how to complete the common application

Providence College allows students to complete one additional (and optional!) essay in their Common Application supplement. While no student has to write this essay, my advice is to always take the opportunity to show your interest in a school by going above and beyond what is required of you; in other words, write the optional essays.

However, Providence College’s essay prompts are long and, honestly, hard to get through! When I’m struggling with essay prompts, I like to go read the college’s mission statement; I find that this often helps me divine what the college is trying to “get at” in their questions. Providence is rooted in a strong Roman Catholic faith and their mission statement reads, “Providence College is a Catholic, Dominican, liberal arts institution of higher education and a community committed to academic excellence in pursuit of the truth, growth in virtue, and service of God and neighbor.” That final statement is particularly important because these are the primary values of the institution. Now that we know this, let’s read through each of the essay prompts with this in mind.

Here’s the first essay prompt:

“We must love them both, those whose opinions we share and those whose opinions we reject, for both have labored in the search for truth, and both have helped us in finding it.” -St. Thomas Aquinas, Dominican Philosopher. Providence College students have always engaged in lively intellectual debates through disputatio – the art of disputed questions. At Providence, there is often not one correct answer, but rather many answers that come together to form one truth. In a divided society filled with strong opinions, how do you work to ensure all viewpoints are considered and the ultimate truth is discovered?

Let’s set aside the confusing quote and go back to what we learned from the school’s mission statement—this is a school that is “committed to academic excellence in pursuit of the truth…” Doesn’t the declaration that Providence is a community that believes there can be many answers to form one truth jump out at you now? This question is asking an applicant to share how they have helped uphold and value the multiple truths of a challenging circumstance. I would encourage students to use a concrete example of a situation that held multiple truths to illustrate their answer. You will need to use some portion of the 250-500 words to explain the situation, but make sure the majority of your essay answers the following questions: In that particular situation, what did you do to make sure the opinions and beliefs of others were listened to and respected? How did you help the larger group reach a resolution? Was it ever possible for there to be a clear answer to your dispute?

The second prompt is a bit more straightforward, reading:

As Providence College educates future scholars and leaders, it continuously strives to form a community that reflects the rich diversity of the human family. Please highlight a specific example throughout your time in high school that has strengthened and promoted the flourishing of all.

Once again when we return to the mission statement, we read that Providence is a “community committed to…service of God and neighbor.” While the first sentence in this prompt leads us a little off-topic, the second sentence is very clear: Providence is asking how you have served your community and ensured the betterment of others. I don’t think applicants need to worry about their service helping “all” (it’s impossible to help the entire world!), but should instead focus on the smaller ways they have helped those in their community.

The final essay prompt reads:

Over the past 100 years, Providence College has undergone extensive changes while remaining consistently true to our founding ideals. As we enter our second century, how will you help continue the College’s momentum and what impact will you have on the next chapter in our history?

When I go back to the mission statement one final time, I notice that Providence also states that they are a “community committed to…growth in virtue.” Now I’m not Roman Catholic, but I feel comfortable inferring that by “virtue” they mean the values of their faith. In this final prompt, I sense that Providence wants to remind applicants that, while they have changed a lot over the years and modernized their curriculum, they still value the foundation they were developed upon. When I did further research into the College, I learned that the heart of their curriculum is a sequence of classes from the Department of Western Civilization. In light of this, Providence is specifically asking applicants to address the core values of their institution, while also making their intended impact on the Providence campus clear. Will you join a sports team and help the Friars win a championship? Will you bring your love of numbers to take on the math department? Maybe you’re going to study abroad through the Center for International Studies and bring your experiences back to campus?

Whatever you do, make sure that when you pick your essay prompt, you pick the question that helps you share a component of your personality and life experiences not seen in the other sections of the Common App. Additionally, make certain to show Providence you have done your research and know (and share!) the values of their institution.


Written by Abigail Anderson
Abigail Anderson is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Abigail received her bachelor’s in sociology from Colby College. Prior to joining College Coach, Abigail worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College and Emma Willard School. Visit our website to learn more about Abigail Anderson.