How to Write the University of Virginia Essays 2023-2024
University of Virginia has two supplemental essay prompts, one of which is optional. Although we normally encourage applicants to respond to any and all optional supplemental prompts, this one can be categorized as an “additional information” essay, which is truly optional–in fact, you should really only respond to this question if it truly applies to you.
Whether you are writing two essays or just one, we’re here to break down UVA’s prompts, so that you can feel confident your responses will showcase your best qualities, and maximize your chances of acceptance.
Read these University of Virginia essay examples to inspire your writing.
University of Virginia Supplemental Essay Prompts
Prompt 1: If you have a personal or historic connection with UVA, and if you’d like to share how your experience of this connection has prepared you to contribute to the University, please share your thoughts here. Such relationships might include, but are not limited to, being a child of someone who graduated from or works for UVA, a descendant of ancestors who labored at UVA, or a participant in UVA programs. (100 words, optional)
Prompt 2: What about your individual background, perspective, or experience will serve as a source of strength for you or those around you at UVA? Feel free to write about any past experience or part of your background that has shaped your perspective and will be a source of strength, including but not limited to those related to your community, upbringing, educational environment, race, gender, or other aspects of your background that are important to you. (250 words)
If you have a personal or historic connection with UVA, and if you’d like to share how your experience of this connection has prepared you to contribute to the University, please share your thoughts here. Such relationships might include, but are not limited to, being a child of someone who graduated from or works for UVA, a descendant of ancestors who labored at UVA, or a participant in UVA programs. (100 words, optional)
As noted above, this is not a typical supplement, but is more along the lines of the prompt in the “Additional Information” section of the Common App that allows you to share how COVID-19 and/or natural disasters have impacted your academic performance. If you don’t have a preexisting connection to UVA, don’t force one by talking about how your childhood best friend’s cousin went there. Most students accepted to UVA don’t have any prior association to the school, so not answering this question isn’t going to negatively impact your odds of acceptance.
If this prompt does apply to you, however, we encourage you to respond to it, even though it is still optional for you, as you’re being given an opportunity to help UVA admissions officers better understand your perspective on their school. You don’t have much space, though, so you want to make sure you already have a clear sense of what you want to say, as otherwise your words will be gone before you know it.
While UVA may have been a huge part of your life growing up if, say, both your parents are alums and took you to football tailgates every fall Saturday since the time you could walk, that probably isn’t the case for most applicants. That’s completely fine–you don’t need to diminish your connection to the school just because your house isn’t painted blue and orange.
Rather, take a step back from the actual essay and the word count, and ask yourself honestly how your connection to UVA has shaped you. Remember, this is still a supplemental essay, so you want UVA admissions officers to learn something about you. You don’t want to say just “my dad went to UVA and his friends from college are all really great,” because that won’t teach admissions officers anything about your personality.
Rather, talk about how one of your dad’s friends played basketball at UVA, and how he was an invaluable resource for you as you weighed the pros and cons of pursuing varsity sports in college yourself. You could wrap things up by describing how, if you attend UVA, you will do your best to be similarly generous and compassionate with anyone who is even tangentially connected to the school.
There is no right or wrong answer here. Just make sure you’re avoiding clichés that could be written about any college, like how you’re glad your family is part of a worldwide alumni network, this essay won’t add anything to your application. It may be truly optional, but if it applies to you, you still want to take full advantage of this opportunity to share your personality with admissions officers. So, be honest, and explain your thoughts in enough detail that your readers learn something substantive about you.
What about your individual background, perspective, or experience will serve as a source of strength for you or those around you at UVA? Feel free to write about any past experience or part of your background that has shaped your perspective and will be a source of strength, including but not limited to those related to your community, upbringing, educational environment, race, gender, or other aspects of your background that are important to you. (250 words)
Brainstorming Your Topic
This is a good example of the popular “Diversity” essay, which you may have already come across in another school’s supplemental essay package. This kind of essay requires you to do two things: highlight some particular aspect of your identity, and then explain why it’s fundamental to understanding who you are as a whole.
Before we go further, it’s important to note that this kind of essay may carry more significance for certain applicants in the wake of the Supreme Court overturning affirmative action. Colleges are now banned from directly factoring an applicant’s race into their admissions decision, but they are allowed to consider race in the context of your overall background and experiences. What that means is that, if your race is an important part of your identity, you should think about focusing this essay on it, as otherwise UVA admissions officers will be legally unable to consider your race as part of their holistic review process.
If your racial identity doesn’t feel like quite the right topic for this essay, there are also plenty of other options out there. You could write about your gender, sexuality, ethnicity, or other qualities people often associate with the word “diversity,” but you can also broaden your net, and write about, to use UVA’s words “any past experience or part of your background that has shaped your perspective.”
Our past experiences and backgrounds are not just the demographic boxes we check, but also our interests, hobbies, and favorite memories. So, if you want to write about your family’s yearly camping trips during the summer, or your experience planting your own herb garden, that is completely fine, so long as those topics have been influential in making you who you are.
Finally, note that UVA wants you to write about something that “will serve as a source of strength.” That means you should focus on some aspect of your identity that makes you feel empowered. Our identities are complicated, so that doesn’t mean you need to have strictly positive experiences with this part of yourself.
You do want your overall framing to be positive, however, as if you only talk about how frustrating it was when your herbs kept dying, UVA admissions officers may not understand how you’re going to draw strength from this experience in college. Instead, touch on your frustration briefly, and then dive into how rewarding it was for you to see them thrive after you built a short protective wall to shield them from the worst of the wind.
Tips for Writing Your Essay
In your actual response, it’s crucial that you don’t just describe what this especially important aspect of your identity is, but also explain why this quality is so fundamental to your personality as a whole. In other words, what have you learned about yourself as a result of your experiences connected to this part of your identity?
Like in any college essay, the most engaging, informative way of answering that question is by showing, not telling. What that means is rather than just saying “Being raised trilingual taught me the importance of being truly open to other ways of thinking,” describe a moment when this realization shaped your actions.
For example, maybe you once had to act as an impromptu translator at the supermarket, as a Japanese couple was having issues with their card but couldn’t communicate with the cashier. As you bounced back and forth between languages, you realized that certain things are impossible to say in exactly the same way, due to the drastic differences between Japanese and English. That in turn made you realize that language isn’t just words that passively come out of our mouths, but something that shapes how we engage with the word around us.
With the original, tell-y line, UVA admissions officers don’t get any detail about what being open to other ways of thinking means in the context of your particular life, so you aren’t doing anything to set yourself apart from other applicants who may also have this value. In the more detailed, show-y example on the other hand, readers get to see how your broader takeaway has manifested in your daily life, which helps them better understand how this aspect of your identity will help you fit into their broader campus community.
Mistakes to Avoid
The most common mistake students make with this kind of essay is focusing too much on the particular feature of their identity they’ve chosen, and not fulfilling the second goal of this kind of essay by connecting it to their broader personality.
In the context of the above example, that might look like diving into great detail about when you learned your three languages and how long it took you to consider yourself fluent, but not incorporating any information about how this ability has shaped their worldview. Remember, UVA admissions officers want to learn as much about you as possible, so don’t just give them one piece of the puzzle. Also give them enough information that they can see how this single piece fits into the broader framework of your life.
Where to Get Your University of Virginia Essay Edited
Do you want feedback on your UVA 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!