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MAR 11, 2020 • 11 min read
The University of Virginia is one of the United States' top public universities and is steeped in tradition. The supplemental essays required by the University are your opportunity to show the admissions committee where you fit into this community.
Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.
Essay prompt 1: [same as 2017-18] What's your favorite word and why?
Essay prompt 2: [same as 2017-18]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.
Essay prompt 3: [same as 2017-18]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?
**Essay prompt 4: **[same as 2017-18] 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?
Essay prompt 5: [new] UVA students are charged with pushing the boundaries of knowledge to serve others and contribute to the common good. Give us an example of how you've used what you've learned to make a positive impact in another person's life.
College of Arts and Sciences essay prompt-- [same as 2017-18] What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way? (1/2 page, roughly 250 words)
School of Engineering and Applied Sciences essay prompt-- [slight change] If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make everyday life better for one friend or family member, what would you design? (1/2 page, roughly 250 words)
This is an unusual question but it provides you a chance to say something more about yourself. The key thing to avoid here is cliche: don't pick a predictable word ("success," "aspiration"), and don't try to impress the committee with an obscure word. This might sound obvious, but you should actually think about what might be your favorite word.
One smart strategy for international students is to think about non-English words or interesting local slang. Is there a Maori word you know that has an interesting meaning and can't quite be translated into English? Is there a Singlish word that really typifies your experience of growing up in Singapore? Using a word like this gives you a chance to talk more about the culture in which you grew up and how it has shaped who you've become.
A different route you might take is to reflect on pleasant (and formative) memories from your childhood. Do you remember making a special pastry with your grandmother as a child? Maybe your parents taught you the names of flowers or trees in your neighborhood? Words from experiences like these give you a chance to be nostalgic for a moment and tell the admissions committee how you became the person you are today.
Once you've chosen a word, constructing the actual essay should be much easier: Why is this your favorite word? What do you like about the word itself - its spelling, aesthetics? What emotion do you feel when you hear or say it? Is it a word you try to use often, or a word that you're content just to know and remember? As with any essay, make sure you end strong: how does this word help an admissions committee understand who you are?
Applying to the University of Virginia is a good sign that you're a talented and interesting person, but when asked to define one of your "quirks" you need to make sure you think of something truly unique. Think about everyone you know: what do you enjoy or do that no one else in your peer group does? Playing the violin (or the tuba, or the French horn) doesn't count; nor does speaking Latin or Japanese. You should talk about something truly unique and surprising.
Once you know what you're writing about, a good strategy for developing your essay is to think about why you have this quirk. Why do you wake up at 5 am to memorize poetry? Why do you intently and methodologically practice whistling? Tell the committee a story about how you adopted this particular habit or trait. Was it a reaction to a formative event in your life? Something you learned to do to make yourself feel better during times of stress?
As you wrap up this essay, think about how you might explain this to your roommate at UVA. How will this tradition factor into your life in Charlottesville, and how do you want to add to UVA's culture?
As you approach this essay, a good strategy is to trust your first instinct rather than overthink what your answer "should" be. That is, don't worry about impressing the committee with a Flash Seminar that would nicely complement an interesting course in the School of Commerce. Instead, use this opportunity to show off your passion for Aboriginal Australian folklore or contemporary art in Singapore. Your first instinct is probably a good reflection of something that is interesting and representative of you. (It's also likely to be a unique answer - lots of people will try to write as the "ideal applicant," but you should just write as yourself.)
Once you've chosen a topic and premise, think about what you actually want to share in the seminar. What are some things that your future classmates ought to know about this topic? How would you structure the class? An important question you ought to address is how you want this seminar to affect your classmates. What sort of late night conversations will take place in the dorms after your seminar? Finally, remember that these seminars are student-designed and student-led: how would this affect you? What might you learn? How will this opportunity help you develop your own passions?
The key to this question is balancing brevity and depth. You won't have much room on the bridge, so you'll need to craft a message that is both important to you and informative to your peers.
Think about a cause that is deeply important to you: it could be something broad and international like gender equality or environmental issues, or something that is experienced more locally, like sustainable food or simply being kind to strangers on the sidewalk. Then try to come up with something concise and memorable. It could be something original or, potentially, a clever twist on an existing slogan.
Why is this the message you chose? What do you want students to think about when they see it? And what about the rest of the UVA community - does your message have a special meaning to faculty and staff? You should also reflect on your strategy - will you use bright fluorescent colors, or maybe use UVA's traditional colors? Why? What sort of tone do you want to set? Will you be confrontational and blunt or subtle and congenial?
Finally, what would it mean to you to have an opportunity to paint on the Beta Bridge? This is a rare chance to share something important to you with your community, and in doing so take part in an important UVA tradition. How would you feel - nervous? Confident? Proud? Remember: this is your chance to share something meaningful to you. Show and tell the committee why this is matters so much.
Pushing the boundaries of human knowledge and using that knowledge to make a difference in the world are two of the core values of academia, so this question is a good chance to reflect on how you see yourself as part of the intellectual community. It's also a prompt that may overlap with your answers to the main essay, so if you choose this option make sure your essays each reveal something unique about yourself.
Answers to this question will have a natural arc: what did you learn? How did you feel about acquiring this knowledge? Where did you see potential to put this knowledge to good use? What did you do, and how do you feel about your actions? How are you a different person because of this experience? Keep in mind that you don't need to have cured a disease or invented something significant in order to answer this question well. The goal is to show an appreciation for the human side of education.
As you wrap up this essay, be sure to reflect on how this experience has shaped you as a student and scholar. Does this experience affect potential majors or post-graduate plans? Are there organizations or causes at the University of Virginia you hope to join? It will be important to show that your experience was not a discrete, one-off event. This essay is a chance to demonstrate what sort of student and professional you want to be.
There are lots of ways to approach this essay - you'll first need to decide whether you want to focus on a piece of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature, then decide how to frame your reaction to it. Given the flexibility in this prompt, you may want to think about the rest of your application and what "holes" you need to fill - for example, if you haven't found a place to talk about your interest in astrobiology or the sitar, this is an excellent place to work that in.
As with many of the questions in the UVA supplemental section, your first instincts are probably the best things to discuss. Don't try to impress the committee with an obscure work of literature or science; really think about something in the arts and sciences that has profoundly affected you. Some good possibilities to consider: is there a favorite book from your childhood that you've recently re-read with a more mature perspective? Was there a lesson in a science class that has fundamentally challenged the way you think about the world? Have you encountered some work of folk music or art that has helped you connect with your community (or a new community) in a profound way?
Be sure to write about the impact this work has had on you: the committee wants to know how you've been surprised, challenged, or unsettled. The key to this question is that you have to show how you are a different person because of your encounter with this piece of art or science. Try to answer these two questions: what has changed about how you think about and interact with the world? How does this experience influence your approach to art or science now? At its core, this prompt is a chance for you to recognize your own capacity for growth and maturation.
It might be helpful to think about the two parts of this question in reverse. First, think about someone close to you who struggles in some small, perhaps unnoticed, way. Do you have a grandparent that has difficulty maintaining their cherished garden? Perhaps you have a relative or friend who struggles to participate in a hobby because of a disability. Or maybe one of your parents just works too hard and you want to provide a way for them to relax at the end of the day.
Once you've identified a challenge, try to state concisely and precisely the engineering solution you have in mind. You don't have enough space to describe the technical details to your solution, so instead focus on the type of knowledge you'd hope to gain in the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences as you work to solve this problem. As you conclude the essay think about this experience in more general terms. Why do you want to be an engineer? What is the purpose of an engineering education? If you were to actually pursue the project described in this essay, how would it impact your friend or loved one? What sort of impact might it have on the rest of the world? You may want to read through the advice for Question 5 above to help you think about how to contextualize your answer: the work of engineering is to use science to make the world work better. What might your role in that work be?