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How to Write the Villanova University Application Essays 2017-2018
Villanova is a highly competitive research university with an admissions rate of about 40%. On a weighted 4.0 scale, the middle 50% of GPAs range from 4.00 to 4.44 and the middle 50% of test scores are 1360-1480 for the SAT and 31-34 for the ACT.
Beyond the numbers, however, probably the most important thing to know about Villanova as an institution is its deep connection to the Order of Saint Augustine in the Roman Catholic Church. As one of many Catholic universities in the United States, Villanova is proud of its religious affiliation. As their website states:
Villanova University was founded in 1842 by the Order of Saint Augustine. To this day, Villanova’s Augustinian Catholic intellectual tradition is the cornerstone of an academic community in which students learn to think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others. Villanova prepares students to become ethical leaders who create positive change everywhere life takes them.
The strength of the Villanova experience comes in part from the University’s welcoming community. All members are bonded together by a shared responsibility to uphold the ideals of Saint Augustine and let the principles of truth, unity and love guide their lives. The Villanova community helps students grow intellectually, professionally and spiritually, and challenges them to reach their full potential.
As this mission statement suggests, Villanova strives to be an inclusive university, no matter what faith tradition its students come from. There are no requirements to attend Mass beyond one convocation ceremony at the beginning of your first year. There are, however, some program requirements that ask all students to engage with the tradition of Catholic thinking like the university’s required “Augustine and Culture Seminar.” Before applying to Villanova, you should review those course requirements and ask if they seem right for you.
Since this is an article about how to write your personal statement for Villanova, you may have some questions about what role your faith (or lack thereof) should or should not play in your admissions essays. As a general principle it is worth saying that Villanova’s prompts, like those of most applications, are looking to get to know you as a person. If your faith is an important part of your story, you should feel free to talk about it.
If not, keep in mind that Villanova is most interested in those students who demonstrate the capacity to “think critically, act compassionately and succeed while serving others.” You need not write about being Catholic in order to exemplify those qualities.
One final note on word length: For its personal essay, Villanova asks for a “minimum 1 page double-spaced.” While they do not state a maximum word length, you should probably aim for 1.5 pages double-spaced, or 500 words. Longer is not better; the admissions officials have a lot of essays to get through and they will appreciate comprehensiveness and getting to the point.
Villanova Application Essay Prompts
Choose one of the following, minimum 1 page double-spaced.
This is a version of the “diversity” essay that appears on the Common Application in the form of the prompt which asks, “Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful, they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.”
The difference here is that rather than focusing on the particularities of your own background or identity, Villanova’s essay is asking you to reflect on your relations to others rather than just on your relation to yourself. This means that you might very well be talking about your own background, but that you will be connecting that history to the histories of others.
For example, maybe your parents emigrated from Vietnam. If you were responding to the Common Application’s prompt, you might write about navigating a world where you spoke Vietnamese at home and English at school. This essay would focus on your own personal struggles, perhaps the challenges of trying to translate a letter from your school to your parents. But your response to Villanova’s prompt should have a slightly different focus. You might talk about the time you spent as an after-school tutor for a middle school in your neighborhood that serves a large number of Latinx students. How was their experience similar to or different from your own?
Another way of thinking about this essay is to recognize that “difference” can mean a lot of things: not just racial or ethnic identity, but also differences in age, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, musical taste, political beliefs, and ability or disability. Of course, not all of these differences are parallel and equivalent: Musical taste is a matter of your own personal preferences, but a racial identity is something that you are hailed into regardless of your preferences.
If you are Catholic, you could write a meaningful essay about a conversation you had with a Muslim friend about what Ramadan meant to them. When does it sound like they are describing a kind of practice and experience similar to what you feel during Lent? And what is different about how you each live these rituals?
If your aunt uses a wheelchair, you might write about going to lunch with her. What did you learn about how your community helps (or falls short of helping) those with different mobility needs gain access to public facilities.
A few last words: The way this prompt is worded, it might seem to be suggesting you write a narrative where you, an unmarked “normal” person, encounter someone who is “different” and then are somehow enlightened by that encounter. But people who are “different” do not just exist to be constantly educating those whose bodies pass for normal in their communities. A less clichéd and more nuanced essay might focus less on the moment in which you were suddenly enlightened and more on the process of continuous study that you’ve undertaken as part of your relationship with someone who is different from you.
Maybe one of your friends came out as trans and you left that conversation convinced that you needed to do some reading. Perhaps some internet browsing led you to Beatriz Precaido’s book, Testo Junkie. How did that text help you hear what your friend was trying to tell you about the way they experience their body?
The trick to answering this question is to recognize that they are not just asking for your idyll speculations about the future. A strong answer will talk about how your dreams are grounded in your life experience. Remember: When you are writing an admissions essay, you have the opportunity to share something with the admissions committee that they would not be able to get from your grades and test scores. Since Villanova only asks for one essay, you should try to use it to tell them something about your experience.
For example, you might write an essay about how you loved playing French horn in orchestra, and that you one day hoped to dress in a black gown every night and perform in the Walt Disney Concert Hall. But maybe your dreams changed when you spent some time as a volunteer music instructor at your local children’s hospital. Maybe you were not working on the most complicated songs, but you were teaching the children about rhythm and movement, how to sing (somewhat) in tune, and giving them something to think about apart from their sickness. Inspired by the program’s founder, maybe the person you hope to become in the future is one who finds a way to combine music with healthcare, especially for young people.
Another way to approach this prompt is to write about someone you admire. Maybe you have always looked up to your grandfather who put his life on the line to march with the National Farm Workers Association. If you do talk about someone who you admire (a popular approach to this essay) be sure that you speak about what you have done to start following their footsteps. This is, after all, ultimately an essay about your own dreams. Maybe you have recently marched in support of DACA? What do you hope to do in order to advance the cause of immigrant rights in the future?
As I mentioned above, just because this prompt begins with a quote from St. Augustine, that does not mean you have to address the religious aspect of your daydreams or hopes for the future. On the other hand, if your faith is important to you, you should not be shy talking about how it helps you imagine “what you are not yet.”
One last note: The prompt may drop in a quote from a philosophical heavy-hitter, but you should not take that as a cue that you should drop in a quote from some fancy person. Admissions officers are tired of reading potential applicants misquote Gandhi as they say that they hope to “be the change they want to see in the world.”
This prompt is about more than just your favorite novel. At its heart, this prompt is asking you to tell a story about your own personal development through your relationship to a work of art.
It might be tempting to choose a fancy piece of literature in order to show off your intellectual prowess. But you should not feel pressured into claiming that you’ve read Gravity’s Rainbow every summer since you were eight years old. The admissions committee is more interested in seeing that you are a thoughtful person who is capable of reflecting on how you have changed. If you can tell that story best by writing about Pokémon, Episode 70, “Go West Young Meowth,” so be it.
You might say that as a child you were mostly drawn to the flashy drawings and silly cartoons. But maybe when you saw that episode again in your high school years, you were fascinated with how it imagines that an animal might learn to speak “human language.” This might have been one piece of your growing interest in the philosophy of human-animal relations and the different ways that species communicate with each other.
Of course, not everything that we read as a child ages well. One way to approach this essay is to talk about something that you might have once loved, and perhaps still love, but has come to seem more problematic. For one example of what such an essay might look like, you might turn to Daniel Jose Ruiz’s essay on Brian Jacques’s Redwall series. For Ruiz, the fantasy world where mice and badgers were good guys and weasels and ferrets were bad guys was a place where he felt included as a child:
I felt a kinship with the badger characters. They were large, strong, a bit stubborn, with big tempers, but they were good guys and heroes. Redwall seemed to say that I could be a good guy and a hero even though I was big for my age, stubborn, and volatile.
But as Ruiz grew older and read more, parts of the Redwall books called out for critique:
You can do a pretty thorough Marxist reading of Redwall as a parable of the righteous nature of bourgeois property relations. The mice, hares, and badgers are metaphors for the inherent superiority of the ruling class, while the vermin are symbols of the degenerate nature of the proletariat.
In the real world, however, few people just decide to become bandits unless their situation dictates that this is one of the better options for survival. I can’t recall a single time where the [mice and badgers try] to establish a mutually beneficial agreement with the vermin, as opposed to occasional acts of charity that don’t address systemic issues.
However you choose to write about your changing relationship to a piece of art, your focus should be on how you and your interpretation of that work have changed over time. You do not want to get bogged down with lots of plot summary. Notice how, as you read Ruiz’s essay, no sentences are given over to just describing the plot: Every sentence weaves summary and analysis together, with constant references to his own personal story.
Finally, there is one last possibility for how you might approach this prompt that is a little bit more experimental. The prompt asks you to address how your developmental story changed the way you understand a work of art. But what if you reversed the prompt and asked how a work of art changed the way you understood your own developmental story? Perhaps a relevant essay in this vein is Ashon Crawley’s poetic meditation on Barry Jenkins’s Oscar winning 2016 film, Moonlight.
“Sometimes fiction functions to produce memory,” Crawley says, and then goes on to tell the story of how he grew through three different nicknames (Berry Berry, Cookie, and Ashon) parallel to, but not exactly the same as, the film’s main character who is known as “Little,” then “Chiron,” then “Black.”
Even if you end up structuring your essay in a more traditional manner, it is worth noting how Crawley zooms in on precise details that might have been mundane but vibrate with meaning in the force of his prose — a change in email address, a choir membership card, a Walter Hawkins song…
As you respond to Villanova’s prompt, you will not be able to tell the admissions committee every twist and turn in the story of your maturation, but your essay might become bland if you only speak in vague general terms. Ashon slices through this dilemma by focusing on precise details, little snippets from his life, that tell some, but not all, of his story. As you write, it is worth considering what little moments you might choose from your own life’s story to represent how you’ve changed.
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