How to Write the University of Virginia Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

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The University of Virginia is a public research university founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, making the institution a prominent historical site. Being a UNESCO World Heritage Site, UVA is well known for its historical foundation and early roots. Located in Charlottesville, Virginia, UVA is situated in a lively metropolitan community.


Ranked by U.S. News and World Report at #3 (tie) among public schools and #25 (tie) overall, UVA is one of the nation’s top universities. In the 2017-2018 application cycle (most recent official stats), UVA only admitted 26.4% of applicants, making admission quite competitive. In addition to academic transcripts and letters of recommendation, all applicants are required to submit an additional supplemental essay, with additional essays needed depending on your selected major.


With such competitive rates, it is often intimidating to complete these additional essays. However, CollegeVine is here to offer our guide on how to tackle UVA’s 2019-2020 application!


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Required: Choose one of the following (250 words):

Note that this essay is required; however, UVA gives you the option to choose between 5 prompts, all of which have a suggested 250-word limit. Choose the essay that you feel a stronger connection to, as this will make for a much stronger and more personal essay. With that being said, let’s take a look at each of the following prompts. Want to know your chances at UVA? Calculate your chances for free right now.

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. Example 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 story around 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 250 words, you want to be fairly straightforward without being too stale or obvious.

Prompt 1 Option B: 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.

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.


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: 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?

For this essay, you want to consider your interests and how you want to share these interests with others. Your Flash Seminar should reflect something you’re passionate about, yet also be unique enough to not already exist. For example, you don’t want to create a seminar about something like “Cell Biology” or “Classical Literature.”


For instance, if you love science and have always been intrigued by astrology, you could create a Flash Seminar called “Is there a Scientific Basis for Astrology?” If you love politics and are passionate about film, you could create a seminar called “Hidden Political Messages in Modern Film.”


With any topic you choose, make sure to explain your choice. Why are you passionate about the topic and why do you think there should be a discussion about it? Perhaps you want to share your passions with others through a unique perspective or perhaps your proposed question has puzzled you in the past, making you eager to hear the thoughts of others. Discuss your reasons for creating the class and the goals you hope the class achieves.


Prompt 1 Option D: 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 the previous question, you 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 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.


This is the last of the 4 prompt options and we recommend choosing the prompt you have the strongest connection to. Remember, there is no “best” prompt; regardless of the prompt you choose, ensure that you reveal something about your personality and give the admissions committee a closer look at your background

Prompt 1 Option E: UVA students are charged with living honorably and upholding a Community of Trust. Give us an example of a community that is important to you and how you worked to strengthen that community.

This prompt gives you the opportunity to highlight your values through elaborating on a community of which you are a part. This is also a great way for UVA to understand how you would contribute to the diversity of the student body by getting a sense of your interests and passions. 


First you must decide which community you will write about. The term “community” can be interpreted in many different ways. You could be a member of an ethnic community, religious community, the LGBTQ community, a linguistic community, an immigrant community, etc. You could consider your high school sports team, your theater troupe, the student newspaper you write for, or the arts club you founded to be community. Essentially, any identity or interest-based group, however large or small, that shares your values can be deemed a “community.” 


Once you’ve decided which community you’re going to write about, remember that you must both articulate why it is important and show what you’ve done to strengthen that community. 


For example, if you have Armenian heritage and you’re writing about the Armenian diaspora in your town, you should first tell the reader why this aspect of your life is important to you. You could write about the way participating in religious life and Armenian celebrations allows you to connect with your grandparents’ culture and roots and better understand that part of your identity. 


Next, you could discuss a community service project you participated in that was geared to helping other Armenians in your town. For example, you may have helped to restore the local Armenian Orthodox church or participated in holiday clothing drives for those in need. In this way, you supported your community by helping to create a gathering place and giving back to those members who need it most. 


If you decide to write about a community based on shared interests, you may, for example, tell the admissions officer that your high school newspaper is the community that’s shaped you the most during the past three years. You could explain that being a writer for the paper has taught you to appreciate the importance of free expression and motivated you to fight to protect that right through advocacy. Or you could write about the way being a member of this community has made you realize that you wanted to pursue journalism as a career and shaped your academic interests. 


Next, you could go on to describe your fight against censorship by the school administration as an example of the way you’ve tried to strengthen that community. Or, perhaps, you reach out to local middle schools every year in an effort to recruit eighth-graders to join the paper when they’re older and promote your organization. 


Whatever community you choose to write about, make sure you can articulate why it matters to you, what values you have developed as a member of that community, and what you have done to give back to it — whether through advocacy, service, or other means. Only choose this prompt if you have a clear sense of a meaningful community you’ve been an active member of. Remember, there is no “right” prompt among these options! You’re given a chance to select a topic that best fits your experiences and interests.

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Architecture only (250 words): Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.

This essay is only required for those applying under architecture. Like the previous prompts, this essay also has a word limit of 250 words. 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.


Your goal for this essay is to highlight the location that inspired you and explain why this was inspiring for you. Maybe you loved the detailed engravings embedded into ancient European architecture or maybe you love the intersection of minimalism and functionality. Make sure to convey the passion you have towards architecture and show a genuine interest and love for unique designs.

Kinesiology only (250 words): Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.

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.

Engineering and applied sciences only (250 words): 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?

You want to identify a problem that’s important to you and propose a solution to solve it. This doesn’t mean the problem has to be large, as the prompt also explicitly states “small engineering project.”


For instance, if you live in a large household with many siblings, perhaps you want to design a robot that cleans the house, easing the daily burden on your parent. If your grandfather struggles with putting on his shoes due to a weak back, you could propose a machine that assists him with that every morning.


A great way to address the prompt is to consider any medical disabilities that a friend or family member may have. However, make sure to propose something that doesn’t already exist. For instance, if a family member is hard of hearing, you wouldn’t want to design a hearing aid since this already exists. If, however, you have a proposed modification that makes an existing device better for your chosen individual, then this would be appropriate to discuss.


Pay attention to the people surrounding you by identifying any daily challenges they may experience. Once you choose your project, you want to describe the design and explain how this would be beneficial to your chosen family member or friend.

Nursing only (250 words): School of Nursing applicants may have experience shadowing, volunteering, or working in a healthcare environment. Tell us about a healthcare-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 experiences 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.

Arts and sciences only (250 words): What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?

With so many fields classified under arts and sciences, you have a variety of ways to approach this answer. If you’re studying biology, for example, perhaps a unique experiment in the lab opened your eyes to the intricacies of life. If you want to study math, maybe you struggled with learning a theorem and want to discuss how you overcame this challenge. Maybe Toni Morrison’s Beloved introduced you to the darker side of literature that made you both uncomfortable and intrigued.


You want to discuss why and how the work challenged or changed you rather than simply describing the work itself. The key here is to draw a personal connection and explain how the work impacted you by describing your personal reactions to it.


For example, if you found reading Chaucer’s The Canterbury Tales challenging whether it be due to the language or content, you could describe the obstacles you encountered while analyzing the text. You could then conclude with discussing how working through these obstacles forced you to look at literature from a different perspective, thus allowing you to find unique symbols in the text that you otherwise would have skipped over.


Final Words


Remember, the purpose of these essays is to showcase your identity to the admissions officers. You want to highlight your personality and convey your passions in order to allow the reader to get a better sense of who you are.


We hope this guide has allowed you to tackle UVA’s application with the utmost confidence. Happy writing!


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