How to Write the SMU College Admissions Essays

SMU campus

Last week, I wrote about how to brainstorm and draft the TCU-specific college admissions essays. And a few weeks back, I talked about best practices for the ApplyTexas Essays and UT Short Answers. Today, I will provide some tips on how to approach the SMU college admissions essays.

SMU requires two school-specific responses in addition to the “main” admission essay. I will explain how to brainstorm and outline your responses to these prompts. But first, let me explain what SMU (as well as any other college that has school-specific prompts) is generally looking for.

Any school-specific college admissions essay is meant to illustrate that you’ve “done your homework.” In other words, the admissions officers want to know (1) do you actually want to attend this college for a substantial reason, (2) and can you clearly articulate that reason?

Superficial reasoning -- like location of the school or the prestige of its name (or, worse, its best sports team) -- will not help your application. And vague, copy-and-paste reasoning cobbled from other essays won’t really help either.

So, what does this mean for writing the SMU-specific college admissions essays? Simple. Spend half an hour on SMU’s website (or longer) and see what you like about the college’s professors, academic resources (such as research labs and business affiliates), and student culture.

You don’t need to digest the whole website, tour the campus, and burn with ever-glowing pride for Mustang culture (although, of course, none of those things would hurt), but you do need to demonstrate that you’re not just “phoning it in” and writing these essays so you can “get the app in.”

Make sense? Great! Now, let’s review the actual prompts.

PROMPT #1: 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 words)

First break the prompt into multiple components, which you can use to structure your short response:

Paragraph 1: Briefly describe why you are interested in attending SMU. (~100 words)

Explaining your interest in SMU is basically stating what caught your eye about the university in the first place. In other words, this first half of the question is your introduction paragraph.

Maybe you attended an engineering camp during summer. Or maybe you assisted research in the Biological Sciences department. Or maybe you simply watched a YouTube video from one of its dozens of famous alumni (including many politicians). Whatever the connection, you want to identify a specific moment that gave you the first meaningful connection to SMU. You will build off of this moment in the subsequent paragraphs.

And, whatever first put SMU “on your radar” should have made you realize how the school represents something or offers something. Basically, this intro paragraph should end with some kind of thesis or thematic statement that crystallizes what underlying trait SMU has that interests you -- for example, “Ultimately, I realized that SMU is the best college for me to further develop a sophisticated knowledge of international business.”

Paragraphs 2-3: What specific factors have led you to apply? (~150 words)

After the initial appeal of “first contact” with SMU is described, then you need to explain how your piqued interest led you to act. Therefore, paragraphs 2 and 3 should go into more detail about how you learned more about SMU and then finally made the decision to apply.

Paragraph 2 (~100 words) should be the initial “research” stage. You can talk about reviewing the work of professors or touring the campus or interviewing alumni or really anything, as long as you are specific about what you learned about SMU and why it motivated you to apply.

Paragraph 3 (~50 words) is the “what you hope to accomplish” segment. Once you describe the major reason for applying to SMU (I recommend going with a specific professor / research area as your reasoning, but that’s not always the most compelling option), you can further demonstrate why SMU fits your college goals by stating how you see yourself at SMU.

Alternately, you could also make the third paragraph the “furthermore, I like this too” part of your essay. In this case, you can identify another feature of SMU that genuinely excites you (for secondary reasons, additional resources such as alumni contacts or internship opportunities usually work well). For length purposes, it may be hard to cram in another point in a convincing manner, so your best option is likely to go deeper on your one main point. But, if you can make it work, then do it!

PROMPT #2: 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 words)

This topic is quite similar to one of the UT-Austin Short Answers (#3), so if you plan on applying to UT-Austin and SMU, then you most likely will be able to recycle the UT Short Answer for this one with minimal editing. But let’s go ahead and assume that you do the SMU essays first (or don’t apply to UT-Austin).

Similar to the first prompt, you can use the multiple parts of this question to organize your thoughts:

Paragraphs 1-2: How will your unique experiences or background enhance the University? (~200 words)

Over the course of the first paragraph (~50 words), you need to introduce one unique experience or element of your identity -- and this should be something unseen elsewhere in your other essays and application materials, if possible. For example, maybe this is the moment to talk about your religion (though in non-preaching, somewhat neutral terms) or a family tradition.

In the second paragraph (~150 words), you then go into more details about the specifics of this experience or part of your identity. The second paragraph is basically “the story” of your essay, but there is one complication: you also have to explain in this paragraph how this experience/background will enhance SMU. Thus, at the end of the “story,” you need to state (1) what you learned and (2) how you will apply this lesson while attending SMU.

Paragraph 3: How will you benefit from this community? (~50 words)

You can address the second half of the prompt in the third / conclusion paragraph of the essay. Indeed, once you’ve explained what makes you unique and how this will be useful at SMU, you can then say how you imagine the student body and general community spirit will benefit you.

This part can focus on extracurriculars, student groups, resident hall traditions, and anything else that reveals what excites you about the culture of SMU. And of course, you want to make sure that whatever you highlight relates to what you discussed in the previous paragraphs.

* * * *

Those are my recommendations for how to approach the SMU supplemental college admissions essays. I hope you find it easier to brainstorm and draft your responses!

Need help finalizing your college admissions essays? We can gladly help you review essays and determine best strategies for editing content, adding more details, and removing extraneous information. Check out our College Admissions Services -- Essay Editing for more information!

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