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How to write the 2021-2022 University of Virginia (UVA) Supplemental Essays

by Story2 Staff, on Jul 24, 2021 6:03:46 PM

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 how to respond  to each of 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, let admissions readers know about the ways you engage with topics and research in the areas you want to pursue further in college. Are you drawn to art, music, science, mathematics, literature, a cross-disciplinary program, or a problem you are committed to solving? This is your chance to explore moments that reveal your curiosity and intellectual engagement. When considering how to focus your essay, you can begin with a prospective major, or you can weave together different threads of your current courses and outside research to show how you organize intellectual work. For instance, let's say you;re thinking of majoring in Biology. You could talk about your current classes; maybe you had a summer internship related to science; took some extra classes online; or tutored younger students in math. In 250 words, you could provide moments that reveal how those all fit together. The question also gives you the chance to talk about influences -- things that "surprised, unsettled, surprised, or inspired you." Was there a moment that opened your eyes to the sciences? A teacher or website that taught you something new that will continue to unfold in your future. We've also seen students with no idea what they want to major in, talk about a problem they are drawn to explore and solve and how different majors approach that problem. Don't forget the "in what way" part of the question: show how your thinking has evolved and where you are going in the future. 

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 helps 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 studying 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 career outcomes, things like “it’s prestigious,” “it pays well,” or “it just seems cool.” That may all be true, but admissions readers also want to see your commitments and sense of purpose. How does being an architect shape a meaningful future life for you? 

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 life moment to organize your essays. 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, 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 the specific details and moments that attract you to this major. 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 and general, it's usually wise to stick to one or two moments in an essay this short. You'll be amazed how much you can reveal through one focused moment of learning or change! 

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

What’s your favorite word and why?

This is an oddball question that's been on the UVA application for several years! Go beyond the obvious (courage, compassion, commitment), and show UVA a unique side of your personality through just one word. Make a list of 20 possibilities first, so you get beyond the things you usually say to something a bit deeper and more unique. Maybe pick a word that allows you to connect a few different parts of your character, or one that runs deep in your family or community. You probably don't have a favorite word in mind, waiting to be talked about, so pick one that works to show how you are a good fit for UVA. Whatever word you choose, try to show through your actions how that word matters to you and what it reveals about who you are.

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 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! Sometimes we don't realize what other people really value in us. So no quirks come to mind immediately, you might ask your friends or family what they value in you. Remember that your "quirk" doesn’t necessarily need to be strange or bizarre, so don’t feel the need to force extra quirkiness, or to show off your weirdness. You may find your "quirk" in something you do every day without even thinking about it. 

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?

We love this question! Imagine you are a student at UVA: what would you want to teach to other students in one class? This could be one aspect of an issue you are committed to. If you go that route, remember that admissions committees usually include people with a range of experiences and viewpoints; so focus on why the issue matters, rather than why you are right! It could be something life-changing that you can teach in one class, like a specific, science-based relaxation technique. Maybe there's something really important for the future that's not yet part of UVA's curriculum; perhaps use your Flash Seminar to explore that new idea. These are just a few ideas; trust your instincts and 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. 

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 created and shared something with that community, perhaps as part of an ongoing tradition, 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.

This essay is about taking action! 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 specific actions 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 story with specific actions that show readers ways you have made 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!

Back to main Supplemental Essays post.

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Topics:college admissions

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