How to Write the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Essays 2020-2021: The Precise Guide

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The University of Illinois has a beautiful campus only 140 miles south of Chicago, in the twin cities of Urbana and Champaign.

The university is proud of its accomplishments and highlights these on their website. The University of Illinois was ranked the 14th best public university according to the U.S. News and World Report’s 2017-2018 ranking.

The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign has an acceptance rate that hovers around 60%.

In its history, 28 faculty and alumni have been awarded Pulitzer Prizes. Additionally, the school offers over 150 undergraduate programs.

Essentially, UIUC is a campus that values hard work and recognizes accomplishments. Therefore it is of the utmost importance that you spend quality time researching the school and assembling a stellar application.

What are the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Supplemental Essay Requirements?

There are two ways to submit your application to the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign. The first option is to submit through the Coalition App. For more information on writing the Coalition essays, click here. Transfer students may not use this method to apply.

Alternatively, you may submit your application through the myIllini portal on the UIUC website. Freshman applicants that use this method must complete a required essay and an additional optional essay.

UIUC Supplemental Essays: How to Write Them!

Click above to watch a video on UIUC Supplemental Essays.

These are the prompts:

  1. Explain your interest in the major you selected and describe how you have recently explored or developed this interest inside and/or outside the classroom. You may also explain how this major relates to your future career goals. If you’re applying to the Division of General Studies, explain your academic interests and strengths or your future career goals. You may include any majors or areas of study you’re currently considering. Limit your response to 300 to 400 words.
  2. If you select a second-choice major other than the Division of General Studies on your application, write a second essay explaining your interest in this major, too. Again, limit your response to 300 to 400 words.

How Do I Select a Major?

The essay options for the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign are both tied to your future goals as a student and professional. Before writing your essay, you should spend some time looking at the academic programs offered by the university.

  • You want to ensure that you are writing about a program that currently exists at the school.
  • Otherwise, this mistake could be grounds for the admissions committee to reject your application.
  • Why would you want to go to a college that didn’t offer the program you’re interested in pursuing?
  • And why would the admissions committee tolerate a candidate who didn’t do his research?

Additionally, you want to be able to fluidly and intelligently discuss the program that you are interested in. Details from the UIUC website will bolster your essay and reflect that you have done your research before applying.

  • For example, if you are interested in the electrical engineering and computer science department, describe how you have pursued that interest throughout your coursework in high school and in your extracurriculars.
  • Perhaps you took an AP computer science course, attended a programming summer course, or conducted related research at a nearby university.
  • Make sure you have evidence to back up your interest in the major you intend to pursue, and also make sure you can tie it back to the department of interest.
  • Your demonstrated interest in computer science and economics could have sparked an interest in cryptography and cryptocurrency. The overall goal is to make sure you have a coherent storyline for the choices you have made to pursue a specific major.

If you do not already have a major in mind, consider your hobbies and interests:

Do you…

  • …do any volunteer work?
  • …participate in extracurricular activities?
  • …work a job?

Think about your experiences during these activities and what you enjoy about them.

  • You may begin to see a common thread such as “being physically active” or “helping people in need.”

This line of thinking will help you to find an area of focus to discuss in your selection of either “General Studies” or a more specific major.

For example, maybe your most memorable high school experience came from a leadership position where you were able to mentor younger students and teach them foundational basics in English and journalism. This could allow you to write about your interest in pursuing a major in reporting or writing.

Should I Write Both Supplemental Essays?

As noted above, the second essay question is optional. If you have absolutely no idea what you would like to study in college, it’s best to choose the “Division of General Studies” and complete only the first essay.

We caution you against writing the second prompt if you feel no passion or interest for it. Why? It’s important that you avoid writing an essay that seems forced or inauthentic.

The admissions committee will be able to tell right away that your essay doesn’t accurately describe your passions.

However, perhaps your heart is torn between becoming a computer science major or studying English to become a teacher.

  • Writing two essays in this situation would be beneficial because it gives you the opportunity to express your interests in two different spheres.

For example:

  • In the first essay, you may discuss how you have been drawn to a computer science degree ever since you took a coding summer course at a local university.
  • You might discuss how you see yourself working in a career that would allow you to be both creative and exact in your daily work.
  • Then, in your second essay, you could discuss how becoming an English teacher would allow you to pursue a career path that would make a difference in the daily lives of young people.
  • You could describe your experience in the tutoring club at your high school and how great it feels to be able to help a peer improve their schoolwork.

There are other situations for which you should write two essays.

  • Perhaps you are passionate about one program but you also want to explore your options once in college.
  • You could write one essay for the General Studies track and another for your more specific interest.

You might also consider whether you are applying for a program that is particularly competitive.

  • If that’s the case, you may want to write two essays in order to show admissions that you don’t have an “engineering or nothing else” mentality.
  • If you don’t get into the program that you want right away, there are often other opportunities in college to switch majors.

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UIUC Supplemental Essay #1: A Journey From Interest to Degree to Career

In this essay, you are asked to explain how you explored or developed your interest in a particular major. It’s important to realize that the path to choosing a major is filled with countless, subconscious micro decisions.

Look back at the questions above regarding choosing a major.

  • Did any of your experiences in a class, participating in an extracurricular, or working inspire you to make that choice?

You also want to consider what you have done to explore your potential career choice after recognizing your interest.

  • Did you sign up for a Marine Biology-themed summer camp program after taking Environmental Science in 9th grade?
  • Or maybe you chose to take a fourth science and math class even when it was optional at your high school.

These are important choices that you want to mention in your essay.

Whenever possible, describe both inspiration and initiative as they are related to your essay.

  • “Inspiration” refers to the people, places, experiences, or events that shaped your future degree and career goals.
  • “Initiative” means specific choices that you have made to further explore your interests.
  • In the example above, your science teacher’s class may have been a catalyst and inspiration for pursuing a career in biology.
  • Choosing to go to a science summer camp and taking an extra academic class reflects initiative on your part.
  • These two factors work together to tell your story.

Remember that there are thousands of people submitting essays and many of them may have similar interests.

Therefore, you must include specific details to tell your personal story.

In order to accomplish this, consider using emotional and descriptive language to elevate your writing.

For example:

  • Rather than saying “I took another academic science class because I liked it,”
  • …you might instead write, “Deciding to give up an elective course in order to take a challenging science class was difficult. However, I told myself that the late nights of studying and homework would be worth it. I left my first class elated and felt instinctively that I had made the right decision.”

If you are choosing “General Studies,” transfer this advice to describing your academic interests and strengths.

  • Perhaps you have been taking band since you were in the 6th grade.

This is an opportunity to explore that journey and to highlight your many joys and successes over the past seven years.

For this option, you may need to narrow down your variety of interests to 2-3 for the sake of the word count.

  • Think about which topics you can write most passionately about and those for which you have examples of inspiration and initiative (as defined above).
  • If you do have an idea of what you would like to do as a career or majors you are considering, you should mention them in your essay.

Regardless of whether you are writing about a particular major or general program, remember that you can use examples from experiences in or outside of school.

Be descriptive in telling your story and be selective with your details in order to stay within the maximum word count of 400 words.

Linking Experiences to Career Goals

Once you have discussed your interests and experiences, connect your story to your future career goals.

Although your professional life post-graduation may seem very far away, remember that the admissions committee is looking at the big picture. They want to understand how and why their program(s) will propel you to where you need to be in order to achieve your dreams.

In this section, it’s even more important to use emotional language as you are discussing not only your dreams but also your identity.

Describe to your readers why you feel called to enter this particular line of work. Consider these questions in preparation for writing:

  • What do you think you could bring to the field?
  • What do you want to accomplish?
  • Why do you think this line of work is important?

Connect back to ideas that you established early on in describing your interests. If you spend the beginning of your essay talking about your amazing experience on a hiking trip and how much you like the outdoors but then tell the reader you would like to study Culinary Arts, your essay will be disjointed.

However, perhaps on your hiking trip, you learned how to identify edible plants and picked mushrooms that you later cooked in a group class. This specificity now allows you to connect your interest, which, at first, seemed unrelated to your career goal.

UIUC Supplemental Essay 1 Examples

UIUC Essay Prompt 1 Example:

The feeling still gives me a rush. After pouring my heart and soul out onto the editor, scripting programmatic prose in the form of for-loops and conditional statements, I move my cursor towards the horizontal green triangle and click: magically, my name appears on the console line. From the early days of “Hello, World!” to the startup websites and newspaper mobile apps, my penchant for programming developed due to my insatiable appetite for turning ideas into an interactive reality using lines of text. However, the topic that has increasingly piqued my interest has repercussions that could potentially reduce the need for me to program at all.

Don’t get me wrong: after reading about the notion of “machine learning” for the first time, I was still particularly hesitant. Teaching a computer to think? It just didn’t seem like a plausible idea, nonetheless even practical. As time went by, more news notifications popped up on my phone containing this specific buzz phrase, and I became less and less naive and more and more curious regarding its applications. Eventually, at my first internship, I finally got a chance to build my first neural network and see exactly what everyone had been fussing over. I hurriedly perused through an incredibly technical textbook, copied down the shortest example I could find, and hit run. I closely watched as a succinct collection of 60 lines of code became trained to classify handwritten digits, doing so with a stellar accuracy of over 90%. Since then, I can confess to spending hours in the office with the sole purpose of feeding networks dozens of types of images: HeLa cells, dogs and cats, sets of fashion clothing, you name it. Every time I hit run, I become in awe at how a couple of words can somehow learn to act like a human; yet, I contemplate further about how this “revolution” of artificial intelligence has just begun. After all, maybe the ways in which we see this technology driving the future of our world are a tad bit too crazy; at the same time, maybe they’re not crazy enough.

Here’s another UIUC Essay Prompt 1 Example:

Thinking about the “why” when it comes to business always keeps me going. For me, the “why” is not about the money. Thus, after months of researching how to alleviate poverty in India, my friends and I founded Palm Empower, a nonprofit that connects underprivileged artisans and their products to American consumers; the artisans then keep the profits. 

As communications director, I facilitated our partnership with the charity Ekal Vidyalaya, who linked us to families in Jharkhand that were interested in creating products for us to sell. Once the products were manufactured and shipped, I combined supply-chain strategies to my co-founders’ distribution services and negotiated product pricing with American consumers to generate sales. 

Afterward, we focused our marketing on connecting directly to buyers and donors. I collaborated with my co founders to present our idea at local events and tell the true stories of the Indian families we were trying to help. We sold 300 products and raised another $1,000 for our mission on our first day. 

I built the abilities to manage my nonprofit after extensive work as part of student council. As director of policy, I catalyzed change amongst our student body in order to improve our school environment. For example, many students wanted to take action when it came to eating food: The traditional cafeteria setting was sometimes unacceptable to students, who wanted to enjoy a half hour of leisure during their seven-hour school day in a different way. As the summer season approached, I introduced initiatives to the principal that would enable students to eat lunch outside in one of our courtyards. This would let students to enjoy their meals in a picnic-like setting. After students took turns signing our petition, and the principal eventually approved the plan. 

My experience in building our message through Palm Empower and student council has helped me discover my passion for solving problems through creativity and social entrepreneurship. I want to use principles of business management to defeat financial instability. Although this issue is complex, I will do my part to reduce poverty through innovation and learn the nuances of creating social ventures. Ultimately, I want to start a business similar to my nonprofit and fight for those facing financial instability. 

Advice from the University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Admissions Page

On the Urbana Champaign website, the undergraduate admissions page lists six different qualities they look for in an essay. Below, we will outline questions related to those qualities that you should ask yourself before writing and submitting your essay:

Be Memorable.

  • Could any high school student have written my essay, or is it specific to my story?
  • Did I use emotional language and description?
  • Do I give enough detail for my readers to understand my experiences?

Be Prepared.

  • Did I brainstorm before writing my essay?
  • Am I aware of important deadlines?
  • Have I asked a peer or adult to proofread my essay and give me feedback?

Be Yourself.

  • Is my response honest?
  • Can I hear my own voice in my writing?
  • Did I use specific examples to support my statements?

Be Direct.

  • Have I adhered to the word count limit?
  • Am I careful about word choice and clarity of my writing?
  • Have I omitted any vague statements that leave my reader needing more information?

Be Focused.

  • Have I fully answered all parts of the prompt?
  • Do I effectively use transitions to move from one topic to another?
  • Can my reader tell the interrelatedness of my interests and career goals?

Be Professional.

  • Do I use a formal tone with my reader?
  • Did I check my response for spelling and grammar errors?
  • Does my essay reflect maturity on my part?

Conclusion: The University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Supplemental Essays

In this guide, we have reviewed important strategies for writing a powerful essay that is sure to impress the admissions committee.

Don’t feel nervous if you have not already decided on a major. As discussed, the essay prompt guides you to reflect on your strengths and goals instead.

If the school expected you to already be committed, that likely would not have been an option in the prompt.

Before submitting, review your essay one last time.

If you have been thoughtful, reflective, and precise, you are ready to send your response onward.