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How to Write the University of Virginia Essays 2022-2023

The University of Virginia has two required prompts, but it’s different from many other applications in that very few two applicants will have the same set of chosen prompts. With 11 prompts to choose between for the first two responses, and a program-based question, there’s a lot of room for choice here which means a lot of opportunities to distinguish yourself and really showcase the kind of student you want to be at Virginia.

 

Want to know your chances at Virginia? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

University of Virginia Supplemental Essay Prompts

 

Prompt 1: Required of ALL applicants, regardless of school or program. Answer two of the following questions in about 50 words.

 

  • Option A: What’s your favorite word and why?
  • Option B: We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. What is one of your quirks?
  • Option C: About what topic could you speak for an hour?
  • Option D: Take us to your happy place.
  • Option E: You can wake up tomorrow and a skill you already have will become expert-level. What skill is that?
  • Option F: What is the last gift you gave someone that wasn’t bought with money?
  • Option G: What website is the internet missing?
  • Option H: After a challenging experience, how do you recharge?
  • Option I: Tell us about a place you’d like to share with everyone, but also keep to yourself.
  • Option J: UVA 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?
  • Option K: Tell us about a time when, faced with an opinion or perspective that differed from your own, you responded as an empathetic speaker or generous listener.

 

Prompt 2: Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in about 100 words.

 

  • College of Arts & Sciences: If you could create a college course that all UVA students would take, what would it be about and why?
  • School of Engineering: How will you use an engineering degree to change the world for the better?
  • School of Architecture: Describe a significant experience that deepened your interest in studying in the School of Architecture.
  • School of Nursing: Describe a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing.
  • Kinesiology Program: Describe an experience that has deepened your interest in studying kinesiology.

 

Selecting a Prompt

 

Before breaking down each of the options, we wanted to paint a picture of exactly what admissions representatives are looking for. While the second prompt is entirely academic-based, the first prompt is all questions that are meant to break the ice between you and the admissions representatives. They are meant to be more lighthearted and to give you a chance to showcase your personality and creativity. This is your chance to showcase a side of you that isn’t captured by your grades, standardized test scores, academic interests or your common app — so take advantage of it!

 

When it comes to selecting two prompts to respond to, read through all of the options and immediately eliminate the ones that don’t speak to you. After you’ve narrowed it down to a few options that resonate with you, jot down a couple of topics that could work to answer each prompt. You’ll find during this brainstorming that out of all of the topics you come up with, two will develop in your mind more than the others. That’s when you’ve found your prompts!

 

Prompt 1, Option A

What’s your favorite word and why?

 

For this essay, avoid choosing a word that’s generally self-explanatory or cliche. Examples of this could be “happiness” or “love” because these words are often overused and the meaning can generally be inferred without an additional story. You want to choose something that is both personally meaningful to you and something that is attached to a greater story.

 

For instance, if you are multilingual and your grandmother would always offer you a specific piece of advice in another language, you could use a word related to that advice in that language. Perhaps there is a story attached to the reason why she gave you that advice, or perhaps it is what you remember the most from her. Tell a quick tidbit about this idea and your essay will be much more personal and impactful.

 

You could also show off your nerdy side here or highlight your interests. Perhaps your favorite word is “emulsion” because it is relevant to your two favorite activities: chemistry and cooking. You could discuss your love for each of these subjects and, like the previous example, tell a brief story on how the word relates to your personal experiences.

 

 

 

When choosing a word, you could also consider alternate meanings by considering meanings outside the traditional dictionary definition. In this case, you could contrast the traditional meaning with your own personal interpretation of the word in order to point out any differences and highlight your own personal connection to the word. Again, the key for this essay is to be personal.

 

In terms of writing your essay, you want to make it clear what your word is without directly saying “my favorite word is _____.”; always start your essay with an interesting opener and a thoughtful conclusion. Since the essay is short at 50 words, you want to be very straightforward without being too stale or obvious.

 

Prompt 1, Option B

We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. What is one of your quirks?

 

Chances are, you have a unique quality that makes up who you are. This essay is all about pinpointing that quality and describing it in terms of its importance to your identity. Perhaps you have an odd fascination with insects or you collect unconventional objects. This is a perfect essay to discuss these facets of your life.

 

You must make sure to connect your quirk to your personality and individuality. Don’t simply describe the quirk; ask yourself why this quality is important to you and consider how your individuality would change had you not possessed this characteristic. You want to highlight your personality in this essay, whether it be through humorous writing or a creative story.

 

For example, if your quirk is having to do a cartwheel every morning before school, you can write a story mapping out your day, with emphasis on your daily cartwheel. Perhaps this is the only way to get your blood pumping and prepare you for the day ahead. Perhaps doing cartwheels ensures that you always start your day with a positive attitude, allowing you to tackle any obstacles during the day.

 

Because you only have 50 words to work with, you’ll want to hit on some key things in your response for maximum effect. You’ll want to briefly introduce your quirk, mention the effect it has on you or your surroundings, and then cap off on why it’s an essential part of you. You don’t have to follow that exact structure, but that may help you frame it.

 

There are endless possibilities for quirks you could write about, as each person is different and has unique habits. Your quirk could be a unique mannerism such as a “weird” laugh or a unique daily routine you have. Perhaps your quirk was the object of ridicule in your earlier years, but now you’ve become confident in yourself and your unique qualities. Show UVA what makes you you and how proud you are to be yourself — weird quirks and all!

 

Prompt 1, Option C

About what topic could you speak for an hour?

 

Like the two options before it, this is a prompt about picking favorites. Luckily, you should have no problem writing about your chosen answer – it is, in fact, the topic you can go on and on about. As such, the hard part will be condensing it down to 50 words.

 

In choosing a topic, this is your chance to showcase what your interests are outside of academics. Your topic should be something that someone wouldn’t know about you just by looking at your transcript. If you feel like you can talk about mathematics or sciences for an hour above anything else, then feel free to use that, but try to think outside the box. 

 

Maybe it’s a favorite movie, or even the fact that you’re a huge movie buff. Maybe it’s an activity, like a sport or an art. Maybe it’s even an area of fascination you have – fashion, a scientific topic, or travel. If you’re having trouble figuring out a topic, close your eyes and think about the things that make you happy, and begin writing down topics. Once you have a list, start to write out everything you love about each. You should find that there’s at least one topic you feel like you have more to say about than others.

 

Just keep in mind the word limit. It’s a bit counterintuitive to have a prompt asking what you can rant about and not give you the opportunity to rant, but keep in mind that this is low-stakes and meant to just show what the topic is and why you’re interested in it, rather than what you have to say about it. 

 

For example, if your chosen topic is a musical artist, you don’t have to list all your favorite albums and songs. Rather, you should write why that artist means so much to you and why it’s a cornerstone of your personality. Something like “I’ve been a fan of the Beach Boys since my mom played them on every car ride. I can talk through their history, lives, and sound, to the point that my friends are over my rambling. But that doesn’t change that they shaped my love for music and life.”

 

Prompt 1, Option D

Take us to your happy place.

 

While college is of course exciting, it can also be stressful. Thus, admissions representatives want to hear what you do or where you go to destress and find peace – your happy place. Don’t think that a happy place has to be a physical location. It can be a hobby that you do by yourself or with others, someone who never fails to brighten your day or a book, movie, or song that keeps you grounded. Thus, there are plenty of answers to choose from, so pick something that feels the most like you.

 

Also, note the wording of the prompt – “take us to your happy place”. This prompt extends you the opportunity to paint a vivid picture of what your chosen happy place does for you. Try putting the admissions representative with you while you’re in your happy place, and discuss what it feels like to be there. 

 

For example, if your happy place is taking a walk while listening to your favorite tunes, describe the environment. A good way to do this is by using describing it using your five senses. What does it smell like? Look like? Taste like? Feel like? Sound like? Don’t simply list each of the senses of your happy place, but use them to guide you through your response.

 

Prompt 1, Option E

You can wake up tomorrow and a skill you already have will become expert-level. What skill is that?

 

This prompt will require a bit of added creativity, and there are a few factors to consider when choosing an answer. Mainly, note that the prompt isn’t just asking you to choose any skill you’d want, so you may have to give up your dreams of becoming a Michelangelo-level painter overnight. Instead, it’s asking you which one of the skills you already have you’d like to suddenly become an expert in. The biggest factor here is going to be originality. Here’s an example of a don’t:

 

“I’m a huge foodie, and I’ve been learning to cook, but as a high school student, learning to cook falls behind some of my classes. If I became an expert cook, not only could I eat whatever I wanted, but I could share my love for food with the world.”

 

While you may be a big foodie, writing that you would want to be an expert cook doesn’t really say a lot about your personality outside of that you like food, which is already apparent from the first few words of the response. Additionally like many of the other prompts, the admissions reader is less interested in what you do with your skill and more interested in why you chose what you chose. Anyone can say that they would like to be an expert cook, but why do you want to be an expert cook?

 

It will take some time to reflect on why you would want to become an expert at something you already do. Perhaps you want to become an expert to advance your education such as becoming an editor for music videos, or maybe you want to become an expert in language so that you can travel and volunteer across the world. But say your chosen skill is cooking. What reasons do you have for that? Remember, the best responses are personal, so dig into the why instead of the what. Here are some questions that can get you thinking.

 

  • Who or what got you interested in cooking in the first place?
  • When did you start learning to cook?
  • What food would you choose to be an expert in if you could only choose one?
  • Is there a traditional family meal you remember fondly or perhaps still have?
  • How does food play into your identity?

 

There are plenty more questions you can ask yourself to help craft a more thorough answer, but these are just a few to get you going. And for most of them, you should be able to replace the word “cooking” with your skill of choice.

 

Prompt 1, Option F

What is the last gift you gave someone that wasn’t bought with money?

 

This question is not about valuing your resourcefulness, but your thoughtfulness. The admissions representative wants to know how you show your appreciation for those you hold important in your life, and by taking money out of the equation, your answer is bound to be unique.

 

Most answers to this prompt will end up falling in the DIY category: scrapbooks, paintings, videos, handmade jewelry, etc. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use one of these answers, it just means that you should be as open about the reasoning for the gift as possible. In fact, this prompt is just as much about the gift as it is about your relationship with the person you gave it to. 

 

Maybe you have a relative or close family member who cherishes a beach fondly, so you painted them a picture of that beach for them to have year-round. Maybe you made an original children’s book for you to read with your little cousin. Or it could be as simple as making matching bracelets for you and your friends from camp to wear when you aren’t together. Notice how all of these answers are not just highlighting the gift, but how the gift is a symbol of the bond you share with the person or people.

 

Not everyone will have a good answer to this prompt. This one, more than some others, requires some vivid personal detail, so remember that you only have to answer this one if you feel you have an answer that showcases a thoughtful nature.

 

Prompt 1, Option G

What website is the internet missing?

 

This prompt is for anyone who feels they have an inventive or entrepreneurial nature, as well as anyone who feels they’ve had a million-dollar idea for years with nowhere to put it. In the age of the Internet, it may feel like there’s nothing new to come up with, but the Internet continues to be surprising in what new can arise. New apps and websites rise in popularity every day, and many of them are founded by people who may not be much older than you. That’s not to put pressure on you, rather the opposite.

 

Think about the daily inconveniences you face, and then ways that the Internet could help solve them. If you’re still stumped, try going through one day and jotting down anytime you feel inconvenienced or frustrated. The first step in any great solution is identifying a problem, so keep jotting things down until you identify a problem that you feel needs solving.

 

This is a good prompt to choose as a balance to some of the more personal ones. But of course, don’t force an idea if you really feel like you don’t have one. There are plenty of other prompts to go with. But who knows? Maybe the answer you put here will someday turn into a million-dollar project.

 

Prompt 1, Option H

After a challenging experience, how do you recharge?

 

This prompt is very similar to the “happy place” one, so the first thing to note is that you’ll want to avoid choosing to answer both. It’s very likely that your answer would be the same anyway. Like the prompt above this one, if you aren’t immediately struck with an answer, try conducting an exercise to see what habits you exhibit.

 

Maybe you have a homework assignment you’ve been putting off, or maybe that’s even writing some of these essays. Try to take a crack at doing an assignment nonstop and then taking a mental break. What do you immediately gravitate towards? You may just go to the kitchen and grab a snack or watch some TV, or you may feel like you want to go for a bike ride, call a friend up, or even write in a journal. Essentially, what clears your head and refreshes you?

 

Or the answer may be something deeper – a challenging experience is a very broad term. If you’ve experienced some turmoil in your life, what got you through to the other side? How have you used similar strategies to handle further challenges? Remember that this question is less about the challenge and more about the aftermath, and admissions representatives generally want to hear what keeps you grounded.

 

Prompt 1, Option I

Tell us about a place you’d like to share with everyone, but also keep to yourself.

 

This is another prompt that is similar to the concept of a “happy place,” meaning it’s another one that shouldn’t be done in conjunction with Option D or Option H. However, it is another strong chance to reveal a unique aspect of your personality and background. Unlike the other two similar prompts, this question refers to a physical location that you may go to that brings you peace in its privacy. The question alludes to the idea of you giving others that same sense of security, while simultaneously feeling as though it’s yours to keep.

 

Picture your hometown. Is there somewhere you would go with others and by yourself? Maybe it’s catching a movie alone or a nearby hike, or maybe the journey is better than the destination – maybe that place is in the car, just driving around. Whatever it may be, think about where you feel like you can breathe and relax.

 

This is another prompt that asks you to paint a picture, so use the five senses technique mentioned earlier. What does this place feel like? Smell like? Taste like? Sound like? And of course, what does it look like?

 

Just remember you only have 50 words so keep it short. When describing a place, you also don’t have to always use complete sentences. You can use the present tense to make the reader feel as though they’re there with you. For example, rather than saying “The flowers are a radiant blue and yellow, and the trees sway with the breeze,” you can write “Radiant blue and yellow flowers. Trees swaying in the breeze.” This further creates a sense of urgency and intimacy that will better transport the reader to your place of choice.

 

Prompt 1, Option J

UVA 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?

 

Like Option C, for this question, you’ll want to consider the topics you’re passionate about and want to share with others. You could interpret “message” as a form of artwork such as a painting, or you can interpret it more literally as a message or phrase.

 

For instance, if you’re passionate about redesigning the roles of modern women, you could describe a painting that includes a dichotomy between traditional and more progressive roles of women. Perhaps half of the painting includes black and white images of women performing household tasks and the other half uses vivid colors to portray women in positions of power and independence. Maybe you’ve been empowered by several strong women in your life and want to advocate for gender issues such as equal pay.

 

Maybe there is a quote or phrase from a novel that you’ve read that stuck out to you and want to share with UVA’s student body. For instance, if a quote from Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do resonates with you due to a similarity with your immigration story, you could paint this message on the Beta Bridge in order to create a sense of community with those who share similar backgrounds.

 

No matter what you choose to paint, make sure you have a personal connection to the art. Ensure that you answer the “why” aspect of the question and discuss the reasons why the message is important to both you and others.

 

Prompt 1, Option K

Tell us about a time when, faced with an opinion or perspective that differed from your own, you responded as an empathetic speaker or generous listener.

 

This prompt may be tricky as depending on the topic at hand, there may be a lot more to write than 50 words. However, the prompt is asking you to describe your response process rather than how you argued or debated the person or people opposing you. While the prompt may initially lead you to think back on political arguments you may have had, whether in your hometown, family, or on the Internet, the prompt doesn’t directly need to be centered around an argument you had. 

 

It can also be a time that you listened and tried to educate yourself on a topic you were previously unfamiliar with. For example, maybe your high school brought in a minority speaker such as an Indigenous Person to teach you about their place in today’s America, and you responded with compassion and interest. And that instance led you to further research and action on the topic as well.

 

As mentioned before, the toughest thing about this prompt is keeping it short, so focus your response to be less on the topic at hand and more on how you responded.

 

Prompt 2, College of Arts & Sciences

If you could create a college course that all UVA students would take, what would it be about and why? (100 words)

 

This is where your interest in UVA’s academics needs to shine through. While the previous prompts allowed you a chance to get creative, this prompt asks you to showcase your excitement for a college education by expressing what you believe should be a part of it.  Think about a topic that interests you or one that you’re already passionate about. It doesn’t have to be something you’re already an expert in, in fact, we’d recommend shying away from this route. This proposed course would be something all students at UVA would have to take, so just because you may be a World War history buff, doesn’t mean it should be a required course.

 

Using the example of history, however, think about a history course could that could apply to general liberal arts, which often covers not just arts and sciences, but social, political, and cultural topics as well. A course about women’s rights following the industrial revolution could appeal to students across the entire school, as well as positively impact campus culture as a whole. Choosing a more-specialized topic can help showcase your interests, drive, and overall values.

 

And feel free to get creative! It can be something more low stakes or even something skill-based like a public speaking course. An important tool to use is UVA’s course catalog which can be found here. Looking through this can help you avoid accidentally writing about an existing course and could also help you brainstorm some ideas. It’s a total win-win.

 

Prompt 2, School of Engineering

How will you use an engineering degree to change the world for the better?

 

If you want to be an engineer, chances are you feel like you want to use your skills in math and science to solve problems and make the world an easier place to live in. So if this answer to why you want to be an engineer is that you want to make the world a better place, then this question is asking how.

 

Of course, it’s unlikely that you’ll know exactly how to use your engineering degree to solve the world’s problems at this stage in your life. In a sense, that’s probably why you want to go to school for engineering. But think of this prompt as similar to Option G, and much of the same advice applies there as well. Think of the daily problems in your life or that of your surroundings. If you can’t think of anything off the top of your head, spend the next few days going through your daily life and jotting down anytime you notice a problem that engineering can solve. 

 

Maybe try driving around your neighborhood and taking note of what you see. Go to parks, plazas, and schools. See how engineering was used to design them. Look around your house and through your appliances. The key here is to go with something you know. In other words, start small.

 

Like Option G, you won’t want to jump immediately to building advanced robotic machinery or government submarines, but you can use your personal background to show a goal emerging. Maybe you have a friend or relative, or even just know of someone who uses a prosthetic robotic limb. Or maybe you live in a coastal or lake town that could benefit from greener boat transportation. Remember, the best response is one with a personal connection, so draw from your own life and experience.

 

Prompt 2, School of Architecture

Describe a significant experience that deepened your interest in studying in the School of Architecture.

 

This “significant experience” could take the form of visiting an architectural landmark, living in a neighborhood of a certain style, or even simply watching a documentary on Antoni Guadi that solidified your decision to pursue architecture.

 

If you’ve traveled to a place with intricate and unique architecture, or you visited a site that excluded aesthetic excellence, this is the place to discuss that.

 

Perhaps you were intrigued by the ancient architecture and designs featured in ancient Greece. Or perhaps you were fascinated by a particular home you saw while driving through Hollywood Hills due to its unique modern characteristics. Be detailed when describing the instance or location, and allow the reader to visualize the design. That being said, be careful not to write a completely descriptive essay; with every purely descriptive sentence, make sure there is an accompanying sentence that addresses why that particular description is significant. 

 

Your goal for this essay is to use an experience as a tool to describe your interest in architecture. Maybe you loved the detailed engravings embedded into ancient European architecture, or maybe you love the intersection of minimalism and functionality, or on the flip side, perhaps there is a building in your city that you particularly dislike and you’re curious about what drove certain architectural decisions. Make sure to convey the passion you have towards architecture and show a genuine interest and love for unique designs.

 

Prompt 2, School of Nursing

Describe a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing.

 

This prompt is essentially asking you why you want to study nursing. You want to trace your previous experiences and consider whether they impacted your decision to study health care. Perhaps an experience volunteering at a hospital changed influenced your love for nursing, or perhaps you realized nursing comes naturally to you after caring for an ill friend or family member.

 

If you worked or volunteered at a hospital, you could discuss a specific interaction you had with a patient. For example, maybe an elderly woman recently exited surgery and you were assigned to assist with her recovery. Perhaps the woman would often tell stories about her past experiences to you, reminding you of your own grandmother. Maybe it’s this deep interaction with patients that has attracted you to nursing.

 

You want to be personal in your response; don’t simply state that you want to study nursing in order to help people. These answers are cliche and vague, as they don’t really highlight a particular experience that you had.

 

Prompt 2, Kinesiology Program

Describe an experience that has deepened your interest in studying kinesiology.

 

For those of you interested in kinesiology, or the study of how the body moves, you must complete this essay. There could be several reasons why you chose this field of study but make sure to choose something that is personal to you and had a large impact in terms of exciting your interest in the subject.

 

For instance, if you volunteered in a hospital and often worked with patients recovering from physical injuries, you could discuss watching people slowly regain mobility. You could discuss how you were amazed by the body’s ability to recover and how a person could transition from immobility to mobility. Maybe you have a more personal connection and witnessed a friend or family member experience the same recovery. If so, you could definitely include this in discussing your motivation for pursuing kinesiology.

 

You could also discuss the science and mechanics behind kinesiology if you did not necessarily have a defining moment that influenced you to choose the field. Perhaps you are interested biomechanics behind kinesiology and were always intrigued by how the body interacts with itself. If you have played sports before, you could draw a connection between the two here and discuss how your interest in sports influenced your interest in the body’s mechanics.

 

Where to Get Your Virginia Essays Edited for Free

 

Do you want feedback on your Virginia essays? After reading your essays over and over, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. Since they don’t know you personally, they can be a more objective judge of whether your personality shines through, and whether you’ve fully answered the prompt. 

 

You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. We highly recommend giving this tool a try!


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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.