How to Write the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Essays 2021-2022
Note: UIUC’s essay prompts historically do not change very much, if at all. These prompts aren’t yet confirmed for the 2021-2022 cycle, but we expect them to stay the same. Check back in August for any updates!
Located in the vast cornfields of east-central Illinois, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is widely renowned as one of the country’s most influential public research universities. In fact, it has ranked first in National Science Foundation award funding for six consecutive years.
Many sources consider UIUC one of the top 50 universities in the world, and some have even ranked its engineering school in the top five worldwide.
Boasting over 24 million items in its library collection, it’s no secret that UIUC is an intellectual powerhouse. On top of that, it’s also a haven for sports lovers. UIUC was one of the founding members of the Big Ten Conference, a tradition that has remained strong, as evidenced by its 21 NCAA teams.
When it comes to the student body, UIUC’s average ACT scores range from 27-33, while average SAT scores range from 1280-1490. With an acceptance rate of about 60%, UIUC is a fairly selective school.
One final thing to keep in mind is that UIUC is not a Common Application school. That means you’ll have to submit a separate application either on the school’s website or by mail.
This also means UIUC won’t be reading your Common App essay, meaning that the school-specific essays count for even more. Luckily, we at CollegeVine are here to give you numerous tips on how to tackle your UIUC essays! Want to know your chances at UIUC? Calculate your chances for free right now.
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)
Since this is the most extensive essay UIUC will be receiving from you, it is also the most important! This prompt asks you to write a “Why This Major” essay. Your main objectives here should be conveying your passion for a certain subject and explaining how that relates to your future goals. Also, focus on expressing your love for the school by touching on specific aspects of the school that you think will suit you well.
While you might be tempted to simply reference your extracurricular activities in this section, this is not enough. Admission officers can already see your activities, so mentioning them again without further elaboration would be redundant. Instead, you should hone in on something more personal, and then proceed to explain it in greater depth.
Although your essay should not just restate extracurriculars or relevant classes, it is okay to briefly mention them as long as they provide a transition into new, more meaningful information. This “something meaningful” can be anything from an entertaining moment during one of your activities/classes to a more serious discussion of how you arrived at that passion. Just make sure your response illuminates something unique about you.
Because this essay is the most complex for this school, we recommend tackling it in smaller chunks. You’ll find that focusing on the structure of these shorter essays often does wonders for the overall cohesion of the finished product.
Introduction (100 words or less)
In this section of the response, your primary goal is to indicate your prospective major, but in a manner that the school would find compelling. Some of the most effective ways to hook the reader are by using figurative language or an anecdote, but there are a plethora of other ways as well — just be creative! Also, make sure your introduction allows for enough elaboration in the body section.
Because the introduction is so crucial to the development of this essay, below are some examples of good and bad introductions with explanations.
- “Time to get to work. My classmates opened the textbook and saw gibberish, but I saw a colony of enchanting symbols beckoning me to dance with them. Smug and graceful, they taunted me with their movements, tantalizing me into an exotic tango. These symbols held the secrets of the universe. It was during this fateful study group that I pinpointed my undying love for math…” Why it’s good: While a little cheesy, this author has introduced their love of math with flair. They use the imagery of “enchanting symbols” within the context of a specific instance during their study group, likely intriguing the reader as to why this led to such passion. A capable writer would go on to explain this whimsical statement in the body of the essay.
- “The summer of skeletons was drawing to a close. On my last day at the clinic, they crept up on me, begging me to stay. I knew I had to return one day. They liked being analyzed by me — the touch, the care. These cadavers were always desperate for my attention, but it took me a full six weeks to realize that I was also desperate for theirs…” Why it’s good: While it could be a little creepy and somewhat obsessive, it certainly conveys the author’s passion for bone structures. This author still needs to specify their major (biology, anthropology, bioengineering, etc.), but otherwise, they have the foundation for a great essay. Moving forward, they have two options: focus on this sudden realization at the end of what is presumably a summer internship or talk a little more about the ongoing process. Either one is suitable.
- “Ever since a young age, I was interested in math. It’s always been my favorite subject. That’s why I want to major in it when I get to college. UIUC has an amazing math program that I want to participate in with amazing faculty. I’ve always pursued difficult math classes, and I’ve even engaged in some extracurricular activities related to math. These activities had possibly the biggest impact on me out of any of my activities…” Why it’s bad: It’s easy to imagine an adcom reading this introduction and wanting to go back to sleep. The author hasn’t shown any personality, and they certainly haven’t set themselves up for anything more than a simple retelling of their most impactful extracurricular activities.
- “Growing up, I’ve always admired the true heroes of our society: doctors. That’s why I want to major in bioengineering. I want to be a hero just like them. At UIUC, the main track for pre-med students is bioengineering, which is also a topic that really interests me. I’ve done a lot of extracurriculars pertaining to the medical field, and I’ve even had some hands-on experience through clinical internships. Bioengineering at UIUC is definitely right for me…” Why it’s bad: This “bad example” is certainly better than the first one, but it still has a lot of room for improvement. Using the theme of doctors as heroes isn’t necessarily bad, but it isn’t implemented well here. Instead, the author should’ve discussed a specific time (perhaps during their clinical internship) that they saw a doctor do something brave, and how that inspired them to become a doctor. This introduction really goes downhill when they abruptly move on to general statements about their interests and past experiences. Also, statements like “Bioengineering at UIUC is definitely right for me” should be avoided at all cost. Remember to show, rather than tell.
Body (250 Words or Less)
Your goal with the body of this essay is to further elaborate on your involvement with your respective major. It is okay to mention extracurriculars and classes in this section, but only if you couple them with explanations of how they impacted you. Consider implementing some additional discussion of your future career plans if you haven’t already done so in the introduction.
The body of your essay doesn’t have to be quite as flashy as the introduction, but it needs to be more purposeful. You might spend less time here on an extended metaphor, and instead opt to explain why your experience in a particular subject area inspired you to pursue it further.
No length is specified in the conclusion, because it varies depending on how many words you have already used, and to what extent your intro/body necessitates closure.
If you have a lot of space left, you might mention specific programs or clubs that fit with your major. You could also go into greater depth here regarding your long-term career goals. If you find a program at UIUC that incorporates your career aspirations — take, for example, a school-funded internship program — this is a great place to discuss it.
Otherwise, the conclusion should simply wrap up the main idea of your essay with a general discussion of your interests that you already set forth. Avoid being too repetitive; it’s better to keep your summary brief and to the point. If you began the essay with thematic material, it should resurface in the conclusion. The last sentence of the essay should be powerful enough to leave a lasting impression on the reader. This will ensure that adcoms remember your essay.
See a real UIUC essay example that got this student accepted for more advice on this prompt.
If you select a second-choice major other than the Division of General Studies on your application, write a second essay explaining your interest in this major, too. (300-400 words)
This prompt is similar to the previous one, so you should approach it in largely the same manner. It might be tempting to focus less on this essay, but you shouldn’t neglect it just because it’s your second-choice major. Admission officers will be able to tell if you’ve gotten lazy.
Other than that, make sure you keep our suggestions from the previous section in mind. Remember to provide adequate insight into any examples you provide, and focus on being succinct, so you can add in as much content as possible.
Some Final Words
It’s already been mentioned, but it’s important enough to mention again: These are the only essays UIUC will see. That means you have a huge responsibility to be personable and unique while also demonstrating competent writing style and academic focus.
While we at CollegeVine sometimes encourage riskier supplemental essays, you should avoid that for UIUC. This is because you aren’t coupling these with your Common App essay, which tends to be more grounded and central to your identity.
Most importantly, make sure your essays are truly a reflection of you. Don’t try to use overly elevated language if that isn’t how you normally write. If you’re unsure whether your voice is coming across, ask a family member or friend to read over your essays; they often have invaluable advice.
Want help on your college essays to get into your dream schools? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses, as well as our Essay Peer Review.