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How to Write the University of San Diego Application Essays 2018-19

UPDATE: There have been some changes to the University of San Diego Application essays. Check out out our updated guide!

In the University of San Diego application, you’ll need to choose two of four essay prompts. This guide will help you choose prompts that complement each other and highlight your unique values and interests.

First, we’ll talk about how to figure out which USD essay prompts are a good fit for you.

Option #1) Catholic higher education is distinctive from other educational approaches. Grounded in the liberal arts, the Catholic approach to education emphasizes the importance of compassionate service, ethical conduct, diversity and inclusion, and social justice. It is also designed to promote the holistic formation of students, attending not only to their academic growth but also their psychological and spiritual development. Knowing this, what particular element of Catholic higher education most appeals to you, and how do you envision that element impacting your experience at USD?

  • You may be drawn to a Catholic college because you are religious, culturally Catholic, or because you attended a Catholic high school. If Catholicism is important to you, then this prompt is a good choice.
  • The prompt lists many features of Catholic higher education, and asks you to focus on one of them. There’s no right or wrong choice - which feature of Catholic higher education really speaks to your values?


Option #2) Here at USD, we believe that our campus community and the communities we engage with are integral parts of who we are as a university. Our students come from all walks of life, have experienced very different realities and bring with them an array of unique perspectives. Some of these perspectives are underrepresented and underserved by higher education. What contribution have you made to your high school and/or local community that best exemplifies your awareness and commitment to creating a diverse and equitable community?

  • This would be a great choice if you’ve taken specific actions to promote diversity or equality. For example, if you:
    • Participated in a group/event that elevates an underrepresented group or culture
    • Helped an underserved person or group in your community or school
    • Participated in a group/event that promotes equality


Option #3) USD is a proud Changemaker Campus, as designated by Ashoka U. As such, the USD experience emphasizes changemaking through civic engagement, social innovation and global perspective. If you had the opportunity to get involved with a project or organization that addresses a contemporary social issue, what issue would you address and why?

  • If you can think of a social issue that you’re really passionate about, this topic might be a good choice for you. However, try to make sure you can answer these questions:
    • Why is this social issue important to you, personally?
    • What specific actions would you take to help solve this issue?


Option #4) The year 2024 will mark USD’s 75th anniversary. In preparation for this milestone, we as a campus community are looking to grow in meaningful and impactful ways. We are looking to set the standard for an engaged, contemporary Catholic university where innovative changemakers confront humanity’s urgent challenges. In what meaningful and impactful ways do you hope to grow by the year 2024? Where do you see yourself, and what type of impact do you hope to have on the world around you?

  • This is an opportunity to discuss your goals. However, the goals you discuss in this essay should relate to improving the world around you and “confronting humanity’s urgent challenges.” (For example: a student who wants to learn about renewable energy in college, so they can help confront climate change.)
  • If your goals fit this description, then this prompt is a good choice for you!


Choosing Complementary Essay Topics

  • When you select your topics for your University of San Diego application essays, consider how they will complement each other. Try to avoid selecting two topics that address the same interest, goal, value, or experience.
  • Also consider how your University of San Diego application essays will complement your Common Application essay. Is one of your USD topics similar to your Common App essay? If so, try to branch out!
  • Here are two example students’ topic choices:
  • Student 1:
    • Common App Essay Topic: Organized local community interfaith events
    • USD Option 1 Topic: Compassionate service at USD
    • USD Option 3 Topic: Ending mental health stigma
    • This student decided to avoid USD Option 2 (the prompt about helping your community) because it was similar to the theme of his Common App essay. Good call!
  • Student 2:
    • Common App Essay Topic: Overcoming fear of failure at a hackathon
    • USD Option 2 Topic: Leading school’s Gay-Straight Alliance
    • USD Option 4 Topic: Goal is to learn about renewable energy, so she can fight climate change in the future
    • If you’re like Student 2, a lot of your topic ideas might be about the same passion. She found a solution: two of her topics address her passion for engineering, but in very different ways. One is about personal growth at a specific event, the other is about her academic interests for college.

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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