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University of San Diego 2020-21 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide 

Regular Decision: 

University of San Diego 2020-21 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 essay of 350 words, 1 essay of 200 words

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Community, Why

The University of San Diego is surprisingly single-minded! Even though there are four separate prompts, and even though you have to respond to two of them, they’re all kind of asking the same thing. How do you engage with the world around you? How will you make it a better place? If you’re like most people, you’re probably drawn to one or two core issues, and that’s totally fine! You just need to make sure you budget your information and anecdotes wisely, so you can write not one, but two compelling and unique essays.

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. (150-350 words)

This is a big blue sky of a prompt. Start by thinking about how you can relate to each of these words. Here’s a little word/concept association: “Advocate” reminds us of social justice and community service; “collaborate” elicits images of group projects or fundraising; “cultivate” can refer to how camp counselors invest in kids or how you started a club to fill a community void at your school; “illuminate” is a fun, vague idea that can evoke memories of learning, or exploration/travel; and “innovate” is an active word that can apply to any evolution of ideas or steps you’ve taken to effect change. With this array of options in front of you, we have no doubt that one of these concepts will resonate with you. Additionally, if one of these words means something to you in a way that we didn’t explicitly note, definitely explore that! Your approach to this essay alone is a great reflection of your priorities and creativity. Feel free to wander, but remember to take the reader on your journey with you, showing them the steps you took mentally to get from their theme to your story.

Now respond to one of the three following essay prompts. Essays should be approximately 200 words in length.

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?

USD’s take on the community essay comes with a focus on diversity, but don’t let that limit you! First of all, let us remind you that your “local community” can be just about anything from your neighborhood to your family to your dojo. Pick a community that means something to you and the diversity narrative will fall into place. Maybe your progressive church welcomes people of many different faiths, and you developed a special language for discussing religion with your childhood friends. Or perhaps your school is incredibly homogenous and isolated, and you helped your Spanish class organize Skype chats with a school in Guatemala. No matter your starting point, be sure you tell a clear story with a beginning, middle, and end. It would be tempting to pen a vivid description of your community and leave it at that, but the point of an essay like this is to tell a story about you and your personal growth.

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?

You’ll notice some striking similarities between USD option #2 and Common App prompt #4, which asks you to “Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve.” In other words, if you wrote your Common App personal statement on #4, you’ll want to skip USD’s #2 to avoid repeating yourself. (If not, you’re a winner of extra tips in our Common App Essay Prompt Guide!) This is your opportunity to not only show admissions how you face challenges, but demonstrate your creativity and vision. If you choose this prompt, take a little time to brainstorm a few “contemporary problems”—big and small—that bother you or affect your life. Maybe it’s rising ocean temperatures, or a gigantic pothole on your street. Although the scope and scale of your problem can vary, remember that USD is looking for “civic engagement, social innovation, and global perspective.” Criticizing Instagram’s new algorithm won’t win over admissions if all you care about is your own feed. If, on the other hand, you can describe how it now promotes an unhealthy version of diet culture, you could really be onto something!

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?

If things go to plan, you will be in the graduating class of 2024. In other words, what this question is really asking you is where you hope higher education will take you. A good place to start is your major. If you plan to study Anthropology, maybe you envision yourself as a global citizen and advocate. Where do you hope to have traveled? Who will you fight for? How will you continue your work as a professional? Or perhaps you’re undecided! How do you intend to discover your passions? What array of skills and interests do you hope to combine through your studies and simply being a part of an intellectual community like USD? Although this isn’t strictly a Why question, you might want to approach it like one and do a little research about USD’s resources and alumni. 

Although this prompt may seem unnecessarily long, the introductory sentences actually hint at what your answer should look like. USD provides a clear vision statement that admissions could easily expand on with specific examples and details. So you, dear applicant, might want to take their lead.

Please note: the information below relates to last year's essay prompts. We are going to update this guide with the prompts for 2021-22 as soon as they become available. Check back soon!
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