How to Write the University of Virginia Supplement Essays 2017-2018
The University of Virginia is one of the nation’s top public schools, boasting a rich and storied history. Founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, the university has produced many famous alumni, ranging from Woodrow Wilson to Tina Fey. It is located in Charlottesville, Virginia, a two-hour drive from Washington, D.C.
The university definitely has a large school feel, as over 20,000 students call it home. With a combination of D-1 athletics and a nearby college town, UVA attracts students from across the country. It boasts impressive academic programs across the board, with some exceptionally famous ones in political science, economics, engineering, and business. It also offers the Jefferson Scholarship, one of the most famous college scholarship programs in the country; each year, a few dozen students are offered a full ride and extra opportunities on top of an already fantastic education.
Ranking in the top 25 colleges according to U.S. World and News Report, it should not surprise you that many students would like to attend this great university. However, with an acceptance rate of 30%, and potential scholarships on the line, writing solid essays will significantly impact your admissions outcome.
Luckily, we here at CollegeVine are here to help. Read on for our advice on how to tackle the UVA essays!
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University of Virginia Required Essay
For the required essay, you have a choice between four different prompts. Each is capped at 250 words, so pick the prompt you can answer the best. The following sections will demonstrate strategies to choose, approach, and execute the required prompts.
Prompt 1: Favorite Word
What’s your favorite word and why? (250 words)
Let’s start off by talking about what you shouldn’t do. Simply put, don’t be boring! If either your word or its explanation isn’t memorable, you won’t be memorable either. For example, words like “happy” and “hope” are as generic as it gets. You might think Google is your friend here, but the “Top 10 Favorite Words” listicle you find will also be found by hundreds of other applicants.
What would a successful UVA applicant do here? Find a word that allows you to convey a story, to connect a broader narrative to the prompt. In many writing supplements, the chosen topic matters less than how you convey your answer; this is the perfect example of such a situation.
A great answer could center around your multilingualism; if your second language was English, you could pick a word you struggled pronouncing as you grew up. This would be a launchpad to write about the unique struggles and benefits of growing up in a culturally diverse household. Alternatively, if you love math, you can pick a funny or multi-faceted math term like “non-abelian” and tie it into your overarching story about this passion. Either way, the essay should focus on your personal experience with the word — it’s not necessarily an etymological study of the word itself!
Now, we should also discuss how to actually write this essay. First off, don’t wait too long to show the reader what your favorite word is. Start with a hook — a quote of the first time you heard the word, for example, or a brief anecdote to provide context. You could set the stage with an exposition for the story to follow. Try not to say “my favorite word is ____” as your first sentence; nothing screams “stale” more than that!
Then you can follow the introduction with a pivot to the specific word. Make sure you explore both aspects of its “meaning.” That is, reference the dictionary definition of the word, but also dive into its real meaning to you. If your favorite word is “begin,” you could first define it as “to start something” and then explain that it was your grandfather’s perennial advice.
A powerful conclusion will stick in the readers’ heads, so try to write one! Tie the threads together: The word and story might still be disjoint. Continuing our example from before, you might say how, whenever you have a seemingly impossible task in front of you, you can see your late grandfather telling you “begin!” Even though your grandfather is no longer with you, he is still the greatest motivator in your life. Now, you look forward to new beginnings in college and beyond.
Prompt 2: 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. (250 words)
You’re unique! Embrace it! There’s gotta be something you do differently, something that your family or friends point out as unordinary. Maybe your laugh is a distinct cackle, or maybe you exhibit nocturnal habits. Describe not only what your quirk is, but how it has affected and evolved throughout your life. Don’t write about a “quirk” that hundreds of other applicants have; your gelled hair or agnosticism are not quirks.
Make sure your essay also conveys to the university what you would contribute to the Class of 2022. This is more than just the quirk you talk about; if your essay shows a sense of humor or general likability, you’ll be much better off than someone else with just an interesting quirk. You have to be careful however, employing humor can be difficult. Poke fun at yourself and how your quirk has put you in some particularly humorous situations. Just make sure the overall tone is positive; you’re not out to harshly criticize yourself in this essay.
As you write your essay, illustrate a story about how this quirk is essential to who you are. For example, if your loud laugh has gotten you in trouble before, you could start with a quote from your teacher admonishing you to be quiet. Then, you could talk about how that laugh has followed you all through your life, giving some short examples as evidence. Finally, you could conclude with how you’ve come to accept that you’re laugh isn’t going to change and that your new classmates will hopefully be fine with it.
Alternatively, an example of a quirk that’s more of a “tradition” might be how you cook a culturally authentic breakfast every morning. You could start with a description of the smells, colors, and ingredients associated with the meal. Then you could transition into explaining its significance to you and your family. Finally, you could conclude with expressing your desire to continue the tradition at UVA and even share the dish with your future roommate.
Prompt 3: Flash Seminar
Student self-governance, which encourages student investment and initiative, is a hallmark of the UVA culture. In her fourth year at UVA, 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? (250 words)
This is just a proxy to ask, “What interests you?” That is, what interests you enough that you’d want to share that passion with a handful of University of Virginia students? You can let your creativity run wild here; if you have a niche interest, this is the perfect place to mention it. An answer like “Designing and Testing Role Playing Games” is a lot better than “Economics 101.” Alternatively, think about two interests you have. For example, if you like cartoon shows and politics, a class called “The Politics of Cartoon Shows” will definitely catch the eye of an admissions officer.
A unique answer is especially important on this question. The University of Virginia probably gets hundreds of answers about hot button political topics like abortion and affirmative action. They also probably get dozens of “What is the Meaning of Life?” and “Would you kill baby Hitler?” Bottom line, if someone else is going to have the same answer as you, you’re probably doing something wrong.
Suppose you write about “The Politics of Cartoon Shows.” Start by describing how and why politics and cartoon shows interest you. Then write about what you’d explore with the class: the power dynamics in SpongeBob SquarePants or the political messaging in Sesame Street.
You could even go into depth about how you would design the curriculum of the seminar, as well as individual classes. In terms of learning outcomes, you can express what you hope other students would get out of such a lesson; here, students would see how shows targeted at the youngest among us are not free from political considerations.
Prompt 4: Beta Bridge
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? (250 words)
If you’ve participated in any significant form of activism, this is the essay for you. For example, a feminist activist could paint a mural that signifies and demonstrates equality for all. One strategy to writing this response is to begin by focusing on the major details of your painting, the vibrant colors, textures, and shapes involved. Then, once you have adequately described what your painting would look like and how you would create it, you can align the various components to your overall message to the community. You can explain the symbolism of certain colors or phrases (if your painting is a message).
Outside of activism, think about what you’d say if you were given 5 minutes of free airtime on CBS. What would you show the world — what is your message? An interesting take on this question could be a personal response; for example, it could be a message chronicling the story of a late relative. This would certainly be a memorable response to the question. Similar to before, you could try focusing on the tangible message or painting component in the beginning and further elaborate on its underlying meaning throughout the response.
However, the more important part of the question is “why is this your message?” No matter how you respond, how you explain this response is most essential. Don’t simply state your “undying passion” — show them WHY it matters to you. If you’ve done anything to spread this message in the past, make sure it’s the focus of your essay. If you haven’t, you could explain why this topic is so important it deserves it to be on Beta Bridge.
Required Essay for Architecture Majors
Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
If you are considering majoring in architecture, hopefully you have witnessed a couple of styles of architecture and design firsthand. A great way to begin this response is by describing where you are and why. Perhaps you are in Paris on a trip, strolling down Champs Elysees, at which point you make it to the Arc de Triomphe. Describing the nature of the structure, with its spiraling gold embellishments and stone-work can give the reader an excellent visual.
But to go further, you could describe how directly across from the Arc de Triomphe stands a massive ferris wheel. You could elaborate on how, in this moment, you are truly fascinated not only by the structures themselves but how they are organized in the grand scheme of Paris as a city. Not to mention, you can extrapolate on how history motivated many of the ancient buildings and how your own designs could take inspiration from your own historical time period.
The main strategy for this type of essay is to use poignant visuals accompanied by pertinent analysis and description of what the experience was like for you personally. Try to tap into all of the contextual factors of the experience as you remember it.
Required Essay for Kinesiology Major
Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major. (250 words)
Kinesiology, the study of mechanics of human body movements, lends itself to many types of experiences, from hospital shadowing, physical therapy, and even higher fitness training. Whichever experience led you to apply as a kinesiology major, one approach could be focusing on a physical, mechanical approach. For example, you could describe what happens on a tissue-level when athletes sustain impacts while playing soccer. You could discuss the adverse effects of your grandmother’s left hip replacement, which distributes more of the body’s load than her right hip, causing her muscles to weaken in that region.
Alternatively, you could take a more emotion-driven approach to this question. You could emphasize the joy that helping someone regain their mobility. You could elaborate on how you or a loved one’s own movement-related issues shaped your desire to contribute to the science. Keep in mind that the kinesiology major could lead you to research in the field, so discussing your desire to find new solutions to common problems is also an approach you can take!
Required Essay for Engineering and Applied Sciences
If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make everyday life better for one friend or family member, what would you design? (250 words)
This prompt is about identifying a problem and proposing a solution. The problem doesn’t have to be big or “important” in the traditional sense. Once again, trying to address a big problem makes you less original and possibly avoids the main premise of the question (namely, a “small engineering project”).
It could be something like automating the laundry or building a stair lift. If you have a family member struggling with a disability or medical condition, simple engineering projects could offer them major relief. In brief, pay attention the problems around you and think about solutions! At the same time, make sure to elaborate on how the design would function. You could mention specific parts and describe how they work together to drive the project.
Required Essay for Nursing
School of Nursing applicants may have experience shadowing, volunteering, or working in a healthcare environment. Tell us about a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing. (250 words)
Write a compelling narrative about your experiences in the healthcare environment! Maybe you helped an elderly lady with her joint pains or you rearranged the bookshelves to make the books more accessible. Start by explaining what the problem was, and then, transition into what you did about it. Finally, conclude by discussing the effects the experience had on you. An excellent idea to hone in on is “personal care,” how nurses have to communicate with the elderly, console patients in difficult times, and be a generally uplifting presence. Nursing, in this personal way, develops meaningful relationships which you can focus on in an essay.
The biggest mistake you can make here is not connecting your experiences to your interest in studying nursing. Like all the other questions, convince the admissions officers that your experiences genuinely demonstrate your interest in nursing.
Required Essay for Arts and Sciences
What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way? (250 words)
For this prompt, you can distinguish yourself from other applicants by picking a unique work to talk about. However, there is no imperative to do so; you can still write a great essay on any topic that’s familiar to you. Be sure to not simply write an essay about the work and its components; instead, be sure to write about how the work changed or unsettled you.
For example, if your favorite album is Kanye West’s My Dark Beautiful Twisted Fantasy, you would write about how Kanye incorporates countless disparate musical styles all at once to create an overwhelmingly dramatic, symphonic sound, which in turn challenges your idea of the effects of mass and social media saturation in the 21st Century.
A helpful strategy is to ask yourself pertinent questions:
- How did you change as you interacted with the work?
- Was it a slow process of discovery, or was it an immediate insight?
- Did the work match your expectations (hint: probably not the best piece to talk about) or did it radically shift your worldview?
You can structure the essay by starting with a description of where you were when you were grappling with this influential work. Then you could transition into how you engaged with the new ideas presented, finally concluding in how you still experience its effects today. A story like this will certainly be memorable, regardless of what specific topic you chose.
The University of Virginia is one of the best schools in the country, so be confident in your writing and make sure your response is perfect. Great essays are critical to distinguishing yourself from thousands of other accomplished applicants.
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From everyone here at CollegeVine, we wish you the best of luck writing your University of Virginia essays!