How to Write the University of Nevada, Reno Essays 2020-2021

University of Nevada, Reno is a public research university with over 20,000 students. UNR houses one of the largest earthquake simulation laboratories in the country and is the sole land grant institution in the state. Its School of Journalism has produced six Pulitzer Prize winners. 


University of Nevada, Reno has an 83% acceptance rate. Applicants can apply via the MyNEVADA portal located on UNR’S website. Although the school’s general application does not require any essays, UNR requires that Honors Program applicants submit a supplemental essay. 


If you’re interested in pursuing Honors at UNR, read on to learn how to answer the supplemental prompts and distinguish your application.


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University of Nevada, Reno Honors College Prompts

One essay of 500 or fewer words, selected from any of the following prompts below:


Option 1: What societal need resonates with you most strongly? If restrictions did not exist, what would you like to do to address this need?


Option 2: Which element from the periodic table best describes you, and why?


Option 3: Identify one example of music, art or literature that best describes you and identify why.

For the Honors Program essay, UNR gives you the option to select from three prompts. The three are open-ended and different from one another, so it can be difficult to select which one to write.


First, read over the prompts and see which ones you naturally gravitate towards. For each prompt, jot down two or three potential essay topics and see which ones can be developed the most thoroughly. This essay guide contains hypothetical ways to answer each of these prompts, but you should only consider it a starting point. In reality, there is no wrong way to answer these prompts. Your main goal should be to teach the admissions officers something about yourself that is not expressed elsewhere in your application. 

Honors College Essay—Option 1

What societal need resonates with you most strongly? If restrictions did not exist, what would you like to do to address this need? (500 words)

Though most essay prompts will directly ask you about yourself, this essay is asking you to consider issues concerning society outside of yourself. Colleges want to gauge what type of citizen you are and how you are inclined to improve your environment. However, this is still your personal essay response, and as such, it should eventually connect back to you. 


This is important to keep in mind when you identify the societal need you wish to tackle. The issue can be general in nature, but you should choose and stick to only one topic. While you may be passionate about more than one social cause, the prompt specifies “most strongly” so it is important to focus on just one. 


Because this prompt word limit is 500 words, you have ample room to discuss the issue and should try to include the following components. First, you can discuss the societal need in a general sense to briefly introduce it to the reader. Then, talk about why you chose to discuss this particular issue — one of the strongest ways to do this is by establishing a personal connection. 


For instance, if you’re passionate about corporations’ contributions to air pollution, draw on what first drew you personally to this issue. Maybe seeing the negative public health effects of the factory emissions and poor air quality in your hometown made you passionate about combating these emissions. 


The next step in answering this essay prompt is to design a solution to the problem that is not bogged down by restrictions. This portion of the response will be more active and solution-oriented, and should take up at least half of the word limit, if not more. 


As with any hypothetical in a college essay, it can be tempting to get carried away with ingenious solution after solution, but remember that the focus of this essay is about you. You should be able to tie potential solutions back to efforts you have already made or skills you currently possess. This way, admissions officers can learn more about you in addition to your social awareness and problem solving skills. 


For example, you can discuss your current efforts to combat air pollution and then explain how you would expand them under limitless circumstances. If you’re interested in product design, perhaps you have brainstormed a framework for a potential air filter that could go on top of factory chimneys. You could describe how and why you chose that method of combating the issue, and then discuss how you would implement this plan with no financial or political barriers. This method of answering the prompt is well-thought-out and effectively illustrates both your passion for this societal need and your design skills.

Honors College Essay—Option 2

Which element from the periodic table best describes you, and why? (500 words)

This prompt is fun and creative and allows you to demonstrate your personality to admissions officers. It can be especially fitting if you’re a science enthusiast! Though you might not feel in your element at first (no pun intended), these tips can bring you closer to narrowing down the perfect one for your essay topic. 


It is important to note that admissions officers aren’t expecting you to find one element that perfectly fits all aspects of your background and identity; rather, they’re simply looking for you to explain a facet of your identity using an element from the periodic table as a rough template. More important than the element you choose is your ability to write creatively and express yourself in a way that makes your application stand out. 


If you don’t have an element in mind yet, there are several ways you can go about selecting one. One potential method is to skim the table and note elements that could potentially work. Then, brainstorm how they connect to some aspects of your identity, personality, or life. 


Alternatively, you can try to jot down your identities, personality traits, or values that you feel have not received enough attention on your application as it is now. Then, using the periodic table, find elements that you think embody each identity and see which ones have the strongest connection. You can cross-reference these two lists and then further narrow down which element you choose by doing some basic research into it online. However, avoid going too far in-depth — remember, this essay should be more of a convivial narrative than cold, scientific facts (unless, of course, you’re genuinely excited about chemistry and want to show off your knowledge!). 


Here are some examples of element choices:


  • One applicant might choose helium because they are bubbly and love to make their friends laugh.


  • An applicant that is bouncing off the walls with energy and always has a lot on their plate might choose uranium, because it is an unstable, radioactive element that is always on the move.


  • Another might choose iron because it’s considered a relatively “soft” metal; while the student might appear tough on the outside (is a football player), they also have a soft side (is a poet). 


  • A big fan of the Avengers franchise might choose thorium. 


Once you’ve settled on an element the key is to craft a narrative or collection essay that feels natural and not forced. A narrative essay has an almost story-like quality for the majority of the essay and starts with a vividly detailed anecdote. 


For instance, someone who chose helium because they are funny could start their essay in the middle of a stand up routine that they did at their high school’s talent show. An applicant who chose uranium because they are busy might choose to narrate their most recent finals week where they simultaneously juggled test prep with babysitting their niece and being the lead in the school play. 


Whatever you choose to write about, make sure you include a lot of imagery, and invoking the five senses in order to craft a picture for the reader. Doing so will set a scene that draws them into your essay and sets it apart from someone who merely gives a straightforward answer. After you show readers how you embody this element, you can present information in a more straightforward way to help admissions officers better understand you. 


The Helium applicant could explain how their grandmother loved hearing their puns and jokes. They could discuss how this inspired them to start a club at their school that makes weekly visits to the senior center and performs a standup show. The Uranium applicant could shed some light on how they handle the chaos that is their busy schedule. They could detail how their love of planning and zest for trying new things translates into color-coded calendars and multi-tab Excel spreadsheets. They could also recount some of the new skills they have learned due to their adventure-seeking mindset. 


Whatever your topic is, make sure your essays main focus is you. One way you can ensure this is by using first person and avoiding using a passive voice. Passive voice sentences are ones in which the action is being done to the subjects. These sentences are less clear and natural and detract from the subject’s autonomy. In contrast, when you are writing an active voice, the subject (in this case you) is completing the action. 


Here is an example of passive vs. active voice: 


Passive: The senior center was visited once a week by the comedy club that I founded.


Active: I founded a comedy club that visited the senior center every week. 


In the first sentence, the emphasis is placed on the senior center and the club rather than the individual. In the second, the individual becomes the subject of the sentence and is seen as taking on more of an active role. In an essay about you, it is important to give yourself credit where credit is due and center yourself accordingly. Don’t be afraid to use a lot of first-person and own who you are! 


Finally, your concluding sentences should zoom out a bit in that they should contain more of a general feel. One way to achieve this is by having a future focusing sentiment that explains how this element embodies you and will serve you in your college career. Here is an example: 


“Like helium, I will continue to inflate those around me and use my bubbly personality for good. Whether I am speaking with my roommates, professors, or even the dean, I plan to keep making people laugh in college and beyond.”


Another way to close out your narrative essay can be a reflection of who you are and why you are proud to be the element you chose. For instance: 


“Though my busy lifestyle is not for everyone, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Just as a specific amount of protons and electrons compose uranium, my unique hodgepodge of skills and activities perfectly adds up to make me.” 

Honors College Essay—Option 3


Identify one example of music, art or literature that best describes you and identify why. (500 words)

This prompt could be considered the most open-ended of the three. Your first inclination might be to choose something educational or formal. However, it is crucial that you be true to yourself when selecting this piece. Authenticity will boost your essay more than the “intellectual” nature of your answer — so if Harry Styles’ latest pop song speaks to you, don’t be afraid to choose that! When choosing a piece, try to think about what you would enjoy writing about and relating to your life. Consider brainstorming a couple of options and seeing what you naturally gravitate towards.


In this instance, it’s important to choose something that toes the line between well-known and unique. Avoid extremely mainstream pieces that others are likely to choose unless you are confident that you can interpret them and apply them to yourself in a unique way. Using an overly familiar piece in a clichéd manner lacks the originality that admissions staff is hoping to glean from your application. 


But if you choose something too obscure, your essay runs the risk of completely going over admissions officers’ heads. Be sure to give proper background so that anyone could understand the media, even if they’ve never heard of it. Admissions officers are perusing hundreds of applications and simply cannot take the time to research your selected media piece in-depth. 


You might be wondering how it is even possible to navigate this Goldilocks-esque situation. Luckily, copious pieces of music, art, and literature fall within a good range to use for your essay and there are a few ways to mitigate the situation. Make sure to scale the level of background information so that it provides an idea of the piece without being overly thorough. Admissions officers are trying to learn about you, so a very detailed background can detract from the personal nature of your response. 


Once you choose what your piece is, you can start thinking about why you chose it. Delve into the deeper themes behind the art, music, or literature piece in question and draw out specific aspects of your life that relate to them. Go beyond superficial details and try to make connections that are not hackneyed. Engaging in deep critical thinking when answering these prompts will show admissions officers how you think, while lending authenticity and originality to your application as a whole. 


Weak: I like this song because its vibrant rhythm keeps me positive when I am feeling nervous, sad, or stressed.


Strong: The lyrics “words can’t bring me down” reminds me of a time when I was not confident in my appearance or clothes. Learning to ignore both external commentary from my family and my own negative self-talk was a lengthy, nonlinear process. To combat my insecurities, I started Safe Space, a fashion club at my school where people could dress however they wanted and discuss their favorite trends. We also host an inclusive fashion show, and this song frequents the playlist. Starting this club has shown me that although words have the power to hurt, I will not let them stop me from thriving. 


The first response is generic and could apply to any song. You could easily switch out the adjectives to echo any sentiment and it could still potentially apply to you. Go beyond your first instincts and think deeper about the media that you are writing about. Take the time to brainstorm thoughts and ideas before pressuring yourself to type cohesive sentences. 


The second prompt goes beyond the song and connects specific details of the song to specific parts of the applicants’ life. As you can see, this approach can draw out deeper meanings that capture your essence in ways that other aspects of your application simply cannot. Supplying vulnerable and well-thought-out responses allows admissions officers to get a better sense of who you are, and they will appreciate your essay substantially more than a basic response. 


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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.

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