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How to Ace Every SMU Supplement Essay

When you apply to Southern Methodist University, you’ll have to write two SMU supplement essays in addition to your Common App personal statement.

The first SMU supplement essay is a fairly standard and open-ended “Why SMU” essay.

SMU appeals to students for a variety of reasons. Briefly describe why you are interested in attending SMU and what specific factors have led you to apply. (250-word limit)

Follow these steps to develop material that shows readers both who you are and why SMU is an ideal fit for you.


Step 1: Write down about 2-3 of your main interests as well as 2-3 of your goals for college and beyond. Be specific—and honest. Don’t include an interest or goal just because you think it’s what an admissions reader wants to hear.

Let’s look at an example of what a student might list here.

  • Interests:
    • Human rights (especially jailed political activists)
    • Free elections
  • Goals:
    • Get involved in politics to foster human rights around the world
    • Form an ethically-driven, socially-conscious business


Step 2: Research, research, research. Identify 2-3 specific SMU resources (classes, clubs, faculty, aspects of the school’s educational philosophy or campus life) that connect with your passions and academic interests. Again, be as specific as possible.

Our example student from step 1 might list:

  • Embrey Human Rights Program
  • Tate Lecture Series Student Forum (to be able to engage with prominent figures such as “activist” CEOs Howard Schultz and Bill Browder)
  • SMU Amnesty International


To write your essay, connect your items from steps 1 and 2 above. Show how SMU will help you to pursue your interests and goals. (To “keep it real,” it might help to imagine you’re talking to a friend.) Remember, when you discuss specific features of the university, (such as, for example, its Residential Commons system) don’t tell admissions readers things they’ll already know. Mention only what is necessary to show how a particular resource ties specifically to you. That’s right: the focus should be on you!


The other SMU supplement essay prompt asks about your background.

SMU is a diverse learning environment shaped by the convergence of ideas and cultures. How will your unique experiences or background enhance the University, and how will you benefit from this community? (250-word limit)

This prompts lets you highlight what you’ll bring to SMU as a human being who is more than just the sum of the grades and test scores in other parts of your application. Here are some steps you can follow to craft compelling material:


Step 1: Brainstorm about experiences that have made you the person you are today. You might draw from a community or ethnic/cultural group you belong to, your gender identity, your family or upbringing, your worldview, or some other particularly formative or life-changing events/activities. Pick one or two meaningful moments or realizations that only you could write about.

Step 2: List specific actions you might take at SMU related to or inspired by the experiences or characteristics from step 1. How will these actions help others or enrich others’ educational experience? Be genuine here; don’t write things just because you think they sound good. (It will probably be obvious—and unpersuasive—to admissions readers.)

  • For example, if you wrote about growing up both in America and abroad, you might discuss how you experienced two different cultures and were able to see each one from an outsider’s perspective. You could then describe how you would teach other students about this other culture and help to build cross-cultural bridges.

Step 3: To come up with ways you’ll benefit, make an honest assessment of some things you think are missing in your life—ways your life isn’t “perfect.” (And no, we’re not talking about a lack of fame, fortune, and a mansion in the Hollywood Hills!) Think in terms of experiences you’ve never had or things you’ve never been exposed to. For example, perhaps you never felt accepted by your peers due to your religious upbringing, or perhaps you grew up surrounded mainly by people of a single ideology/religion/ethnicity/etc. Then, brainstorm ways that SMU’s diverse and open-minded community might help “fill in” some of these gaps in your life.


Now it’s time to write your essay! Show how your step-1 experiences could lead to your step-2 potential actions. Then discuss how SMU’s environment could provide experiences missing from your life. Don’t stop at just naming the “gaps”; show why it’s important and meaningful to you to gain such exposure to a diverse community. How might it impact your life going forward?

Click here for our guide to writing the Common App Essay


Prompt’s Essay Specialists reviewed 13,000 admissions essays in 2018, helping thousands of students submit their applications with confidence.

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