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A Great Penn State Honors College Essay Example

What’s Covered:


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).


Alexandra Johnson, an expert advisor from CollegeVine advising, provided commentary on this post. 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, check out CollegeVine advising to book a consultation with Alexandra Johnson or any of our skilled advisors. 


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. 


Essay Example


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. 


Where to Get Feedback on Your Essay 


Want feedback like this on your Penn State University School essay before you submit? We offer expert essay review by advisors who have helped students get into their dream schools. You can book a review with one of our experts to receive notes on your topic, grammar, and essay structure to make your essay stand out to admissions officers.


Haven’t started writing your essay yet? Our advisors also offer expert college counseling packages. You can purchase a package to get one-on-one guidance on any aspect of the college application process, including brainstorming and writing essays.

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