How to Write the Pennsylvania State University Essay 2017-2018
Located in the college town of University Park, PA, Pennsylvania State University (commonly referred to as Penn State) is one of the country’s largest and most popular state colleges. Founded in 1855 as Pennsylvania’s only land-grant university, the university is one of the oldest in the country and has a rich history in research, professional studies, engineering, and the liberal arts.
Penn State has a diverse set of undergraduate colleges — from agricultural sciences to arts and architecture. The university also has a Division I sports program in the Big Ten, an expansive alumni network, and a fun-filled campus life attracts students from all over the world.
With an acceptance rate of 51%, admission is somewhat competitive. To help make you an extraordinary candidate, CollegeVine is here to provide some key tips to strengthen your supplemental essay.
Penn State Application Essay Prompt
Note: The university only has one supplemental prompt.
This question is purposely designed to be open-ended. It may often feel like there is not enough room in your college application to divulge into every shaping experience. This prompt, however gives you another opportunity to highlight parts of your personality and experiences in a way that you believe will suit you and better your application.
Treat this prompt in the same manner that you would treat a more creative one. Use the same writing skills that you used in your Common Application personal statement: show and don’t tell, vivid figurative language, detailed narration, etc. Remember, it is important that your response illustrates your character and personality.
Part One: Choose the specific experience that you would like to write about.
There are a variety of directions you can go with here. The more common ones would be to choose either an extracurricular, a job or internship, a challenge/hardship that you overcame, or a characteristic/quality about yourself that you have not already discussed on your application. You are not limited to these choices, but if you are unsure about where to start, these are good places.
If you write about an extracurricular, make sure your experience in the the club or organization includes an instance where you displayed growth through maturity, passion, a willingness to work hard, etc. This can be demonstrated by your ability to overcome an obstacle, change your view, learn to interact with new people/communities, etc. in that activity.
For example, if you established a cultural interest club in your community that has a homogenous racial demographic, you could write about how this club required you to confront stereotypes, build bridges between groups of people who think differently, and overcome your own fears and insecurities about yourself and your abilities. This would demonstrate that you are open to different opinions, hard-working, intellectually curious, and willing to be patient and work with those that may disagree with you — all traits that would make you an asset to a college community.
Here’s an example:
After cleaning up the third spilt glass of juice and scraping the burnt eggs off the pan, I suddenly broke into an exhaustion-induced fit of laughter. I realized that I had seen my mother in this exact position on too many Saturday mornings to count, long hair messily pulled into a bun, face red as she feverishly scrubbed the sink, all while trying to be engaged as I complained about how Lisa had borrowed my jeans without asking, as my younger siblings ran about.
How I longed for more moments when her hair was still long and her cheeks still flushed bright pink and the air felt light from being filled with her tinkly laughter. This time, however, I would take the sponge from her nimble fingers and ask about her day, her work, her secret to making perfect scrambled eggs, anything, just to hear her talk and watch her eyes light up.
Lisa suddenly enters the kitchen and her face turns bright red as she watches my eyes drop to the jeans she’s wearing, clearly mine. “I-I’m sorry,” she stammers in fear of my reaction. “I couldn’t find a clean pair because we haven’t done laundry in so long and –”
“It’s okay,” I interrupt her with a smile. “Keep them. They look better on you.”
Notice how the subject of this essay weaves an extracurricular, a challenge, and personality traits into one supplement. A good way to see if your chosen activity would make for an effective essay is to see if it illustrates many facets of yourself.
It is also important to choose something that you have not discussed in detail yet. If your common application essay was about debate and you already have it listed in your activities and awards section, it would be a good idea to discuss something that the admissions team can’t simply look up elsewhere on your application. Hobbies, for example, would make for interesting and unique essays.
If you choose to write about a job or an internship, the same guidelines for the extracurricular apply. It would also be beneficial if the skills you gained in your work experience apply to the major or profession you would want to pursue at Penn State.
For instance, if you are applying as an education major and you worked at a restaurant during the school year, you could discuss how working with people taught you how to be patient, how communication was a key part of customer service, and how you frequently had to juggle multiple tasks at one time. Even though a career in education and a job at a restaurant are not exactly the same, the skills you’ve acquired will make you more successful in the career of your choice.
If you write about a challenge or obstacle, it is important to be wary of the sob story. Sob stories are a common college application mistake, in which the writer discusses a tragedy or hardship that is meant to make the reader feel bad, but does not effectively demonstrate how the hardship affected the writer and changed him/her, or how the writer overcame it.
Instead, focus on how you faced the challenge and how it changed you, but do not let it define your high school career. This would also be a good place to subtly explain any irregularities in your academic record. For example, if your grades in junior year were much lower than usual because your mother fell ill, you could write about how you gained a newfound appreciation for your mother after you were tasked with taking care of your younger siblings in her absence.
Notice how this example still discusses a tragic event, but it better demonstrates the writer’s maturity as a result of the event. Even though it is not explicitly mentioned that the mother’s illness contributed to the drop in grades, the admissions team will gain a new insight into the experiences that have shaped who you are and affected the parts they can see, like your academic record. Make sure to then highlight how this newfound maturity and evolution of character impacted you and would continue to impact you in college and beyond.
Writing about a characteristic or personality trait is a little more difficult, but would also make for a unique and standout essay. You can do this by exposing your traits through your work in an extracurricular, job, or experience, or you can delve into a memory in your essay that solely focuses on the trait.
For example, if you think that you would be a good fit for Penn State because you thrive in community-oriented environments and you love the community-focused atmosphere at Penn State, you could write about a time where you held a “Friendsgiving” and how cooking with your friends was a way of bonding and connecting.
Even though the stuffing was runny, Dan burned the turkey, and Marie forgot to whip the mashed potatoes, our Friendsgiving was one of the best meals I had ever eaten. The gravy was quite bland thanks to my forgetting to add black pepper, but all I tasted were the sweet flavors of laughter, friendship, and the extended family that I was so lucky to have.
Part Two: Style your essay.
Memories and anecdotes like the ones in the examples above are effective ways to start your essay. However, you can begin your essay in any way that effectively captures your reader’s attention: one word, song/poem lyrics, a quote—as long as it relates to and skillfully introduces the subject matter of your essay.
Next, delve into the experience you chose. Describe in detail why you chose to participate in it, and how it has changed or impacted you. Tell the reader why they will not find this activity on any other part of your application or record. Feel free to highlight specific instances that demonstrate why this experience means so much to you.
Here’s an example:
“Summertime… and the living is easy…”
I crooned into the microphone, careful to let the words flow on their own in the typical jazzy style. I was singing at Dominic’s, the only fancy restaurant in my neighborhood, and for once, I felt liberated. I did not care about all the people staring at me, that my knees were shaking, or that my voice was uneven to match them. All that mattered was the sweet picture of summertime I had painted in my mind.
Singing was always an escape for me, little concertos coming from the shower, the kitchen, and the backyard. But, the first time I stepped in front of a microphone, I never imagined that my voice, always so small, would belt out and shake the ground of the stage in my high school auditorium.
When I was singing, I was no longer the nerdy girl who teachers always had to beg to speak up in class, or the awkward girl who tripped over her laces in gym everyday, or the weird girl who sat alone at lunch. I was powerful, vocal, confident, and most important of all, free. Free from insecurities and doubts, free to play with the notes, tempo, and dynamics, free to add a doo-wop here and there, free to express myself through song.
The next important step is to detail why your participation in this activity would enable you to succeed at Penn State. Here, you can include a little research or knowledge you have about the school and/or just discuss how your experiences would make you a positive addition to the college campus.
Singing was me finding my place, carving a little niche out for myself in a world that often felt like it did not have room for me. The experience of discovering my place made me realize that I had spent far too long hiding in the shadows, letting opportunities pass me by. I realized that if I wanted to make a difference, I had to stand up and let my voice reverberate.
Once I found my singing voice, my other voices followed. The answering-questions-in-class voice followed first, then came the no-longer-a-bystander voice, and then the activist voice soon emerged in my throat. I was no longer just someone who dreamed of confronting issues that plagued my community and my world, I was taking action, one word at a time.
This essay can also complement other parts of your application well by relating to other activities and experiences, specifically for the example above if you discussed your extensive community involvement.
Finally, you can conclude your essay by reflecting on how you’ve changed and how you plan to continue to pay it forward.
I am back at Dominic’s and the crowd rises to their feet at the end of the song. I smile and shake hands when I come across a girl whose voice bears an uncanny resemblance to the one I once had.
“That was amazing,” she timidly says. “I wish I could sing like that.”
“You can,” I say with a smile. “Simply use your voice.”
You will write a strong essay by focusing on how the experience has changed you and helped you develop traits that will benefit the greater Penn State community.
We hope this guide has made the essay writing process a little easier!
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