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The Requirements: 2 essays of 200 words each
First-Year applicants are required to answer the Mandatory First Year Essay Prompt and either Essay Prompt Option #1, #2, or #3. Please note that the default word counter on our Common Application essay text boxes permit 350 words, but most applicants find they can answer these prompts in about 200 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.
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 student body in Guatemala. No matter your starting point, be sure to tell a clear story with a beginning, middle, and end. It may 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, your contributions, your personal growth.
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, here are some 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, as well. If you choose this prompt, take a little time to brainstorm a few “challenges facing humanity” that bother you or affect your life. It can range from rising ocean temperatures to racial profiling. Although the scope and scale of your problem can vary, remember that USD emphasizes “social justice efforts, civic engagement, social innovation, and a global perspective.”
Given the faith-forward nature of this question and of the university website, we imagine that most of you folks reading this guide probably already have a few thoughts on this question. We’d be surprised if the religious affiliation didn’t factor into your decision to apply, but if you haven’t thought about it, now is your chance to reflect on your relationship with faith, if you so choose. Writing about spiritual and religious beliefs is just as personal (if not more!) as any other topic you might cover on your college application, so don’t be afraid to dive deep. If you grew up in a traditional religious household, you probably have a treasure trove of experiences and stories to share with admissions, but sometimes it’s hard to write about faith when it’s always been a given in your life. Whether your background is Christian, Hindu, or atheist, can you think about the role faith plays in your life? Is it daily, minute-by-minute, or reserved for high holidays? Or, if religion wasn’t a huge part of your upbringing, what led you to take an interest in a Catholic university? Whether you consider yourself a religious person or not, faith is a central component of the USD experience, and now is your chance to invite admissions into your own relationship with it.