done in the middle of the essay during the climax, or at the end, after your story has explained your take on the quote through a dramatic build up. Research and compare the author behind the quote to your own story if you feel that their life experiences resonate with you.

 

Strive to show the OSU Honors College admissions committee your thoughts, rather than tell them directly. Let dialogue and personal narrative paint a picture of your perspectives, and write to capture the full essence of who you are on the page, since that is what the admissions officers are ultimately hoping to gain from your essay.

 

Prompt 2

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. (20-100 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 first 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!  

 

 

 

 

Prompt 3

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. (20-100 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.

 

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. 

 

Prompt 4

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? (20-100 words)

 

Your answer to this prompt should focus on how you will be inclusive and challenge discrimination.  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, and you may not want to discuss such sensitive topics. 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 to orient your essay through a values lens instead. How have your values shaped who you are? How do your values alight 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 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.” 

 

It might seem like 100 words isn’t enough, however, you should be 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.).

 

Prompt 5

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. (20-100 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 will 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 100 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.”

 

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.

 

Where to Get Your OSU Honors College Essay Edited for Free

 

Do you want feedback on your OSU Honor College essay? After reading your essays over and over, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. Since they don’t know you personally, they can be a more objective judge of whether your personality shines through, and whether you’ve fully answered the prompt. 

 

You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. We highly recommend giving this tool a try!

 

 

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