How to Write the UVA Supplemental Essays: 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 to get a great education.

So, how can you make yourself stand out as an applicant?

Write amazing supplemental essays!

UVA requires that you submit supplemental essays on topics of their choice in order to get to know you better. These essays are often one of the ways that admissions committees make final admissions choices.

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 specific to the program to which you are applying.
  • The second is the general essay section, which gives you more creative liberty but can also be equally as difficult to write.

The supplemental essay prompts can be found on 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 you some specific tips on how to write supplemental essays for the University of Virginia, and then we’ll go through each of the essay questions individually to give you some advice on how to approach answering each of 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 and recommends that you ignore feedback if it doesn’t fit your writing style.

The tips from UVA may help you as you begin to draft your essays, and the tips below will help you come up with ideas for each of the individual essay questions.

Let’s start looking through each of the supplemental questions.

School/Program-specific Questions:

The University of Virginia begins their school/program-specific question prompt 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.

College of Arts and Sciences

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

If you know what you want to major in, use that to answer this question!

  • For example, if you want to major in biology, think about some recent finding in the field of biology that had 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 it is, relating your intended major to this essay is definitely a good idea, as 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.

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.

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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?

This question might seem scary, but the first thing to keep in mind is that your idea doesn’t need to be technically sound.

The admissions committee does not expect you to have a project in progress or think of a functional business plan for a potential project.

In fact, most of them aren’t engineers, so avoid overly technical details.

  • The point of this essay is to highlight an unsolved issue that you think is important and to explain how you might go about fixing it.
  • The second thing to keep in mind is that you don’t need to solve world hunger with this project. In fact, the prompt tells you this already – you only need to make life better for one person.
  • Think about something that you hear your parents, siblings, or friends complain about frequently.
  • Does your dad hate having to open the fridge to see whether you have milk?
  • Does your mom struggle to fit in valuable gym time with her busy schedule?

School of Architecture

Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.

This prompt is not asking you to design anything original, nor does it want you to describe the technical architectural details associated with the instance or place that you’re writing about.

Don’t overthink the topic. Since you have a word limit, think in basic terms.

  • Is there a house with some unusual architecture in your town? What makes it unusual? How has it influenced your architectural interests?
  • Have you been to a museum with some interesting sculpture arrangements? How did the arrangement affect your experience in the exhibit?
  • Was there a moment where you realized that you wanted to be an architect/designer? What prompted that realization?

Ideally, you will write about an instance or place that helped you realize that you want to major in architecture.

If you have trouble thinking of one, think about an instance in the past week related to architecture or design that you thought was noteworthy.

It does not need to be a well-known work of architecture. As long as you can explain why you found it inspiring, you can use the example.

School of Nursing

School of Nursing applicants may have experience shadowing, volunteering, or working in a health care environment. Tell us about a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing.

The first thing you might be worried about is not having experience in a health care environment.

Don’t worry if this is true, the prompt gives you a way around that by allowing you to write about a “health care-related experience” or “other significant interaction,” so long as it relates to your interest in studying nursing.

  • 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 about it.

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.

Kinesiology Program

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.

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

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.

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.

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The UVA General Supplemental Essay Prompts

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

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.


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.

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 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, write your Flash Seminar essay.

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?

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.

It may be helpful to brainstorm a couple different messages and refine them before picking one.

Conclusion: How to Write the UVA Supplemental Essays

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

Make 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 written yet.

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

And if you’re interested in gaining an edge in college admissions, check out our college essay boot camp.