How to Write the University of Oregon Essays 2019-2020

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The University of Oregon is a public research university located along the scenic Willamette River. UO houses a Professional Distinction Program that offers students internship opportunities and career workshops. UO also includes the highly ranked College of Education, as well as thriving football and track programs. 

 

University of Oregon has an acceptance rate of 78%. Applicants can apply via the Common Application, Coalition Application, or a school-specific application. All platforms require a main application essay for UO, and they also provide a second optional essay. Honors College applicants must complete an additional essay. 

 

For All Applicants

 

The first prompt is required ONLY if applying via the UO portal; Common App and Coalition Application students submit the main Common App and Coalition Application essay instead of this below prompt.

 

The UO is interested in learning more about you. Write an essay of 650 words or less that shares information that we cannot find elsewhere on your application. Any topic you choose is welcome. Some ideas you might consider include your future ambitions and goals, a special talent, extracurricular activity, or unusual interest that sets you apart from your peers, or a significant experience that influenced your life. If you are applying to the UO’s Robert D. Clark Honors College, feel free to resubmit your honors college application essay.

The admissions committee wants to learn more about you as an individual. You have a wider range of acceptable topics for this prompt, however you should avoid discussing academic-related subjects as they will clearly shine through the other parts of your application. The prompt asks you to focus on something that wouldn’t be discussed in a traditional college application. 

 

You should also take note of the optional essay that focuses on your identity in the context of equity and inclusion. If your topic is within this realm, consider saving it for the second prompt and using this space to talk about another interest. Writing about different topics will allow you to provide the admissions committee with the most information about yourself. 

 

This prompt naturally lends itself to a narrative structure. Remember the classic writing adage, “show, don’t tell.” Instead of simply telling the reader that you are president of Key Club, describe the time you supervised the food drive. Instead of simply telling the reader about your dream to become a doctor, describe a meaningful volunteer shift at your local hospital. 

 

Tie your personal experience into an important underlying themes or insights. Explain why this activity or goal is important to you. For example, why is your work with Key Club important to you? Do you feel most personally fulfilled when you engage in community service? Why do you want to be a pediatrician? Do you have a passion for medicine and children? 

 

The best essays will tie concrete examples about your topic to a broader theme that tells the reader something about you. 

 

Optional: As you’ve looked into what it will be like to attend Oregon, you’ve hopefully learned about what makes Ducks Ducks. No two are alike, though, so tell us what makes you you, and how that connects to our campus community. We are interested in your thoughts and experiences recognizing difference and supporting equity and inclusion, and choosing one of these two options will guide you in sharing those thoughts. You can learn more about equity and inclusion at Oregon by visiting the Equity and Inclusion website. (500 words)

This prompt asks you to reflect on the importance of either recognizing difference or supporting equity and inclusion. Your response should also explain how your unique personal identity will more broadly connect to the campus community.

 

There is no right answer to this topic, however your response should be something that is a clear part of your identity. Save hobbies or interests for the first essay prompt, which asks you about anything that wouldn’t be included in other parts of your application. 

 

For example, you could discuss your socioeconomic status, your cultural background, or your sexual orientation. You do not need to stick to one aspect of your identity to fully answer this prompt and you should feel free to discuss the intersectional parts of your identity. 

 

Once you have described your personal identity, you should explain how your personal perspective helps you understand the importance of either recognizing differences, or supporting equity and inclusion. Why do you believe recognizing differences is important? How do you believe a university or individuals can support diversity or inclusion? 

 

For example, you could describe how sharing information about your culture at your high school’s annual international fair allowed you to see the beauty in a community that celebrates different cultures. You could discuss how being president of your school’s Gay Straight Alliance allowed you to work on various equity and inclusion initiatives, which in turned reaffirmed your passion for supporting these causes. 

 

You will also need to explain how your personal identity will connect with the broader campus community. How will your bring your identity with you to UO? Will you join a culturally based club? Will you help educate your peers on your identity? Will you do academic research into your culture to gain a new perspective? 

 

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For Applicants to the Honors College

 

The CHC faculty are involved in the review of applications to the Honors College, and are eager to learn about how you think, and how your mind works. Please write an essay that responds to one of the three quotations below. Reflect on how the quotation relates to your own experience, beliefs, and attitudes.

 

The Clark Honors College offers University of Oregon students an engaged learning community. The Honors Program offers students honors-specific courses with small class sizes, a residential living-learning community, and an honors-specific academic building that serves as the hub of the program. Students in the Honors Program complete a thesis about a novel research topic under the close mentorship of a faculty member. 

 

This prompt seeks to assess your critical thinking skills and your perspective on the world. Consider brainstorming all three quotation options before you choose your essay topic. Select the prompt that allows you to most clearly connect the theme to your personal experiences and belief system. 

 

Regardless of which prompt you choose, your essay should try to tie your concrete experiences into your broader personal beliefs and attitudes. These prompts allow for large degrees of abstraction, however your response will be far stronger if you can illustrate the abstract points you are trying to make with everyday examples. Remember the classic writing adage, “show, don’t tell.” 

 

Option A – Hannah Arendt: “Education is the point at which we decide whether we love the world enough to assume responsibility for it, and by the same token save it from that ruin which except for renewal, except for the coming of the new and the young, would be inevitable.” (650 words)

This quote emphasizes the value of education to society. Your response should explain why you believe education is key to creating a better world. Use your personal experiences with education to explain why you believe education is important. 

 

For example, did you have a pivotal academic experience that inspired you outside of the classroom? Did you watch younger children become more generous towards each other after you taught them a lesson about caring? Did you watch a poorly behaved child become happier when you tutored him and he learned to express himself without physical fighting?

 

For example, you could write about how your class on the prison system inspired your passion for prison reform and your desire to become a lawyer. You could then explain how your personal experience convinced you of the value of education because you wouldn’t have known about the injustice in the world without your education. 

 

Option B – Maya Angelou: “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future, and renders the present inaccessible.” (650 words)

This prompt focuses on your thoughts on prejudice. While the other two quote options invite personal examples, not everyone has personal examples of prejudice. If this is the case for you, you can describe your feelings on current events or historical issues instead. That said, the strongest essays will share more about who you are, and that’s difficult to do if you have no personal stories to share. You might first want to consider the other two prompts instead.

 

This prompt mentions three distinct time periods: the past, present, and future. Even if you do have relevant personal stories, you likely will need to mention the historical relevance of the specific issue behind your anecdotes. For example, you might talk about how you’re Native American, but you don’t have close ties to your culture. This is because your mother was actually forced into adoption in the 1960s though the Indian Adoption Project, an attempt by the U.S. government to make Native Americans assimilate into “white culture.” The project was motivated by the idea that white culture was superior, or more civilized, which is clear prejudice. It tore thousands of children away from their homes, and cut their ties to native lands, which allowed the government to then seize that land for itself. All of this “threatens the future” of Native American culture and lands, “renders the present inaccessible” to the student (as they’ve been removed from their culture), and this period of history is also largely unknown to most Americans, which “confuses the past.”

 

Option C – John Steinbeck: “I wonder how many people I’ve looked at all my life and never seen.”

This prompt emphasizes the importance of empathy. Remember the classic “don’t judge a book by its cover”. Your response should explain why you believe empathy is important and first impressions aren’t necessarily accurate. 

 

For example, have you ever judged someone and realized that your first impression was entirely inaccurate? Did you have a notoriously cranky family member who you later learned was in poor spirits because they were battling a disease? Did you learn that someone you judged to be boring due to their quiet demeanor was actually a very talented artist or musician?

 

Tie your experience into your broader thoughts on the topic. For example, you could discuss how you always feared your Aunt Esther due to her cantankerous demeanor when you were a child. You could then explain that after Aunt Esther passed away in your teens, you learned that she was an ardent social justice activist when she was younger. You could use your example to explain why first impressions are not always what they seem, and that you wish you made an effort to get to know Aunt Esther while she was alive. 

 

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