How to Write the Pepperdine University Supplemental Essay: Examples + Guide 2021/2022

This prompt is your classic “Why us?” essay, with an added twist. We recommend checking out this complete guide on how to write the “Why us?” essay. Pay close attention to the “Why Cornell” and “Why Penn” examples, which are our favorites.

Here’s the short version of how to write the typical “Why us?” essay:

  • Spend 1 hr+ researching 10+ reasons why the school might be a great fit for you (ideally 3-5 of the reasons will be unique to the school and connect back to you).

  • Make a copy of this chart to map out your college research.

  • Create an outline for your essays based on either Approach 1, 2 (recommended), or 3 in the full guide above.

  • Write a first draft!

Before you start researching and writing, we want you to think about how much Pepperdine is emphasizing that it’s a “Christian university.” School officials clearly value the importance of religion on campus, so it’s something you should talk liberally about in your essay. Realize, though, that it’s easy to talk about religion in broad terms (i.e., “I am a Christian and believe in Christian values; therefore, I want to attend Pepperdine”). Our advice? Dig deeper. Before you start writing, ask yourself these questions:

  1. What are the most important values my religion instills in me? 

  2. How do I apply those values to my everyday life? How has my religion shaped what I do or how I interact with other people?

  3. How do I see these values align or intersect with the mission and/or resources at Pepperdine?

By answering these questions with specific details, stories, or insights, you’ll start to see how seemingly disparate parts of your identity and lifestyle might be connected to your faith. It may help to think of writing this essay like building a house, with religion as its foundation. You may build off that foundation by talking about your academic goals, extracurricular interests, or career aspirations, but try to connect those in some way back to Christian values or tenets. Taking the time to craft this foundation can demonstrate to Pepperdine that you get the school at its core, which is a strong way of showing you’re a good fit.

As you go to write, try to avoid these common mistakes: 

Six Common Mistakes Students Make on “Why Us?” Essays

Mistake #1: Writing about Pepperdine’s size, location, reputation, weather, or ranking.

Mistake #2: Simply using emotional language to demonstrate fit.

Mistake #3: Screwing up the mascot, stadium, team colors or names of any important people or places on campus.

Mistake #4: Parroting the brochures or website language.

Mistake #5: Describing traditions Pepperdine is well-known for.

Mistake #6: Thinking of this as only a “Why them” essay. Rather, think of it as why you + them together.

Here’s a great sample essay for this prompt, and some thoughts on how it could be even better. Check those out at the end of the essay.

Example:

While I practice Buddhism and worship my ancestors, I like the idea of being at a Christian university, because I identify with the Christian values of empathy, fairness and education.  This is my faith.

Every year, my family and I visit my parents’ hometown and other rural areas in Vietnam to donate money and essentials to disadvantaged families and orphans. Each time I witness their circumstances, my heart aches. Full of empathy, I knew even at eleven years old that when I got older, I wanted to do more to bring happiness to these people’s lives in the future. 

During my junior year at my new high school, I established the Vietnamese Student Association (VSA) and seized the opportunity to fundraise for the orphanages in my hometown, Da Nang City. Besides organizing fundraisers, I partnered with the Yarn Club to make keychains to sell. The $800 we raised helped provide the children with new clothes and school supplies. At Pepperdine, I want to continue to help kids by establishing a club that supports disadvantaged children from all around the world. 

I often think about these children, and how unfair it is that they were born into a life of poverty. That’s why I want to become a social entrepreneur: to use business principles to find solutions for a more just world. I want to major in International Business at Pepperdine, and take classes such as International Management and International Relations, because I hope to one day run a global company that will help address poverty and other social problems on a global scale. Moreover, Pepperdine’s unique courses, like Social Action and Justice Colloquium and Service Leadership Project will help me to understand the causes of poverty, and find solutions to combat them through the lens of non-profit organizations. 

While I do want to start a social enterprise, I also want to establish a traditional non-profit that will help provide free education for underprivileged children; a minor degree in Nonprofit Management will help me achieve it. There is an old saying in my family: “No matter how poor you are, you have to succeed in education.” Through education, my parents and their families were able to overcome poverty, and they have inspired me to succeed and to one day pay it forward to others.

While my faith may revolve around my values, at Pepperdine, I am also eager to partake in religion-based classes. From the World Religion course that I took sophomore year, I learned that every religion promotes acts of kindness and care for others, which resonated with me. I’d like to delve into that further in the Philosophy of Religion course, where I will learn about the intellectual foundations of religious beliefs.  

Empathy, Fairness, and Education. These are the values that I’ll bring to Pepperdine’s community, and I hope that Pepperdine will teach me how to bring these values to the world. 

— — —

Tips + Analysis

  1. Connects Christian values to tangible goals and actions. This essay is a great example of how you can use religion as a foundation to build a much larger picture, one that encompasses your background, career aspirations, academic pursuits, and extracurricular interests. This student starts with establishing the key values she finds important in her Buddhist faith: empathy, fairness, and education. From the beginning, we see how these values guide her, which gives us a clear picture of who she is and what she stands for. But it’s not enough to say you care about empathy and compassion. That’s what makes the rest of the essay so critical: showing how this student has uniquely acted upon these values. 

  2. Use a clear structure to guide the reader through the essay. At 500 words, these longer “Why us?” essays can easily sound like a rambling list of “why Pepperdine” specifics, so be purposeful in your organization of it (and starting out with an outline before your write is key!). Notice how, in each paragraph, this student connects the main three values to a specific aspect of her life—following a montage approach. The second paragraph sets up her theme, helping readers understand the anecdotal impetus behind her dedication to alleviating poverty, particularly in Vietnam. The third addresses her extracurricular achievements in high school toward that goal. The fourth transitions into her extracurricular aspirations in college should she get into Pepperdine. The fifth emphasizes her career goals. And the last addresses academics. The structure of this essay makes it easy to track how Buddhism connects to Christian values and then does a great job of establishing these values as key motivators in many aspects of her life. 

  3. Emphasize Christian values, not necessarily Christianity. Many applicants see this prompt and think that they aren’t a good fit for Pepperdine because they aren’t of the Christian faith. But notice that this applicant isn’t even Christian! Many religions are founded on similar core tenets and overlap in interesting, meaningful, and perhaps unexpected ways. Before you write yourself off as a prospective student, take a second to think about how the values your faith instills in you may overlap with Christian teachings. You don’t have to be Christian to apply to Pepperdine (but, hey, if you are, that’s great too). The key is that you show you’ve done a lot of thinking about how Christian principles shape the community and missions of Pepperdine, then connect that back to your beliefs.

  4. Highlight what Pepperdine has to offer. Remember, even though it takes a different approach, this is still a “Why us?” essay. This means you need to tie your interests and values back to what Pepperdine has to offer as an academic, religious, and cultural institution. Notice that, in each paragraph, the student clearly draws connections back to specific classes, clubs, and majors. Not only does this give your reader a sense of why Pepperdine would be a good fit for you, but it also shows that you care enough to have done your research. The relationship you have with Pepperdine is a two-way street. Admission officials want to know why you think the school’s a good fit for you and why you’re a good fit for Pepperdine. Doing your research and really thinking about what resources you could take advantage of is a great way to do that.

  5. Consider what you’d bring to the broader Pepperdine community. Although this essay does a great job of explaining why the student thinks Pepperdine would be a good fit, it doesn’t fully address the last part of the prompt: “how would you contribute to conversations of faith on campus?” Remember, you aren’t going to college by yourself. You’ll be part of a much larger community of people, with their own interests, values, relationships to religion, and backgrounds. Give your reader a sense of what you care about and how you might approach starting discourse with others. In this essay, for example, the writer could have mentioned that she wants to be a voice for faith-based solutions to global poverty on campus, using her background as a starting point for larger conversations about how religion and social actions can be synthesized. Or she could have raised some open-ended questions she’d want to discuss with classmates. So, another way to think about this prompt is that there are three important actors at play: you, Pepperdine as a geographic place/set of resources, and the student body and faculty at Pepperdine. A great answer will interweave all three in a comprehensive way.

Here’s another sample essay for this prompt, followed by analysis of what it did well, and ways it could be strengthened: 

Example:

Faith impacts my life in a number of ways.

Through Shabbat dinners, I let outside pressures melt away as I turn to my family for laughter, love and even personal growth, which is ignited through one of my dad’s favorite questions: “What did you learn today?” From addition and subtraction to parabolas and the Civil War, my answers developed as I grew. One of my favorite insights from these meals was the answer Today I learned that if it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you. My answer reflected my inner growth, in part inspired by those dinner table conversations.

Faith also influences the choices I make. For the past couple of months, for example, I’ve chosen each day to perform a mitzvah (a good deed). Whether through planning for a Cookies for Cancer bake sale and donating the proceeds, or driving a friend home after school, I am constantly seeking to achieve the most selfless version of me, an idea that my religion consistently promotes. 

Faith has even influenced my career path. As I would sit in my room for hours studying for my medical science academy class, memorizing hundreds of medical diseases and correlated symptoms, I couldn’t help but wonder why dedicating my life to medicine made sense, but soon, I made the connection. Medicine is constantly evolving and changing, asking more of medical practitioners and demanding that we change as well. So while I am devoting  my life to helping others, I know that I’m also contributing to my own growth. 

My faith, etched into my identity, has allowed me to see the beauty and simplicity in life, and at Pepperdine, I look forward to sitting down with other students, sharing a meal, and asking them one of my favorite questions: “What did you learn today?”

— — —

Tips + Analysis

  1. Consider emphasizing faith from the beginning. This student does a great job of building the core foundation of her essay as soon as she begins writing. The first line gets right to the point, highlighting that religion impacts her life in several ways. You can use this as a blueprint for your own essay—or you can weave religion in a bit more gradually. The main point is to get to it as quickly as you can, since it’s the heart of the prompt. An important side note that this essay emphasizes: You don’t have to be Christian to apply to Pepperdine. This student talks about her Judaism through her experience with Shabbats and mitzvahs. Ultimately, you want to draw broader conclusions about how your faith relates to your morals and values, but don’t feel like you have to have a very specific belief system to be a qualified applicant.

  2. Make uncommon connections. You might feel like the pressure to incorporate religion into your answer makes this essay difficult to write. But notice how very little of this example is about “classic” religious practices. The author uses religion as an entry point into topics like math, American history, family dinners, and medicine. Ultimately, she demonstrates that her faith has enabled her to more fully embrace beauty and simplicity—two values that might not initially come to mind when you think of religion. Take a moment to do this Values Exercise. Can you find some values that both resonate with you and aren’t commonly linked with religion? Making those uncommon connections between your religion, your values, and your goals/activities can help show your ability to think outside the box.

  3. Add more Pepperdine-specific “Why us?” reasons. This essay could have been even stronger, and more directly answered the prompt, if the student wove in reasons why she’s “interested in attending” Pepperdine. For examples of what we mean, look again at the full “Why us?” guide linked above and note how the author of the “Why Penn” example (like the other examples provided) sprinkles in a number of courses, professors, clubs and other opportunities (which we’ve bolded so you can spot them easier) they’re excited about taking advantage of. And with 500 words, you should have plenty of room to both emphasize your faith and share Pepperdine-specific details that you feel make the school a stand-out on your list of options. 

  4. Paragraph breaks may help to structure your essay. Notice how this student cleverly breaks down her essay into different, but related, chunks of information. She quickly sets up the backbone of her essay (her faith), then uses each paragraph to expand on how Judaism has impacted a specific interest or mindset. The first bit is about her family dinners, the second is about her choices, and the third is about her career aspirations. If you do the initial brainstorming about how your faith connects to your everyday actions and values, you might find that this structure comes naturally, allowing you to get more specific. Having these paragraph breaks helps the reader identify what aspects are most important, while also giving our eyes a much-needed break. 

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