How to Write the Purdue University Supplemental Essays 2020-2021
We’ve updated this post! Read the 2021-2022 Purdue essay guide.
Purdue University, home of the Boilermakers, the “world’s largest drum,” and an expert-approved writing lab, remains today as one of the most innovative schools in the country. Located in West Lafayette, Indiana, Purdue has come a long way since its founding in 1869.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security has called Purdue the number one destination for international students studying STEM, and Purdue’s engineering and agriculture programs are also both world renowned. What’s more, Purdue was the first university in the world to offer a degree in aviation, and it even has its own airport on campus (the second largest in the state of Indiana).
Many of Purdue’s 30,000+ undergraduate students describe it as a place of opportunity. Purdue’s reputation precedes it as a haven for undergraduate research, but it also provides students access to a wide variety of pre-professional opportunities like co-ops and Fortune 500 internships.
As a member of the Big Ten Conference, Purdue’s campus lights up with school spirit, especially during rivalry games. Ever since 1891, the winner of the annual Boilermakers vs. Indiana Hoosiers football game has taken home the Old Oaken Bucket, an iconic rivalry trophy.
Purdue is highly coveted among high schoolers all across the nation. With an acceptance rate of 58%, admission is somewhat selective. Writing strong essays will certainly help you stand out, and we at CollegeVine have provided several tips below to help as you undertake the Purdue supplemental essays. Want to know your chances at Purdue? Calculate your chances for free right now.
Purdue University Application Essay Prompts
How will opportunities at Purdue support your interests, both in and out of the classroom? (100 words)
The primary purpose of this prompt is for you to pinpoint specific programs at Purdue and why you wish to take advantage of them. The key to answering this prompt will be making sure you balance discussion of your interests/accomplishments and the unique offerings at Purdue.
One easy mistake you could make here would be focusing too much on either one of these two facets. For instance, not focusing enough on Purdue-specific programs might convey a lack of knowledge, but mentioning too many of them would not leave room to explain why they’re relevant to you. Because the word count is so restrictive, concision is key.
Regarding concision, make sure your introductory sentence gets straight to the point. Unless you’re extremely crafty, don’t try to set up an extended metaphor. Additionally, don’t concern yourself with elaborate transitions between sentences (keep them brief). It is best to be direct and methodical here.
In terms of structure, here is a general outline:
Introduction (0-2 sentences)
You most likely won’t need two sentences to introduce your response here. If you’re choosing to write about organizations that relate to just one interest, you might consider making an umbrella statement about that interest here.
For example: “My friends call me a political junkie.” This is a concise statement that allows the writer to pick out different programs at Purdue University that relate to politics and explain their value.
Don’t do this: “Purdue is a great school with a plethora of organizations I want to join.” This sentence is 14 words long, but it adds nothing to the response following it. This author now has an 86 word limit! General statements like this aren’t necessarily bad writing, but it’s much better to just dive right into the content.Unless you feel strongly that the introduction warrants its own paragraph, try to keep the entire response just one paragraph long. If your introduction doesn’t allow you to directly segue into a specific program or interest, it can likely be deleted without changing the meaning of the essay as a whole.
Body (5-7 sentences)
The sentence count here isn’t exact since it largely depends on how long your sentences are. In this section, you need to answer the question point blank. One useful strategy here is to couple specific programs with descriptions of how they relate to your interests. Strive to alternate between the two. Here are some examples:
- “I find the social aspect of singing enriching, so I hope to join one of Purdue’s many acapella groups.”
- “I’ve always been fascinated by the effects of pesticides on crops. That’s why I want to conduct research under one of Purdue’s brilliant agriculture professors. This will enable me to pursue a career as an agricultural specialist.” (Side note: Don’t mention a specific professor for the sake of name dropping them; only do so if you are very familiar with their work.
- “I want to join the Honors College, where I hope to immerse myself in a group of similarly motivated scholars.”
- “I’m hoping to be the starting running back for the Boilermakers one day. I’ve played football for eleven years, and it’s always been my dream.” This is a good method to ensure balance. The only risk you run here is saturating it with too many disparate interests. While you should avoid complicated transitions, you should still include them, so the essay flows well. Also, make sure you always clearly explain the connection between each respective interest/activity. You might have multiple activities that go with each interest, or multiple interests that culminate in one activity. Both of those are perfectly fine.
Conclusion (0-1 sentences)
The conclusion is the most skippable part of this supplement. Only make a closing remark if it is powerful and gives the essay a greater sense of overall cohesion. Don’t bother with it if you included a larger variety of interests.
Good example: “Through these medical programs, I will strive to make the world a more healthful place.” This would enhance what is likely a more focused essay by giving it some broader global context.
Don’t do this: “All of these programs will make my Purdue experience truly one of a kind.” This is a sweet sentiment, but it’s just adding extra words. Instead, begin the last interest/program pairing with a transition like “finally” to signal the end of the essay.
Briefly discuss your reasons for pursuing the major you have selected. (100 words)
Ah, it’s the classic “Why Major?” question. This time, however, you hardly have any space to answer it! These types of questions are deceptive, because they actually require you to complete two objectives. Primarily, you need to explain what compelled your choice in major, but you also need to demonstrate that you understand what that major involves moving forward.
Often times, college coursework in a given subject is vastly different than its high school counterpart. Make sure you show that you know what you’re getting yourself into. For instance, psychology in high school might just be learning vocabulary, but it will involve observational studies and statistical analysis in college.
Because of the word constraint, you won’t be able to give the full history of your experiences with the subject at hand. Instead, focus on what motivated you most directly. This inspiration can come in many forms. It is often helpful to frame it within the context of one or two activities, classes, or experiences. Specific turning points in your education (both in and out of class) are often the most powerful.
Here are some examples:
- You had a medical internship where you witnessed a surgeon conduct heart surgery. This inspired your long-term goal of attending medical school and saving lives. Thus, you want to major in biology with a pre-med concentration.
- You always hated math until you got to AP Calculus. You couldn’t believe it at first, but when you caught yourself thinking about velocity graphs while driving, you knew you had discovered your true passion.
- Growing up, you were a huge tennis fan. You loved playing and idolized the pros, but it broke your heart whenever any of them would get injuries. That’s why you want to major in sports medicine and eventually work alongside of them at the ATP World Tour.
- You felt so inspired by your first Model UN conference that you just knew you had to go into diplomacy and international relations. You began reading official UN resolutions in your spare time.
One important caveat to all of this is that you need to focus on how your unique experiences impacted your choice in major. Use lots of emotionally charged language. The more in touch with yourself, the better. It is not enough to superficially mention your involvement in something. For this prompt, depth is better than breadth.
You have more room to be creative with the formatting of this one. If your essay truly has two distinct sections that focus on different ideas/parts of an idea, it’s okay to break it into two smaller chunks. For instance, the first part might be an anecdote, while the second is a declaration of how you plan to act accordingly.
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or experiences. (250 words)
Here’s another college application staple: the “elaborate on an extracurricular” prompt. This time, however, you actually have some breathing room.
Compared to Purdue’s other prompts, this one is more straightforward. For this essay, you should expand one extracurricular activity beyond the scope of what is listed in your activities section or resume. Bonus points if you can convey personal growth.
The biggest challenge here will be choosing the right activity to write about. You don’t necessarily want to choose your most impressive one. Often times, writing about your personal experience with something more grounded can be just as effective.
If your application has a central theme (like commitment to service, intellectual fervor, or social activism), you might consider using an activity that relates to this theme, even if it is only tangentially related. This will uphold the overall cohesion of your application.
On the contrary, it can be good to demonstrate your capacity to engage with the world in multiple, often contradictory ways. A diverse portfolio can be a good indicator of a mature thinker, capable of seeing multiple perspectives.
Which of the following major/activity pairings do you think would be most effective:
- A political science major who writes about student government
- A biology major who writes about ceramics
- A linguistics major who writes about ice skating
- A statistics major who writes about social science research
- An English major who writes about HOSA
The truth is, all five pairings have equal potential to be great! It just depends on your unique circumstances and how you wish to frame your response.
While you have liberty with subject matter, don’t just write anything. Make sure your response to this question provides new information. Adcoms will be able to see what accomplishments are on your application, so you need to focus on specific tasks within these activities and why they were so impactful.
This essay isn’t lengthy, but it’s still a chance to be creative in terms of content/structure. Try to begin with an interesting hook that leaves the reader begging for more.
- Good example – “‘Point of order! The delegate from Germany forgot to state his name!’ In the heat of the moment, I was thankful for those lessons in parliamentary procedure. Model UN certainly taught me to choose my words carefully, but it also bolstered my confidence and informed my overall worldview…” This student begins with an exciting anecdote from their time in committee and proceeds to set up further discussion regarding their personal development through Model UN.
- Bad example – “The decision to join Model UN was the best one I ever made. I learned so many invaluable lessons there. I also learned a number of crucial skills during my time in committee…” This essay is not off to a good start. Not only is it uninteresting, but it’s also lacking in focus. It’s unclear where this essay will go, and it shows no signs of going beyond surface-level observations.
Of the three Purdue essays, this is the one where you have the most freedom. Despite this, make sure your response adds value to your overall application. Purdue admissions are competitive, so you need to capitalize on every chance to present yourself as a complex, mature individual. Essays are a perfect place to do so!
Some Final Words
Writing college supplements can be tricky, but if you follow our tips, you should be just fine. You’re probably really stressed out right now, but just remember to breathe! It might not seem like it, but the college application process does, in fact, come to an end. Everything will work out, and you’ll feel so relieved once it’s all over.
The biggest thing about writing college essays (whether for Purdue or any other school) is to make sure your unique voice resonates. If you’re worried about this, ask friends or family members to read over your essays. They know you best, and they can tell if your work actually sounds like you. Outside opinions are always useful in the writing process!
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