How to Write the Penn State Supplemental Essays 2023-2024
Penn State has one, optional supplemental essay prompt for all applicants, which is essentially a personal statement. Applicants to Penn State’s Schreyer Honors College, or Accelerated Pre-Med program, will also have to respond to a fairly extensive list of supplemental prompts—2 essays and 8 short answers for the Honors College, and 4 essays for the BS/MD program.
Regardless of whether you are just applying to Penn State as a whole, or to one of these more specialized programs, you want your essays to shine. In this post, we’ll break down each prompt, so you’re prepared to write a strong, engaging response to each prompt.
Read these Penn State essay examples to inspire your writing.
Penn State Supplemental Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: Please tell us something about yourself, your experiences, or activities that you believe would reflect positively on your ability to succeed at Penn State. This is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself that is not already reflected in your application or academic records. (500 words, optional)
Schreyer Honors College Applicants
Prompt 1: Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could take to identify a solution. (800 words)
Prompt 2: Isaac Asimov wrote: “Any book worth banning is a book worth reading.” Do you agree? Is such censorship ever justified? If not, explain why. If so, who or what should determine which books are read and which books are forbidden. (800 words)
Prompt 1: What do you hope to get at Penn State as a Schreyer Scholar to help you accomplish your future goals and aspirations? (200 words)
Prompt 2: If you were able to go anywhere in the world, outside of the country you currently reside, where would you go and why? (200 words)
Prompt 3: Tell us about your leadership experiences (community roles, family contributions, research, clubs, organizations, etc.) and why leadership is important to you. Describe the challenges and/or successes you’ve faced in these roles. (200 words)
Prompt 4: List awards or other recognitions you have received in or outside of school over the last 4 years. Which award or recognition means the most to you and why? (200 words)
Prompt 5: Tell us about a book or other media that has made you think about something in a new way. (200 words)
Prompt 6: Consider a time when you had to collaborate with individuals from diverse backgrounds or with different perspectives. How did this experience contribute to your personal growth and understanding of others? (200 words)
Prompt 7: Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups, including: shared geography, faith, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities or groups to which you belong and describe how it has influenced your life over the last four years. (200 words)
Prompt 8: Please use this space to share information you would like us to consider that has not been discussed elsewhere in your Schreyer Honors College application. This could include obstacles you’ve overcome, something you’re proud of that is not discussed elsewhere, or anything else you choose. (200 words)
Accelerated Premedical-Medical Program (BS/MD) Applicants
Prompt 1: Describe one non-academic activity during your high school years that has been the most meaningful to you. (250 words)
Prompt 2: Write a personal statement indicating why you want to be a physician, why you want an accelerated program and why you’ve selected this Penn State/Kimmel program. (500 words)
Prompt 3: Describe what you think your strongest qualities are as well as weaknesses that you would like to improve upon. (250 words)
Prompt 4: Tell us about a time you were unsuccessful and how you grew from this experience. (500 words)
All Applicants, Prompt 1
Please tell us something about yourself, your experiences, or activities that you believe would reflect positively on your ability to succeed at Penn State. This is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself that is not already reflected in your application or academic records. (500 words, optional)
While this essay is technically optional, we still strongly encourage all applicants to complete it. Writing an optional essay provides admissions officers with more information about you, helps your application stand out, and further expresses your interest in the college you are applying to.
One of your main objectives in all college essays should be to depict yourself as a strong addition to a specific college’s community. A good response will contain a reflection on your experiences to demonstrate a specific personal quality that you think will set you up for success at Penn State. To brainstorm, ask yourself: What do I need to succeed at Penn State? What are my strengths?
You’ll need to think of examples that demonstrate the traits that will set you up for college success. Though the prompt says that you can pick “something about yourself, your experiences, or activities,” your choice should be something that you can show through a story or anecdote.
Almost any poor topic can be strengthened if you make it more specific:
Don’t pick something too broad, like “I have formed many friendships in different settings.” However, you could write a detailed account of a specific friendship or friend group you formed after switching high schools, explaining how you developed the skills to not only survive, but thrive in a new social community. Then, you can discuss how, at any college, but especially a big school like Penn State, forming a social network is crucial for academics (study groups, peers to help with homework, collaborators for group projects, etc.) and for making the most of your college experience.
Avoid focusing on an experience that virtually all applicants will share. “I made it through high school” is not a strong response. However, you could write about an illness you faced that almost jeopardized your ability to succeed in school. Through detailed storytelling, you could show the reader that you developed time-management skills and perseverance, which, as you can guess, are absolutely crucial for college success.
Great responses to this prompt can be quite personal since more formal academic and extracurricular activities might already be covered in your application. For example, you could relate difficult family or friendship situations you’ve negotiated to your ability to navigate a diverse and complex college community.
Regardless of which aspect of your identity, experience, or activity you pick, be absolutely sure to avoid generalizing. Many students write a 500 word essay that never uses specific examples. While these essays might sound smooth, they are almost entirely composed of clichés and generalizations. Here’s an example so you can get a better idea of what we’re talking about.
A student could write something like:
“I have volunteered for over five years at my local food pantry. This experience has made me more appreciative of what I have, and more determined to give back. I know I’ll take these values with me to Penn State.”
Note that these sentences do not refer to a specific instance or give concrete examples. They give a general description of one activity and then make generic, high-level assertions about the results of that activity.
A strong essay will push beyond this level of resolution:
- Describe what you did at the food pantry.
- Show the perspective this has given you by giving an example of how you changed your daily activities or interactions with others as a result of this experience.
- Link these changes to success in college by discussing how you’ll dive into volunteer opportunities and community organizations. Use specific examples of clubs or organizations at Penn State, such as the Lion’s Pantry, which is dedicated to addressing student hunger.
A few words of caution: Some students will have too many things they want to squeeze into this essay. While you may feel like you’ve just left so many crucial details out of your application, you should resist the temptation to use this essay as a “catch-all” for everything “not already reflected in your application.” Note that the prompt asks you to share “something” not already included—not everything! This essay should be focused and cohesive, telling a story that proves you can succeed in college.
If you truly feel that important information has been left out of your application, try to incorporate it into your Activities Section, other essays, or, if all else fails, the Additional Information section of the Common App.
Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Essay Prompt 1
Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma – anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could take to identify a solution. (800 words)
Brainstorming Your Topic:
Given the length and nature of this prompt, taking the time to select a strong topic is especially important. You need to pick a topic that is nuanced enough to sustain 800 words, but also personal enough that you can answer each part of the prompt while also highlighting aspects of your personality that make you a strong fit for the Honors College.
Fortunately, the prompt’s criteria are pretty open-ended, and admissions officers go out of their way to say the scale of the issue doesn’t matter. So, to brainstorm, we recommend asking yourself open-ended questions, like:
- Which societal issues are particularly important to you?
- Are there any more local issues (at your high school or in your city, for example) that have a big impact on your life?
- Is there a problem you’ve already taken steps to solve?
Once you’ve identified a topic, you want to take a moment to think about your personal connection to it, to make sure it’s a good match for this prompt.
For example, if you want to write about your weekly beach cleanups, but you only do them because your dad makes you, you should probably keep brainstorming. However, if you started doing them after completing a research project in your junior year chemistry class on how microplastics have impacted the local fish population, this topic would be perfect!
Tips for Writing Your Essay:
Seeing as you have plenty of words at your disposal, you want to make sure you’re thorough in describing the problem, its significance to you, and your ideas about how to solve it. To do so, you want to make sure that, like any college essay, your points are grounded in specific, personal anecdotes, as otherwise the essay may read as preachy or generic.
For example, compare the following excerpts from a hypothetical essay:
Excerpt 1: “To clean up the oceans, everyone needs to get involved. It might not feel like picking up one plastic bottle will make a difference, when there are beaches all over the world covered in trash. But if we all picked up every bottle we see, all those small actions would eventually start to add up.”
Excerpt 2: “Every summer, my family spends a week on the Oregon coast. My mom used to drive me crazy when she would interrupt my tanning session to nag me about picking up plastic bottles, empty chip bags, and forgotten toy shovels. ‘Why should I have to pick up someone else’s trash? Besides, what’s the point—there’s always more coming,’ I used to think. But then, one Saturday she dragged me along to a community beach cleanup. 200 people spent the entire day combing through the sand for even the smallest pieces of plastic, and by the time the sun set, I wasn’t even thinking about how sweaty or dirty I was. All I cared about was how pristine the white sand looked, stretching away into the distance, clean and unmarked by bright plastic.”
At their cores, these two examples are making the same point. But the first one lacks the personal details that show how the writer arrived at these realizations, and thus the takeaways read as generic, and won’t do anything to distinguish them from other qualified applicants.
The second one, on the other hand, tells us exactly what happened in the writer’s past that changed their mindset about the importance of individual action. Remember that, like with any college essay, the point of this essay is to teach your readers about who you are. So, your discussion of the problem you choose should be grounded not in scientific studies or big-picture ideas, but in the experiences you have had that have shaped not only your thoughts on this issue, but your personality as a whole.
Obviously, the second example is much longer, but, as noted above, this is one of the rare supplemental essays where space likely won’t be an issue. You have the room to provide the personal details admissions officers are looking for, so take advantage of it!
Mistakes to Avoid:
The most important pitfall to avoid has already been outlined above: make sure your essay doesn’t become too much about the problem, at the expense of teaching your readers about important aspects of your personality. You probably have much more experience with academic writing than reflective writing, so as you write and revise your first draft, make sure there aren’t any points where you instinctively slip into research-based, argumentative mode.
Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Essay Prompt 2
Isaac Asimov wrote: “Any book worth banning is a book worth reading.” Do you agree? Is such censorship ever justified? If not, explain why. If so, who or what should determine which books are read and which books are forbidden. (800 words)
Brainstorming Your Topic:
When you sit down to start writing your response, the first thing you want to do is honestly ask yourself whether or not you agree with Asimov. Censorship is a hot topic in the news right now, so you may already have at least a partially-formed opinion. But in order to write a strong response, you need to be fully authentic. So, before you start writing, you want to spend some time really thinking about how you feel about this issue, and why.
It’s also important to note that you shouldn’t just say what you think your readers will want to hear. If your response is thoughtful and reflects a high level of critical thinking, you can argue in favor of either side of the debate.
Tips for Writing Your Essay:
Once you’ve decided what position you’re taking, you’ll need to work on fleshing out your justification for it. This justification needs to be more sophisticated than just “I believe in free speech, so no books should be banned,” or “I believe some books provoke dangerous ideas, like those of Nazi Germany, and so banning can sometimes be justified.” In college, particularly at an honors college, you’re going to be wrestling with difficult questions like this one every day, so you want to show admissions officers that you appreciate the nuance of this debate.
For example, a rough outline of a strong response might look something like this:
- Introduction: Provide a personal anecdote that shows the importance of books in your own life, and use that to introduce your perspective that banning books is never justified
- Point 1: Describe a situation, either from your own life or history, where the free exchange of information was essential to progress
- Point 2: Highlight the role books play in allowing not only the exchange of existing ideas, but also the introduction of new ones, by focusing on a text that moved a particular discussion forward in a substantial way
- Point 3: Acknowledge that some books do contain ideas you feel are dangerous, but argue that those dangerous ideas need to be acknowledged, lest they manifest in tangible ways, and that even labeling certain ideas as “dangerous” is dicey, because some people would call ideas that are fundamental to your worldview “dangerous”
Pay special attention to Point 3: acknowledging that the other position has merit, and then explaining why your position is still the better choice, is something you’re going to be asked to do frequently in college. Showing admissions officers that you’re already able to think at that level can take your essay from good to great.
Finally, this prompt is more academic than most other supplements out there, but you still want to draw on your own experiences in your response. Otherwise, the tone of your essay may end up rather dry, and while that isn’t a death sentence, you do ideally want your reader to be genuinely invested in your essay, and incorporating anecdotes from your own life will help build that investment.
Mistakes to Avoid:
The #1 thing you want to avoid in your response is offending your reader, even unintentionally. As noted above, the admissions officers are intentionally asking you a question with no clear answer—they want to see that you can address such a question in a tactful, respectful way. Coming across as defensive, argumentative, or ignorant won’t say anything good about your ability to contribute to high-level college discussions.
For example, you wouldn’t want to say “The only people who I’ve heard argue in favor of banning books are my aunt and uncle, who also believe a lot of other absurd things, like that Elvis is still alive, so I’ve never seen much merit in that position.” Obviously, we’ve given an extreme example to illustrate our point. But on a more realistic level, you want to keep your essay focused on yourself and your opinion, rather than speaking down on anyone else.
Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 1
What do you hope to get at Penn State as a Schreyer Scholar to help you accomplish your future goals and aspirations? (200 words)
This is essentially a “Why This College?” prompt, but focused on Penn State’s Honors College specifically, rather than a college as a whole. The keys to writing a strong response are essentially the same, however: identify specific resources that can only be found at Schreyer Honors College (not things that you could also take advantage of as any other Penn State student!), and explain how those resources align with your goals for college and beyond.
For example, you might choose to highlight Schreyer’s goal that all Schreyer Scholars have at least one experience abroad by the time they graduate as something that is particularly attractive to you, as you are interested in international relations and thus hope to familiarize yourself with other cultures as much as possible during college.
Alternatively, you might talk about how you’re excited by the thought of living in Atherton or Simmons, one of Penn State’s two honors housing residence halls, because you hope to attend law school after college, and so the more practice you can get with lively, intellectual debates, the better.
The only thing you really want to avoid in your response is general or superficial reasons for wanting to attend Schreyer, that don’t do much to help your readers envision you as a Schreyer Scholar. For example, you don’t want to talk about the prestige of the program, or the fact that Atherton and Simmons have prime locations on campus. Admissions officers want to accept applicants who are ready to hit the ground running, and the more specific you can be in spelling out how Schreyer will help you achieve your goals, the more confident they will be in your readiness.
Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 2
If you were able to go anywhere in the world, outside of the country you currently reside, where would you go and why? (200 words)
This prompt is a more-lighthearted question that just wants a sense of your personality – are you more adventurous or more restrained? Are you more interested in culture and history or relaxation and some peace and quiet? Your answer says more than you may think about what kind of person – but there’s no right or wrong answer here. Like many of the questions before it, you’ll want to answer both honestly and in a manner that showcases your true personality. Your answer should be as unique as you can think of, but as usual, the more personal a connection to your answer the better.
For example, maybe you’re the first-generation child of immigrants from India but have never been back there yourself. You could write about how a trip to India would reconnect you with your family roots, your culture, and the pasts of your parents.
If you don’t feel like you have a special story or experience to share, however, don’t worry. Your answer will be strong so long as it is unique to you, so brainstorm a place or country that would be at the top of your bucket list. Maybe you’re an avid hiker and want to take a crack at Mount Kilimanjaro. You can write about how visiting and climbing the mountain has always been a dream of yours that you hope to have the resources to achieve later on in life. Write about what hiking means to you and why, as well as why Mount Kilimanjaro is the end goal.
Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 3
Tell us about your leadership experiences (community roles, family contributions, research, clubs, organizations, etc.) and why leadership is important to you. Describe the challenges and/or successes you’ve faced in these roles. (200 words)
Although this prompt asks you to discuss your “leadership experiences,” plural, in reality you want to keep your focus pretty narrow, since you only have 200 words to provide the elaboration they’re asking for. You can start off with a general overview of the leadership positions you’ve held, but you pretty quickly want to zoom in on an anecdote or two that show what you’ve learned about leadership from these experiences.
For example, the start of your essay might look something like this:
“I’ve been fortunate to hold a variety of leadership positions throughout high school, from two-time captain of my volleyball team, to assistant manager of the Chipotle down the street from my house, to, as the oldest of seven children, first mate on our family’s sailing ship. But the moment that taught me the most about leadership was one in which I failed: my team had a tournament starting at 8 am, and I never woke up, as I’d accidentally set my alarm for 6:30 p.m., not a.m.”
From here, the writer can dive into a discussion of how, while many people see confidence and inspiration as the most important traits a leader can have, their experience showed them that accountability is just as crucial. And because that point is grounded in an anecdote from their own life, we know exactly why they feel this way–without that specificity, your essay will likely come across as generic or even preachy.
Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 4
List awards or other recognitions you have received in or outside of school over the last 4 years. Which award or recognition means the most to you and why? (200 words)
This prompt is a great opportunity for you to paint a better picture of yourself and your accomplishments, both academic and otherwise. After listing all of your awards and recognitions, there are two main ways you can approach this question—you can highlight an honor or distinction you have received for an academic or extracurricular achievement, or you can flex your creative muscles and expand on a smaller award or appreciation you have received.
For example, if you have been recognized for your success in an extracurricular activity with a competitive element like debate, Model UN, or robotics, you can explain the activity’s importance to you, and what the process of winning meant to you. You could also take this approach if you have won your school’s talent show, or received a ribbon in a local photography contest. Alternatively, you could talk about being voted captain of your cross country team, or awarded the lead role in your school’s musical theater production, and describe how you handled that responsibility.
However, if you lack any formal awards, try to think of any informal recognitions you have received over the years – a superlative in the yearbook, a counselor of the summer award at a sleepaway camp, even a “Best Cousin Ever!” sticker your 5-year-old cousin gave you last Thanksgiving. While you may feel awkward writing about something not conventionally “impressive,” this approach can actually show a high level of maturity. College applications are by definition pretty braggy, so showing admissions officers that you have an appreciation for “the little things” in life can, perhaps counterintuitively, help set you apart from other applicants who may have written about more traditional, resume-y achievements.
Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 5
Tell us about a book or other media that has made you think about something in a new way. (200 words)
Think about something that you’ve read, watched, or listened to that has stuck with you or impacted you personally. This isn’t meant to be an opportunity for you to recant your love for Shakespeare or your appreciation for Charles Dickens, although you certainly can if it’s deeply resonated with you. And that’s the key – you want to be genuine with your answer. You can go on and on about how much you admire an author or filmmaker’s style or craft – but what the admissions reader really wants to know is how a piece of media has changed your perspective and impacted you personally.
Is there a movie that you can endlessly rewatch? A book you always find yourself going back to? A podcast or an album you can’t stop listening to? The trick is to do some reflection into the “why” – media above anything else has a strictly personal connection to your mind, so see if you can figure out what about the connection to your selected media is so special. If you’re stumped, do a bit of journaling, either while participating with your chosen media or afterward, and write down how it makes you feel and what it makes you think about. Chances are you’ll be able to uncover what it means to you and how it affects you.
Perhaps your mother’s favorite movie is the musical West Side Story, and you and her went to see the Steven Spielberg remake together. Maybe she has a special connection with the musical because she’s originally from Puerto Rican – you could write about how sharing that experience with your mom got you in touch with your heritage and your roots, and got you to reevaluate what it means to be a Puerto Rican in the America of today.
Everyone has a different story, and it is tapping into that story and how it relates to your media choice that should be the basis of your response here.
Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 6
Consider a time when you had to collaborate with individuals from diverse backgrounds or with different perspectives. How did this experience contribute to your personal growth and understanding of others? (200 words)
This prompt very considerately spells out pretty much exactly what you need to do: describe a time when you collaborated with a diverse group of people, and explain why that experience was significant to your personal growth/understanding of others. One important thing to keep in mind is that, as you think about which experience you want to focus on, the phrases “diverse backgrounds” and “different perspectives” can be read in a variety of ways.
For example, you could write about your last Thanksgiving dinner, and focus on the wide range of ages present at the table, from your 97-year-old grandmother to your infant cousin. You could then talk about how this experience showed you that, if people really want to, we can always get along: we go out of our way to be polite and respectful towards family, even when we don’t particularly want to, but there’s no reason we couldn’t do the same for others.
Alternatively, you could write about your part-time job at a ski lodge, where your coworkers came from all over the state, and some were much stronger skiers than others. You could use this experience as an avenue into talking about how if everyone has a shared goal, and is willing to contribute whatever they’re able in pursuit of that goal, having different skill sets actually becomes an asset, as each person’s strengths balance out someone else’s weaknesses.
Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 7
Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups, including: shared geography, faith, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities or groups to which you belong and describe how it has influenced your life over the last four years. (200 words)
This is an example of the classic “Diversity” prompt, so you have two main goals in your response: highlight some aspect of your identity, and explain how that part of you has shaped your personality as a whole. If you just say “I lived in Italy from age 8 to age 14” or “I come from a family where we don’t bleed red, but green, for the Philadelphia Eagles,” but don’t explain what you’ve learned from these experiences, your reader won’t actually understand you any better.
Instead, like always, you want to include a specific anecdote or two that highlight some personality trait, or part of your worldview, that you wouldn’t have if you weren’t a part of this community. Take the Eagles example above. Later in the essay, you might say something like:
“This fandom has helped me connect with family members who I otherwise might not know. Like my grandpa, who has been suffering with dementia since before I was born. He’s unable to ask me about my classes or my lacrosse team, but when we watch the Birds together, I feel like we’re having a conversation all our own. Some things are better said without words.”
In this excerpt, the student doesn’t just list a community they’re a part of, but also shows us why that community is so important to them.
Finally, note that the prompt gives a broad definition of “community.” Hopefully, our two examples also help emphasize that you don’t need to write about any one particular thing. If your race has been a huge part of shaping your identity, then you should of course write about it! But you can also write a strong essay about any community you’ve been a part of, even ones that may seem a little unconventional.
Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 8
Please use this space to share information you would like us to consider that has not been discussed elsewhere in your Schreyer Honors College application. This could include obstacles you’ve overcome, something you’re proud of that is not discussed elsewhere, or anything else you choose. (200 words)
This prompt is the last opportunity for you to fill in any gaps left over in your application to the Schreyer Honors College. Look over your application and all your previous responses and reflect on if there’s anything still left unsaid. Remember, the admissions reader wants the clearest picture of you as they can possibly get, and the more information you can provide them about yourself the better.
Here are some examples of details you may wish to write about here:
- Unusual circumstances or hardships (financial hardships, first-generation status, illness, tragedy, etc.)
- Family responsibilities that may have prevented students from taking traditional extracurriculars
- Unique extracurricular that wasn’t written about in another part of the application outside of the Activities Section
- Describing your identity in the context of race, gender, or LGBTQ+
This prompt is going to be on an extremely case-by-case basis, so do what feels right for you and remember that you don’t have to embellish anything about yourself or your life in an attempt to make it sound more interesting to an admissions reader. They really just want to get to know you as your authentic self, so make sure that you’re answering this prompt in a manner that is genuine and honest.
Accelerated Premedical-Medical Program (BS/MD) Applicants, Prompt 1
Describe one non-academic activity during your high school years that has been the most meaningful to you. (250 words)
This prompt is the classic Extracurricular Activity essay. Remember that the admissions committee already has a list of your extracurricular activities, so make sure you’re delving beyond a simple list of your responsibilities. You’ll want to share your emotions and thoughts as you participate in this activity, as well as how it’s impacted you.
As you choose your activity, consider which qualities you’ve already demonstrated in your application, and which ones you’d like to highlight more. If you’ve already written about one activity in your Common App essay, there’s no need to repeat it here. Or, maybe your Common App essay demonstrates resilience when you also consider yourself a very ambitious person. Then, you might want to pick an activity that highlights your ambition.
If you’ve had any jobs or internships in the medical field, this is your opportunity to expand on your experience and what it may have taught you. However, the key to this prompt is to choose something that was the most meaningful to you. Don’t feel like you have to choose an extracurricular in medicine just because you’re applying to a BS/MD program.
Once you’ve chosen an activity to write about, reflect on how it has shaped who you are. This is extremely important, as a common mistake with this prompt is to focus too much on the activity itself without explaining the “why” behind its importance. What lessons has the activity taught you? What skills did you learn? Why has this activity kept you engaged or kept you motivated? These are just a few of the questions that can guide your answer.
Accelerated Premedical-Medical Program (BS/MD) Applicants, Prompt 2
Write a personal statement indicating why you want to be a physician, why you want an accelerated program and why you’ve selected this Penn State/Kimmel program. (500 words)
As you are probably aware already, the Penn State-Kimmel program is a highly rigorous seven-year program that will require you to commit to a career in medicine. It is not a fast track to becoming a doctor, but rather a set path to reaching that goal. Keeping that in mind, this prompt should be somewhat easy to answer. It is simply a space asking you to explain why you are interested in medicine and the program specifically, which means your answer will be best the more it sounds like you.
Brainstorming a list of reasons why you want to become a physician will be a great starting point – there will likely be several things that draw you to this career path, so list as many you can think of and use that as a jumping-off point. Some questions that can get you thinking may include:
- What was the first experience that made you think about medicine as a career?
- Are there any subjects in school that gave you an interest in medicine? What about extracurriculars?
- What do you hope to do as a physician? Any specific field you would like to work in?
- Are there any personal experiences that you have that make you want to be a physician?
Of course, there are dozens of other questions that you can ask yourself to get a solid foundation for this prompt, but the point is to Jeopardy-style your way into an answer. Ask yourself a series of questions and see what answers you come up with!
Once you describe your reasons for pursuing medicine, you can move forward to the next two parts of the prompts, which are more or less the same question – why this accelerated program?
When it comes to explaining your interest in an accelerated program, the admissions committee has likely heard it all: guaranteed admission to medical school, getting your MD sooner, etc. But what will these benefits do for you specifically? What will you do with the extra time you’ll have from not needing to apply for medical school, or being able to graduate early? Maybe you have a specific clinic you want to spend a lot of time in, or perhaps you want to serve patients in countries impacted by climate change, which will only get more urgent over the next several years. Dig deeper beyond the obvious benefits of an accelerated program.
Finally, you want to explain why the Penn State-Kimmel Program is right for you. How will it help you achieve your specific goals? This will require you to do a fair amount of research on the program and the Sidney Kimmel Medical College. Look into the specific courses, research opportunities, statements from alumni, and more.
For example, maybe you want to help develop immunotherapies for cancer after your aunt received an experimental treatment that worked wonders. You could express interest in contributing to the Immune Cell Regulation & Targeting Research Program at Jefferson Health (the home of the Sidney Kimmel Medical College). Or, maybe you want to conduct research on the social determinants of health as a Black woman, particularly when it comes to race. Since Philly (where the Kimmel Medical College is located) is 40% Black, the city would be a good setting for your research.
A large thing to keep in mind is that this program is a 7-year commitment to getting an MD, so you’ll want to frame your answer around how you’ve wanted to be a doctor for a large part of your life. The questions you ask yourself and the information you find on the website will not only help you with this prompt, but also help you figure out if this program is right for you!
Accelerated Premedical-Medical Program (BS/MD) Applicants, Prompt 3
Describe what you think your strongest qualities are as well as weaknesses that you would like to improve upon. (250 words)
This is a common question not only in college applications, but also career interviews, so your answer to this question may even prove helpful down the road!
This prompt is more straightforward, so you can simply discuss a few strengths and weaknesses. Given the word count, we recommend sticking to 1-2 each. Try to follow them up with examples of times you demonstrated those qualities.
If your strengths relate to medicine, that’s all the better! But no need to explain how these qualities will benefit you in medicine. The connection can be implicit, as doctors need many soft skills.
For example, maybe one of your key skills is that you’re very organized – you could explain how you managed seven different committees as Student Body President, and how you kept track of their progress by having them use a color-coded Google Sheet. The implicit connection to medicine is that being a physician requires you to keep tabs on a plethora of patients and follow-up on their changing needs.
When you get to the weakness part of the question, remember that this prompt is meant to get you thinking about what you believe you can improve upon. For instance, you don’t want to write that you’re not a people person. Not only is this an aspect of your personality that may be difficult to change, but it is also an essential component of becoming a physician.
Think about weaknesses that you can work on – for example, maybe you have trouble with criticism and take it personally because you’re very proud of the work you do. But, you also recognize how important it is in improving your work. So, you’ve already started actively seeking out criticism, such as submitting your artwork to art feedback Discord servers.
Your answer to these questions will give the admissions reader a sense of your work style and will help evaluate if you are a good fit for the requirements of the program, so remember to frame your answer with that in mind.
Accelerated Premedical-Medical Program (BS/MD) Applicants, Prompt 4
Tell us about a time you were unsuccessful and how you grew from this experience. (500 words)
Speaking of questions that you’ll likely get in job interviews, this is another classic. This prompt will get you reflecting on any experience, both in and out of the classroom, where you had some sort of shortcoming, and how you applied that knowledge to future endeavors.
Admissions readers know that in a program like this one, you’re bound to fail at one point or another – they just want to see that you know how to grow from your mistakes. There are a plethora of examples you could probably choose from, but the best one will be the most personal to you.
Keep in mind that your topic doesn’t need to be medicine-related. The point of this prompt is simply to see how you pick yourself up after a failure. You don’t even need to have succeeded in the end; what’s important is that you show what you learned.
This prompt falls under the Overcoming Challenges essay archetype, so we encourage you to read our full guide on that.
Roughly 50% of the essay should describe the process of overcoming the challenge. In this portion of the essay, you should lay out the basics of the challenge, discuss the steps you took to overcome it, and any final accomplishment that illustrates what you’ve overcome.
The remaining 50% of the content (spread throughout the overall narrative) should cover your state of mind, your emotional state, and how your perception of the challenge has changed over time. This should span the initial challenge, the steps you took to overcome it, and the final accomplishment (if there is one).
Where to Get Your Penn State Essays Edited
Do you want feedback on your Penn State essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!