Help With Application

Students apply to the Portland State University Honors College through the PSU general application. Click here for more information about applying.

To be considered for the Honors College, you will need to write two 300-500 word essays (see the prompts below) as part of your application. We recommend that students draft and revise essays in advance and cut and paste them into the application.

Neither essay has a correct answer. We wish to assess the level of your writing and critical thinking skills as the Honors College is a writing intensive curriculum that prepares students to write a senior thesis. All prospective students who have done well in their previous written work in high school or college, regardless of personal history, geographic location, or family levels of college education, should be able to respond to these essays. We especially encourage students of diverse backgrounds to apply.

Essay Prompts for Honors Application

  • You are required to respond to question 1.
  • You must also respond to either 2a or 2b to be considered for admission to the Honors College.
  • Write a 300-500 word, carefully composed essay in response to each of the prompts.

Question 1: Reflect upon a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged. How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?

Question 2: Respond to one of the following prompts

Question 2A: The following excerpt is from the American writer Susan Sontag’s 1977 book of essays, On Photography. For this prompt, show how you think with and respond to another writer. There is no right answer. Find some part of the following excerpt that you can use as a starting point for an essay. In the essay, both describe what you understand Sontag to be saying and respond to her ideas by discussing to what extent you see Sontag’s ideas as still relevant today.

“As photographs give people an imaginary possession of a past that is unreal, they also help people to take possession of space in which they are insecure . . . A way of certifying experience, taking photographs is also a way of refusing it—by limiting experience to a search for the photogenic, by converting experience into an image, a souvenir. Travel becomes a strategy for accumulating photographs. The very activity of taking pictures is soothing, and assuages general feelings of disorientation that are likely to be exacerbated by travel. Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture. This gives shape to experience: stop, take a photograph, and move on.”

Question 2B: In his book, Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History, the anthropologist Michel Ralph-Trouillot examines the conflict surrounding the meaning of “The Alamo Mission” as both a place and as a historical reference. He notes that the effort of the Inter-Tribal Council of American Indians in 1994 to have the unmarked cemetery next to the Alamo--which holds the remains of more than one thousand Native American Catholics--recognized as sacred ground, tapped into a long ongoing controversy.

For this prompt, demonstrate how you can understand and respond to another writer. Read the following excerpt in which Ralph-Trouillot discusses the controversy. Then, write an essay in which you both describe what you understand Ralph-Trouillot to be saying and respond to his ideas.

“The debate over the grounds fits within a larger war that some observers have dubbed ‘the second battle of the Alamo.’ That larger controversy surrounds the 1836 siege of the compound by [Mexican General Antonio López de] Santa Anna’s forces. Is that battle a moment of glory during which freedom-loving Anglos, outnumbered but undaunted, spontaneously chose to fight until death rather than surrender to a corrupt Mexican dictator? Or is it a brutal example of U.S. expansionism, the story of a few white predators taking over what was sacred territory and half-willingly providing, with their death, the alibi for a well-planned annexation? So phrased the debate evokes issues that have divided a few historians and inhabitants of Texas over the last twenty years. But with San Antonio’s population now composed of 56 percent nominal Hispanics, many of whom also acknowledge some Native American ancestry, “the second battle of the Alamo” has literally reached the street...In the heated context of this debate, advocates on both sides are questioning factual statements, the accuracy of which mattered to few half a century ago. ‘Facts,’ both trivial or prominent in relative isolation, are questioned or heralded by each camp.”