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Admission Essay Prompts


Like the Honor Scholar Program itself, these essays address a variety of topics and represent different kinds of opportunities for thought. The topics may touch on sensitive issues; they may challenge you to think in ways to which you are not accustomed. Because creativity and analytical ability are part of the essence of our program, we think that you will find these essays both challenging and rewarding to consider and write about.

Read all the prompts carefully, think about them, and then choose one for your essay. Remember—there are no right answers here—think of this challenge as an opportunity for you to explore interesting issues and build a case for your point of view. The Honor Scholar Program takes the essays seriously, and we worked hard to generate questions at once diverse and engaging.

Because the Honor Scholar program also takes you and your ideas very seriously—both now and after you arrive—at least two faculty members will carefully read your essay. You should be aware that the essay and the interview that may follow are the most important factors in admission for the Honor Scholar Program. The Honor Scholar Program does not simply look at your test scores and GPA to gauge admission. We believe that the intellectual curiosity, engagement, and interest we want in our students manifest more clearly in written work (the essay) and personal interaction (the interview) than in SAT or ACT scores. So, take the essay seriously and use this opportunity to show us what you can do!

Prompt Option 1: Look at me


Abu Riash Admission Photo

What does this image say to you?  You may take any approach or perspective you like in responding to the photograph.  That is, you could tell a story based on the photo, look at it as a piece of art, or comment on the political or cultural meanings it might convey.



Public health scientist Thomas Oliver wrote in 2006:

“[p]ublic health commonly involves governmental action to produce outcomes— injury and disease prevention or health promotion—that individuals are unlikely or unable to produce by themselves...[a] political community stresses a shared bond among members: organized society safeguards the common goods of health, welfare, and security, while members subordinate themselves to the welfare of the community as a whole. Public health can be achieved only through collective action, not through individual endeavor.” 

 This perspective may be widely accepted in public health, but it “runs counter to a fundamental emphasis on property rights, economic individualism, and competition in American political culture” as Oliver observes.

Considering recent global health crises such as COVID, Ebola, Zika, obesity, and others that threaten us, what should the role of government or international organizations be in the regulation and promotion of individual and/or the public’s health? 

Reference:  Oliver, T. (2006). Annual Review of Public Health27, 195-233. doi: 10.1146/annurev.publhealth.25.101802.123126

PROMPT OPTION 3: I contain Multitudes


According to Islamic law, traditional Muslim values, and common understanding, alcohol is prohibited in Islam. Yet, in a recent book, Shahab Ahmed begins by juxtaposing the two thought pieces indented below: the first comes from Walt Whitman’s poem, “Song of Myself”; the second is an anecdote about Muslim cultural practice.

Read both and discuss what you think Ahmed is trying to communicate by bringing these insights together.

         Do I contradict myself?
         Very well, then, I contradict myself.
         (I am large, I contain multitudes).
                                                   ----Walt Whitman

          Some years ago, …I witnessed a revealing exchange between an eminent 
          European philosopher…and a Muslim scholar….The Muslim colleague was 
          indulging in a glass of wine. Evidently troubled by this, the distinguished don 
          eventually asked “Do you consider yourself a Muslim?” “Yes,” came the reply.  
          “How come, then, you are drinking wine?” The Muslim colleague smiled gently. 
          “My family have been Muslims for a thousand years,” he said, “during which time
          we have always been drinking wine….You see, we are Muslim wine-drinkers.” The
          questioner looked bewildered. "I don’t understand,” he said.  “Yes, I know,” replied 
          his native informant, “but I do.”

 Reference:  Ahmed, S.  (2015).  What is Islam?  Princeton, NJ:  Princeton University Press.  

prompt option 4: Our reproductive future


“We need to start thinking about these questions. The future is coming. It may not be exactly the future I foresee, but, like it or not, it will certainly feature far more choices, for families and for societies, about making babies.”

So says Henry Greely, a biomedical ethicist and lawyer at Stanford University, discussing how revolutionary scientific developments may change human reproduction.  These advances include induced stem cells derived from skin, enhanced genetic diagnosis, and techniques to permanently edit DNA sequences.  The stem cell technology may allow eggs and sperm to be made from skin cells—a technique that has already led to reproduction in mice.  This could allow infertile heterosexual couples and same-sex couples to have “their own” genetic children.  As genetic screening becomes more comprehensive, faster, and less expensive, we will be able to identify more and more genetic issues in embryos, and new techniques like CRISPR may (will?)—at some point—allow us to directly modify the genes. 

So we invite you to start thinking-- should we use this technology?  If so, how?  What are the benefits and costs?  Should there be limits, and if so why?  Who should decide?

References:   http://www.vox.com/2016/9/16/12931962/future-sex-reproductive-technology-ethics-ivf, and Greely, H. (2016).  The End of Sex and the Future of Human Reproduction.  Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press.