How to Write the University of Kansas Essays 2020-2021

The University of Kansas is a public research university with an undergraduate enrollment of more than 19,000 students located in Lawrence, Kansas. The school has an undergraduate acceptance rate of 92% and offers assured acceptance to prospective students who meet certain GPA and SAT/ACT test score combinations. 

 

Jayhawks can choose from over 140 different undergraduate programs, including top-ranked business and engineering programs, along with more specialized departments. The university has no school-wide supplemental essays; however, students applying for the Honors Program or the Engineering SELF Program must submit additional written responses along with their Common App. Want to know your chances at the University of Kansas? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Want to learn what University of Kansas will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering the University of Kansas needs to know.

 

University of Kansas Supplemental Essay Prompts

 

Honors Program only

 

Please upload your short-answer question responses as a single Word or PDF document and limit your total word count, for all three questions combined, to no more than 1,200 words. Your short-answer questions should be a concise snapshot of what has shaped your educational experience — and an illustration of your ability to convey those influences with clarity and brevity.

 

  • Help us learn about you, your life, and your experiences. List no more than five items (clubs and organizations, work experience, community service, awards and recognition, extra-curricular interests, personal or family obligations, etc.) in descending order of significance (list the most significant item first). For each item, explain your role, time commitment (both amount of time you devote to the activity and the year(s) in which you were involved), and responsibilities.

 

  • How have your experiences affected your sense of who you are and what you hope to accomplish? There are no wrong answers.

 

  • The Honors Program intends to attract students who make the most of the opportunities available to them. Based on the availability of courses at your school, how did you select the courses you chose to take? Is there anything you want the admissions committee to know about your transcript?

 

Self Engineering Leadership Fellows (SELF) Program only

 

The SELF Program’s primary goal is to develop passionate future engineering leaders in business, industry, and entrepreneurship. Keeping that in mind, tell us why you are interested in becoming a SELF Fellow and what you feel you would contribute. Limit your response to 500 words. 

 

Honors and SELF Program

 

Please respond to one of the following essay questions. The essay section allows for you to develop your ideas around a particular theme or question in a more expansive way. Your essay will be evaluated for the quality of your writing and your ability to provide a focused response to the question you choose. Your response should demonstrate intellectual curiosity and should be thoughtful, well-organized, and free of grammatical and spelling errors. Limit your response to 500 words.

 

Option A: The Kansas state motto “Ad Astra per Aspera” is Latin for “To the Stars through Difficulties.” What stars are you aiming for, and how have you learned/prepared to face challenges along the way?

 

Option B: There are many questions to ask and problems to explore. If you were to choose a question, problem, idea, or issue (personal, systemic, local, or global) to explore during your undergraduate years at KU, what would it be? What might you create, design, invent, or engineer to explore this topic?

 

Option C: As Jayhawks, our community is committed to a set of core values: To actively foster unity, strive for innovation, advocate for inclusion, and value engagement. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious groups, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the KU community.

Honors Program only

 

The University of Kansas Honors program aims to bring together a diverse, motivated group of students. Students in the Honors program can take Honors courses, receive priority enrollment, and specialized housing, among other perks.

 

Please upload your short-answer question responses as a single Word or PDF document and limit your total word count, for all three questions combined, to no more than 1,200 words. Your short-answer questions should be a concise snapshot of what has shaped your educational experience — and an illustration of your ability to convey those influences with clarity and brevity.

 

  1. Help us learn about you, your life, and your experiences. List no more than five items (clubs and organizations, work experience, community service, awards and recognition, extra-curricular interests, personal or family obligations, etc.) in descending order of significance (list the most significant item first). For each item, explain your role, time commitment (both amount of time you devote to the activity and the year(s) in which you were involved), and responsibilities.

 

  1. How have your experiences affected your sense of who you are and what you hope to accomplish? There are no wrong answers.

 

  1. The Honors Program intends to attract students who make the most of the opportunities available to them. Based on the availability of courses at your school, how did you select the courses you chose to take? Is there anything you want the admissions committee to know about your transcript?

These questions are meant to let the admissions committee understand you better, and give them a better picture of your background and motivation.

 

The first question asks you to list the five most important items in your life. The admissions committee is looking to see what is important to you, and why. This space gives you an opportunity to elaborate on some of the extracurricular activities listed in your resume, or let the admissions committee know about a hobby or activity not previously mentioned in your application.

 

Avoid just listing off the things you have done. Take time to really think about what you have done and why it’s important to you, and give the admissions committee an in-depth view of why you are passionate about the items you listed. For example, maybe you were a guitarist in a garage band, and that was your creative outlet for when you were happy, sad, or frustrated. The few hours you spent every day with your bandmates expressing yourselves through music allowed you to break from your daily routine of schoolwork and chores at home, and you were able to meet many local musicians within your community and develop lifelong friendships.

 

The prompt also asks you to rank the items in order of importance to you. Why is your part time job at your neighbor’s farm more important than your participation on your high school’s varsity volleyball team? While you learned good teamwork and leadership skills from being the captain of the volleyball team, maybe your time caring for animals helped you develop a lifelong passion for them. Because of that experience, you decided to study animal science, and that’s why that work is more important to you. Elaborate on the significance of each item, and what they mean to you.

 

The second prompt asks you to talk about your experiences and how they have affected you. This is a very open-ended prompt, and the admissions committee is looking for an extra look into your motivations. Try not to jump around and list off a large list of experiences; make sure all of the topics you talk about are related in some way, and detail how these experiences have impacted your motivations and goals.

 

For example, growing up, maybe your father took you to go watch a new movie every weekend. You would always look forward to seeing new films and discussing the plot, acting, cinematography, and details of the movies with your father, and this led to a passion for the behind-the-scenes process of creating movies. This has led you to want to pursue the Film and Media studies program at KU.

 

The third prompt is asking for a deeper understanding of your high school academic path. The admissions committee is looking to see why you chose to take the classes you did, and what inspired you to go down that path. Whether or not the classes you took have relevance to your intended major, there is a reason why you decided to take certain classes and you should dive into those details to answer this question.

 

Don’t just list off your graduation requirements, make sure to elaborate on your electives and specifically why you took them. Maybe you took all of the Art and History classes your school had to offer because you are interested in evolving art forms. You wanted to understand the creative process across different art mediums, so you took painting, photography, and other art classes offered at your school, and you took history classes because you have a general interest in learning about history, and you’re trying to refine the topic and time periods you’re interested in. 

 

Alternatively, maybe you took a variety of classes spread across different subjects like math, psychology, photography, or others because you wanted to get a good surface level understanding of a variety of different topics because you were unsure of what you wanted to study in college. Make sure to mention specific takeaways from these courses, or specific connections you’ve drawn between seemingly disparate subjects, to give your response a personal tinge that demonstrates the way you approach learning. 

 

If your school also didn’t offer certain opportunities, like specific courses or programs, this is important to mention as well. For example, if you wanted to take World History but only U.S. History was offered, you can mention that. If your school lacked certain Honors classes or an AP curriculum, you can mention that here as well. 

 

Finally, maybe you feel that your transcript doesn’t accurately represent your abilities because of external circumstances. This prompt also invites you to address any discrepancies. Maybe you had a concussion and got your only C ever because you couldn’t focus in school for months after. Or, maybe you had to take care of your siblings, and couldn’t study as much as you wanted. Whatever the situation, simply share the details in a straightforward manner that accepts responsibility for anything caused by your shortcomings.

 

SELF Program Only

 

The University of Kansas Self Engineering Leadership Fellows (SELF) program is a program for engineering students to develop a variety of skills from communication to management in order to become better leaders across campus and in their future careers.

 

The SELF Program’s primary goal is to develop passionate future engineering leaders in business, industry, and entrepreneurship. Keeping that in mind, tell us why you are interested in becoming a SELF Fellow and what you feel you would contribute. (500 words) 

With this prompt, the admissions committee is looking to see your commitment to the SELF program and your reasons for applying. To show that you truly want to be a part of the SELF program and let the committee know what you can contribute to the program and community, your response will need to contain lots of specific detail. Research the requirements and perks of being a SELF fellow, and reflect on what aspects of the program you are drawn to based on your past experiences and current interests.

 

Why are you interested in becoming a SELF Fellow? The SELF program is looking for students with a passion for engineering and who will become future leaders. The SELF program offers many unique opportunities such as participation in workshops, seminars, and meetings with mentors and advisors, scholarship grants, and other opportunities. Make sure to include what specific aspects of the program you are interested in so that your passion for the subject comes across as tangible and genuine.

 

For example:

 

As an engineering major with a business background, I plan to use the skills I gain from SELF to take part in product management within startup culture. Through professional development seminars such as “Women in Mechanical Engineering Networking,” I can learn about opportunities that intersect with my identities and forge the relationships I will need for success in the tech-startup field. I also look forward to attending the SELF Speaker series and learning from industry leaders like Beth Ellyn McClendon. Her work in product management for Google was a large catalyst in my own desire to pursue the business side of engineering.

 

The second part of this question asks what unique knowledge, experience, and outlooks you could contribute to the program. The admissions committee is looking for students who can bring new ideas and be a positive influence on the program as a whole. Make sure to elaborate on what unique things you could specifically bring to the program. You can do this by elaborating on your past experience and current interests.

 

For example:

 

One of the events that draws me to KU’s SELF program is my desire to help organize and run the annual high school design competition. At my high school, I started Her Hackathon, an annual hackathon for girls who are interested in the technology sector. Introducing these concerns at the high school level has allowed me to spread awareness of gender inequity in STEM in my community. I plan to bring this same energy to KU and continue implementing women-friendly programs that will help bridge this gap in our events. During the high school design competition, I will make sure that the design criteria addresses gender inequality and that the students must reflect their understanding of this issue in their submissions. 

 

Required for Honors AND SELF Program Applicants

 

Both the Honors and SELF programs require the completion of an additional essay prompt. There are three options for the applicant to choose from. The first prompt asks for your goals and what you have learned to overcome challengers, the second prompt asks about topics you want to explore during your time at KU, and the third prompt asks about your community growing up and how you want to contribute to the community at KU.

 

Before choosing a prompt, brainstorm several ideas you may want to write about. Think about what topics are the most important to you because those will be the easiest to write about and show your drive and passion to the admissions committee. The prompt topics are very broad, and almost any idea can be molded to fit into one of the prompts. For example, if you play an instrument and are passionate about music, you can talk about your musical goals to fit into prompt 1, a personal issue or a big idea relating to your musical interests for prompt 2, or about your involvement in the music community growing up and your interest in KU’s community for prompt 3.

 

Please respond to one of the following essay questions. Your essay will be evaluated for the quality of your writing and your ability to provide a focused response to the question you choose. Your response should demonstrate intellectual curiosity and academic rigor, and should be thoughtful, well-organized and free of grammatical and spelling errors. Please limit your response to 500 words.

 

Option A

The Kansas state motto “Ad Astra per Aspera” is Latin for “To the Stars through Difficulties.” What stars are you aiming for, and how have you learned/prepared to face challenges along the way? (500 words)

The admissions committee is looking to see what your long term goals are, and your growth so far in your journey to achieve your goals. This question is open to a large range of responses, and can be broken down into two parts — what are your goals, and how are you prepared to face any challenges on your way to achieving them.

 

The first part of this question asks you to let the admissions committee ask about the “stars” you are aiming for. These “stars” should be anything you wish to achieve in the long term, and you should talk about your end goals in life, whether they’re related to your future career, personal life, or academic aspirations. Make sure to elaborate on these ideas, and don’t just write down a long list of your goals. Take time to think and detail the most important ones to you — remember, the admissions committee is trying to get a look into your mind and see your passions.

 

The second part of this question asks you to draw upon your experiences to think about how you have overcome complications in the past, and how you will use that knowledge in the future. Show the admissions officers how your challenges have prepared you to achieve your goals.

 

For example:

 

My goal is to work in mission control on space exploration missions. However, as a woman, I’ve always been intimidated at the thought of pursuing a career in engineering because it is a very male-dominated field. On my high school robotics team, I was one of two women on a team of ~25 students, and we faced many challenges due to the disproportionate gender ratio. I always struggled to speak up because I was so much quieter than my peers, but I was able to talk to my team members and implement some changes to help me overcome this struggle. We introduced an anonymous suggestion box that the team went over during weekly meetings, and a “one mic” approach to discussions that prevented people from cutting each other off. Implementing these changes allowed our team to become more attentive to minority voices, inspiring me to continue advocating for these inclusive measures wherever I go.

 

Option B

There are many questions to ask and problems to explore. If you were to choose a question, problem, idea, or issue (personal, systemic, local, or global) to explore during your undergraduate years at KU, what would it be? What might you create, design, invent, or engineer to explore this topic? (500 words)

This is another very open-ended question that gives you the space to let the committee know about any issues that are important to you. Think about what issues you are interested in working to improve. Elaborate on what it is you want to explore, and tie that into how an experience at KU can help you make new ideas related to it.

 

For example, creating a greener planet is a global issue. If you are passionate about creating more environmentally friendly appliances for use in people’s everyday lives, discuss what you want to do to help improve how green the world around us is. Maybe you are planning to pursue environmental engineering, and you want to get involved in labs on campus that support eco-friendly engineering research. Elaborate on why you are passionate about this topic, and mention specific labs or organizations that help you work towards a greener planet.

 

Another example of something you can talk about that may be more personal is your goal of improving your home organization. Maybe you live with a lot of siblings in a small home, and your parents have always had a hard time keeping up with the organization due to their busy schedules. You’ve always tried to find and create new ideas to make it easier to keep the house tidy, and you are planning to concentrate in interior design at KU, with hopes that you can apply your new skills and knowledge to your home issues.

 

Here is a sample response written from a student perspective:

 

Energy makes our world go round, and its sourcing and retention has always fascinated me. In high school, I helped set up a Cycle for Tunes event, in which we rented energy-generating bikes that powered the stage for a school-wide concert. Biking for two consecutive hours might have made anyone else feel drained, but after seeing the success of the event, I was even more energized to continue making a difference in improving our planet’s sustainability. At KU, I plan to help make classic annual campus programs, like Winterfest, more environmentally-friendly. I also plan to get involved in energy conservation-related research, such as Professor Trung van Nguyen’s work with redox flow battery energy storage systems. By finding potential ways to store renewable energy, I can continue to make entertainment events even more environmentally-friendly, so that the Earth can enjoy them as much as we can.

 

Option C

As Jayhawks, our community is committed to a set of core values: To actively foster unity, strive for innovation, advocate for inclusion, and value engagement. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious groups, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the KU community. (500 words)

This prompt gives you a space to tell your story and let the admissions committee know something about you that may not appear on your application already. They are asking to know about your upbringing and your environment to get a better look into who you are. Make sure to dive into aspects of your life and world experience that have contributed to the person you are today.

 

This prompt also has a second part ー what can you bring to the KU community? KU is looking for active, engaged students who can bring new ideas, perspectives, and achievements to the campus community, and you want to show the committee that you can bring some or all of these things.

 

When writing this prompt, make sure to connect all your ideas in a way that flows. Don’t just list off copious ideas, but rather, take time to develop a couple of core concepts and elaborate on the details of what you are telling the admissions committee.

 

For example:

 

I grew up very involved with my local church. The community was my extended family, and the other choir kids were my siblings. The sense of belonging and acceptance I felt through music is a feeling I hope to evoke as a KU student. Through the music department’s Music Therapy program, I can help disadvantaged people in Lawrence work on their fine motor skills while spreading the love of music. As a volunteer at my local veterinarian’s office, I have also seen firsthand the power of animals in lifting people’s mood and helping them socially engage. At KU, I hope to introduce animal therapy to the Music Therapy program in hopes of adding another dimension to our service. 

 

Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.

Want more college essay tips?

We'll send them straight to your inbox.


Short bio
Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.