Ally Merrett
8 min read 12th Grade,Essay Breakdowns

UIUC Essay Example: Analysis + Breakdown

What’s Covered:

 

The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a metropolis among the corn crops, is home to 50,000 students, 92 majors, over 1200 student clubs, and innumerable opportunities. This twin city town has consistently been ranked one of the top ten best college towns because of its active nightlife, award-winning restaurants, and walkable downtown. The University of Illinois (UIUC) also offers niche and quirky classes like Designing an Escape Room, The Fantasy of Harry Potter, and The Aesthetics of Japanese Tea Ceremonies. All these attributes combined create one of the top universities in the country.

 

The 59% acceptance rate is more selective than some other colleges, with half the applicants admitted to UIUC having an SAT score between 1220 and 1480 or an ACT score of 27 and 33.

 

In addition to a high GPA and great extracurriculars, you need to write a short essay on how you chose your intended major. If you haven’t decided on your major yet, UIUC allows you to simply explain your academic interests. The UIUC admissions officers are just looking to learn more about you!

 

If UIUC sounds too good to be true, you’ll have to get in and see it for yourself! This post will help you to stay focused on the prompt, avoid cliches, and write a convincing supplemental essay.

 

University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Supplemental Essay Prompt

Explain your interest in the major you selected and describe how you have recently explored or developed this interest inside and/or outside the classroom. You may also explain how this major relates to your future career goals. If you’re applying to the Division of General Studies, explain your academic interests and strengths or your future career goals. You may include any majors or areas of study you’re currently considering. Limit your response to 300 to 400 words.

UIUC rarely changes their supplemental essay prompt. This same prompt has been used for the past several years, so get started now because it’s going to stay put! 

 

By asking this classic essay prompt, UIUC wants to know why you’re studying what you’re studying. For many students, the answer is easy – a lifelong dream or a legacy profession – but other students simply have a passion for social sciences or dance and want to see what those majors may have in store. Changing your major is commonplace but passion usually stays put. If you’re struggling to put words on the page, talk about what you want to do in the future, even if the major is only a stepping stone.

 

Admissions officers will be looking for students that will be committed and ready to learn. They want students who will go to class and engage with the class material, not someone who likes philosophy so they skip class to sit around and think. Be sure that your essay signals your commitment to bettering yourself through education.

 

The key to this type of essay prompt is to offer your perspective and show the admissions officers how you’re going to change the world with a degree from UIUC. It’s critical to be earnest and genuine; the more unique and passionate your answer, the more likely you’ll get in.

 

Avoiding Cliches

 

If you’re going to write a compelling essay that will get you accepted, you’ll need to avoid a few classic pitfalls of essay writing. The most important rule is not to be trite. Don’t be overly flattering towards the admissions officers because you barely have enough space as it is. Also, don’t fill up the word count with an ode to the university that leaves you with a sentence and a half to say why you like supply-chain management. Take the space and write about your interests.

 

Good topics for this essay would focus on pivotal moments in your educational journey: how a theory changed your way of looking at the world and inspired you to further your understanding; how your ability to overcome a challenge changed your perspective on a major and you now see its beauty; or how a major aligns with your values. All these topics focus on you, the author, and not the experience. Admissions officers care less about external events (purchases, parties, accolades, abuse) and more internal ones (learning, growth, spirit, soul).

 

Your essay should be cohesive. You are encouraged to tell personal stories about what piqued your interest, but you don’t have enough space to make it lengthy, so be succinct. Also, be sure to avoid being too personal. For example, if you’re telling a story that involves your family, avoid discussing family drama or personal details about a particularly crazy family member, if that’s not relevant to your personal growth (remember that the focus should ultimately be on you!).

 

The best way to brainstorm for this essay is to make a list of the things you like about your major. Jot down 10 attributes that are enthralling about your major, the field it’s in, and/or the future that it affords. Here are some questions to ask yourself to get the ideas flowing. If none of those fit the bill, then try to imagine what you would miss out on if you were to choose a completely different major. 

 

 

UIUC Essay Example

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a problem with stepping on bugs on the sidewalk. Why would you kill it when you could just as easily step over it? Or help it across the street?

 

This philosophy lies at the heart of urban planning and community development. Although stop signs and sidewalks are vitally important, I believe that the whole study boils down to making the world a better place by interacting with the people in your community and helping out those in need. I’ve unknowingly been preparing for this major all throughout my high school career.

 

It first started with a 100-hour volunteerism scholarship I was interested in, and it ended with me being a part of the circus. Well, it ended with me volunteering to play drum rolls at the YMCA circus camp, to be precise, but it really taught me how to engage little kids and make them feel safe. After 100 hours, I was fairly well-versed in this whole social capital building endeavor. Following this experience, I got a job at a team-building course to further refine my skills. My contribution in clubs, sports, and mentoring programs is helping foster community.

 

UIUC’s nationally-ranked urban planning program will deepen my love of community development and humanitarianism. I’d be honored to be in this program, learning from amazing and world-renowned faculty & researching and implementing asset-based community development. While rural Illinois will always be home, I’m ready to make the most of the opportunities offered in Champaign. I’m excited to make UIUC feel like home, not just for me but for everyone. I’ll use the knowledge and skills I gain to better the world.

Breaking Down This UIUC Essay Example

 

This essay is structured to take the reader on a journey. The first two paragraphs end with a cliffhanger to keep the reader engaged and the final two paragraphs end declaratively to show their importance. The first paragraph grabs the reader’s attention by being unique and asking an uncommon and quirky question. This is very effective because this essay will stand out among those that jump right into the content. Because the word count is so low, the paragraphs are relatively short. Small paragraphs are easier on the eyes and do not overwhelm readers.

 

The author could more deeply answer the prompt by describing how they will make the world a better place, rather than offering that general thought as a conclusion. Because this essay is written in a light and fun tone, the admissions officers get a sense of the student’s personality, which they will keep in mind when reviewing the rest of the application. For this reason, it is important that you write in a professional tone that matches your personality.

 

Section Breakdown

 

Ever since I was a kid, I’ve had a problem with stepping on bugs on the sidewalk. Why would you kill it when you could just as easily step over it? Or help it across the street?

 

Since this intro seems so distant from the prompt, some admissions officers may not find it useful, making this a risky start if not executed well. However, because the question is very closely related to what the author wants to do, it is effective. The most important part of an engaging opening line is not to hold back. Don’t ask a guarded question. Be bold and confident when grabbing their attention. This is also effective because most readers will want to find the answer to this quirky question and will naturally read on.

 

This philosophy lies at the heart of urban planning and community development. Although stop signs and sidewalks are vitally important, I believe that the whole study boils down to making the world a better place by interacting with the people in your community and helping out those in need. I’ve unknowingly been preparing for this major all throughout my high school career.

 

The author uses a “set-up/punchline” formula to get the reader’s attention. By setting up a silly question and delivering a heartfelt answer, the author has successfully woven comedy and gravity into their first two paragraphs. The author should avoid phrases like “I believe” and “I think” because they are redundant. Of course you think that, you wrote it! The word count is precious, don’t waste it on the obvious. An important note is that the author is displaying their passion for the chosen field in the second sentence by summarizing the core beliefs of the major.

 

It first started with a 100-hour volunteerism scholarship I was interested in, and it ended with me being a part of the circus. Well, it ended with me volunteering to play drum rolls at the YMCA circus camp, to be precise, but it really taught me how to engage little kids and make them feel safe. After 100 hours, I was fairly well-versed in this whole social capital building endeavor. Following this experience, I got a job at a team-building course to further refine my skills. My contribution in clubs, sports, and mentoring programs is helping foster community.

 

Again, the author chooses a lighthearted tone. This is effective because it is present throughout the essay. Writing can seem stilted if the tone is switching from paragraph to paragraph. Subtlety is key in college essays because you want to show admissions officers all that you have done, but you still want to be humble. The above example is covert because the activity that is “bragged about” acts as a key part of the educational journey. 

 

Be sure to weave in your accomplishments, but don’t linger on them too long. “Helping foster community” is a very weak and non-descript way to conclude a paragraph. The author should have been more specific about what they mean.

 

UIUC’s nationally-ranked urban planning program will deepen my love of community development and humanitarianism. I’d be honored to be in this program, learning from amazing and world-renowned faculty & researching and implementing asset-based community development. While rural Illinois will always be home, I’m ready to make the most of the opportunities offered in Champaign. I’m excited to make UIUC feel like home, not just for me but for everyone. I’ll use the knowledge and skills I gain to better the world.

 

The author misses a crucial opportunity for a slam-dunk move: they should have cited a specific faculty member instead of broadly writing “world-renowned faculty.” This would have shown that they researched the program and were well-versed in what the program offers. 

 

The author is able to tie together all four paragraphs in the final paragraph with callbacks. It is crucial to give examples of how the degree will help you, and then show how you will help others with it. Although this takes planning, it is extremely effective.

 

What is less effective is the final sentence. Because it is so generic, it leaves little impact and weakens the entire essay. The author should have either taken this last sentence out completely or extended it to say “better the world by doing x,y,z…”

 

This essay is ultimately very strong and helped the author gain acceptance to UIUC as well as departmental scholarships. The author’s ability to maintain a fun, yet serious tone throughout the essay is commendable. They also did a great job of using varied vocabulary to engage the reader. 

 

There are sections that could be tighter and more succinct, but the author balances these shortcomings with relevant personal anecdotes and a coherent and fluid essay organization. The author’s passion for the field is clear, and well illustrated with an explanation of their related values, instead of a simple description.

 

If you want more help with this type of writing, check out our essay breakdown for the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

 

Where to Get Your Essay Edited for Free

It’s vital to get a second set of eyes on your UIUC essay before you submit. That’s why we at CollegeVine have a free peer essay review tool, allowing you to submit your essay and get feedback from another student. Editing other students’ essays will also help you improve your own writing skills!

 

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Ally Merrett
Design Researcher

Short Bio
Ally Merrett is a senior at the University of Illinois double majoring in Urban Planning and Sustainable Design, triple minoring in Sociology, Art & Design, and Informatics, and pursuing a certificate in Technology Entrepreneurship. When he's not studying, he can be found playing music, skateboarding, or eating an egg sandwich. Maybe all at the same time!

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