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Writing the University of San Diego Application Essays 2019-20

The University of San Diego application essays have been updated for the 2020 application cycle. You'll still have to write two supplements, but the "choose two of four" has become a "choose one of three." Most importantly, there is a brand new USD essay that will help San Diego sort you into one of its five Learning Communities (a.k.a. LCs). Let's take a look at the prompt:

The University of San Diego offers diverse educational opportunities grounded in the liberal arts and sciences. First-year students are immersed in one of our five Learning Communities (LC), with the themes reflecting the vitality of the liberal arts tradition: Advocate, Collaborate, Cultivate, Illuminate and Innovate. Select one of these five themes and describe how it resonates with you and why.

The LCs are a bit like Hogwarts houses in that they each have their own colors, their own logos, and their own core qualities. They are also like Hogwarts houses in that you have a say in where you end up. And that's what this essay is all about!

Important: Before trying to pick your LC, we strongly recommend that you spend some time on USD's website learning more about them.

Here at Prompt, we talk a lot about the five traits that make for a successful college applicant (if you don't know about them, read our guide to the common app essay here!) If you've gone through our essay plan to determine which of these key traits are strongest in your own personality, you'll have a much easier time deciding which LC to pick, and a much easier time thinking of specific experiences that will prove you belong. It's free, so you might want to take some time to make an account on our website and go through it.

Get started with our free brainstorming tools!

Now that you know all about the five traits, let's see how you can use them to pick an LC, and write a persuasive USD essay. The key here is to use your experiences as proof. That is, you can't just say that you are intellectually curious, you need to tell a story about yourself that shows your intellectual curiosity.

Let's start by reviewing the USD Learning Communities, thinking about which traits are associated with each, and brainstorming about your experiences

  • Collaborate: This community is for students who are driven to work with others to make things better. If you love team projects or participating in government, this might be the community for you!
    • Associated traits: Contribution, Initiative
    • Ask yourself: What's something you've created or accomplished that you couldn't have done on your own? Can you think of a time where you made one or more people’s lives better? What is something you frequently do that others will miss in your community when you are in college?
  • Advocate: This LC focuses on social justice, and helping students make their voices heard. If you have a cause you believe in, or a unique voice that needs amplifying, you might be an Advocate!
    • Associated traits: Diversity of Experience, Contribution
    • Ask yourself: Can you describe a time when you spoke out against something you didn't agree with? What actions have you taken to advance causes you believe in? What have you done or experienced in your life that is different than most other applicants? What do you know more about than anyone else in the room?
  • Cultivate: In Cultivate, you'll be able to live and work with other students who care about the future and the environment. If you are want to help build a more sustainable world, this could be the LC for you!
    • Associated traits: Contribution, Intellectual Curiosity
    • Ask yourself: What actions have you taken to improve sustainability in your own life, or in the lives of those who surround you? Can you describe a time that you learned about environmental science or sustainability issues on your own, outside of school? Can you describe a problem that you've solved, or that you want to solve? What steps did you take?
  • Innovate: This community is aimed at present-day problem-solvers, and future entreprenuers. If you like creating new things and starting new organizations, you might be right for Innovate!
    • Associated traits: Initiative, Drive
    • Ask yourself: Describe a time you saw a problem that needed to be solved. What actions did you take to solve it? What exists within your community that wouldn't be there if not for you? If you could create anything, what would you create?
  • Illuminate: This is the Honors LC, and, accordingly, it is focused on people who love both knowledge and academic achievement. If you find yourself going above and beyond to learn (and if USD has invited you to apply to the honors program), this is the LC for you!
    • Associated traits: Intellectual Curiosity, Drive
    • Ask yourself: What do you learn just for the fun of it? Describe a time you found yourself immersed in a topic. What did you learn? What is your greatest skill? What actions did you take to develop or grow this skill?

 

Once you've decided on an LC, and brainstormed potential experiences, structuring the required University of San Diego application essay is simple. With only 350 words, don't worry about setting the scene. Instead, focus on a clear answer to the prompt.

  • Start with a summary of which LC you are interested in and why. You can include a "hook" if you wish, but keep it short: just a sentence or two.
  • Tell the story of one experience that proves you are a good fit for that LC.
  • Finish your USD essay on a positive note by imagining what you can accomplish with the support of this LC.

 

 

Choose One of Three

Wait! You're not done. You still have to tackle the "Choose One of Three" USD essay prompt. Let's talk about which prompt is a good fit for you.

Option #1) 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 #2) 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 #3) 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!

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