How to Write the UVA Supplemental Essays 2020-2021: The Excellent Guide

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Housed on a beautiful campus in Charlottesville, VA, the University of Virginia boasts a 27% acceptance rate and brings great students from across the country together based on their shared desire for an excellent education.

One way to stand out among other UVA applicants is to write amazing and unique supplemental essays.

UVA requires you to submit school-specific supplemental essays so they can get to know the parts of you that don’t show through a typical college application. These essays are often one of the ways that admissions committees make their final decisions.

What are the UVA Supplemental Essay Requirements?

There are two types of supplemental essays for the University of Virginia, and both are required for your application.

  • The first is the college or program-specific essay, which will ask you to describe or respond to a situation related to the program to which you are applying.
  • The second is the general essay, which gives you more creative liberty (but can also be equally as difficult to write).

The supplemental essay prompts can be found under the “University of Virginia” section on the Common Application, as well as on the University of Virginia Office of Undergraduate Admissions Website.

Worried? Don’t be!

In this guide, we’ll offer specific tips on how to write supplemental essays for the University of Virginia. Then, we’ll go through each of the essay questions individually, providing advice on how to approach them.

Tips from the University of Virginia

To start, UVA’s admissions team offers some advice to applicants:

  1. Try not to overthink your responses.
  2. Don’t feel like you have to use academic writing structure.
  3. Don’t feel like you have to take all of the advice you receive.

UVA notes that the supplemental essay questions are intentionally broad and open-ended in order to give you the opportunity to share your voice through the essay. They recommend that you ignore feedback if it doesn’t fit your writing style.

Below, we’ll begin looking through each of the University of Virginia supplemental essay questions.

School/Program-specific Questions:

The University of Virginia begins their school/program-specific question prompt list with the following statement:

“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.”

Keep this statement in mind as you work on the prompt that pertains to the program you are applying to, and be sure to incorporate it into your essay.

UVA College of Arts and Sciences Supplemental Essay

What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or inspired you, and in what way?

If you know the specific major you’re wanting to earn, you can use it to answer this question.

  • Did a recent finding in the field of biology have an impact on you?
  • Maybe you read a news article on CRISPR and were so amazed that you can’t imagine working in any other field.
  • Or, if you’re interested in physics, maybe you saw the SpaceX Falcon Heavy launch and are interested in developing the next generation of space flight shuttles.

Whatever your future major is, relating your essay to the general field is a good idea because it shows that you’ve spent some time thinking about what you may want to major in and what kind of impact you’d like to have as an alumnus of the University of Virginia.

It also shows you’ve got a passion for the field you want to enter.

Okay, but what if you aren’t sure what you want to major in?

Don’t worry if it doesn’t seem particularly groundbreaking. The important thing is to pick a topic on which you can write 250 well-crafted words.

  • Did your favorite band release a new album that doesn’t sound anything like their old music?
  • Is there a book or magazine/newspaper column you read that shocked you?

Pick something that inspires your curiosity, and use the essay to show a bit of yourself while you explain why your finding was so awe-striking. After all, the admissions team is wanting to learn about you through your essay submission.

UVA School of Engineering and Applied Sciences Supplemental Essay

Describe an engineering feat that serves the common good and why it inspires you to study engineering.

This question is extremely broad, so you can take it almost any direction you’d like:

Simply think of an engineering feat (which could be basically anything ever built) and why it “serves the common good,” or has made a difference in the lives of people around the world.

If you’re able to, you may want to consider choosing an engineering feat that has affected your life personally. That way, you’re shining a light on various aspects of your life in one supplemental essay, allowing the admissions team to get to know you even better.

  • You could talk about the most amazing bridge you’ve ever seen, and what its done for the community its located within
  • Maybe you grew up in the most efficient tiny home imaginable, and it gave you an incredible childhood. How does your tiny home (and other tiny houses) affect the lives of the people who live in them?
  • If you’re in need of some more inspiration, check out these 25 engineering feats from around the world. Many of them could lead to unique and creative essay prompt responses

Don’t forget the second half of this prompt; why does this specific engineering feat inspire you? Would you like to make a similar difference in the world one day? Does the structure simply blow your mind every time you see it?

Use the second half of the prompt to show your passion for engineering, and even some of your engineering experience and/or knowledge if it fits and flows well.

UVA School of Architecture Supplemental Essay

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

Since you’re passionate enough about Architecture to want to major in it, this question should come fairly easy.

However, that doesn’t always make starting a simple process. If that inspiration doesn’t hit right away, try not to worry; You’re still going to write an amazing essay.

First, think back on your life and your experiences with Architecture:

  • Was there a “light bulb moment” that inspired your future in the field of Architecture?
  • Have you loved intricate buildings since you had the chance to visit a castle on your family trip to Europe?
  • Did you walk into an odd building one day and come out with a plan to improve its layout and functionality?

Your experience doesn’t have to be one-of-a-kind (though it’s great if it is). The most important thing is that you bring the admissions team with you to that place through your essay, showing them those specific details that made you fall in love with Architecture.

Show your passion and drive for your future career in the field. Share your curiosity and interests. When the admissions team sees why you love the field and when they can tell you’re truly interested in becoming the next Architectural expert, your essay is sure to stand out.

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UVA School of Nursing Supplemental Essay

Describe a healthcare-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying nursing.

This is an excellent prompt, as it’s not extremely specific. The admissions team simply wants to know why you want to become a nurse, and they want you to show them through a heartfelt or inspiring story.

Don’t worry if your story isn’t specifically related to nursing; just let your essay show why you’re passionate about your future as a nurse.

  • Do you have a relative in a nursing home or hospital? How have your interactions with them shaped your ideas on nursing?
  • Have you seen media coverage (TV, documentary, etc.) on nursing?
  • Why are you interested in going into nursing rather than becoming a doctor? Was there a moment where you chose nursing over becoming a doctor?

Once you have an experience in mind, write it all down. Make bullet-points, make a list, write a three-page story; whatever you have to do to get your passions down onto a page.

Then, take what you’ve written and find the most important parts. Take the words that mean the most (and the ones that tell the story well) and turn them into an essay of no more than 250 words.

Remember to be honest about your experience (in other words, it doesn’t need to be a positive experience) and how it affected your decision to study nursing. Authenticity is unbeatable.

Show the admissions team your heart for nursing, and you’ll give them what they need to make your final admission decision.

UVA Kinesiology Program Supplemental Essay

Discuss experiences that led you to choose the Kinesiology major.

This is the most straightforward of the program-specific essay prompts, in that it tells you exactly what to write about.

If you have trouble answering this prompt, think about why you’re interested in Kinesiology and what you might want to do with a degree in Kinesiology.

  • For example, you may have injured yourself playing a sport and needed physical therapy, which introduced you to the field of kinesiology.
  • Maybe you’re fascinated by all things needed for athletic performance; joints, muscles, bones, etc.
  • You might be passionate about continuing your sports journey without becoming a professional athlete.

Hopefully, this brainstorming will help you connect to experiences that you can write about. If you need more help brainstorming, use this excellent guide.

The UVA General Supplemental Essay Prompts

Now, we’ll take a look at the more general supplemental essay prompts. You only need to pick one of these prompts for your application.

If you are having trouble deciding on a prompt, try writing a rough draft for each of them (or any number of them that you’d like to try out).

Once you read through your drafts, it will become easier to see which prompt provides the best platform for you to make your mark on the admissions committee.

Before diving into the individual prompts, here’s a quick reminder: Try not to overthink these essays. In most cases, they are as straightforward as they seem.

UVA Supplemental Essay 1: Your Favorite Word

What’s your favorite word and why?

Before starting this essay, it might be helpful to perform the following exercise: Over the course of a few days, write down all the words you encounter that seem odd or interesting.

You might ask yourself some questions to help brainstorm as well:

  • Are there certain words you use often?
  • Are there certain words you use only in specific situations? Why?
  • Have you read a book that contained a word you found interesting? What was it?

A problem that students usually have with this essay prompt is that they change their minds mid-essay as other potential words pop into their minds.

One day, you might think that your favorite word is “complacent,” whereas, the next day, it might be “hamster.”

This exercise helps you to list out all of the potential words you could write about. From there, you can pick the word that you like the most or find is easiest to write about.

Then it’s time to write your essay.

Share your word with the admissions team, and possibly a quick definition. Then, explain what it means to you. Remember that the admissions team wants to learn about you. Try making more of the essay about why this word is your favorite, and less about the definition of the word itself.

UVA Supplemental Essay 2: Quirks

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.

Similarly to the last essay prompt, you may want to take a couple of days to think about this one, listing out any quirks you might have:

  • Do you have any memorable habits or routines?
  • Is there a phrase that you use frequently?
  • Do your friends or family members comment on any of your positive personality traits? How does this trait manifest in everyday life?

Maybe you wake up every morning and have a glass of water with lemon because it helps you feel refreshed. Write about it!

Don’t be afraid to ask friends and family about your quirks, as it may reveal interesting potential essay topics you may not have considered.

Along with your quirk, share some reasons why it’s great. You are trying to get into a college with this essay, after all.

UVA Supplemental Essay 3: Flash Seminar

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 prompt may seem intimidating because of its reference to a student creating an impressive organization, but try to remember that it isn’t the point of the prompt.

Instead, pick a topic that interests you!:

  • What are your hobbies?
  • Do you play any sports?
  • What is the first random fact that pops into your head?
  • What did you do last summer?
  • Are there any global issues you care about and want others to know of?

For example, if you spent your last summer volunteering at a soup kitchen, you might create a Flash Seminar on the importance of volunteering based on your experiences.

The essay may even be about a topic that you feel is important for every person to think about and discuss.

The essay does not need to be related to academics. As long as you can write 250 words about the topic and why you think it is important for other people to learn about, it’ll be worth creating an essay about.

UVA Supplemental Essay 4: Beta Bridge

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 might be the most difficult essay prompt for most students because of how open-ended it is, but it also gives you a lot of room to leave your own creative or intellectual mark on the admissions committee.

  • What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever received?
  • What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever given?
  • What is something helpful that you think more people should know about?
  • Is there a public issue that you feel needs more awareness?

Even if your idea is small, don’t worry. Maybe you’ve noticed that you don’t carry enough water around, and want to remind everyone to stay hydrated!

Your message does not need to be groundbreaking or related to academics, as long as you can write about it.

Make your response unique, and try to catch the attention of the admissions team.

If your essay shines on who you are, what’s unique about you, or a topic you care about, it’s sure to stand out when it’s reviewed at UVA.

UVA Supplemental Essay 5: An Alternative to Complaining

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.

We all know that complaining isn’t the best way to deal with the problems we encounter; however, it sure is a natural thing to do (and it can be hard to avoid).

Think back on a time you chose to take action instead of complaining.

  • Maybe you forgot about an assignment until the night it was due. Instead of complaining and asking for more time, you stayed up late to get it done.
  • You may have noticed someone being treated unfairly and stood up for them right there on the spot.

No matter what the situation was, if you chose not to complain, you can turn it into a compelling essay.

Show UVA that you are an initiative taker and a difference maker. Show them you’re responsible and you don’t like to take the easy way out.

When the admissions team sees those qualities shining through the words you write, they’ve got to be impressed.

Conclusion: How to Write the UVA Supplemental Essays

Now that you’ve read through some tips on how to write the supplemental essays, it’s time to get writing!

Be sure to start early with brainstorming and planning. UVA, more so than most universities, asks you to be creative with their supplemental essays.

Even if you don’t like your first drafts, it is much easier to rewrite a draft based on the things you did not like than it is to attempt to revise an essay you haven’t yet written.

Last, remember to keep it real. Authenticity is key.

With an essay written from a place of creativity and authenticity, you’re sure to stand out.

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