How to Write the University of Virginia Application Essays 2016-2017
The University of Virginia, in Charlottesville, VA, has an incredibly rich history. Established in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, its first two rectors were presidents Jefferson and Monroe. This “Public Ivy” is constantly ranked among the top public universities in the nation, and is a well-respected research university, particularly in the fields of medicine and psychology.
It currently stands at #26 on the U.S. News and World Report’s National Universities ranking. Last year, the university received 30,840 applications and accepted 29% of them.
The UVA has 16,483 undergraduates and offers 48 bachelor’s degrees in five undergraduate programs: the College of Arts and Sciences, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, School of Architecture, School of Nursing, and Kinesiology. The top five most popular majors for the class of 2014 were Economics, Business and Commerce, Biology, International Relations, and Psychology.
The university has a unique vocabulary: The campus is called “the grounds,” and there are no freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors — in a nod to founder Thomas Jefferson’s belief that learning is a lifelong process, students are referred to as first-, second-, third-, or fourth-years.
The University of Virginia’s lifeblood is its student-run honor system, with three simple requirements — students must not lie, cheat, or steal. The university takes this seriously: When accused, a student stands trial in front of their peers. Fellow students, not faculty, serve as the jury. If a student is found guilty, they are immediately expelled.
Outside of academics, the school also excels in sports. The Virginia Cavaliers have won twelve NCAA national championships in the 21st century alone, and students are often found at basketball and lacrosse games. The Cavaliers also have a long-standing rivalry with the Virginia Tech Hokies.
The University of Virginia asks the applicant to first answer a question pertaining to the the applicant’s school of interest, then to choose a second prompt to answer from a list of four. Each essay is 250 words, or half a page.
University of Virginia Application Essay Prompts
We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words.
College of Arts and Sciences
What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
The College of Arts and Sciences receives the most applications of all of the undergraduate schools, so it’s important that your essay stands out. If you are having trouble thinking of a work to write about, make a list of books, music, movies, art pieces, scientific discoveries, etc. that you’ve encountered in the past few years, paying special attention to the ones that you did not immediately like.
Why did you not like them? What made you feel uncomfortable or surprised? How did this further your understanding of the piece itself and of the art form? After brainstorming, your essay should include the context in which you encountered the work, what specific aspect of the work challenged you, and how your understanding and perception of the piece changed — and maybe how it prompted a change in your world view.
An effective essay on this prompt will show off not only your analytical and comprehensive skills in writing coherently about a significant piece of culture, but also will say something about how your perspective and opinions. The underlying question asked in this prompt is how being unsettled, challenged, or surprised helps you grow as a person.
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences
If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make your everyday life better, what would you do?
As an engineering applicant, you have likely thought about future engineering projects, but probably on a much larger and grander scale than UVA asks you to discuss here. This question asks specifically about a small engineering project for everyday life, so now is not the time to discuss your ideas for space travel.
What minor inconveniences do you experience in your day-to-day life? How might you be able to solve those using your engineering skills? This is as much an opportunity to talk about the challenges of your everyday life as it is to show off your engineering chops, so you do not necessarily need to get too technical. Think simple, think small, and think personal.
School of Architecture
Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
This prompt sounds pretty straightforward, but remember that you need to tell a story. While your initial answer might be to rave about a certain stunning place objectively, the whole point of the essay is to get to know you, not another architect.
So in answering this question, think about why it had the effect it had on you, add background to your story (Why were you visiting this place at all? What does it mean to you?), and ask yourself how the architecture or design you saw might inspire you as a future architect. Also, allow yourself to think outside the box: Architecture and design don’t necessarily mean buildings. Think about everyday objects that might inspire you as well.
School of Nursing
Discuss experiences that led you to choose the School of Nursing.
Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
For the Nursing and Kinesiology programs, the prompts are more straightforward — why do you want to study what you want to study? The prompts also ask for experiences, so think of anecdotes in which you knew that you wanted to study Nursing/Kinesiology. Since you have a whole 250 words, after you come up with a compelling narrative for why you’ve chosen your field, go further and answer why you want to study that field at UVA specifically.
Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.
What’s your favorite word, and why?
This question tends to show up frequently on supplements, but most other schools don’t ask you to write a full 250-word essay about it. This means that instead of just thinking of a word that sounds cool to you and possibly writing a sentence about it, you will want to write about a word that comes with a story.
Maybe it’s the first word you learned in a foreign language; maybe it’s a word that is an inside joke in your family; maybe it’s a food; or maybe it is just a word that sounds cool to you — but in any regard, you should have background for why you love the word you love.
Describe one of your quirks…
We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are.
This is a more specific version of the “tell us who you are” question. For this, you’ll want to convey your personality, framed by a particular aspect of it (the ‘quirk’). Think of a small personal trait that makes you different — maybe a habit that you learned from your parents or a piece of slang that is used by a community you belong to. Then expand on that quirk into how it influences your personality as a whole.
Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the U.Va. culture. In her fourth year at U.Va., Laura Nelson was inspired to create Flash Seminars, one-time classes which facilitate high-energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework. If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore, and why?
As previously noted, UVA is big on student responsibility, with students acting as the enforcement of the honor code. This is taking that idea of independence and self-governance one step further. The key phrase in this prompt is “outside of traditional coursework” — think out of the box for this one. A good way to approach this prompt is to think of hobbies or interests you have that may not necessarily align with typical subjects in school. Alternatively, think of broader interdisciplinary ideas that span multiple subjects. Then, of course, go into why the topic is of particular interest to you.
Beta Bridge Prompt
U.Va. students paint messages on Beta Bridge when they want to share information with our community. What would you paint on Beta Bridge, and why is this your message?
For this prompt, you have a couple of choices: words or images. If you choose words, you’ll want to write something succinct that conveys a message. Your hypothetical bridge-writing cannot be too long and should be attention-grabbing. Bear in mind that even choosing words over images, this is still a visually-based question, so you should consider how you want to present the words. How big are the letters, what color are they, and is there any embellishment?
If you choose images, you have a bit more freedom. Choose an image or a symbol and describe what it looks like and what it means to you. Just remember that you need something without too much detail, because again, it’s going on the side of a bridge.
And, as with all of these prompts, while the answer itself is important, the reason behind it is even more so. Why do these words or images matter to you? What do they mean?
Remember that, while all of the second prompts are interesting questions in and of themselves, the end goal is for the university to get to know you, so remember to tie your answers back to yourself. What does your answer mean to you, why did you come up with it, etc.