Southern Methodist University Application Essay Prompts
The following are the prompts that SMU has released for the 2016-2017 application cycle:
SMU appeals to students for a variety of reasons. Briefly describe why you are interested in attending SMU and what specific factors have led you to apply. (250-word limit)
SMU is a diverse learning environment shaped by the convergence of ideas and cultures. How will your unique experiences or background enhance the university, and how will you benefit from this community? (250-word limit)
Now, we will address each prompt separately in the numbered list below.
1. OVERVIEW: Begin by reading the question carefully. This is essentially a “Why X school?” essay. You may notice that the two parts of the question are very similar, even one in the same: “describe why you are interested in attending SMU” and “what specific factors have led you to apply.”
You should already be making your interest in attending the university very specific and personal, so your answer to the first question should mostly be supported by your answers to the second question. Answers to the second question should merely be supporting examples. For the sake of specificity, you may need to conduct some research and clarify your true reasons for wanting to attend the school later.
STEP 1: Start brainstorming your answer to the two questions. Why are you interested in SMU? What specifically supports that interest (give examples)? Write this all down. Try to avoid brutally honest reasons at this point (e.g., “I don’t actually like this school, but my mom does”), since the word limit is just 250 words. In other words, you do not have enough words available to convert a brutally honest answer into a creative, heartwarming response; with such a short word limit, the university is probably expecting a fairly straightforward response regardless.
While you’re brainstorming your interests and reasons for wanting to attend, you may notice that some of your answers are very general. For example, maybe you are interested in Southern Methodist University because you believe it has “great community spirit.” This is a very general answer that many of the thousands of applicants might write (and it’s not a very good answer either, unfortunately).
Instead, conduct research on the school — even take a campus visit — and decide what parts of the school really connect with you. Maybe the school has a club that satisfies a very rare and unique hobby of yours, and maybe joining this club would give you a good sense of belonging. Regardless of the reason, conduct extra research on the school. Be wary, however, of focusing too much on research. You don’t want your essay to be comprised merely of regurgitated facts. You want to sound genuine, natural, and interested.
STEP 2: Now that you’ve brainstormed your reasons for wanting to attend SMU, it’s time to narrow down that list and finalize what you’ll actually write in your essay. Here are just some of the criteria you might use to determine what to eliminate from your list:
- How specific and detailed the reason is
- How much the reason means to you personally
- How easily you’ll be able to connect this reason to the other reasons when you write
- How common the reason is (how likely is it that thousands of other applicants will write the exact same thing)
As you can see, there are plenty of factors that can help you determine how to cut something out of your list. You may choose some other criteria of your own.
STEP 3: Now that you have gathered and organized your points, you can start the essay! You may choose to start off by briefly outlining the ideas you will present and in what order. Throughout the essay, be sure to watch the quality of your tone and diction so that you can give your essay a clear, suitable voice. Start with an interesting grabber.
You may do this in many ways, and here are just some ideas to get you started: begin with an unexpected or shocking statement, write an anecdotal statement that ties in with the content of your essay, or begin with a rhetorical question that will draw readers in and leave them pondering.
Now that you have your introduction finished, weave together the body of your essay with your brainstormed reasons. Once you’ve done this, wrap up the essay with a satisfying, final, and memorable ending. There are many ways to conclude your essay effectively, including referencing the hook or thesis statement of your essay, writing a pithy statement that will leave adcoms thinking, or ending on a bright note for the future.
As you can see, there are many ways to approach the beginning and the end of your essay! Once you are done, read through your essay multiple times for edits. Then, have teachers, parents, and mentors aid you in your essay editing to ensure a complete set of eyes.
2. OVERVIEW: Read the first sentence of the prompt and note the keywords and phrases: “diverse” and “convergence of ideas and cultures.” These are the qualities you want to stress when you’re writing your essay, so make sure you understand the connotations, definitions, and associations for each term and phrase.
Now, read the question. You may note that there are two parts to this question: “How will your unique experiences or background enhance the university” and “how will you benefit from this community.” Finally, note that there is a limit of just 250 words. This low word count means that SMU is not expecting you to craft a wildly creative masterpiece here; you are to describe exactly what Southern Methodist University asks in an elegant, concise, and understandable manner.
STEP 1: Let’s begin by handling the first part of the question: “How will your unique experiences or background enhance the university.” You may notice that this question also has two smaller questions within it, the first being “what are your unique experiences or background” and then “how will these enhance the university.”
To conduct your brainstorming, you may want to draw two columns on a sheet of paper and label them “experiences/background” (on the left) and “enhancing SMU” (on the right). Now, it’s time to add your responses. Among your experiences and background, which could make for an effective essay? These questions are very vague and general, so you have a lot of leeway with how you interpret them.
In considering the experiences aspect, there are countless things you could include: maybe you lived in a homeless shelter for a few months; maybe you have had a family tradition that you’ve practiced every year for the past ten years; or maybe you once conquered your fears and went on an exchange trip to a foreign country.
Regardless of what it is, write it down on the left, leaving a few lines of space for explanation on the right. The background aspect of this question could include a variety of things as well — perhaps you identify as a member of the LGBTQ community, maybe you’re Chinese and stay true to your cultural roots… The list goes on, and it all depends on who you are. Write these down in the left column.
STEP 2: Once you’ve completely filled out the left column of your sheet of paper, you should begin to list how each element of your experiences and background would enhance the university. Think about how you’d contribute to different groups that already existing on campus, whether they be anything from hobby-related to religious. Maybe you would contribute to SMU by bringing together enthusiasts of a certain interest that isn’t already existing on campus.
How would you contribute to annual school traditions? How would you contribute to diversity in different fields? How would you make Southern Methodist University a better place? There are many ways to go about answering this question. Remember to think back to the keywords and phrases identified in the overview when answering this part of the question. Write down your detailed responses in the right column.
STEP 3: Your brainstorming for the first part of the question is now done, so you’ve answered why you would be a good contributor to the school and student body: “How will you benefit from this [SMU’s] community?” The school now wants to know how the school and student body would be a good contributor to you personally. You should consider the keywords and phrases from the overview section: “diverse” and “convergence of ideas and cultures.” This is the primary focus of the essay prompt. Record all your responses.
STEP 4: It’s time to narrow down your two brainstorming lists! When doing so, you may consider the following criteria to determine if something should be cut:
- How relevant the idea is to the prompt
- How important the idea is to the school’s values
- How important the idea is to your values
- How connected the ideas are to each other (and by default, how easy it will be to discuss them in conjunction with each other in your essay)
There are many more criteria you may consider when eliminating ideas from your list; these are just some suggestions.
STEP 5: By now, you should have a finalized list of ideas you’d like to present. With that done, you should be able to start your essay now! See step 3 of the first/previous question for ideas of how to conduct the essay-writing process.
Hopefully, these prompts are now a breeze for you. Not too bad, were they? If you haven’t yet done so, it’s time to crack down on some research, brainstorming, and — finally — writing.
We at CollegeVine highly recommend that you do not procrastinate on your SMU essays! Every word and idea counts when you’re committing yourself to applying to college, and Southern Methodist University is no exception to the rule. We hope that this SMU guide helps you craft an essay that you’re truly confident in submitting to admissions readers.
In the meantime, you might consider visiting the campus to check out the area and even find some inspiration for your essays. From CollegeVine to you, good luck in all your writing endeavors!