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How to write the 2020-2021 UVA Supplemental Essays

by Rebecca Acree, on Sep 28, 2020 8:00:00 AM

Hoping to head to a “public Ivy” next year? The University of Virginia might be the school for you! 

UVA requires two supplemental essays, each with a maximum of 250 words. The first question requires students to respond to a prompt according to their chosen school or program, and the second question allows students to choose one prompt from a list of five. 

Jump ahead to:

Read on for our guide to responding to the UVA supplemental essays! 

Question #1: We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words.

College of Arts and Sciences - What work of art, music, science, mathematics, literature, or other media has surprised, unsettled, or inspired you, and in what way?

If you’re applying to UVA’s College of Arts and Sciences, admissions readers want to learn more about the way you engage with topics relevant to areas of study you might encounter in this college — art, music, science, mathematics, literature, or pretty much anything else! This is your chance to show how academically and intellectually engaged and curious you are. When considering which area to write about, don’t feel pressure to stick to your prospective major — i.e., if you plan to major in biology, you don’t necessarily need to discuss a work of science. In fact, it may be interesting to choose something outside of your prospective major, since the prompt is asking about things that have surprised or unsettled you! But if there’s something within your prospective major that is particularly special to you, by all means, write about that. Whatever you choose, make sure that your passion shines through! 

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences - Describe an engineering feat that serves the common good and why it inspires you to study engineering.

This question aims to help readers understand why you want to be an engineer. What drew you to engineering in the first place? How do you imagine you might use an engineering degree from UVA to serve the common good? This is a great opportunity to use a moment from your past to show readers, through action, what you’ll be like as an engineer in the future.

School of Architecture - Describe significant experience that deepened your interest in studying in the School of Architecture.

This prompt is all but demanding that you use a moment from your real life! Tell the story of how you became interested in architecture. Why does it appeal to you? Hint: whenever answering questions about why you’re interested in a prospective major or career path, try to think beyond things like “it’s prestigious,” “it pays well,” or “it just seems cool.” That may all be true, but readers want to know that you’ve given your future some serious thought, so show them that you’re prepared to make a real commitment. 

School of Nursing - Describe a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying nursing.

This is another great opportunity to use a real moment from your life! Tell the story of how you became interested in nursing. Was it in school, when you were studying something relevant to nursing? Was it during an internship or some other form of practical experience? Your moment doesn’t even need to be specifically related to nursing or healthcare; the prompt allows you to choose any “significant interaction,” so you’re free to choose a moment that relates to your interest in caring for others more generally. 

Kinesiology Program - Discuss experiences that led you to apply to the kinesiology major. 

In responding to this prompt, again you’ll want to think a little deeper than “I love sports” or “kinesiology seems cool.” That can certainly be your motivation for pursuing this program, but try to show readers more of the specific details that are unique to you. What exactly do you love about sports? Why does kinesiology seem cool? What led you to this path? While the prompt invites you to discuss “experiences” plural, try sticking to a single moment and using your limited space to dive into greater detail, showing readers through action why you’re a good candidate for the program.

Question #2: Choose one of the following (250 words).

What’s your favorite word and why?

Admissions readers want to know who you are as a whole person, and your supplemental essays are your best chance to show them! Questions like this aim at getting to know you better, so if you choose to respond to this prompt, think very carefully about what you want readers to know. If you don’t already have a favorite word in mind, consider: What parts of yourself are not sufficiently captured in the rest of your application? Then, once you’ve identified a trait or traits you want to focus on, work backwards to choose a word that reflects this. Whatever you choose, show through action why that word is meaningful to you, instead of just telling readers why it’s your favorite.

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.

Like the previous one, this question aims to give readers a sense of who you are as a complete person, not just as a student and college applicant. Another way of asking this is: “what’s unique and special about you?” Every single person has something unique and special about them, including you! If no quirks come to mind immediately, take some time to brainstorm. Consider what your family and friends might say if asked this question about you. Remember that your chosen quirk doesn’t necessarily need to be particularly strange or bizarre, so don’t feel the need to force the quirkiness, or to be weird for the sake of it. All your response needs to do is help readers learn more about who you are! 

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?

This question is designed to both help UVA admissions readers understand what matters to you, and to show them what you might contribute as a member of the UVA community. You can choose any thought-provoking topic, but remember to think beyond traditional coursework. Feel free to get creative! You can be as silly or as serious as you want, as long as you’re confident that the topic could inspire high-energy discussion. If you do want to choose a more commonly-debated topic, try to give it an original spin, but take care to avoid offensive or inappropriate topics. As always, bear in mind that your readers are real people with their own ideas, perspectives, and backgrounds! 

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?

This is another question that helps readers imagine what you’ll be like as a UVA student and how you’ll contribute to their community. So what would you want to share with the community, and why is it important to you? For inspiration, think back on the ways you’ve contributed to the communities you’re currently a part of. This could be your school community, your neighborhood, your family, a religious group, or any other kind of affiliation! Then, tell a story about how you shared something with that community, and what you’d want to share with the UVA community as a result of this experience. 

Rita Dove, UVA English professor and former U.S. Poet Laureate, once said in an interview that "...there are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints." Describe a time when, instead of complaining, you took action for the greater good.

UVA admissions readers want to know that the students they admit will be agents of positive change, both in the UVA community and in the world beyond. Think about problems you’ve solved, challenges you’ve faced, or contributions you’ve made in your community. What action did you take, and what was the result? What was the situation before and after you took action? How did you make a difference? Tell a detailed story to show readers the ways that you make a positive impact in the world around you. 

Ready to perfect your personal statement next? For tips on crafting a great personal statement and examples of what that looks like, check out our guide to personal statements

Topics:college admissions