How to Write the Pennsylvania State University Supplemental Essays: Examples + Guide 2021/2022

Even though this prompt is technically not mandatory, we would recommend not skipping out on any opportunity to tell admission officers more about yourself. Each prompt is a great chance to distinguish yourself from other applicants and add nuance to your overall application. It also helps you think more deeply about what you actually want out of college and whether a school is a good fit based on your needs.

This prompt itself is about as broad as it gets. Penn State wants you to elaborate on some aspect of your life experiences, identity, or actions that would highlight your ability to succeed on campus should you be accepted. Think of this as a slightly smaller personal statement that gives you a chance to make your application more multifaceted. To be clear, this should not be a repeat of what you already wrote in your Common App personal statement. It can be connected to things you’ve already written, but it should bring something new to the table. If you’re not sure where to start, we would recommend checking out our Values Exercise, 21 Details Exercise, Essence Objects Exercise, Everything I Want Colleges to Know About Me Exercise, and Feelings and Needs Exercise to dig deeper. Once you’ve done some brainstorming and generated some possible topics, you’re ready to start writing.

Here’s a great example essay for this prompt:


For as long as I can remember I have written and sung songs. Apart from concerts I would put on for my family when I was younger, complete with costumes and excessive choreography, I initially refrained from sharing this with the world. I saw it as an outlet rather than a performance.

That being said, there have been times the songs I created were the definition of unique, to say the least. Once when I was drafting an email to my math teacher about having a field trip on the day of the test, I got carried away with the clacking of my typing and started to hum the words being written. Eventually, I ran to my keyboard and added a few chords before finally creating “Ode to Test,” a power ballad about how I was going to have to take the test an hour early. However, this was nothing compared to “Why Me,” a sad song detailing the fateful day on which I lost my precious water bottle, and I use the word precious because, oddly enough, there were numerous references to Gollum throughout it. 

As I started to have more assignments in school and more activities outside of school, I began to share my music, to some extent. When a cross country meet got cancelled, I created a song loosely based on “Hallelujah” called “Thank you, Thunder” and it ended up becoming the team’s faux anthem, making it into the end-of-the-season awards ceremony slideshow. That was the last song I have allowed others to hear, but I hope to share many more, including my latest creation: “Hate to See You Go,” an upbeat song that describes my sentiments whenever my wifi disconnects.

These fabrications bring a certain sense of vibrancy to my life that many other things do not provide. They allow me to turn experiences as simple as sending an email or losing an item into an event that means so much more, letting me gain a better understanding of just how significant each and every action I take truly has on me as a person.

The creativity associated with this will enable me to thrive in the innovative environment that Penn State fosters. Whether I finally muster the courage to audition for the Pennharmonics, or I just decide to continue to write music on my own, I will always have room to grow, not just as an amateur musician, but as a person as well. (409 words)

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Use humor … or don’t. This author is clearly quirky and funny, and that comes through in her essay. Her second paragraph is a humorous retrospective commentary on her many elementary songwriting experiences involving Gollum, water bottles, and getting out of math tests. Right off the bat, the author’s use of humor brings the reader into her world, making her relatable and allowing her to include unique details about her life in relation to music. But—and this is a big but—if you’re not funny or trying to be funny feels forced, don’t try too hard. 

  2. Find a common thread. The great thing about this essay is that, although it moves among fragmented memories in time and space, it feels like a coherent narrative, because the author cleverly weaves these memories and values together by connecting them back to her love of music. More specifically, she regularly introduces and contextualizes different song names to give the piece a sense of consistency. These songs end up becoming a de facto timeline for the author’s musical journey, helping us understand how various aspects of her life relate. When you’re writing, try to find a common thread like this to “hang” your values and experiences in a way that shows how they intersect.

  3. Find uncommon connections. When you’re brainstorming, it’s important to think about the core values you want to come through to your reader. By that, we’re asking: What are the essential values you want to convey in your writing/topic (without you having to explicitly tell your reader)? When you’re generating these values, ask yourself whether they’re expected (i.e., common). For a topic like music, we might expect values like beauty, harmony, practice, or skillmanship. However, this author emphasizes unconventional values like empathy, vibrancy, and humor. When you write, try to incorporate your values in unconventional or unexpected ways that will stand out to your reader.

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