2 Strong SMU Essay Examples by an Accepted Student
Southern Methodist University (SMU) draws over 15,000 applicants each year thanks to its strong academics and vibrant social scene. So, it’s important to write strong essays that help your application stand out. In this post, we’ll share two essays submitted by a student who was accepted to SMU, and outline their strengths and areas for improvement.
Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be 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 plagiarize.
(Names and identifying information have been changed, but all other details are preserved.)
Read our SMU essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.
Essay Example 1 – Diversity Essay
Since I was little, we’ve moved three times; from Taiwan to Australia and then nine years ago across the globe to the US. I’ve lived here in the US most of my life, and it’s been great. I’ve traveled during the summer; I’ve been to the cold, to the hot, and to visit family.
Every time I go on a plane, I’m fascinated by the fact that this massive metal tube with wings can soar across the globe; and I ask myself how can an enormous plane like this run and make a profit. Likewise, it fascinates me whenever I open Youtube and see a new Business Insider video telling me how products are manufactured and businesses are run.
At SMU, I’m looking forward to joining several clubs where I hope to provide knowledge about specific topics and gain understanding from them. Clubs like the Cox Business Aviation Club, where I hope to learn more about aviation and the business aspect of airlines and where I hope to share my interest in aviation and business. A club like the Cox Foodie Club, where I’d be able to share my knowledge about travel and cuisines from across the globe; where I’d be able to share my diverse background and heritage with others, would be unique. Finally, clubs like the BBA Finance Club would allow me to explore career paths, gain internship experience and engage with others with similar interests. All these experiences would enable me to amplify my interests and knowledge.
What the Essay Did Well
This student successfully accomplishes the primary goals of a “Diversity Essay.” They explain 1) how they can draw on their past experiences to enrich their peers’ college experiences (teaching them about aviation and unusual cuisines), and 2) how they themself will benefit from joining clubs at SMU that will allow them to explore interests they don’t yet know much about (such as finance).
They also do a good job of grabbing our attention right away with a memorable detail about who they are. Remember, the whole point of the college essay is to help yourself stand out from applicants who may have similar academic or extracurricular profiles, and moving three times before turning 18 is something admissions officers will notice.
Lastly, this student shows they have done their research by referencing specific resources at SMU: the Cox Business Aviation Club, the Cox Foodie Club, and the BBA Finance Club. The second half of the prompt explicitly asks applicants to tie their past experiences to their potential future at SMU, and the more detail you can provide in making that connection, the more you’ll tell admissions officers “I want to go to SMU,” not “I guess I’ll apply to SMU.” For example, take the line:
“A club like the Cox Foodie Club, where I’d be able to share my knowledge about travel and cuisines from across the globe; where I’d be able to share my diverse background and heritage with others, would be unique.”
If the student instead wrote “In college, I hope to share my knowledge about travel and cuisines from across the globe, and my diverse background and heritage,” admissions officers wouldn’t get any information about why they want to attend SMU specifically, as that general goal is something they could do at any college. By providing the extra detail of the Cox Foodie Club, the student shows that they have already envisioned how they would fit into SMU’s campus community, which will in turn help admissions officers do the same.
What Could Be Improved
The main thing that could be improved about this essay is its structure. Currently, the first paragraph is about the student’s travel experiences, the second is about their interest in aviation, and the third is about SMU clubs they are interested in joining. While those distinct topics are clear, the connections between the paragraphs are not, which makes the essay feel like it’s lacking a greater structure, beyond just individual ideas.
To fix this issue, the student needs to connect their first two paragraphs. For example, they could write:
“Since I was born, I’ve packed my life into regulation-size suitcases, stepped onto a huge plane, and left everything I know behind three times. First, I moved from Taiwan to Australia, then nine years ago, I moved across the globe to the US. Every time I get on a plane, I’m fascinated by the fact that a massive metal tube with wings can soar across the globe safely.
Then, when I get to my new home, I find myself fascinated with other local technologies. When I moved to Taiwan, I noticed everyone talking about semiconductors. I remember leaning over to my mom at a dinner with family friends to ask, ‘What’s a semiconductor?’ She explained to me that Taiwan’s economy was extremely dependent on the small metals that help cameras find focus. Or, in Australia, I became obsessed with Vegemite, and toured a Vegemite plant to learn more about the funky food’s production. Because my travels have allowed me to learn so much about how random things are made, I am equipped with a unique understanding of the world.”
This suggested revision also fixes the second major issue in this essay, which is that too many of the writer’s points are told, rather than shown. While you of course want your reader to understand what you’re saying, the writer’s tone comes across as overly factual at points, which makes the essay feel dry.
For example, as noted above, moving across the world three times is a remarkable thing to have done at any age, never mind as a teenager. But in the original essay, the writer talks about their moves as if they’re sharing what they had for lunch. In the suggested revision above, on the other hand, the personal details, and specific memories from the places they live, make the essay much livelier and engaging. As a result, we readers feel fully immersed in the story.
The final area for improvement for this essay is the grammar. For example:
- There should be a comma after “Australia” in the phrase “…from Taiwan to Australia and then nine years ago across the globe to the US.”
- “…I ask myself how can an enormous plane like this run” should read “…I ask myself how an enormous airplane like this can run.”
- In the last sentence of the second paragraph, the word “likewise” comes across as oddly formal.
It is important to proof-read your essays, run them through online grammar checks, and ask friends and family to help check that you are not making silly mistakes. A typo in a text to a friend is one thing; making a typo when you’re trying to convince a college admissions officer to accept you may give them the impression that you don’t care that much about your application, which, in turn, suggests you aren’t actually all that interested in their school.
Essay Example 2 – Why SMU?
When I grow up, I want to be someone that sparks change in people’s lives. I want to spark change in people who don’t have access to millions, thousands, or even hundreds of dollars, people who don’t know what to do with their money, and people who are living paycheck to paycheck, searching for that moment when they can breathe.
Ever since my 1st paycheck, I’ve been obsessed with the notion of investing my money, investing in creating a better future for myself but also for my family. Then the roadblock came, you had to be 18; although I couldn’t invest this paycheck on my own, I knew in the future I would be able to; I knew that investing provided the potential for those who have the know-how and learning about finance at SMU would give me that know-how.
At SMU, I can look forward to learning about the Portfolio Management Practicum course that manages the whopping $3 million Ann Rife Cox Undergraduate Fund, and I can participate in the fantastic real-time money-management experience. In addition, I can learn about Alternative Asset Management from Professor Maxwell; I’d be able to learn about things like private equity, hedge fund investing, and investment banking. I’d also have access to the phenomenal Kitt Investing and Trading center and learn about the fusion of technology and finance. All these components led me to realize that finance at SMU would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and would let me cause a spark in people’s futures.
What the Essay Did Well
The biggest strength of this “Why This College?” essay is its first paragraph. The student uses an unusual reflective hook (rather than the more common approaches of starting with a question, quote, or anecdote) to introduce us to their values and draw us into their story.
In this paragraph, the student also shows a firm control of language by smoothly intertwining complex clauses and utilizing strategic repetition in the following sentence:
“I want to spark change in people who don’t have access to millions, thousands, or even hundreds of dollars, people who don’t know what to do with their money, and people who are living paycheck to paycheck, searching for that moment when they can breathe.”
While you never want to bite off more than you can chew in terms of style, this kind of elegant, memorable sentence will stick in admissions officers’ minds. Don’t worry about this kind of finer detail in your first draft, but once you have a more polished essay to work from, we recommend trying to find a couple of places where you can use a creative structure, like this one, to really make your essay pop.
Additionally, throughout this entire essay, the student maintains a flawless structure. In the first paragraph, they introduce us to their main topic: helping people manage their finances. Then, in their second paragraph, they make the topic personal. Finally, they connect the topic to the resources offered at SMU. They even bring the essay full circle by starting with a “spark” and ending with a “spark.” This logical, straightforward organization helps the essay feel focused and easy to follow.
Lastly, it’s great that the student references several specific resources offered at SMU, like “the Portfolio Management Practicum course that manages the whopping $3 million Ann Rife Cox Undergraduate Fund.” Mentioning school-specific resources is extremely important in a “Why School?” essay. Doing so shows that you have done your homework on a school, which shows genuine investment, and spent time thinking concretely about what you would look like as a student there, which will in turn help admissions officers envision you as a member of their campus community.
What Could Be Improved
There are a few parts of this essay that are confusing and wordy. For example, the sentence “I knew that investing provided the potential for those who have the know-how and learning about finance at SMU would give me that know-how” could be reworded to be more digestible for the reader, to something much simpler like “I knew that investing was a tool that allows savvy people to better their financial circumstances, and recently I’ve realized that SMU will teach me how to use that tool.”
Additionally, the third paragraph would flow better with more variety in sentence structure, as the use of similar beginnings like “I can look forward to,” “I can participate in,” “I can learn about,” “I’d be able to learn about,” and “I’d also have access to” starts to feel monotonous.
The most important way this essay could improve, however, would be the incorporation of a personal touch. Remember, the point of college essays is to humanize yourself to admissions officers, outside of your more objective metrics like grades and extracurriculars, so that they know where you come from and where you plan to go.
Right now, while we do learn about one of the student’s passions, we don’t learn what that passion says about their background, or growth as a person. For example, the student writes, “Ever since my 1st paycheck, I’ve been obsessed with the notion of investing my money, investing in creating a better future for myself but also for my family.”
As a reader, I want to know why. Do you have financial anxiety due to hardship in your childhood? Do you come from a low-income family? Did you realize that the life you want to live requires more resources than your family has? If so, when did you realize that? What prompted that realization?
Relatedly, there are no concrete examples or stories provided for the reader to connect with. While it’s a cliche in college essays, it’s incredibly important to remember to show, not tell, as without specific anecdotes, admissions officers are left to just take you at your word. Having something tangible to anchor your points will give them a much clearer understanding of what you’re trying to say.
Where to Get Feedback on Your Essay
Want feedback on your SMU 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. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!