What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
University of Richmond
University of Richmond
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

How to Write the University of Richmond Essays 2023-2024

The University of Richmond has one, required supplemental essay, which allows you to choose one of three prompts. You can write about a societal issue you’re passionate about, an unexpected lesson you learned, or some aspect of your identity that speaks to your potential as a University of Richmond student.

Although you only have to write one essay, the 650-word limit means it’s probably one of the longest supplements you’ll be writing, so make sure you leave yourself ample time to brainstorm, draft, and revise. In this post, we’re going to break down each prompt for you, so that you can be sure you’re approaching each one in the right way.


Read these University of Richmond essay examples to inspire your writing.


University of Richmond Supplemental Essay Prompts


We want to hear your voice and your story, as well as provide space for you to share more about your interests, passions and experiences. Please select one of the following prompts to address (350-650 words): 


  • Option 1: You have a platform to create change. What is an action or policy you might propose to address an issue of social injustice in your school or local community, or on a national or global scale? 


  • Option 2: Tell us about a time you learned something unexpected. What did you learn, and what happened next? 


  • Option 3: Richmond welcomes students from various backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences. What is at least one way you will contribute to our community that is not already mentioned in your application?


Option 1

You have a platform to create change. What is an action or policy you might propose to address an issue of social injustice in your school or local community, or on a national or global scale? (350-650 words)

Brainstorming Your Topic


This is a good example of the “Global Issues” essay, which has become an increasingly common supplement in recent years. This kind of essay typically asks you to do two things: talk about an issue you’re passionate about, and explain what your interest in that issue has taught you about yourself, or how it has helped you develop certain attributes.


The first thing you’ll want to do is pick an issue to write about. Note that this issue can be something close to home, in your own community, or one that affects the entire world. If you do pick a global issue, however, make sure you identify something specific within that broad issue to focus on. 650 words is a lot for a college essay, but if you’re writing about, say, climate change, professional scientists dedicate years of their lives to writing entire books intended to provide just a general overview of the issue. Don’t bite off more than you can chew.


Instead, think about which element of climate change you are most motivated to tackle. Are you heartbroken about the loss of habitat for species that live at the poles? Are you worried about increased cases of heat exhaustion and heatstroke exacerbating the flaws in the American healthcare system? Or are you concerned that the partisanship in the United States government will prevent any bill geared towards promoting greener energy from ever passing?


These potential topics are zoomed in on one tiny part of the huge beast that is the climate crisis. That narrower focus will provide more structure for your thoughts, which will result in a more cohesive, easier to follow essay.


If you instead want to write about a local issue, think about which headlines in your local newspaper grab your attention, or recent conversations you’ve had with your family or neighbors about things going on in the area. Maybe your town, like many in the United States, doesn’t have good public transportation, and you dislike how much space is taken up by parking lots. Or maybe a nearby puppy mill was recently discovered and shut down, but now the animal shelters are overwhelmed.


Whatever issue you choose to write about should be one you feel some genuine personal connection to. Maybe your dad is a real estate agent and always complains about an illogical quirk in your town’s zoning laws. You might know a lot about this issue for someone your age, but if you don’t really care about it, your essay will come across as dry and impersonal. 


So, don’t structure your brainstorming around what will make you seem smart or impressive, as the thing that will actually convey those attributes is highlighting an issue that admissions officers can feel is truly near and dear to your heart.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


The #1 key to writing a strong response is describing your issue in a way that is personal, so that your readers don’t just learn about how the issues of climate change and healthcare intersect, or about overwhelmed animal shelters in your community, but also learn what your investment in these issues says about you. You’re not a journalist, you’re a college applicant, so ultimately the most important thing to do is teach Richmond admissions officers something substantive about how you would fit into their campus community.


To do that, you’ll want to rely on personal anecdotes you have related to the issue you’ve selected. By seeing you in action, so to speak, admissions officers will learn something about how you think, how you work with others, what your primary values are, and so on.


If you’ve chosen a local issue, explaining it through specific examples from your own life should hopefully be pretty straightforward. Maybe you write about how your own dog was a rescue, which motivates you to help the puppy mill dogs find forever homes, as you know that bringing in a rescue dog may present unique challenges, but also brings an unparalleled form of companionship.


For a larger scale issue, your example might be more tangentially related, as it’s possible this issue is something you’ve become passionate about just through observation, rather than a direct link to your own life. That’s okay, so long as it’s still clear how we’re getting from A to B. For example, maybe you’re from Seattle, and write about how the increasingly frequent heat waves, and lack of equal access to something as simple as a fan during these periods, makes you worry about what the future, with consistently extreme heat having more and more severe consequences, will look like.


Finally, note that Richmond isn’t just asking you to describe an issue you care about, but also to propose “an action or policy” to help address it. This requirement may seem intimidating at first, but don’t worry–admissions officers aren’t expecting you to enact world peace overnight. They just want to see that you’re able to think critically about an issue and be creative in identifying potential ways to make the world a little better, as that’s a huge part of what you’ll be asked to do in your classes once you arrive on campus.


In coming up with your solution, it’s not a bad idea to see if you can draw on your other interests, to both demonstrate your creativity and subtly teach Richmond admissions officers something new about you. For example, maybe you’re a big baseball fan, and propose collaborating with the local team to host a meet-and-greet with players where puppies are also available for adoption. 


Or, perhaps you’re interested in learning about other cultures, so to offset the negative health effects of extreme heat, you propose a drastic change to the American work schedule–the implementation of a siesta, to allow people to relax when the heat is most intense, like they have long done in many places that are closer to the equator.


If you’re feeling stuck, take a step back from your actual essay, and ask yourself honestly: what would you like to do about this issue? Remember, this is a college essay, not a congressional bill, so you don’t have to worry about other people agreeing with you. You want your solution to make sense, and acknowledge the complexity of your issue–you wouldn’t want to, for example, say that to combat the health consequences of extreme heat we should simply force more people to go to medical school–but as long as you do those two things, there really aren’t any rules about what you can and can’t do.


Mistakes to Avoid


As we touched on in the “Tips” section above, the biggest pitfall with this kind of essay is accidentally making it too much about the issue, and not enough about yourself. Particularly if you’re writing about something you’re already extremely knowledgeable about, pay attention to make sure your essay doesn’t turn into a newspaper article. 


While it’s okay to include some background context about your topic, to prove that you are truly passionate about it, this is still a reflective piece of writing. So, don’t cite a million facts and figures, as, while that may be educational for Richmond admissions officers, it won’t give them a clearer sense of how you’ll fit into their campus community. Instead, make sure that your discussion of your issue always connects back to something you have learned about yourself as a result of your interest in it.


You also want to be careful that you don’t accidentally offend your admissions officer with your discussion of the issue. Higher education as a whole leans much further left than society in general, but you still never know what perspectives your particular reader will have. So, avoid blaming one group or another for causing the issue or obstructing its resolution, and instead keep the focus on you and your own potential to help.


Option 2

Tell us about a time you learned something unexpected. What did you learn, and what happened next? (350-650 words)

Brainstorming Your Topic


This is a good example of an open-ended prompt that can be very appealing at first blush, because of the freedom you have to write about nearly anything: any time you learned something unexpected is a possible topic. When you sit down to figure out what you actually want to say, however, you may realize that more structure could actually be kind of nice.


If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the possibilities, you can try to organize your thoughts with slightly more direct questions, like the following:


  • What’s one of the most important things you’ve ever learned about yourself? How did you learn it?
  • Think about the big pivot moments in your life–times when you felt fundamentally different afterwards. What triggered that massive change in your understanding of yourself?
  • If you don’t want to write directly about yourself, what are some things about the world that shocked you to learn? As a child, were you amazed to realize that life exists even at the very bottom of oceanic trenches?


Keep in mind that whatever unexpected lesson you choose to write about will need to sustain a pretty long essay, so the moment you choose needs to have been genuinely meaningful. Maybe when you were nine you learned that your grandfather once worked for J. D. Rockefeller, but that information, while initially surprising, didn’t do anything to shape your life going forward.


Instead, focus on something that had, and continues to have, a real impact on how you understand yourself and the world. This thing doesn’t have to be earth-shattering, as our lives aren’t Netflix series, just significant to you. 


Maybe that means you write about learning that your childhood home used to be the dining hall for a logging company, which gave you a different understanding of how places evolve and influence people differently over time. Or perhaps you describe your shock when you learned that your elderly neighbor consulted on Oprah’s show when she was first starting out, as this revelation gave you a different appreciation for how interconnected all people are.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


Your brainstorming process is going to be focused on identifying a moment that taught you something both unexpected and meaningful. The writing process is going to be focused on answering the prompt’s actual question: what did you learn from this experience, and what happened next?


While you are being asked to reflect on a moment that happened in the past, your goal here is still the same as in any college essay:to  explain why this moment is important to understanding what you’ll be like as a college student. So, you need to connect your realization from your past to who you are now, and who you hope to become in the next four years.


As usual, the best way to make that connection is through specific anecdotes and experiences that illustrate what you’re trying to say, as that approach is both more meaningful and more engaging than simply stating, for example, “After learning about my home’s history, I became more aware that the world is a lot bigger than just me.”


Instead, this student could write about how, after their realization, they researched the histories of other buildings in their hometowns, and the backstories of famous buildings elsewhere in the country and the world. They could then describe how this process gave them a different awareness of the vastness of the world, but also the power of one person or a group of people to give a certain meaning to a particular place.


This much more fleshed out response will show Richmond admissions officers that this student is motivated, curious, and able to draw sophisticated takeaways from complex information, which are all qualities colleges value in their applicants. 


If you have the space, you can even go a step further, and directly connect the broader lessons you learned to something specific you hope to do at Richmond. For example, this student may write about how they see Richmond’s study abroad program in Rome as the perfect opportunity for them to continue refining their ideas about the connect between individuals and the place they live, as the program includes the course “Ancient City,” which involves “includes many site visits in and around Rome.”


This prompt doesn’t explicitly ask for this school-specific connection, and you can write a strong response without it. But showing Richmond admissions officers that you already have a concrete sense of how you’d like to take advantage of their school’s opportunities may well be the thing that takes your essay from great to outstanding.


Mistakes to Avoid


As we noted in the “Brainstorming” section, this question is in some ways the least structured of the three, so if you’re really struggling to come up with a good topic, or to describe it in a way that makes sense, don’t beat yourself up. The beauty of option prompts is that you have, well, options. So, there’s no shame at all in pivoting to one of the other two prompts, if this one proves to be too tricky.


Option 3

Richmond welcomes students from various backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences. What is at least one way you will contribute to our community that is not already mentioned in your application? (350-650 words)

Brainstorming Your Topic


This is a classic example of the common “Diversity” essay, which you’ll likely come across more than once as you knock out your supplements. Or maybe you’ve already responded to this kind of prompt for another school, and are thinking of repurposing that essay here. While you can certainly write about the same topic, and your previous work will streamline your brainstorming and writing processes, this essay is likely quite a bit longer than the one you’ve already written, so you’ll still need to generate some new content.


If this is your first time tackling this kind of essay, don’t worry–we’re here to help you figure out exactly what you want to write about!


The first thing to note is that the way colleges evaluate race in the admissions process will be different this year, and moving forward, after the Supreme Court overturned affirmative action in June. Schools are now only allowed to consider a student’s race in the context of their overall story and background, and the essay is the perfect place to show how your race fits into the broader context of who you are. 


What this means is that, if your race is an important part of your identity, we’d encourage you to think hard about focusing this response on it, as otherwise Richmond admissions officers will be incredibly limited in their ability to factor your race into their admissions decision.


Of course, if you don’t think your race is quite the right topic for you, that’s completely fine. There are many things that comprise our identities, as Richmond underscores by saying that they welcome “students from various backgrounds, perspectives, and lived experiences.”


So, you could write a strong essay about a different aspect of your identity that people typically associate with “diversity,” like your gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and so on. But you could also write about something more unconventional, like a hobby you’re unusually passionate about, or a particularly formative experience. Topics in this vein could include:


  • The countless hours you’ve spent researching how analytics has changed how baseball teams evaluate their players
  • Your experience driving the Pacific Coast Highway on your own last summer
  • Your encyclopedic knowledge of where different cacti species grow, and how large they  can become


So long as the thing you choose is genuinely important to understanding who you are overall, you’ll be able to write a strong response about it.


Tips for Writing Your Essay


The first step to writing a strong response is explaining why this feature of your identity is fundamental to who you are. You should do that using specific anecdotes that show, rather than merely tell, Richmond admissions officers why this quality of yours matters. If you just say “Coming to terms with my sexuality was hard, but ultimately joyful,” they may feel sympathy or pride towards you, but won’t understand anything about how this process inspired your growth or development.


Instead, describe the anxiety you felt at any family gathering when your relatives would ask you if you had a girlfriend yet, and how you felt like a failure when your older brother got engaged to his long-term girlfriend. Then, you can transition into talking about how, during a backpacking trip with him and his fiancée, being away from the world for a few days made you feel comfortable enough to come out for the first time, and their immediate acceptance and love helped start to wash away your feelings of inferiority. 


Because this is an unusually long supplement, take the time to really let your story breathe. Don’t just give an overview of what happened. Instead, use strong descriptive language to fully flesh out your thoughts and feelings. Depending on what you’re writing about, some of those thoughts and feelings may still be quite raw, so keep in mind that, while showing vulnerability speaks well of your self-awareness and overall emotional maturity, you don’t need to bare your soul to a bunch of strangers. Only go as deep as you’re comfortable with.


You also want to make sure you’re addressing both pieces of the prompt. You don’t want to just describe this one feature of your identity, but also explain how it will help you contribute to Richmond’s campus community. That means admissions officers need to understand not just that your identity encompasses this one feature, but also what this one feature says about who you are as a whole.


Because you have a lot of space to work with, ideally you should also connect what you’ve learned from having this particular quality to a specific club, program, or even academic offering at Richmond. Your goal in this essay is to describe how one particular aspect of your identity has been especially important in shaping who you are, and who you will become at Richmond, and the best way to do that is by making a concrete connection between this feature of yourself and the school.


For example, the hypothetical student described above may talk about how his experience coming out to his brother taught him how empowering it is to have even one person on your side. And because he also knows how risky it feels to take that first step, at Richmond he hopes to become an URWELL Peer Educator, so that he can help promote “healthy behaviors through outreach and educational programs.”


If he were to instead just say something general, like “I will draw on this experience whenever I interact with my peers, to ensure they feel supported even if I don’t know what they’re going through,” most of the work of envisioning him as a Richmond student is being left up to the admissions officers, as what he described is something he could do at any college. By instead citing a school-specific resource that will help him achieve this goal of supporting his peers, he paints a clear picture of himself as an empathetic, engaged member of the Richmond community.


Mistakes to Avoid


The main thing that can sometimes happen in this kind of essay is your response only focuses on the one aspect of your identity you’re highlighting, and doesn’t take that next step of zooming out to how this one feature impacts who you are as a whole. That should be less of an issue with this particular prompt, as with a much higher word count, you’ll likely end up making that connection naturally. Once you have a strong working draft, just take a second to double check the broader significance is addressed, as otherwise your response won’t be as informative for admissions officers as it should be.


Where to Get Your University of Richmond Essay Edited


Do you want feedback on your University of Richmond essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.