Portland State University Admissions Essay Format

  1. What are the writing requirements for undergraduate students at PSU?
  2. What kind of general writing courses are available to students?
  3. Does the university offer writing resources specifically for students whose first language isn't English?
  4. What courses are available to students interested in creative writing, technical writing, or other specific genres of writing?

1. University Writing Requirement

2. General Writing Courses at PSU

WR 115  "Introduction to College Writing" - A writing course for first-year students to help prepare them for Freshman Inquiry or Writing 121. WR 115 introduces college-level writing and reading, along with general study skills. The course provides practice at formal and informal writing, responding to a variety of readings, learning textual conventions, and building confidence.

WR 121  "College Writing" - A writing course in which students develop critical thinking abilities by reading and writing, increase their rhetorical strategies, practice writing processes, and learn textual conventions. The course includes formal and informal writing, responding to a variety of readings, sharing writing with other students, and revising individual pieces for a final portfolio of work.

WR 210  "Grammar Refresher" - This is a writing course for students who wish to refresh their grammar skills. Using informal and formal writing, the course focuses on: parts of speech, sentence construction, and punctuation; tracking particular grammar problems; and learning to edit.

WR 222  "Writing Research Papers" - WR 222 is an elective course in which students learn the techniques for compiling and writing research papers. The course covers attention to available reference materials, use of the library, taking notes, critical evaluation of evidence, and conventions for documenting academic papers. Students organize and write a long expository essay based on use of library resources. Recommended: WR 121 or Freshman Inquiry. May not be used to fulfill English major requirements.

WR 300 "Writing in the Disciplines" - Learn the conventions of writing in your major by researching it yourself. For all juniors and seniors who want to understand their field's writing or to prepare for graduate school.

WR 323 "Writing as Critical Inquiry" - WR 323 offers sophisticated approaches to writing and reading. Students enhance critical thinking abilities by reading and writing challenging material, refine their rhetorical strategies, prac tice writing processes with special attention to revision and style, and write and read in a variety of genres. The course includes formal and informal writing, sharing writing with other students, and preparing a final portfolio of work. Many students consider this course to be the upper-division extension of skills first practiced in WR 121. Recommended: satisfactory completion of WR 121 or Freshman Inquiry.

WR 333 "Advanced Composition" - This is a course in essay writing, with particular attention to a student's area of specialization. While WR 323 ("Writing as Critical Inquiry") focuses on general upper-division academic writing skills, teachers of WR 333 often assume enrolled students are particularly interested in further expressive possibilities of the essay as a form. Recommended: Freshman Inquiry or two writing courses.

WR 420 "Writing: Process and Response" - This course provides opportunities for students to write in various genres. Course focuses include language attitudes, writing process, and reader response. Also offered for graduate-level credit as WR 520. Recommended: one upper-division writing course. May be repeated for a maximum of 8 credits.

3. Writing Resources for Multilingual Students

Non-native speakers of English, both international and immigrant students, often need additional help with reading and writing in English. The Department of Applied Linguistics and the Department of English have a variety of options for multilingual students, including courses, studios, tutorials, and recommended electronic resources.

Available Courses (4 credits)

For lower division students who need help with writing

LING 115, Writing for Non-Native Residents (Department of Applied Linguistics)
A course that focuses on language and cultural issues, along with basic help with academic writing. This is the course for students to take if they are struggling with the language; offered at five different levels.

Available Mini-Courses (2 credits) and Tutorials (1 credit)

For lower and upper division students who need major help with writing, but perhaps less than an entire course, both studios and tutorials are available through the English department.

Mini-Course: WR 210 Grammar Refresher (2)
Brush up your grammar skills. Work on your own nagging problems and learn ways to put grammar all together.

Quarter-Long Writing Center Tutorials: WR 199 College Writing
These quarter-long tutorials can also provide students enrolled in Freshman Inquiry with individualized reading and writing instruction. Students in Freshman Inquiry may stop by the Writing Center to ask about openings for WR 199 College Writing Tutorial.

Tutoring Help for Specific Pieces of Writing

For any student who needs help with a specific piece of writing, the Writing Center can meet with students for an individual session. However, if the student is going more than once or twice, he or she needs to sign up for a course or studio through the departments of Applied Linguistics or English.

The PSU Writing Center (188F Cramer Hall, 725-3570) is available for any student who needs help sorting out particular language usage issues, understanding the academic conventions of particular assignments, or making sense of how plagiarism differs from citing sources. Writing Consultants in the Writing Center meet with students  one-on-one for either twenty-five minutes or fifty minutes.

4. A Complete List of Writing Courses

Students who would like to look at a much wider list of writing courses available at the university can consult the PSU Bulletin list of writing courses.

Beginning Fall 2012, students must complete 2 college-level composition courses or their approved equivalents for their baccalaureate degree requirements.  This requirement may be satisfied in one of the following ways:

  • Students admitted to PSU as freshmen (0-29 credits) meet the requirement by completing the first two years of University Studies or Urban Honors (both approved equivalents of composition courses);
  • Students admitted to PSU having earned 30-89 credits meet the requirement with WR 121 (required for transfer admission) and the requisite number of Sophomore Inquiry courses determined by placement into University Studies or HON 201, 202, 203;
  • Students admitted having earned 90 or more credits have four options for meeting the requirement:
    • Transfer into PSU with an approved equivalent of WR 121 plus one approved composition course for which WR 121 (or it's approved equivalent) is a pre-requisite;
    • Transfer into PSU with two approved composition courses for which WR 121 (or its approved equivalent) is a pre-requisite;
    • Complete WR 121 plus an additional course from the following PSU course list: WR 200, 211, 222, 227, 300, 323, 324, 327, 333, 394, 400, 420 or a 4-credit Writing Intensive Course (WIC) course. Composition writing courses transferred into PSU may also be considered.
    • Complete any two courses from the above PSU list.

This requirement became in effect beginning with the 2012-13 catalog. Students admitted prior to Fall 2012 may speak to an adviser about options to use an older catalog. 

For information about Writing Intensive Courses or for questions about approved equivalents for composition courses,please email the English Department at eng@pdx.edu.

Graduate and professional schools often require a written statement -- often called a "statement of purpose," "personal statement," or "letter of intent"-- as a part of the application. Some statements require specific information such as the applicant's intended area of study within a graduate field. Others can be quite unstructured, letting applicant address a wide range of matters. The importance of the statement varies from school to school and from field to field.

Determine your purpose in writing the statement

Usually the purpose is to persuade the admissions committee that you are an applicant who should be chosen. Whatever its purpose, the content must be presented in a manner that will give coherence to the whole statement.

Pay attention to the purpose throughout the statement so that extraneous material is left out. Pay attention to the audience (committee). The audience is professionals in their field, and you are not going to tell them how they should act or what they should be. You are the amateur.

Determine the content of your statement

Be sure to answer the questions fully. Usually graduate schools are interested in the following, although the form of the question(s) may vary:

  • Your purpose in graduate study. Think this through before you try to answer the question.
  • The area of study in which you wish to specialize. Learn about the field in detail so that you are able to state your preferences using the language of the field.
  • Your intended future use of your graduate study. Include your career goals and plans for the future.
  • Your unique preparation and fitness for study in the field. Correlate your academic background with your extracurricular experience to show how they unite to make you a special candidate.
  • Any problems or inconsistencies in your records or scores, such as a bad semester. Explain in a positive manner. Since this is a rebuttal argument, it should be followed by a positive statement of your abilities. In some instances, it may be appropriate to discuss this outside of the personal statement.
  • Any special conditions not revealed elsewhere in the application, such as a significant (38 hour per week) workload outside of school. This, too, should be followed with a positive statement about yourself and your future.
  • You may be asked, "Why do you wish to attend this school?" Research the school and describe its special appeal to you.
  • Above all, this statement should contain information about you as a person. They know nothing about you unless you tell them. You are the subject of the statement.

Determine your approach and style of the statement

There is no such thing as "the perfect way to write a statement." There is only the one that best fits you.


  • Be objective, yet self-revelatory. Write directly and in a straightforward manner that tells about your experience and what it means to you. Do not use "academese." 
  • Form conclusions that explain the value and meaning of your experience, such as what you learned about yourself and your field and your future goals. Draw your conclusions from the evidence your life provides.
  • Be specific. Document your conclusions with specific instances. See below a list of words and phrases to avoid using without explanation.
  • Get to the point early on and catch the attention of the reader.
  • Limit its length to two pages or less. In some instances, it may be longer, depending on the school's instructions.


  • Use the "what I did with my life" approach.
  • Use the "I've always wanted to be a _____" approach.
  • Use a catalog of achievements. This is only a list of what you have done, and tells nothing about you as a person.
  • Lecture the reader. For example, you should not write a statement such as "Communication skills are important in this field." Any graduate admissions committee member knows that.

Words and phrases to avoid without explanation

significantenjoyable/enjoymeant a lot to meI like helping people
interestingfeel goodstimulatingremarkable
challengingappealing to meincrediblerewarding
satisfying/satisfactionappealing aspectgratifyinguseful
appreciateI like itfascinatingvaluable
invaluableit's importantmeaningfulhelpful
exciting/excitedI can contributehelping people

Where to go for help

  • If you need some help figuring out what to write, make an appointment with a career counselor to come up with a plan. 
  • Once you have a draft, show it to faculty, letter of recommendation writers, family, etc. The best people to review your statement are those who know you well and have excellent writing skills. 
  • The Writing Center can advise you on writing technique and provide individual tutoring. 
  • Writing Personal Statements Online is a helpful resource that includes essay samples, critiques, and writing tips. 
  • Purdue Online Writing Lab has excellent questions for your first draft. 
  • Anne Lamont, Shitty First Drafts
  • Review this presentation by Dr. Erik Sanchez from Physics Dept., PSU

Adopted from University of California, Berkley website

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