2023-24 Penn State Supplemental Essay – Prompt and Tips

September 6, 2023

penn state supplemental essay

With an acceptance rate still above 50%, it would be easy to misjudge how challenging the Penn State admissions landscape truly is. In fact, those entering the famed University Park campus sport mid-50 SATs of 1270-1450. They also boast an unweighted GPA range of 3.59-3.93. Additionally, successful applicants in 2023-24 should prepare to write a strong Penn State supplemental essay.

(Want to learn more about How to Get Into Penn State? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into Penn State University: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

In a competitive admissions environment, every piece of the Penn State application takes on a high level of importance. Therefore, it is vital that all Nittany Lion applicants dedicate a significant amount of time to this optional essay. Below is the lone PSU supplemental prompt for the 2023-24 admissions cycle along with our advice for composing a winning essay.

Penn State Supplemental Essay Prompt #1 (Optional)

Please tell us something about yourself, your experiences, or activities that you believe would reflect positively on your ability to succeed at Penn State. This is your opportunity to tell us something about yourself that is not already reflected in your application or academic records. We suggest a limit of 500 words or fewer.

This essay is technically “optional” but all serious applicants should view it as mandatory. Unlike many “optional” essays that may or may not apply to you (e.g. COVID impact, gap in education, gender identity etc.), just about every applicant has at least one extracurricular or experience worth elaborating on.

The activity/experience angle

With this prompt, Penn State is not necessarily asking you to write about the activity where you earned the most prestigious awards. Nor are they looking for the one where you held the highest position of leadership. The university is going to see all of your activities in that section of the Common App. As such, you want to ask yourself which of your entries is crying out for more explanation and detail. Which one is closest to your heart and most representative of your unique passions? Pick the option that will allow you to deliver additional detail that may be memorable to the admissions reader. For example, you may be a volunteer EMT and have compelling, drama-filled experiences to share.

Alternatively, you may have worked in local restaurant and learned more about the lives of your undocumented coworkers. Start this process by asking, “What is the most interesting and consequential moment I have experienced in my extracurricular activities?”

If you can identify one clear-cut moment, that is likely the activity worth sharing with the Penn State admissions staff.

The more broad “about you” angle

Of course, this prompt has a wider scope than just an activity. You can also take this opportunity to share something personal. After completing your Common App, is there anything that you have yet to share that is absolutely elemental to who you are as a person/student? Without the benefit of an in-person interview, it may feel like you never fully had a chance to connect intimately with a PSU admissions officer. Perhaps you have not communicated the full you, your true essence, your je ne sais quoi. If you feel something important about yourself has yet to be communicated elsewhere in the application, then this essay is about to become your best friend.

Consider that the admissions reader is already familiar with your academic history, activities, and awards. What don’t they know, or, what could they understand on a deeper level. This could be a particular skill or talent or something about your character or personality. On the other hand, you may wish to speak more about your passions, hobbies, ideas, or beliefs. Any of those options are perfectly fine!

This one is intentionally open-ended so use this space to share your most cherished accomplishments or most winning attributes. The university itself is, in essence, inviting you to make a “closing argument” at the end of this admissions trial.

How important is the Penn State supplemental essay?

The essays (the Common App essay and supplemental essay) are not among the most important factors to the admissions committee. GPA and the rigor of one’s courses are at the top of the list. However, the essays can help borderline applicants push themselves over the edge toward an acceptance.

Want Personalized Essay Assistance?

Lastly, if you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your Penn State supplemental essay, we encourage you to get a quote today.