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How to Write the University at Buffalo Honors Essay 2023-2024

The State University of New York at Buffalo (University at Buffalo) is a public university located in Buffalo, New York. It boasts a large, suburban campus and consistently ranks in the top 100 national universities. 


When it comes to admissions, UB is moderately competitive. While there’s no supplement for all applicants, there is one for the Honors College. Here’s how to write a standout response to their prompt.


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UB Honors Supplemental Essay Prompt


UB Honors scholars are characterized by intellectual curiosity, a broad range of interests, and a commitment to a diverse and inclusive society. What experiences have helped to broaden your perspectives academically, socially and culturally? What experiences do you hope to have that will enlarge your understanding of the cultural richness of America and the world? Please be as specific as possible in your answer. (650 words)

Understanding the Prompt


This prompt allows the admissions committee to get a sense of your values–and what you will contribute to the UB community. A prompt like this has no one “right answer”; your aim should be to find detailed, compelling examples that show


  1. Your understanding and appreciation of intellectual curiosity, diversity, and inclusivity
  2. What you will contribute to the UB Honors college community’s intellectually curious, diverse, and inclusive community


This means that the only “wrong” answer would be one that shows a lack of understanding of the values that the UB Honors College expressly prioritizes.


With this in mind, let’s take a minute to understand what each of these values means:


1. Intellectual curiosity


Most basically, intellectual curiosity means a desire to ask and answer questions—to learn. “Intellectual curiosity” is a broad enough term that it can fit many different kinds of people. For example:


  • You can be intellectually curious by always having questions about everything you encounter in the world around you. Maybe you’re the person who is always eager to ask “why,” whether at a theater performance or in biology class.


  • Or you can be intellectually curious by being passionate about a particular set of issues or questions. Maybe you care deeply about how humans can improve the standard of living of the poorest among us, and you are passionate about asking questions in many disciplines—economics, politics, agricultural sciences, sociology—to begin to solve this problem.


2. A broad range of interests


Though many programs encourage specialization (academically and professionally), the UB Honors College is not one such program. The honors college sees itself as a small liberal arts college within the large UB university. A liberal arts education fundamentally is centered on the idea of giving students a varied educational experience, exposing them to different areas of knowledge and inquiry. “A broad range of interests” does not have to mean that you’re interested in everything; it should, however, involve interests that go beyond one set professional or academic path. Consider these two cases:


  • Narrow interests: Imagine that you are passionate about math and want to take as many math courses as possible and do as many math-related activities as possible, with the long-term goal of being an academic mathematician. If this is the case, you might not be a good fit for the Honors Program’s “broad range of interests.”


  • Broad interests: Imagine that you are passionate about math (and plan to become a mathematician) but also want to understand history, economics, and the arts in order to be a more informed citizen. If you have these interests—and, ideally, a track record of participating in and exploring these non-math areas—then you might be a great fit for the Honors Program.


3. A diverse and inclusive society 


Diversity and inclusivity have become buzzwords; we all think that we know what they mean—and, to an extent, your understanding of these terms is probably right. Fundamentally, diversity and inclusivity have to do with valuing and celebrating the different backgrounds, perspectives, and experiences that come with being part of a multicultural, multi-religious, multiethnic society. Inclusivity places particular emphasis on finding ways to draw in and celebrate those who have historically been excluded from or oppressed by society. 


However, keep in mind that diversity and inclusivity can also have to do with:


  • Economic diversity: Including students from different economic backgrounds in an intellectual community.
  • Intellectual diversity: Including students with varied political or ideological beliefs in an intellectual community. 
  • Geographic diversity within the US: Though international students provide the most vibrant and obvious diversity at many US Universities, students from under-represented areas of the US can also contribute to a school’s diversity. 


Choosing Past Experiences to Write About


The key part of the prompt asks: 


What experiences have helped to broaden your perspectives academically, socially and culturally? 


In an essay like this, it can be tempting to go for quantity over quantity—if you have many experiences that seem to fit the prompt, including as many of them as possible can seem like the right way to go. However, the strongest responses to a prompt like this will focus on just one or two (three at the most) related experience to weave a detailed, compelling picture of how your values fit with those of UB.


When writing about your experiences, your aim should be to show not tell. This means picking specific “moments” from each experience to bring the experience to life. Here’s a mini example:


Telling: During my exchange trip to Italy, I spent as much time as I could talking with the locals and learning about their cultural practices. 


Note that this is a very general summary of the writer’s experience; vivid details do not shine through, and the reader does not get much of a sense of what the writer saw, felt, or did. 


Showing: One morning, I looked up from my customary espresso to find a friendly, wrinkled face across the table from me. My new friend, patient with my imperfect Italian comprehension, told me stories about her farm where she had lived as a child, before poor economic conditions forced her family to sell their land and move to the city.


This little anecdote puts the reader “in the moment”; it clearly conveys that the writer spoke with locals and learned their stories, but it does so through one engaging story, rather than through general summary.


With this point in mind (about “showing not telling”), consider these examples of experiences someone might write about. They demonstrate the variety of experiences that could fit this part of the essay prompt:


Example 1


A student who did an exchange trip to Japan and also worked at a Mexican restaurant could write about these two very different experiences. 


  • The student could pick a “moment” from their experience in Japan that shows how they encountered different academic and social norms in Japan.
  • Then, they could describe different specific aspects of their work in a Mexican restaurant, showing what they learned about food and culture. 
  • Zooming out, the student could give examples of how these experiences have helped them connect with those who are different from them in their daily life. 


Example 2


A student whose parents got divorced while she was in middle school could write about this experience and about how, around the same time, she began volunteering at a nursing home in her community. 


  • Using vivid, detailed “moments” (for example, a specific moment when she could not focus), the student could explain how her parents’ divorce was socially and academically difficult for her, since it distracted her from friends and school. 
  • Then, she could show how this experience motivated her to develop specific new study habits and social skills, and to volunteer at the local nursing home. 
  • Next, the student could describe how this volunteering experience exposed her to elderly people of varied cultural and economic backgrounds, allowing her to put aside her own personal turmoil and focus on listening and learning. The writer could pick one or two specific friends from the nursing home to write about in detail.


Choosing Future Experience to Write About


The second part of the prompt asks:


What experiences do you hope to have that will enlarge your understanding of the cultural richness of America and the world? 


This is what we call a “forward-looking” question. By asking both this question and one about your past experiences, the admissions committee is trying to understand not only who you are now, but how your past experiences have shaped your future goals. 


This part of the prompt is a key place to pivot to think specifically about the Honors College and your goals for college. In other words, college is a great time to enlarge your understanding of the country or world’s cultural richness. Here, your goal should be to still stay specific and to create continuity between the past- and forward-looking parts of your essay. 


What to Avoid


Writing about very vague or generic experiences (meeting other students, talking with your peers)


Engaging with other students in college is a critical and fruitful part of the college experience; however, you should do your best to identify a forum for engagement that will show the specificity and sincerity of your hopes. This could mean extracurriculars, discussion groups, or even just shared, informal activities like cooking or game nights.


Writing about the exact same experiences that you’ve already had


If you’ve done an exchange in Japan in high school, writing that you want to go back through a similar program in college will likely not show growth or a desire to push your understanding further.


However, you could instead write about how you want to pursue an internship in Japan or go there for research or another experience that is meaningfully different (presumably more in-depth) than the experiences you’ve already had.


Writing about experiences just because they seem “impressive”


Many college applicants feel pressure to express interest in activities that are competitive or come with high prestige. However, a prompt like this one is all about understanding your values and how you connect with other people. This means your priority should be authenticity. 


For example, you have not demonstrated any interest in Model UN or international relations more generally, it would not feel cohesive if you wrote about how you plan to broaden your cultural perspective by joining Model UN in college (unless you are able to come up with a compelling, personal reason for branching out into this entirely new field). 


Aside from these common pitfalls, there is, again, no one “right” way to answer this prompt. However, here are two ways that the examples above could answer the second question in the prompt:


Example 1


  • The student who wrote about his experiences in Japan and working in a Mexican restaurant could write about how he hopes to get involved in the UB Honors College’s international cafe, which exposes students to food and practice from different cultures. 
  • He could also write about how he hopes to travel back to Japan to learn more about Japanese culinary traditions, which were not his focus during his first (academically-focused) visit.


Example 2


  • The student who wrote about her parents’ divorce and her work in a nursing home could write about how she hopes to study different models for caring for the aging in different cultures.
  • The writer could explain how her experiences have showed her that how a society treats its oldest citizens offers key insight into social and cultural values and norms. 
  • She could cite specific UB courses and resources opportunities that would allow her to study this topic, such as the Gerontology minor, which focuses on the study of aging.


Where to Get Your UB Essay Edited


Do you want feedback on your UB essay? 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!

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