How to Write the Purdue University Supplemental Essays 2021-2022
Purdue University, home of the Boilermakers, the “world’s largest drum,” and an expert-approved writing lab, remains today 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.
Admission to the university is highly coveted among high schoolers across the nation and writing strong essays will certainly help you stand out. The Purdue supplemental essays give you a chance to explore your interests and activities, so you can show admissions officers what you care about and why.
Read these Purdue essay examples written by real students to get some inspiration.
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Purdue University Application Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: How will opportunities at Purdue support your interests, both in and out of the classroom? (100 words)
Prompt 2: Briefly discuss your reasons for pursuing the major you have selected. (100 words)
(Optional) Prompt 3: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (250 words)
Prompt 1: Explain your vision, ideas, or goals for how you hope to shape your honors experience while at Purdue. Please put this in the context of the four pillars which are the foundation of the Honors College. (500 words)
Prompt 2: Please describe the interdisciplinary nature of your chosen field of study and how it complements or supports other fields. (Examples: You might describe how your work in a liberal arts career may impact or inform the work of an engineer.) (500 words)
How will opportunities at Purdue support your interests, both in and out of the classroom? (Required, 100 words)
The primary purpose of this prompt is for you to pinpoint specific programs at Purdue and explain why they will further your interests and goals. At its core, this essay is the typical “Why This College” essay.
First, consider your interests and your goals for college. These could be academic, like an interest in British literature or a goal of becoming a prominent Alzheimer’s researcher. They could be cultural—maybe you are particularly interested in finding a Latinx community on campus. Your interests and goals could even be social, like wanting to find a tight-knit group of friends, or more specific to your person, like knowing the importance of guidance for yourself and hoping to find a strong faculty mentor.
After you’ve identified what is important to you, research Purdue and find the unique programs, opportunities, and resources that will help you pursue your specific interests and goals. By connecting your interests to your desire to attend Purdue, you will do two important things: tell admissions officers about yourself and convince them that Purdue is the right place for you.
The offerings that you reference should be unique Purdue and should not be able to be copied and pasted for any other university. Some examples could include:
- A student from a small town in rural California mentioning the appeal of Purdue’s emphasis on traditions and camaraderie by referencing the “Hello Walk,” where everyone is encouraged to greet each other with a smile
- An engineering student discussing how their childhood obsession with Neil Armstrong developed into a passion for all things aerospace, then transitioning to discuss the resources at Purdue’s i2i Learning Laboratory
- A political science student who spearheaded their high school’s mock trial team discussing the Butler Center for Leadership Excellence
Connecting your interests in general to your interest in Purdue will also help you avoid the common mistake of focusing too much on either one of these two facets.
It is important to remember that, because this word count is restrictive, concision is key. 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. An example of a good introductory sentence would be “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! For an essay like this, it’s much better to just dive right into your content. Unless you feel strongly that the introduction warrants its own paragraph, try to keep the entire response just one paragraph long.
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 Purdue Soundtracks.”
- “I want to study the effects of pesticides on crops under Professor Adrian. This will enable me to pursue a career as an organic 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 so that I can be surrounded by like-minded peers while I pursue my Scholarly Project—writing a full-form novel.”
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 large 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. (Required, 100 words)
This is the classic “Why This Major?” question. The goal with this prompt is multifold—you must explain what compelled your choice of major and demonstrate that you understand what your major involves moving forward, while also helping the admissions officer learn about who you are and what you value.
Multiple experiences probably culminated in you selecting your major, but because of this prompt’s word limit, you won’t be able to give the full history. Instead, focus on what motivated you most directly. It is often helpful to frame your major selection within the context of one or two activities, classes, or experiences. Additionally, describing specific turning points in your education (both in and out of class) can lead to a concise and engaging essay.
Here are some examples:
- You had a medical internship where you witnessed a surgeon conduct heart surgery. Watching the surgery 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 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.
If you write about a turning point, make sure you use it to characterize yourself (to show the readers that you are a real-life human). The student who wants to go to medical school might mention that they are super compassionate because they have three younger siblings who they take care of. The student who loves math might explain how they identify as a logical thinker in all aspects of life. The IR student might explain that they always got in trouble for arguing as a kid, but over time learned to communicate effectively and it changed their life.
The ultimate goal of college essays is to tell admissions officers something about you—your values, your personality, what gets you excited, why you are the way you are. The more in touch with yourself, the better. It is not enough to simply mention your involvement in something. Depth is better than breadth.
You have more room to be creative with the formatting of this response. 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. It is also okay to weave your reflection and anecdote together.
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or experiences. (Optional, 250 words)
Here’s another college application staple: the Extracurricular Essay. This time, however, they give you some breathing room with the word count. Your goal here should be to 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.
When picking your extracurricular, you don’t necessarily need to choose your most impressive activity or the one that took up the most of your time. Instead, focus on an activity that means a lot to you or says a lot about you.
If your application has a central theme (like community 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 other hand, you might want to demonstrate your capacity to engage with the world in multiple, contradictory ways. A diverse portfolio can be a good indicator of a mature thinker, capable of seeing multiple perspectives.
No matter what you write about, the most important thing is how you frame your response! Admissions officers are interested in learning about you, not the details of your activity. Don’t waste time explaining your activity—even if it is something obscure like Bridge Club or researching a specific gene. Instead, focus on the specific tasks you performed within your extracurricular or why the experience was so impactful.
- Your school’s swim captain was one of the top high school swimmers in the nation, but when they got hurt, you had to fill their role. You were overwhelmed by the logistical responsibilities, in addition to the pressure to perform, so you established committees within the team and delegated tasks. You learned that it’s okay to ask for help and gained the respect of the other swimmers.
- You started researching at a lab last summer but messed up on your first day. You put a sample in the wrong container and realized immediately, but the damage was done. When training your replacement, you told them that everyone makes mistakes in the lab and used that example to comfort them. You realized the importance of leading with humility.
- You were president of your school’s debate team and a lot of responsibility was put on you—notably, you had to schedule the practice spaces. At first, this frustrated you because you thought the faculty advisor should do it. Over time, you realized that your faculty advisor was going through some stuff in their personal life. You realized the importance of helping others during hard times if you are going to expect them to do the same.
With regard to structure, this essay isn’t lengthy, but it does give you the opportunity to get creative. For example, you can experiment 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.
As mentioned, this essay allows you the most freedom. Make sure you use it to add value to your overall Purdue application!
Honors Applicants Prompt #1
Explain your vision, ideas, or goals for how you hope to shape your honors experience while at Purdue. Please put this in the context of the four pillars which are the foundation of the Honors College. (Required, 500 words)
Before starting an honors essay, it is important to do some research on the program. Of course, all honors programs look for students with top marks and demonstrated passion for their studies, but each program is also looking for a specific type of student, who thinks in a specific way. Purdue describes their ideal student as committed to the Honors College’s four pillars: leadership development, undergraduate research, community and global experiences, and interdisciplinary academics.
First things first, don’t get overwhelmed by this heightened word count. Having more words will give you more opportunities to expand on your thoughts. That being said, be wary. If you don’t use your words wisely, you run the risk of writing a boring essay. To avoid this, try incorporating examples, anecdotes, and a unique voice into your writing.
If you simply divide your 500 words between the four pillars (125 words/pillar, 1 experience/pillar), your essay will not be very engaging. Consider identifying one vision, idea, or goal for your honors experience, then using imagery and creativity to show that vision, and connecting the four pillars of the Honors College back to that image. Your image could emphasize 1) how the four pillars guided you in the past or 2) how the four pillars will guide you in the future—just make sure you tie it back to Purdue!
Because the prompt does ask about Purdue, if you are going to use an anecdote from the past, it should be used as an avenue to predict the future. Your outline would be something like:
- An engaging introduction or “hook”
- Your anecdote from the past, which shows your commitment to the four pillars
- Reflection on how the past anecdote shows your values and their alignment with the four pillars
- A prediction of how your values would play out in the Purdue Honors College
Examples of high school experiences that align with the four pillars:
- You founded a club at your high school for international students and domestic students to come together after seeing that the foreign exchange students were having trouble finding a community and also noticing that they had unique thoughts and values that could help domestic students.
- You took AP Capstone Research and had an unofficial leadership role on your team. Your team researched the interactions between sociocultural factors and the outputs of job prediction quizzes and algorithms.
- You wrote a science fiction short story that incorporated your knowledge of physics and your passion for literature, then started a group for science fiction writers at your local library.
If you don’t have a strong high school anecdote, you can simply create a vivid image of the future. Get creative! You can imagine specific scenarios, with you in specific locations on campus. You can even make up dialogue or predict potential struggles you might have.
Examples of experiences you could anticipate that align with the four pillars:
- Forging friendships with students from different cultures and backgrounds as a leader in an organization on campus like the Beta Psi Omega or the Native American Educational and Cultural Center
- Researching in a lab that incorporates cultural factors into AI development and building a strong relationship with your professor
- Studying abroad in Bhutan to work with Bhutanese college students to explore overlaps between animal rights, environmental and agricultural concerns, and biology when dealing with the Big Cats of the Himalayas
- Volunteering at a community center in West Lafayette to install current water purifying technology, then staying after and teaching the children about the fundamentals of chemical engineering and sustainability
No matter the approach you choose, make sure this essay stays engaging and demonstrates your personal alignment with the values of the Purdue Honors College. If you do both those things, you should be set!
Honors Applicants Prompt #2
Please describe the interdisciplinary nature of your chosen field of study and how it complements or supports other fields. (Examples: You might describe how your work in a liberal arts career may impact or inform the work of an engineer.) (Required, 500 words)
The goal when answering this prompt is to demonstrate enthusiasm and passion for your major, and show how that enthusiasm leads you to draw connections between your studies and other disciplines. You have to prove that you see the connectedness of academics—that you believe your field affects others fields and other fields affect yours! The main challenge of this prompt is identifying a convincing and interesting connection.
If you are a naturally interdisciplinary thinker, think about your other interests and how you have applied them to your studies in the past. You can draw together very different fields:
- Drawing and medicine come together through medical illustrators
- Medicine and public policy come together through public health (NIH, NCI, NIA)
- Literature and healthcare come together through narrative medicine
- Music and cinema come together through film scoring
On the other hand, if you are exclusively science-minded or arts-minded (one of those people who says “I don’t have a [creative/scientific] bone in my body”), you may want to focus on the perspective that a different, but related discipline can contribute to your studies. These essays identify the importance of nuanced interdisciplinary fields and will explicitly reproach the fact that similar disciplines do not learn from each other.
- A biology student who isn’t super creative could talk about how neuroscience researchers often neglect the value of qualitative research and could benefit from incorporating human subjectivity into their research practices like psychology researchers do.
- A student who draws might describe how drawing could benefit from the layering techniques that painters use.
If you are completely stuck for ideas, you should try to narrow your scope. A field of study is a large topic. Something like environmental engineering can be divided into research, manufacturing, applications, innovation, and more. Focusing on a subtopic may help you to see overlap with other disciplines. For example, environmental engineering research connects with public policy because research is often funded through government subsidies and grants. On the other hand, environmental engineering manufacturing relates to business and management.
Start with your “chosen field of study.” Think about what you are interested in within that field. Then:
- Think about what affects the subcategory you are interested in
- Consider how the subcategory is funded
- Try to draw parallels between your subcategory and other disciplines
- Identify the most unrelated field you can think of and try to connect it to your discipline
- Make a list of the things that a professional in your field considers on a daily basis
After you have identified a topic, writing this essay should not be terribly challenging. Be articulate as you describe the connections between your chosen disciplines—just because something connects in your mind, doesn’t mean it will connect for your readers. Provide tangible examples, if they exist, to make the connections clear. Come up with hypothetical situations where your disciplines would interact—fictional stories and hypothetical anecdotes will make your essay more engaging!
Additionally, in a long and idea-heavy essay like this one, you should try to incorporate a distinct voice and a unique writing style. Honors programs are small and close-knit, so you want the admissions officers to enjoy your writing and desire to know you.
Where to Get Your Purdue Essays Edited for Free
The most important 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!
If you’ve already written your Purdue supplemental essays, it might be time to get them edited. Having peers read your essays will help you to identify areas for improvement and, ultimately, will help you maximize your chances of getting into Purdue (and the Purdue Honors College if you choose to apply). By creating a free CollegeVine account, you will have access to CollegeVine resources like our free peer-review service. We’re here to help you put your best foot forward and feel prepared throughout this application season—because we know how overwhelming it can get.