2 Successful Penn State Essay Examples
- Essay Example 1 – Calligraphy
- Essay Example 2 – Collaborative Learning
- Where to Get Feedback on Your Essay
Penn State University is a selective research university. Writing a strong essay can help your application stand out. In this post, we’ll go over an essay a real student submitted to Penn State University and outline their strengths and areas of improvement. (Names and identifying information have been changed, but all other details are preserved).
Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized.
Read our Penn State essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.
Prompt: Please tell us something about yourself, your experiences, or activities that you believe would reflect positively on your ability to succeed at Penn State. This is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself that is not already reflected in your application or academic records. (500 words)
When I started high school, I often had crumpled wads of paper sprinkled around my room and pens all over my desk. I was learning how to write in calligraphy but clearly, it was not going well. One stroke up and one stroke down to form each letter. It seemed very easy but my letters looked lopsided. I kept working on it and ruined many envelopes but for some reason, it was just not clicking. I decided to stop practicing and leave it alone. It was just an extra skill anyway so, no harm done.
Much later, I was really bored on a rainy Saturday with nothing to do. I figured “hey, maybe I’ll give calligraphy another shot”. I busted out more paper from the printer and my favorite Tombow Fudenosuke pens to get to work. I kept practicing the upstrokes and downstrokes but now, I was thinking less and feeling more. My hands started to move gracefully across the page with beautiful lettering left behind. My block had been mental and now finally, I could write in calligraphy. I have many experiences like this and they have all shaped me to realize that I want to become the most beautiful version of myself, like calligraphy is compared to regular writing.
At Penn State, I will strive to become more polished and refined. College will not be my final draft, rather it will consist of more editing. I know that I love science but now is the time for me to refine my interests. I can put my up and down strokes together to form letters. I look forward to taking advantage of the unique classes PSU has such as Science, Ethics, Policy, and Law, or Biology of Aging. These will create words.
I can intern at the Fox Chase Cancer Center to understand the ins and outs of a career in medicine and to interact with patients. I can be responsible for others besides myself in a different light and learn from other healthcare professionals. These experiences will help me form elegant sentences.
I will learn to make time for other things besides schoolwork to make my letters varied. I will be cheering in the stands on Football Saturdays, decked out in white for the white-out game. I can spend time with friends outside of Berkey Creamery in between classes. I can have dinner with my roommate on the other side of Pollock Road. I aim to have a holistic experience at Penn State and focus on more than just academics because I am more than my grades.
My experiences at PSU will make me refined just like the sophisticated letters on my graduation invitations. I can picture it now: PSU in huge writing. The only question is, blue or white?
What the Essay Did Well
This essay is brilliantly written like a “Why This College” essay, where the writer shares specific information about activities they would get involved in if they were a student at Penn State University. Sharing details specific to Penn State University, such as “Berkey Creamery” and “Pollock Road,” shows that the student has done their research about the school and is excited about the possibility of attending. The writer also shares a variety of things about the school that they like. They share potential classes, internships, and events they’d participate in as a student. All of this helps the admissions committee see the writer as a student at Penn State University–which, as a hopeful student, is a great thing!
The language at the beginning is beautiful and pulls the reader into the story. Imagery like “crumpled wads of paper sprinkled around my room” and “one stroke up and one stroke down” paint a picture for the reader that clearly shows what the writer is saying. It also helps highlight a student’s talent at writing.
Finally, by referencing calligraphy throughout the essay, the writer connects the two parts of the prompt together, an activity they like and how they’re going to succeed at Penn State University. This creates great continuity and flow throughout the essay. When you write your essay, reflect on how all the pieces and answers to each part of the prompt (if there are multiple) work together to contribute to your overall message.
What Could Be Improved
This essay has a lot of sentences that start in a similar manner. There’s a lot of “I can…”, “I will…”, or “I” followed by another verb. It’s important to vary your sentence structure so that the essay flows better and doesn’t sound repetitive. Instead of ”I can intern at the Fox Chase Cancer Center to understand the ins and outs of a career in medicine,” the writer could have said something like, “Interning at the Fox Chase Cancer Center would help me to understand the ins and outs of a career in medicine.” This isn’t a big change, but it will help improve the overall style of the essay. This is a common problem in a “Why School?” essay when students write about what they would do as a student at a particular college, so make sure to look out for it.
While this essay does a great job overall of being specific, there are moments where the writer could have provided more details. For example, they wrote: “I have many experiences like this… ” It would have been better if the writer had briefly specified these experiences. They could have written: “This experience and others like learning photography and to play the piano have shaped me to realize that I want to become the most beautiful version of myself.” This would provide more information about the writer’s interests and life that the reader wouldn’t otherwise learn.
Essay Example 2 – Collaborative Learning
The clock ticked 09:25 a.m., exactly an hour left for my exam. Unlike other exam days, I was nervous. Well, it was understandable, I had spent a whole 2 months in a hospital bed and another week or two recovering and flushing out the heavy doses of medicines out of my body. Dizziness was still there, however platelet count has only crossed the bare minimum mark. My attention span dropped drastically and I found it hard to focus for longer hours.
Only I knew how I managed to climb up the stairs to the 3rd floor and walk across the classroom in midst of all the concerning and questioning gazes of “Where Have You Been?”
I was just setting up my books and stationary, when my friend came up and asked for my help in some topic related to the exam. It was in no means new, we usually discussed after our lectures and cleared our doubts. I’ve always believed that peers understand our perspective better than teachers, because they are as new to the topic as myself.
I spent another 20 minutes explaining and making her understand the concepts. It turned out 2 more classmates had the same doubts and we ended up revising the whole chapter, along with quick summaries of other chapters as well.
The bell rang and it was time for the exam. We followed the same ritual for the following exams. We were 9 classmates; discussing problems, giving explanations and finding solutions, and giving our 100% in exams. Unknowingly we formed this study group that continued the whole academic session and helped us in the best way possible.
I wonder if it was my instinct for feeling responsible and agreeing on helping out my classmates or I was grateful that she helped me in escaping the questions coming my way that day.
This experience didn’t only help me in accelerating my studies, but also as I listened and asked questions, I soon noticed a variety of viewpoints and approaches to the same idea and problem. This helped me in developing critical thinking skills and collaboration abilities.
This is an excellent practice for when I’ve finished school and out where I will find myself in similar group dynamics.
What the Essay Did Well
This type of prompt is extremely open-ended: tell us something (anything!) that shows that you could succeed at Penn State. While you have the freedom to say whatever you want, it is imperative that you pick a focus for your essay and stick to it. You don’t want to confuse or overwhelm your reader by going in a million directions at once.
This writer does an excellent job of keeping their essay cohesive and easy to follow by structuring everything around one particular experience they had doing some last-minute studying before a test. Through their discussion of this experience, we learn that:
- They are REFLECTIVE — With the line “I wonder if it was my instinct for feeling responsible and agreeing on helping out my classmates or I was grateful that she helped me in escaping the questions coming my way that day,” the student shows their capacity for mature reflection after an experience.
- They are CARING — The fact that this student did not hesitate to help other students (who are presumably competition) shows kindness and selflessness.
- They are INSIGHTFUL — The sentence “I’ve always believed that peers understand our perspective better than teachers, because they are as new to the topic as myself” shows that this student observes the world around them thoughtfully, and trusts their powers of observation, even when they lead them to somewhat unconventional realizations.
- They are A LEADER — As the student describes the events of the morning, they position their informal leadership role as extremely natural. They are not a leader because it will improve their resume or win them awards, but because they want to share their skills with others.
- They are OPEN-MINDED — The collaborative approach to learning they describe doesn’t work without open-mindedness. This student recognizes the importance of diverse viewpoints.
While this essay is focused, the student also cashes in on the prompt’s suggestion that they tell admissions officers something that can’t be found elsewhere in their application. For this student, it’s their medical struggles during high school.
We finish this essay with a much clearer understanding of what traits define this student, which helps humanize them in our eyes and better envision them as a member of the Penn State community.
What Could Be Improved
While this student successfully seizes the opportunity to enlighten admissions officers about the medical adversity they have faced, the connection between their first few paragraphs (about medical struggles) and their later paragraphs (about collaborative learning) could be established earlier and more clearly.
It is not until the sentence “I wonder if it was my instinct for feeling responsible and agreeing on helping out my classmates or I was grateful that she helped me in escaping the questions coming my way that day” that things start to come together. Here, readers have this moment where we think: “Oh, the impromptu tutoring session helped the student to avoid questions about their medical situation. I get it now.” If the student had teased this connection earlier, confusion would have been avoided.
For example, after “I was just setting up my books and stationary, when my friend came up and asked for my help in some topic related to the exam,” the student could add:
“‘She saved me,’ I thought to myself.”
Or, after the sentence “I spent another 20 minutes explaining and making her understand the concepts,” the student could add:
“It had been months since I had gone more than 20 minutes without worrying about my legs.”
Additionally, the words that are allocated to the last two paragraphs could be used more strategically. In college essays, you are always wrestling with limited words, so it is important to use the words you do have wisely (and memorably).
The paragraphs beginning with “This experience didn’t only…” and “This is an excellent practice for…” fall into the unfortunate trap of telling rather than showing. At this point in the essay, we already understand that the student listens, is open-minded, and works well in collaborative group dynamics.
Rather than reiterating what we already know, the student could have more effectively used those 65 words elsewhere in the essay. For example, they could have given us specific bits of dialogue from conversations they had with their peers, or expand on the specific feelings they have during a collaborative learning experience.
Want feedback on your Penn State essay before you submit? 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. One expert advisor on CollegeVine, Alexandra Johnson, provided commentary on the first essay in this post, to give you a sense of how useful expert advice can be. Advisors offer one-on-one guidance on everything from essays to test prep to financial aid. If you want help writing your essays or feedback on drafts, book a consultation with Alexandra Johnson or another skilled advisor to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!