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How to Write the Penn State Schreyer Honor College Essays 2018-19: Showcase Your Critical Thinking Skills

UPDATE!  There are three new Penn State Schreyer Honors College essays for the 2019-20 application cycle.  Get the details here.

The Penn State Schreyer Honors College essays will give you the opportunity to share your unique worldview and critical thinking skills. This guide will help you write three thoughtful and well-researched essays that will show off your ability to wrestle with complicated topics while giving readers a more complete picture of who you are.

Let’s take a look at the first prompt for the Penn State Schreyer Honors College application!


Prompt 1

There are 27 amendments to the Constitution of the United States. What should be the 28th?

Step one: Start by reviewing the amendments to the Constitution. Pay attention to how they are written and what they have in common.

Step Two: Make a brainstorming list of 3-4 issues in the US that you care about. What do you want to change?

Let’s take a look at an example student’s brainstorming list:

  • Climate change
  • Voter suppression
  • Affordable healthcare

Step three: The amendments to the Constitution grant people rights and protections. Take a look at your list - which one of your issues could be turned into an amendment? Select one topic.

Tip: Make sure to carefully check the Constitution to make sure your idea is not already in there!

Step four: Support your proposed amendment.

Support it with facts: Do some research on your issue, and make a list of 2-4 reasons why you think your new amendment should be added.

Make your argument personal: Why is this issue important to you? For example, maybe you became passionate about climate change because of your research project for environmental science class. Maybe you’re an advocate of affordable healthcare because your family struggled to pay for your brother’s cancer treatments. Your essay’s argument doesn’t need to revolve around your own experiences, but it will be more compelling if you include a few details about your connection to the issue.


Prompt 2

Are China and India developing countries? Why or why not?

In this Penn State Schreyer Honors College essay, admissions readers will be evaluating your ability to think critically. You can argue either way, but it’s important to support your argument with research.

Definition: First, define a developing country. What criteria are you using?

Research: Once you’ve picked a side, research will help you defend your position. Find specific examples to support your argument - for example, if you say that China is a developed country because of their GDP, you’ll need to provide facts about the GDP to support that.

Since this is an admissions essay, you don’t need a bibliography. However, if you include a very specific fact, like a statistic from an article or study, mention where you found it. For example, you could say something like: “According to World Bank, China’s GDP per capita was X in 2017.” This works because the source is naturally incorporated into the sentence.


Prompt 3

The Seven Wonders of the World is a well-known list highlighting spectacular natural phenomena or man-made structures. Please describe the Seven Wonders of your world: They could include people, places, events, or things that have significantly affected who you are.

Seven important parts of your life? That’s a lot for one essay! When you respond to this Penn State Schreyer Honors College essay prompt, you’ll need to explain the importance of each wonder in about one paragraph.

First, pick your wonders. Try to make sure each wonder ties into one of your values, interests, goals, or positive traits. Include some variety - for example, don’t just pick seven wonders that tie into the same interest.

Then, take notes on how each wonder reflects that value, interest, goal, or trait. This will help you concisely explain the importance of each wonder.

Let’s look at some wonders from an example student’s list:


Wonder: The first program I wrote in Python

Connection to Goals: I want to be a software developer


Wonder: Spending Saturday mornings with my mother

Connection to Values: We do volunteer work every Saturday, which taught me to value community service.


Word Count Tip: Penn State hasn’t provided word count limits for these three essays. We recommend staying in the same range as the Common App: 250-650 words per essay.


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

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