This prompt should make you feel excited. Sure, it’s open-ended. But, it’s also more interesting than the average “What will you bring to our community” prompts you see on lots of other college applications. Reed lets you create your very own curriculum. You get to envision a class you might actually teach. That’s pretty cool.

Here are a couple general tips to remember as you’re writing your essay:

  1. Give the course an interesting name. The title is your first chance to make an impression on not only admission officers, but also the (imagined) people searching for a class to take. The colon is a great tool. First, it allows you to create a longer title. Second, it divides the title into academic and non-academic halves. 

  2. Don’t assume the title speaks for itself. Imagine first-year students skimming descriptions in a lengthy course catalog. A student may pause if they see a cool title, but they’ll move on just as quickly if the description doesn’t interest them. Your description needs to stand out. In fact, in some cases, if no one signs up for your course, you may be out of a job. So make it fun. Make it a course you’d actually want to take. 

  3. Ask smart questions. Smart questions in the course description give the reader a sense of what ideas the class will explore. More importantly, it shows your capacity to explore higher-level questions in college and beyond. This is a chance for readers to see your mind at work. Think of these questions as tiny windows into your academic soul.

  4. List required readings. Give the reader a sense of your mad research skills. Look up your topic on Amazon (or better yet, on scholar.google.com or The Seminary Co-op’s catalog) to find books or articles that pique your interest on the subject. If you find one that’s slightly off-topic from your course, that’s okay. Make an uncommon connection. Find a unique way of linking multiple interests. Remember that classes can be interdisciplinary, so don’t limit yourself. 

  5. Name sample lectures in a dynamic way. Again, imagine lectures you’d like to hear. Try to find those uncommon connections. Use the sample lectures as a way to demonstrate the breadth and depth of your knowledge about your topic of choice.

With these general tips in mind, here’s a great sample essay for this prompt:

Reed Supplemental Essay Example

Great American Leaders: A Historical, Sociological, and Political Perspective
on How to Get Things Done

Course Description: Throughout history, many American leaders have been good, but what has made the most famous ones great? In this course, we will explore and apply the techniques of effective and highly regarded American leaders who have forever left their mark on our nation’s society. From President Lyndon Johnson’s use of “the lean” for physical intimidation to pass landmark legislation, to Martin Luther King Jr.’s use of the Old Testament to bring together Catholic, Protestant, and Jewish leaders during the Civil Rights Movement, to Eleanor Roosevelt’s ability to command respect and influence at a time when women’s voices were rarely heard, we will analyze the tactics that have led to lasting change. As we study the strategies pioneered by these great leaders, we will simultaneously work to find ways to apply them in the present day.

Sample lectures:

Connections During the Civil Rights Movement: A Sociological Look at the Unity of Leaders, Cultures, and Religions in Common Cause

Required readings: A Letter from a Birmingham Jail – Martin Luther King, Jr.

“I Speak to You as an American Jew” – Dr. Joachim Prinz, March on Washington

The 100 Days: FDR’s Spectacular Entry into the Office of the Presidency, and his Leadership of a Congress of Action

Required readings: The Defining Moment: FDR’s Hundred Days and the Triumph of Hope – Jonathan Alter

Roosevelt’s First Fireside Chat- March 12, 1933

Seneca Falls: The Leaders of the Women’s Suffrage Movement and their Convention that Changed Women’s Rights Forever

Required readings: Seneca Falls and the Origins of the Women’s Rights Movement – Sally G. McMillen

Elizabeth Cady Stadam: Seneca Falls Keynote Address

 At a time of ineffectiveness and gridlock, it is imperative that we study what makes a great leader and attempt to find applications of their work in the modern day, for our country and our world.

— — —

Tips + Analysis

  1. Mix colloquial and academic language. This author does a great job of explaining the intellectual content of the course in a way that actually makes you want to engage with the curriculum. He does that by combining expert-sounding language with the informal enthusiasm of someone who genuinely seems interested in the course he’s proposing. The title is a great example of this. It tells us that we get to explore great American leaders from multiple academic perspectives, but for the purpose of learning “how to get things done.” That’s a super cool way of grounding the course in a practical and understandable skill. Plus, it reads like the title of a book you might see at an airport bookstore, which is a good thing.

  2. Make the description specific. What makes an essay stand out are the details. The less specific you are, the less the reader gets to learn about you as a unique human being with individual interests and ideas. This author doesn’t waste the opportunity Reed gives him to flaunt his historical knowledge and love of his chosen topic. And he doesn’t just tell us the overarching themes and questions for the course; he illustrates those themes and questions with details about Lyndon Johnson, MLK, and Eleanor Roosevelt. The particularity of these facts shows that the author has done his research. His attention to detail shows care.

  3. Choose the readings intentionally. The author clearly connects his required readings to the initial description of the course. The readings he chooses are from a variety of sources and make sense within the context he has provided. They also connect to one another; you gain a more complete understanding of the others. That’s cool. It means that the author conceived of the required readings as a cohesive whole rather than as individual units. When you’re thinking about how you want to structure your course, make sure to take a step back and see the big picture. A class takes place for a whole semester, and you can create interesting parallels/connections between the readings you choose to assign.

  4. Use something short to wrap it all up. The author gives a quick sentence or two at the end of his essay to explain why the course matters. Think of this as your elevator pitch. It’s your chance to show how your interest in your topic connects to other issues or topics of note. 

Here’s another great essay example:

Reed Supplemental Essay Example

The Exalted Power of Music: How Our Ears Inspire Our Eyes

Course Description: Music dominates our society–pop songs and singers are hugely influential in today’s time. But where else in our lives does the enchanting power of music hold influence? As we investigate and unravel the techniques of modern artists through a diverse slate of plays, cartoons, and films, we will discover the vital role of music in enhancing benchmark works of visual fiction. Simultaneously, through philosophical readings of Walton and Nietzsche, we will analyze the emotional and physiological effects of music, examining the dynamic interplay of visual and auditory elements. Finally, students will synthesize their research to create a short film or multimedia piece that displays their knowledge of visual aspects, music’s attributes, and their combined impact on a universal audience.

Sample lectures:

How To Enjoy Murder: Alternating Major and Minor Chords in Schubert’s String Quartet No. 15
Required Reading/Viewing/Listening:
The Evolution of Music in Film and its Psychological Impact on Audiences – Stuart Fischoff, Ph.D.
Crimes and Misdemeanors – Woody Allen
Schubert’s String Quartet No. 15

Why We Love Saturday Morning Cartoons: Two Mechanisms of Fictional Immersion
Required Reading/Viewing/Listening:
Fearing Fictions – Kendall L. Walton
The Birth of Tragedy, Section 7, 24, 25 – F. Nietzsche
Tom and Jerry, Episode 33 – William Hanna and Joseph Barbera
Franz Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody no. 2

How Movies Possess Our Bodies: A Physiological Analysis
Required Reading/Viewing/Listening:
Quantitative and Visual Analysis of the Impact of Music on Perceived Emotion of Film – Rob Parke, Elaine Chew, Chris Kyriakakis
The Invisible Art of Film Music, Section 7 – Lawrence E. MacDonald
Jaws – Steven Spielberg

Why Fiction Feels So Real: Analyzing Silence
Required Reading/Viewing/Listening:
Silence and Slow Time: Studies in Musical Narrative – Martin Boykan
Life Is a Dream – Pedro Calderón de la Barca
“4’33”” – John Cage

In a society propelled by media and entertainment, the study of music’s influence on our lives not only can allow us to better produce captivating works, but understand our emotional responses and discover the profundity of human expression.

— — —

Tips + Analysis

  1. Go for a great title. This one immediately hooks you. It’s not too long, and it uses the colon to separate an academic topic (“the exalted power of music”) with a more basic/understandable direction for the course (“how our ears inspire our eyes”). It’s punchy and makes you want to keep reading.

  2. Get creative with the sample lectures. Just look at those titles. How to Enjoy Murder. Why We Love Saturday Morning Cartoons. How Movies Possess Our Bodies. Like, c’mon. These sound great. We don’t expect to learn why we enjoy murder in a class about music. But when we hear a lecture title about something like that, we feel intrigued to learn more. The author constructs their titles so that the non-academic half comes first. If the author had titled their first lecture, “Alternating Major and Minor Chords in Schubert’s String Quartet No. 15: How To Enjoy Murder,” we get to the best part last. However, this means we might lose interest halfway through and never get to enjoy the most intriguing half. The part on the major and minor chords helps hint at the why, intriguing us further.

  3. Consider different ways of delivering content. Readings don’t necessarily have to be books or academic articles. Think outside the box. Think podcasts, newspaper clippings, art shows, dance performances, films, or even athletic events. The author of this essay does a great job of incorporating different ways of learning into their class description. This attention to detail demonstrates a deeper, more expansive understanding of the topic as well as an appreciation of multiple styles of learning. 

  4. Give the course purpose. From the very beginning, we get a sense of why a course like this has value. The author explains that we live in a world “propelled by media and entertainment.” We need to understand how things like music work. Ultimately, this course is interested in the “human” aspect of music. It’s about exploring how sound can act as a vehicle for larger messages about humanity. Again: so cool. That’s not what we expect out of a course about music, but it also feels inevitable. Especially after all the amazing work the author has put into demonstrating that connection to us. The curriculum is interesting, but it also feels meaningful.

Now get writing.

Special thanks to Luci Jones for her contributions to this post