How to Write the University of Illinois at Chicago Essays 2021-2022

University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) has over 20,000 undergraduate students and an acceptance rate of 73%. UIC has 1 required supplemental essay for all students, and two required essays for students applying to the honors college. The supplemental essay for all applicants asks about your interest in your intended major. The honors college prompts ask about your academic challenges and successes in high school, and how the honors college will help you grow personally and professionally.

 

To be competitive for admission at UIC, you should have strong essays that will stand out and convince admissions officers that you are a good fit for the university. In this post, we’ll discuss how you can write winning essays for UIC.

 

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University of Illinois at Chicago Essay Prompts

All Applicants

 

Please provide an essay that explains why you chose your intended program of study. What interests you the most about this major? Please be specific – those evaluating these essays are highly interested in your response. If Undecided, what areas of study do you look forward to studying in college? (50-500 words)

 

Honors College Applicants

 

Prompt 1: Please describe in detail ways that you have sought out academic challenges and personal growth opportunities while in high school. Examples can include activities both inside or outside of your school. (400-500 words)

 

Prompt 2: How will your engagement with the Honors College foster your academic, personal, and professional growth? (400-500 words)

 

Guaranteed Professional Program Admissions (GPPA) Applicants

 

By applying to the GPPA programs, you are applying for a guaranteed seat in one of UIC’s graduate or professional programs earlier than students who apply in a traditional manner. The GPPA program seeks to understand why you have chosen your intended profession and a guaranteed path into it. What makes you an ideal candidate for guaranteed admission rather than following a traditional path to your intended profession? How would a guaranteed seat contribute to your goals as an undergraduate? (400-500 words)

All Applicants

Please provide an essay that explains why you chose your intended program of study. What interests you the most about this major? Please be specific – those evaluating these essays are highly interested in your response. If Undecided, what areas of study do you look forward to studying in college? (50-500 words)

This essay is a traditional “Why this Major?” prompt that invites you to share what about your background and experiences has drawn you to want to study a given subject. A key element that will differentiate a strong response from a weaker one is the ability to draw specific connections between your experiences and specific characteristics of the major in which you are interested. 

 

For example, a weak response would merely say that you are interested in UIC’s B.S. in Computer Science because you grew up playing retro computer games. But a strong response would draw a specific connection between noticing glitches in the gameplay of those retro games, constantly wondering how the game programmers’ logic inadvertently created those glitches, and wanting to pursue a career in software quality assurance. As you write your essay, keep in mind the importance of drawing the linkage between experience and interest.

 

If you’re undecided about your major, don’t worry. You can still produce a high-quality essay by highlighting 2-3 areas of study or intellectual interest that you are drawn to, even if there isn’t a clear favorite. It would be a mistake to say that you have no idea what you may want to study. Even if you are genuinely indifferent among many areas of study, consider reflecting on which high school classes you have had the most success or interest in; those will potentially be areas on which you can write convincingly.

 

We recommend beginning this essay with the anecdote that you will use to demonstrate how your interest in your major developed. This anecdote might be a personal, non-academic experience, or it may be related to coursework. Of course, a strong essay likely combines these two types of experience: perhaps your interest in computer science logic was strengthened by writing your own proofs for the first time in a geometry class.

 

Here are some tips on building this “Why this Major” essay around such an anecdote:

 

Personal experience: Consider choosing a story in which you initially are unfamiliar with the intellectual or technical foundations of something that impacts or influences you, and you realize that you want to develop related expertise. For example, perhaps one day your aunt told you about how she relies on a pacemaker to regulate her heart rhythm, and your first-hand insight into how medical technology can save people’s lives has drawn you to UIC’s bioengineering major. A mistake in writing that essay would be to not elaborate on specific problems or dynamics in the field of bioengineering that you are drawn to solving. For example, perhaps there are materials-science-related barriers to advanced implants that you want to help overcome. It is critical that you demonstrate that you have spent time thinking about not just the impact a given area of study has had on you, but also the impact that you want to make on that area of study.

 

Coursework: Stories based on coursework lend themselves to more straightforward connections to a given area of study. A strong essay based on an anecdote about an assignment you’ve completed or a discussion you’ve had in class should not just be about your having a natural talent for the subject. Instead, you should emphasize the growth you’ve undergone over the course of the class or classes. For example, if you’re interested in the English major within the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, you might talk about how the critical feedback you got on a creative writing assignment pushed you to be more deliberate about your writing technique and you eventually decided to participate in the National Novel Writing Month. By showing a growth mindset, you can more easily lead into your interest in advanced, college-level study in a topic.

 

Regardless of the type of anecdote you choose, be conscientious about the details that you choose to include. Mention parts of the story that show your reasoning and process of developing interest, but don’t linger on elements that don’t contribute to your narrative, since you only have 500 words.

 

Finally, make sure that you demonstrate your specific interest in the major at UIC and not just the major generally. For example, you might talk about how you envision yourself presenting at UIC’s new annual bioengineering research symposium or how being in the vibrant Chicago arts and writing scene provides a natural platform for you to hone your craft and learn from others.

 

Honors College Applicants, Prompt 1 

Please describe in detail ways that you have sought out academic challenges and personal growth opportunities while in high school. Examples can include activities both inside or outside of your school. (400-500 words)

For this prompt, you’ll have to think about the ways in which high school has formed your personal and academic development. Since this essay is for the Honors College, you’ll also want to make sure that your essay adequately discusses your academic history and success. 

 

Brainstorming Essay Topics 

 

Before you begin writing, you’ll want to spend some time thinking about moments throughout your life that have impacted your personal and academic growth. This might be the hardest part of this essay, as finding a topic that is both meaningful and significant can be tricky. Below are some mistakes you’ll want to avoid when picking an essay topic.

 

Picking a Topic That Is Cliché

 

There are many essay topics that have become cliché by students because they are so overdone. This includes topics related to sports injuries, personal tragedies, or getting a bad grade. Remember, you’ll want to pick an example that highlights both academic and personal growth–not just one or the other.

 

Picking a Topic that Isn’t Significant Enough

 

Topics that aren’t meaningful enough may include group project failures or interpersonal conflict unrelated to your academic history. While these experiences are certainly important in your life, you should try to pick an experience that shaped your identity.

 

Picking an Extremely Personal Topic

 

Topics such as pet deaths and breakups should be avoided as they are too personal and do not highlight any types of academic engagement which should be included in this essay.

 

How to Approach the Essay

 

Now that you’ve had a chance to think about potential topics, it is important to understand how to actually write the essay. You can do this in three steps: 

 

1. Describe The Situation

 

Set the scene for the reader by discussing the academic or personal growth challenge that you’ve faced. You’ll want to be sure to add vivid details here so that the reader fully understands and can imagine the situation.

 

2. The Steps You Took to Overcome the Situation

 

What happened next in the story, and what role did you play in your own growth or challenges? 

 

3. Reflect on What You Learned

 

Last, you’ll want to reflect on what this experience taught you, and how you changed because of it. This part of the essay is especially important as admissions officers want to know how students have positively changed through their previous life experiences. 

 

Do you still need help flushing out the details of the essay? Below is a list of questions that can help you brainstorm the details within your essay.

 

  • When you think of challenges that you’ve faced, which one has been important to you and why?

 

  • Was there a situation that changed your perspective on a long-standing belief that you had?

 

  • What was your immediate reaction to this situation, and how has that reaction changed over time?

 

  • What steps did you take to manage the situation, and how did you do it?

 

  • Were you surprised by your own growth? Did your growth impact people close to you as well?

 

  • If you could’ve changed anything about your reaction to the situation, what would it be and why?

 

Although this has already been mentioned, you’ll want to make sure that you describe a challenge that is related to both your academic and personal life. While you could describe two separate situations, it may be best to just describe one that affected both your academic and personal life since you are limited by the word count.

 

 

Examples

 

A hypothetical example may be a student who writes about how she always strictly followed her parents religious beliefs, but was questioned by a classmate during a seminar about her religion. In turn, this made her question her own beliefs, and led her to creating a school club which explored various religious philosophies. If the student did significant reflecting on their experience and discussed how this has changed their viewpoints, this example would be perfect as it discusses religion as an academic discipline and also a personal belief system.

 

A not-so-strong example for this essay would be a student who writes about how they struggled to finish a group project at school and asked their teacher for extra help. This would not show how the student went above-and-beyond, or how this changed their learning experience or perspective. 

 

Mistakes to Avoid

 

Focusing Too Much on the Challenges/Growth and Not Enough on Personal Development

 

At the beginning of the essay you’ll want to “set the scene” and describe the academic and personal challenges and growth you faced in high school. However, the point of this essay is to discuss how you’ve overcome those challenges and how you’ve developed into the person you are today. Your focus should be on you, not on your circumstances. 

 

Telling Instead of Showing

 

Stories are always more engaging when a reader can imagine themselves in the narrator’s shoes. Instead of simply listing the lessons you’ve learned, instead use vivid examples to describe your challenges and growth.

 

Honors College Applicants, Prompt 2 

How will your engagement with the Honors College foster your academic, personal, and professional growth? (400-500 words)

The UIC Honors College is a prestigious program in which members of the college have special access to honors courses, additional research opportunities, and faculty mentorship, along with access to Honors College-only facilities in Burnham Hall. Honors College students spend their last year at UIC developing a capstone research project. Given all the advantages of being in the Honors College, admission is competitive, so a compelling essay is a key to being invited.

 

Before writing this essay, look through the Honors College website and identify a few programs or opportunities that you find the most attractive. Specificity is key in this essay: you need to show why access to the additional privileges of Honors College students can make a difference for you. Here are a few approaches you can take to answering this question:

 

Connect UIC Honors programs to past relevant experiences.

 

One way to illustrate why you think the Honors College is right for you is to draw connections with previous experiences that align with some of the Honors College opportunities. For example, if you have worked closely with a professor in the past on a research project or in another capacity, you can explain how you’ve become better at distilling insights from experts in a field and making meaningful contributions. As a result, you might be more confident that you would have very productive relationships with faculty mentors as a member of the Honors College.

 

If you go down this path, make sure that this essay is still ultimately about how you’ll take advantage of the given opportunities in the future. The value of discussing past experiences is to demonstrate that you have a solid foundation to take full advantage of UIC’s opportunities—not merely to show what you’ve done in the past.

 

Emphasize the closeness among students in the program

 

One of the big advantages of honors colleges is that it creates a natural, smaller community at a university. This is especially important at UIC, given the immense size of the undergraduate body. UIC Honors College students are able to live on-campus in special living-learning communities, such as Commons West. Students also participate in special student organizations. You could discuss how you learn best through the exchange of ideas with your peers, and how being in a close-knit community can facilitate that process. By showing that you recognize that learning happens not just between teachers and students, but also among students, you can demonstrate your personal maturity and openness to diverse viewpoints.

 

Discuss how a specific research project will help you grow academically and professionally

 

Given that the Honors College places a large emphasis on additional research opportunities and the capstone project, you can use this essay to discuss how those opportunities will help you pursue one or two projects about which you are very passionate. For example, you might need sustained engagement with a bioengineering professor to advance your ideas on improving pacemakers. Or maybe you see the Red Shoes Review literary magazine as a great opportunity to share your writing and receive critical feedback from your peers who are also skilled writers. These projects might also help you demonstrate your capabilities to employers after school.

 

The advantage of taking this approach to the Honors College essay is that it gives a lot of color to what exactly you hope to do as a member. By giving your essay reader a more vivid picture of the student you will be, you make it easier for them to give you the nod.

 

Guaranteed Professional Program Admissions (GPPA) Applicants

By applying to the GPPA programs, you are applying for a guaranteed seat in one of UIC’s graduate or professional programs earlier than students who apply in a traditional manner. The GPPA program seeks to understand why you have chosen your intended profession and a guaranteed path into it. What makes you an ideal candidate for guaranteed admission rather than following a traditional path to your intended profession? How would a guaranteed seat contribute to your goals as an undergraduate? (400-500 words)

The GPPA initiative is an invaluable opportunity to lock in your admission to one of UIC’s professional or graduate schools. If you’re admitted, you might feel more freedom to explore various academic interests as an undergraduate at UIC. Note that for many UIC programs, you are required to be a member of the Honors College as well, so you will also have to fill out the Honors College essay and submit the required letters of recommendation. GPPA is ideal for applicants who know that they have a very strong interest in attending graduate school in one of the available areas of study. While you are not required to matriculate to the graduate program, it would still be helpful to show your specific interest in UIC’s graduate schools. While in undergrad, you will need to meet the conditions of acceptance for the relevant graduate school, which may include taking certain courses and examinations.

 

Explain why you prefer the guarantee to a traditional path to graduate school.

 

UIC is interested in knowing why you are eager to have the safety of admission to a master’s or professional program as you are starting out your undergraduate education. There are a number of good reasons this may be the case, including your ability to gain early exposure to the professional school. A key advantage of knowing which graduate school you will be attending four years before matriculating is that you can engage with professors, research centers, and other opportunities at that graduate school over a longer timeframe. This can be helpful if, for example, you are a potential public health student interested in longitudinal research that takes years to complete. Instead of only being in the MPH program for two years, you’ll be able to connect with researchers for up to six years, including your time as an undergraduate. Additionally, you’ll be able to meet more professors and professionals affiliated with the graduate program.

 

Think carefully about your reasons, and make sure they still convey your intellectual curiosity and academic seriousness. For example, don’t convey that you just want to slack off for four years before attending a master’s program.

 

Demonstrate fit with the profession.

 

A strong GPPA essay will discuss your interest in the dynamics of the profession that you would be entering after graduate school. For example, if you want to apply to UIC’s Doctor of Dental Medicine program, you can tell a story that shows how you thrive in environments where you have to decide between snap judgments and more diligent research. Or you can discuss how helping one person at a time with their health needs is the most tangible way you can imagine making an impact on the world. Demonstrate your readiness by making it evident that you’ve thought deeply about, and are comfortable with, the tensions and complexities of the profession. Make sure to also communicate that the traits and experiences driving you toward the given area of study and profession are integral to who you are. For example, you can offer an anecdote about how your strong judgment under high pressure or your relentless drive to find the right answer shows up in the rest of your life. 

 

Discuss a pivotal moment in your academic, personal, or extracurricular experience.

 

Maybe you’ve known for a long time now that you are interested in the profession for which you’re applying to GPPA. You can talk about an experience in which you realized that your interests require an unconventional path in which guaranteed admission is valuable. For example, say you are applying for pre-admission to the UIC law school because you eventually want to be a public defender. You can tell a story about how when you were volunteering for your local legal clinic, you were always taken aback by the hostile appearance and construction of the courthouse, and so now, before practicing law, you want to get a B.S. in Architecture and help design more humane civic buildings. Bring the reader into that moment, and explain how the interconnections among different areas of study compel you to apply for GPPA.

 

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