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How to Write the Penn State Supplemental Essays 2022-2023

Penn State University has one optional essay for all applicants, and if you’re using the Penn State application, you’ll also be asked to list out your extracurricular activities. Applicants to the Schreyer Honors College are required to submit two additional essays and eight short answer responses, and BS/MD applicants must submit four additional short essays.

 

Admissions officers can have a hard time distinguishing between applicants when thousands of students send in the same test scores and GPAs. Essays are highly valued in the decision process since they allow admissions officers to see your character and values. In this post, we’ll share how you can write essays that will be sure to impress the admissions officers at Penn State.

 

Read this Penn State essay example to inspire your writing.

 

 

Penn State Supplemental Essay Prompts

 

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)

 

Prompt 2 (Penn State application only): Please use this space to list or discuss your activities other than academic work during the last several years (for example: school organizations, jobs, athletics, the arts, community service, religious groups, or other individual interests).

 

You may already have an activities resume or list prepared and should feel free to paste it into the space below. (500 words, optional)

 

Schreyer Honors College Applicants 

 

Prompt 1: Imagine you are one of the 2024 Presidential candidates from either party, and you are asked in a town hall debate what the most important issue affecting the majority of the American people is. How would you answer, and why? How would you propose to address that issue? (800 words)

 

Prompt 2: Who are you and how did you get to the current point in your journey? Specifically, comment on how resilience has played a role in your life and how you see it impacting your future. (800 words)

 

Short Answers

 

Prompt 1: Tell us about your high school record — not what’s in it, since we have it already, but why you took some of the courses you took, and what your experience was, especially for classes which were more challenging for you. (200 words)

 

Prompt 2: Where would you like to go in the world, outside of the United States (and outside where you are now, if it’s not the United States), and why? (200 words)

 

Prompt 3: How do you see yourself improving society and the lives of others in the future, and what do you hope to get at Penn State as a Schreyer Scholar to help you accomplish your goals? (200 words)

 

Prompt 4: Tell us about any college credits you have earned or have underway, excluding anything that appears in your high school record. For each course, list (in this order) the name of the college or university, the name of the course, the semester you took it, and the grade you received (or “in progress” if it’s this semester). Separate each new course with a paragraph break. (200 words)

 

Prompt 5: Tell us about your most significant out-of-class activities before the pandemic, and since. Overall what activity has meant the most to you, and why? (200 words)

 

Prompt 6: List the awards or other recognitions you have received during your time in high school — they can be from the school or outside of it. You can omit awards based solely on grades, since we have your academic record. Which award or recognition means the most to you, and why? (200 words)

 

Prompt 7: Tell us about a book or other media that has made you think about something in a new way. (200 words)

 

Prompt 8: Tell us anything you would like us to know about you, and that we wouldn’t get from the rest of the application. This could include obstacles you’ve overcome, something you’re especially 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.

 

All Applicants, Prompt 2 (Penn State App Only)

Please use this space to list or discuss your activities other than academic work during the last several years (for example: school organizations, jobs, athletics, the arts, community service, religious groups, or other individual interests).

You may already have an activities resume or list prepared and should feel free to paste it into the space below. (500 words, optional)

This prompt is not on the Common App, but it shows up on the Penn State specific application. If you’re already using the Common App for other schools, we recommend that you do so for Penn State as well. If you’re not using the Common App or other platform with an Activities Section, you’ll need to create your own list. We recommend following the guidelines in this post about the Common App Activities Section

 

Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Essay Prompt 1

Imagine you are one of the 2024 Presidential candidates from either party, and you are asked in a town hall debate what the most important issue affecting the majority of the American people is. How would you answer, and why? How would you propose to address that issue? (800 words)

This response asks you to identify a key issue facing the country and why you believe it should be prioritized. This is less of a question about your party values, and more of a question about what major political issue is most important to you. As such, your response to this question shouldn’t just be an argument on one side of your chosen issue, but rather an argument about why the issue is one that needs to be addressed and how you plan to address it. 

 

Keep in mind that this prompt doesn’t require you to explicitly declare a political party. Your political affiliation will likely be apparent based on the solution you propose, however, and that’s fine. That said, the admissions representatives want to hear your thoughts, not the thoughts of the political party you most identify with.

 

Just because you may be a Democrat or Republican doesn’t necessarily mean you agree with all of the party’s values. No two individuals should sound alike, and the last thing the admissions representatives want to hear is that you’re simply a mouthpiece for either party. They want to know what you personally think and feel most strongly about, which means your response should also include a definitive personal connection.

 

The first step you’ll want to take is brainstorming. You’ll want to jot down a list of issues you feel face America today, and then narrow it down to the ones that you feel are most important. Try to come up with about 10-12 main issues, and then eliminate each one by one. Remember, your chosen issue should affect a wide population of U.S. citizens, have some debate around it, and be personal to you. Some examples of issues you may use are:

 

  • Climate change
  • COVID-19
  • Police reform
  • Gun control
  • Income inequality
  • Abortion
  • Voting rights

 

Notice that all of these examples are also rather specific – you’ll want to avoid issues that are umbrella terms such as “poverty.” If you’re having trouble coming up with specific examples, think about what issues fall under poverty. Homelessness, the opioid epidemic, and wealth distribution all make-up “poverty,” and will provide a much stronger and more unique response to this question.

 

Once you’ve chosen a topic, you’ll once again need to brainstorm. This time, jot down a list of reasons why you believe the issue is important. Conduct research and read up on the various perspectives surrounding your issue. If you choose the issue of climate change, you could write that climate change will increasingly affect each generation, leads to poverty and displacement, harms both people, animals, and plants, and could have wide-reaching effects in the very near future. If you have a personal connection to climate change, such as living in a coastal city or having experienced a natural disaster, sharing an anecdote of your experience can help clarify why you’ve chosen it as your issue. Then, see if you can do the same level of research and brainstorming for possible solutions for your chosen issue.

 

The more specific you can get, the better, as this will help you with the next step: outlining.

 

As this response is 800 words, outlining will be imperative to make sure your response has a definitive structure rather than simply being a rant. The question is structured in multiple parts, which will help guide you through your response:

 

  • Introduction: Set the tone and explain your issue of choice.
  • Elaborate on why you’ve chosen your topic and why you believe it is the most important issue facing the American people today. Draw on personal experiences if applicable.
  • Propose a possible solution to the problem and/or lay out how you would tackle it.
  • Conclusion: Reiterate the importance of the issue and how you, as a hypothetical candidate, would work towards your proposed solution.

 

Of course, feel free to work outside of this framework – the most important thing is that your genuine voice shines through and you write confidently, professionally, and back your argument up with research, evidence, and any personal experience you may have.

 

Also keep in mind that while it’s usually wise to shy away from controversial topics in supplemental essays, this essay is an exception. While that may feel strange, remember your response is from the perspective of a candidate – you should sound almost presidential, and should be careful not just to completely shut out the other side of the argument.

 

Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Essay Prompt 2

Who are you and how did you get to the current point in your journey? Specifically, comment on how resilience has played a role in your life and how you see it impacting your future. (800 words)

This question asks you to explain your identity as well as highlight an instance or instances in which you were forced to be resilient. While this prompt may challenge you, remember that no one will have the same answer as you. This means that the more personal and specific you are, the better your response will be in terms of showcasing who you are as an individual. 

 

Keep in mind that this prompt is basically the classic Overcoming Challenges essay, with the main difference that it’s also asking about your identity. Don’t feel like you have to tell your entire life story though; the goal of this prompt is simply to get to know you, how you handle adversity, and how these challenges have shaped you. 

 

As you’re brainstorming topics, here are some examples of potential challenges you might address:

 

  • Underrepresented identity (race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender identity)
  • Challenges faced during extracurricular activities
  • Adapting to a new environment
  • Family relationships
  • Death of a loved one
  • Health complications or diagnoses
  • Financial troubles

 

Remember that whatever you choose to write about should answer each part of the question – how it is a major part of your life journey, how it forced you to be resilient, and how it will impact your future.

 

While you don’t need to have overcome tragedy to write a good essay to this response, try to avoid challenges that are seen as cliché, like overcoming sports injuries or getting a bad grade in a class. These challenges are incredibly common and follow the predictable storyline of working hard to get back in the game or get a higher grade. 

 

If you do have truly formative experiences related to these topics, try to approach them from a different angle. For example, you could write about a sports injury in a more unique way if that injury helped you discover a new interest while you were recovering.

 

Keep in mind that you can also write about unresolved, current challenges that you’re working on. There doesn’t need to be a solution yet; all that matters is that the challenge has shaped you and your perspective.

 

Since this essay is long, you can choose to write about more than one challenge. Regardless of how many challenges you choose to cover (we recommend no more than 1-3), here’s a breakdown of the formatting you could use:

 

  • Roughly 33% of the essay should describe the process of overcoming the challenge(s). 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(s) that illustrate what you’ve overcome. 

 

  • The next 33% 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).  

 

  • The final 33% of the essay (spread throughout) should reflect on how the challenge has shaped you as a person, covering any lessons you learned or ways it changed your perspective and future goals.

 

Given the length of the prompt, you should also try to go beyond merely describing the event(s) and consider a few small anecdotes (50–75 words) in the essay. One of the best places to do this is in the intro, as an anecdotal intro allows you to grab the reader’s attention, but you can also do this in the body of the essay. If you write about a singular challenge, you should try to use anecdotes across each of the portions of the process (i.e. the initial challenge, working to overcome it, and the final accomplishment).

 

Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 1

Tell us about your high school record — not what’s in it, since we have it already, but why you took some of the courses you took, and what your experience was, especially for classes which were more challenging for you. (200 words)

This prompt asks you to describe some of the courses you’ve taken that pushed you outside of your comfort zone. As a large public university, Penn State has a plethora of elective courses to choose from, and generally, you’ll have much greater control over your schedule than you did in high school. For example, even if you’re a STEM major, chances are you’ll be able to take classes in art history. As such, Penn State and the Schreyer Honors College are looking for ambitious students who constantly want to absorb new subjects, and may already have a track record of doing so.

 

Think about the electives you took in high school. Perhaps you’re someone who has never been good with computers, so you decided to take a computer science course to work on your weaknesses. As a result, you actually became enthusiastic about programming – whether that was working in website design or automating processes. Maybe that entry-level computer science course led to your developing a new hobby or interest, one that you want to continue exploring at Penn State.

 

You may also use this prompt as an opportunity to elaborate on your high school transcript if you feel there are any grades that misrepresented you. If there was a class or elective you found particularly challenging, write about why you struggled and how you overcame it. The Schreyer Honors College is looking for problem-solvers who are prepared for rigorous coursework and are eager to take on new challenges – even if you didn’t directly succeed in a specific class in high school, that class may provide strong insight into your work ethic, drive, and eagerness to learn.

 

For example, if you did not succeed in that computer science class, you can write about how you put in a lot of work outside of class even though you eventually realized that computer science just wasn’t in your wheelhouse. You can write that while you failed to get the grade you may have wanted, your extra effort did not go unnoticed by your teacher and you ended up establishing a strong rapport with your teacher that led to them writing a letter of recommendation for a summer job.

 

Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 2

Where would you like to go in the world, outside of the United States (and outside where you are now, if it’s not the United States), 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

How do you see yourself improving society and the lives of others in the future, and what do you hope to get at Penn State as a Schreyer Scholar to help you accomplish your goals? (200 words)

The Honors College wants to admit students who use their talents to improve the world around them. First, think about why you’re interested in the field of study you’re hoping to pursue. Even if you’re not completely set on a major or a career, think about what kind of person you hope to become in 5 years, 10 years, and so on and so forth.

 

While some majors like those in medicine or the hard sciences will have more obvious answers, some majors such as business or economics may be more difficult to reflect on. While your goal may be simply to make money to provide for your family, dig deeper and see what other ways a career in business would be able to help others. 

 

Could you fund programs to help underdeveloped communities? Could you work towards investing in cleaner energy systems? What about working with various small businesses to help them grow? There are so many ways that you can use even broad degrees to help society, so get creative and really reflect on what you can do to make a difference.

 

Finally, consider how being a Schreyer Scholar can help you achieve your goals and improve the lives of others. What specific resources, courses, programs, and mentors could you take advantage of? For example, a Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major might want to increase representation of women authors in high school English curricula. They could mention the honors course Representing Women and Gender in Literature, Art and Popular Cultures, which would help them discover new authors and learn how these women made their way in male-dominated industries.

 

Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 4

Tell us about any college credits you have earned or have underway, excluding anything that appears in your high school record. For each course, list (in this order) the name of the college or university, the name of the course, the semester you took it, and the grade you received (or “in progress” if it’s this semester). Separate each new course with a paragraph break. (200 words)

Your response to this prompt can simply be a list of any college courses you may have taken or are currently taking, in the below example format:

 

Western Community College, Math 160, Fall 2021, B

Western Community College, Bio 101, Spring 2022, B

Western Community College, Chem 101, Spring 2022, A

Western Community College, Comm 110, Fall 2022, in-progress

 

Don’t worry if you don’t have a response to this question, the admissions representatives just want to get the fullest perspective of you as possible, which includes any college credits on top of your AP or IB classes. 

 

Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 5

Tell us about your most significant out-of-class activities before the pandemic, and since. Overall what activity has meant the most to you, and why? (200 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 how the activity makes you feel and how it’s changed your perspective.

 

To choose an activity, consider the rest of your application. What qualities have you demonstrated already, and how can you share new parts of your identity? Is there an activity that deserves more attention because of how important it is to you?

 

Once you’ve chosen an activity to write about, reflect on how it has impacted your life and how you can apply what you’ve learned to your time at Penn State. 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.

 

Importantly, also reflect on how the pandemic reshaped your involvement in your activity. Were you able to participate in the activity during the pandemic? How did that participation change? How did the activity change?

 

For example, perhaps you were active in the school’s Drama Club and got a leading role in the school musical in your freshman year, only for it to be canceled due to the pandemic. Maybe you organized a virtual performance or sing-along of the show in order to still showcase what you learned and also provide entertainment during a time of quarantine. Maybe you made the performance a fundraiser and raised money for PPE equipment for underfunded schools. 

 

And then following the pandemic, you can write about how the experience made you appreciate your in-person experience and continue the Drama Club’s philanthropic efforts. Remember, your response should focus on your largest takeaway from the activity and anything that may not be readily apparent from your initial application.

 

Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 6

List the awards or other recognitions you have received during your time in high school — they can be from the school or outside of it. You can omit awards based solely on grades, since we have your academic record. Which award or recognition means the most to you, and why? (200 words)

This prompt is another great opportunity for you to paint a better picture of yourself and your accomplishments outside of your academic record. There are mainly two types of responses to this question – you can write about any honors or distinctions if you have received any, or you can also flex your creative muscles and expand on a smaller award or appreciation you have received. Even if you haven’t received any notable awards, a creative answer goes much further than no answer. 

 

If you have participated in and won an extracurricular activity with a competitive element, be sure to include that here. Whether that’s debate team, Model UN, musical theatre, or other STEM-related competitions like robotics or design, explain the activity and what the process of winning meant to you. Remember to include all significant recognitions you have received, but only focus on the one that you feel most reflects your personality and interests.

 

However, if for some reason you lack any formal awards, think back on if there are any informal recognitions you have received – a superlative in the yearbook, a CIT/counselor of the year award at a sleepaway camp, even a thoughtful gift you may have received from a friend or family member – there are tons of possibilities to choose from. What defines an award is something that you achieved or received based on some measure of your character or determination, so remember that this prompt is not solely about the “what,” but also largely about the “why.”

 

Schreyer Honors College Applicants, Short Answer Prompt 7

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 8

Tell us anything you would like us to know about you, and that we wouldn’t get from the rest of the application. This could include obstacles you’ve overcome, something you’re especially 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!

 

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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