How to Write the Virginia Tech Application Essays 2017-2018
Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hi! Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, better known as Virginia Tech, is a public university located in Blacksburg, Virginia. Virginia Tech serves around 31,000 students, making it the third largest university in the state.
Because Virginia Tech uses its own application — rather than the Common Application or the Coalition Application — the 1-3 supplements stand alone as each applicant’s writing sample(s). Virginia Tech evaluates the same essays whether an applicant chooses to apply to the Engineering School or the College of Humanities and Sciences.
For the 2017-2018 admissions cycle, Virginia Tech has provided seven essay prompts, from which applicants are free to choose one, two, or three prompts to answer. Each prompt has a word count limit of 250 words.
With an acceptance rate of 73%, Virginia Tech admissions are somewhat competitive, meaning that stellar supplemental essays have the potential to push an otherwise below-average applicant over the top. Here is how CollegeVine suggests you tackle each prompt.
This prompt is an excellent opportunity to convey interest in attending Virginia Tech and to show that you have thought seriously about how you might take full advantage of your Virginia Tech experience.
To answer the prompt, first you should visualize how you might spend your four years at Tech — what classes, extracurriculars, and social aspects would you be most excited to explore? These three categories can serve as the basis for drafting your five reasons. Your essay should strike a balance between what you’ll pursue inside the classroom, what you’ll spend your time doing outside the classroom, and what aspect(s) of the Tech community appeal to you most.
For example, a well-rounded essay could include (1) two specific reasons related to academics (such as a class you would like to take and research opportunity you would like to pursue); (2) two activities you can either start or continue pursuing at Tech (such as intramural soccer and Hiking Club, for example); and (3) an aspect of dorm culture that interests you (such as the living-learning labs in some dorms).
Aside from this academic-extracurricular balance, the most important tactic for writing an essay for Prompt 1 is specificity. Cite specific examples within your reasons — writing “I’m eager to pursue PSCI 3034: The CIA In Today’s World” is much more effective in showing interest and commitment than writing “I’m eager to pursue classes in my major, Political Science.” Look for clubs or extracurricular opportunities that appeal to you at Tech and call them out by name, showing your dedication to Tech’s academic and community offerings.
Prompt 2 provides an opportunity for applicants whose academic careers have been affected by adverse or unanticipated circumstances to explain precisely how the situation(s) was/were detrimental to their academic performances. Moving during the school year, suffering a prolonged illness, being in an accident that required extended time off of school, or caring for an elderly relative or younger sibling are just a few examples of circumstances that could impact your academic performance.
The Virginia Tech Admissions Committees want the whole picture as they review your application, so if you feel that something in your academic history requires additional explanation, take this opportunity to engage in a candid dialogue about how the situation affected you as a student.
The essay you’ll write for this prompt will necessarily be personal, so there’s no “right” way to write it effectively. As you brainstorm, think of specific circumstances in which your academic career was affected by the topic of the essay. Don’t say “recovering from the accident made it harder for me to do my homework, which is why I did poorly my sophomore year.”
Instead, say, “Even after returning home from the hospital, waking up in the middle of the night to change my bandages often left me unable to focus effectively in my early classes.” Instead of “It took so much time to feed and get my little sister to bed that I just didn’t have time for my homework,” try, “Some nights, an unexpected stomach bug left me preoccupied caring for my little sister until late in the night; my chemistry reading was left untouched as I administered pink medicine and took her temperature at 30-minute intervals.”
As you write this essay, make sure that you’re honest and candid about how a situation or experience impacted your ability to perform academically, and keep in mind that the goal is to provide context for the evaluators of your academic credentials.
Service is an integral part of Virginia Tech’s community, so this is a great essay choice if you prioritize serving others in any way and on any scale. You may wish to talk about your servant leadership in a school or community club, a service capstone project you organized to benefit those in need, or simply how you incorporate the ideal of service to others in your day-to-day actions.
Whatever you choose to write about, make sure that you hit not only the specific consequences of your service but also the reasons why your service is important to you personally. It’s not enough to say, “I love to serve others because it gives me a chance to help my community, and it makes me feel fulfilled.” Instead, try something like this: “Video chatting with the overseas beneficiaries of my used bike drive and hearing about how Sofia was able to spend two more hours each day with her son because of her new work transportation inspired me to continue my work with Bikes for the World.”
It may be appropriate for you to touch on how you plan to continue a prolonged service activity in college. For example, if you tutor elementary students in math each week as a volunteer service, you may want to cite your plans to join or create a similarly-oriented service club at Virginia Tech. Showing that you’ve taken the time to research service opportunities at Tech will help to show your commitment to service and its importance to your identity.
By this question, Tech strives to help potential students see that the admissions office and the university as a whole understand these aspects of identity to be complex and individualized facets of character rather than descriptors that can be answered for by simple yes/no check boxes. If you believe that there is an aspect of your identity that warrants special consideration of how you’ll fit into and benefit the Tech community, then this question is for you.
It’s easy to get carried away while discussing an aspect of your identity, so the important tip to remember while writing this essay is to stick to the prompt as much as possible. You want to write about your identity through the lens of Tech’s commitment to “mutual respect and understanding.”
This means you’ll want to discuss how your perspective can help others learn something about their community and the world. For example, your religion might give you a unique perspective on Eastern literature that would enhance your English class discussions. Alternatively, you might be committed to changing the narrative about disabilities on campus because of your physical or mental disability.
One of the most important factors that admissions readers consider is how each applicant will contribute to the school community. This essay is a direct opportunity for you to explain in a personal fashion how you would be able to contribute to Virginia Tech. So be sure to keep your essay focused on how you will use your identity to enrich your community at Tech both inside and outside the classroom.
This prompt is specifically tailored to students hoping to participate in the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. This is an immersive, residential program that provides a military training experience that’s comparable to the college experience at a U.S. military institution. Participants include all ROTC participants as well as some students who participate in the Corps of Cadets but not an ROTC program.
Most students choosing to pursue the Corps of Cadets have distinct personal reasons for their commitment. This is the time to convey those personal reasons – your convictions, career goals, and other motivators for your pursuing the program. Additionally, you’ll want to touch on what about the program appeals to you. This could include the residential aspect, the opportunity for leadership responsibilities, or the tight-knit community feel of the program, among many other possible motivators.
While the Corps of Cadets will likely serve as a track to your future career goals, it’s important that (if you choose to make this point in your essay) this not overshadow your answering the prompt – how will the CoC contribute to your college experience? Think about what you want to get out of your college experience, do your research on the CoC and all that it entails, and then speak candidly about why you would benefit from the program and what you would bring to it.
For example, if you participated in JROTC in high school, this would be a good time to describe a situation during training in which you exhibited honor, courage, leadership or another foundational value of the program — whether establishing a tradition to welcome new members, finding a way to motivate your peers during training, or enabling community by facilitating bonding outside of training. Then you’ll be able to tie your potential contributions into what you’re hoping to get out of the program.
You could write about how having a strong bond with a team of committed peers would help you stay on track in and out of the classroom. You might be eager to engage in the leadership training and education offered by the program. Explain your reasons for wanting to be a part of the Corps of Cadets community, keeping in mind the residential, immersive nature of the program in shaping your college experience.
Writing a narrative, anecdotal account of an important experience can be an effective method for showing the admissions committee who you are as a person and what kind of Hokie you would be on campus. It’s an open-ended prompt — the story can be about something good or bad, seemingly insignificant or monumental, a failure or a triumph, as long as you can convey why and how the experience made you who you are today.
The most common mistake applicants will make on this essay is falling into the trap of “telling” rather than “showing.” Don’t just say what happened, set the scene and appeal to the senses of the reader. You want to give the reader a deeper understanding of the situation by making them feel a personal connection to the scene — this will help them understand better its impact on you.
For an essay about navigating your parents’ divorce, you’d want to avoid general “telling” statements like, “I had to calm down my little sister, who was upset about having to split time between our parents’ new houses.” Instead, you could “show,” saying, “As the blue-grey facade of my mom’s house faded out the car window, I distracted my sister with a game of tic-tac-toe. By the time we approached dad’s apartment, her tears had dried and she happily pressed her face against the glass to get a glimpse of dad.”
Remember that the focus of the essay is on how the experience changed your character. It may be helpful to use parallel examples from before and after the experience. For example, you could recount the ease with which you wrote, ate, and ran before an accident, and then detail the struggle of relearning these previously taken-for-granted abilities afterward.
If you choose to write about an experience that demonstrated your character rather than shaping it, choose one of your defining character traits and think of a situation or experience that was emblematic of that value.
For example, if you’re hardworking, you may want to write about a project that you gave your all and poured your heart into. No matter what topic you choose, “showing” by appealing to the senses rather than “telling” objectively will help you to write an effective narrative supplement.
If you have a topic that you’re eager to write about but it doesn’t fit any of the above prompts, you might consider creating your own prompt and writing the essay under Prompt 7. It could be your favorite essay from school or an essay you wrote for another school’s supplement or the Common Application or Coalition Application.
Regardless, make sure that you’re sticking to the rule of “showing” rather than “telling” and writing about something that resonates with you personally. Essays are an opportunity to show passion, character, and personality, so let your voice shine through.
Ideally, you should pick a topic that ties in with your admissions theme and that tells the readers something about you that hasn’t been explained in your previous essays. Other than that — anything goes! Have fun and write about something you love to write about.
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
Want more college essay tips?
We'll send them straight to your inbox.