Dean's Scholars Honors Prompt Advice

 Long exposure of nebula in Northern Chile

Long exposure of nebula in Northern Chile

The new Dean's Scholars honors prompt for the College of Natural Sciences is interesting and tricky.

In 250 words: "Today we are exposed to an abundance of information described as scientifically based, but some of it is not based on good science. Have you ever been persuaded that something supposedly grounded in science was true, only to realize later that you were wrong? If so, explain how or why you were mistaken, and how you realized your error. If this has not happened to you, explain how you’ve managed to guard yourself against faulty or misrepresented evidence."

Unlike almost any other college essay where you can write nearly anything you want and reasonably answer the question, this prompt is not one of them. This prompt tasks you with making an argument, assessing counterexamples, and resolving inconsistencies.

I've already seen many students stumble on this prompt because they either fail to identify their problem, don't identify their previous beliefs, or demonstrate how their beliefs changed in light of new information. 

I rarely recommend following a template for any essay, but I believe these five steps can help break down the prompt into more manageable pieces.

I have put the sample essay together at the end.

1. Identify an issue or an observation.

Be plain and clear with your language. "One issue I believed had scientific backing was [insert issue]. Some people argue that [the issue] is true because [the reasoning behind their argument.]"

Your issue can be anything, but it is likely to be controversial, and that's okay: vaccines and autism, climate change, evolution/creationism, the death penalty, fitness and nutrition.

Let's use an example from my own life about MSG, a delicious additive that my friends in college made fun of me for putting on literally everything.

"Some people suggest Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) produces harmful side effects when consumed. Discovered and used by the Japanese for over 100 years, MSG is a popular additive in many prepared foods."

Interested in receiving help to maximize your honors admissions chances? Complete my questionnaire to get started.

2. Explain in two or three sentences what evidence justifies that observation.

The prompt wants you discuss the misleading evidence itself and how it previously informed your belief.

"I learned that skepticism about consuming MSG began after a journalist published an article in the early 1980's when they supposedly fell ill after consuming Chinese food heavily seasoned with MSG. They claimed that the meal made their heart race, they felt nauseous, and they had trouble falling asleep. Follow-up studies suggested a correlation between MSG consumption and negative side effects."

3. Suggest why the evidence may be problematic.

After identifying the evidence and justifications for your issue, you need to call into question why that evidence may be faulty.

"It turns out all of those earlier studies had errors in methodology that established correlation but not causation. More rigorous recent studies suggest other causes for 'Chinese Restaurant Syndrome:" consuming food high in fat and carbohydrates or the 'nocebo effect.' The nocebo effect occurs when someone believes a negative reaction will occur."

4. How did new evidence help you reconsider your belief?

After you question the evidence that informed your previous beliefs, you need to identify how new justifications challenged you to form or alter your belief.

Pick up the definitive guide to UT admissions "Your Ticket to the Forty Acres."

"It seems that cultural stigmas towards MSG made some believe they have sensitivities when all subsequent peer-reviewed research cannot identify any negative consequences from consuming MSG. It's just a salt, after all, and tens of millions of East Asians have been consuming it for generations with seemingly no documented consequences."

5. Spend one or two sentences resolving the conflict and where you now stand.

Your conclusion can be simple, but it needs to resolve the inconsistencies that you have identified. Be sure to state how it influences how you believe and act in practice today.

"Although it is scientifically impossible to prove a negative, but I will continue eating food with MSG."

Let's put everything together to create a sample essay that I have edited and proofread.

"Some people suggest Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) produces harmful side effects when consumed. Discovered and used by the Japanese for over 100 years, MSG is a popular additive in many prepared foods. Many restaurants began publishing MSG-Free signs.

I learned that skepticism about consuming MSG began after a journalist published an article in the early 1980's when they supposedly fell ill after consuming Chinese food heavily seasoned with MSG. They claimed that the meal made their heart race, they felt nauseous, and they had trouble falling asleep. Follow-up studies suggested a correlation between MSG consumption and negative side effects. 

It turns out all of those earlier studies had errors in methodology that established correlation but not causation. More rigorous recent studies suggest other causes for 'Chinese Restaurant Syndome." It may be that consuming a lot of high calorie fat and carbohydrates doesn't make you feel good, or it could be the 'nocebo effect.' The nocebo effect occurs when someone believes a negative reaction will occur. It seems that cultural stigmas towards MSG made some believe they have sensitivities even though all subsequent peer-reviewed research cannot identify any negative consequences from consuming MSG.

It's just a salt after all, and tens of millions of East Asians have been consuming it for generations with seemingly no documented consequences. Although it is scientifically impossible to prove a negative, I will continue eating food with MSG."

I hope this helps your Dean's Scholars Honors submission! I can provide a free admissions consultation by completing this form.

Kevin MartinEssays, Honors