How to Write the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Essays 2016-2017
Surrounded by sprawling cornfields and home of the Fighting Illini, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (or UIUC for short) is one of the nation’s foremost public research universities. Although it is a state school, approximately 26% of incoming freshman are non-Illinois residents, a testament to the desirability of a UIUC education.
While especially well known for their highly ranked undergraduate business and engineering programs, the school is regularly ranked as one of the top 50 universities in the world by multiple sources.
In addition to being a founding member of the Big Ten Conference (making it a great choice for avid sports fans and intellectuals alike), the University of Illinois has the second largest campus library system behind Harvard University, a hefty endowment of $3.3 billion, and an undergraduate population of almost 32,900 students. In terms of standardized testing, ACT score averages range from 27-33 campus wide, while SAT scores (without writing) fall between 1340 and 1480.
Before reading the rest of our guide to UIUC’s essay requirements, an important aspect of the application process to keep in mind is that they don’t accept the Common Application. Instead, you must use the application provided on their website and either submit it online or mail it directly to the school.
UIUC Application Essay Prompts
Explain your interest in the major you selected and describe how you have recently explored or developed this interest inside and/or outside the classroom. You may also explain how this major relates to your future career goals. If you’re applying to the Division of General Studies, explain your academic interests and strengths or your future career goals. You may include any majors or areas of study you’re currently considering. (300-400 words)
Before even setting pen to paper, consider the fact that this essay is the only piece of writing the University of Illinois will receive with your application. To be honest, this is both a blessing and a curse. While on one hand you won’t have to worry about repeating certain themes or life lessons, on the other, you have far fewer words to express your compatibility with the school and desire to attend. In other terms, you have fewer opportunities to wow the admissions officers!
With that being said, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty. Let’s start with something you don’t want to do: recycle large chunks of your Common App essay. While this may sound like a huge time-saver, trust us when we say that your reader will be able to tell if your essay was originally intended for a different prompt.
The key word though in that recommendation is “large.” It is perfectly alright to use a similar story or change wording in places to make the essay applicable, but merely rewriting the introduction and conclusion of your Common App essay won’t suffice.
Another thing you don’t want to do when writing this essay is relist academic achievements or extracurriculars already in your application as an example of how you have “developed interest” in your intended major. For example, say your intended major is in math, and you were an avid member of your school’s Math Olympiad Team.
This qualification and any related awards should be near the top of your extracurricular list, and creating a laundry list of these same achievements in your essay will add little insight about your personality or character into your application.
A better method of describing your involvement with the major of your choice (as opposed to listing) is to pick a unique, humorous, or telling story you experienced during one of these related activities and elaborate on how you realized your passion for or developed an intense desire to learn from it.
Because you are only afforded 300-400 words, we recommend using this template to guide your writing process:
- Hook/Introduction (50-100 words) – A great way to grab your reader’s attention in your first paragraph is to start with an in-the-moment short story or piece of dialogue that will, ideally, briefly describe how you came to fall in love (or at the very least find an interest) with your intended major. This will set you apart from those who merely begin with the following: “My intended major is…” or “I have always been interested in…”
- Using descriptive language: “As buckets of rain pounded on my windshield, claps of thunder rocked the small sedan I was proud to call my own — at least, up until that point. Trapped on the side of a highway with a flat tire, miles from home, I regretted the fact that I had never learned how to change a tire… But, in having an argument with my tire iron, physics principles that once seemed merely theoretical in my mind found a purpose.”
- Connecting physics principles with the leverage needed to properly use a tire iron may be a bit of a stretch, so while the passage included above may be a rather corny example, beginning your essay with a humorous or interesting story is going to stick in an admissions officer’s mind far longer than a generic alternative.
- Body Paragraphs (150-200 words) – At this point, you should have established your intended major, and the bulk of your body paragraph(s) should deal with proving how you pursued this interest either in school or otherwise. Again, don’t list! Pick one or two of your most influential extracurricular activities and show how they have given meaning to your life. Or, if you have conducted a unique experiment or project in class, now is the time to describe it. Remember, quality over quantity.
- Conclusion – You have two options in your conclusion, largely depending on how many words you have remaining. The first is to simply wrap up the essay with a few sentences about UIUC-specific ways you plan to pursue that major at school, which will also demonstrate your interest in their offerings.
- The second is to describe your related career goals. Since this is included in the prompt, if you have adequate room to elaborate a bit on these, we would recommend going in this direction. However, if you’re still unsure of your precise career goals at this time, that’s totally okay too. In that case, feel free to write in more general terms about your interests.
Division of General Studies
While this prompt is essentially the same, we wanted to quickly remark on how many academic interests you should include, as the number really shouldn’t exceed two or three. Remember: quality and depth over quantity.
Additionally, be cautious when writing about your strengths, as it can be difficult to straddle the fine line between bragging and referencing your accomplishments. One way to combat this concern is to first reference a minor shortcoming or failure (related to your academics interest, of course), and then describe how you overcame that to discover your strengths.
There is no doubt that college admissions is a stressful time in any student’s life, so we hope this guide has calmed some of your anxiety for the writing process. Remember that admissions officers are not just looking for the next Shakespeare; they want to see applicants who have taken the time to self-reflect and differentiate themselves from their peers. What makes you stand out? What can you bring to campus that no one else can?
After drafting your UIUC essay, don’t be afraid to ask teachers, parents, friends, or mentors in your life for second opinions and guidance. And as a final reminder, don’t forget to appreciate the admissions process (just a little bit) because after all, it determines where you will spend the four most exciting, transformative years of your life.
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