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The Requirements: 2-3 essays of 150 words each
Supplemental Essay Type(s): Why
The admissions committee at the University Illinois Urbana Champaign wants to know about your academic interests and career goals. The prompts change slightly depending on whether you’re hoping to attend with a declared major or not. Regardless, you should be prepared to write concisely and authentically about your plans and goals!
For this essay, describe an experience you’ve had that relates to your first-choice major. Admissions is literally asking you to speak about this experience in detail, so don’t hold back. Did you work on a science experiment that taught you about the basics of organic chemistry? Maybe you watched those crazy robotics videos online and thought, “Hmm, I should understand how those work so I can protect my future family when A.I. takes over in 2050.” (I mean, honestly, have they not watched Black Mirror?!) Throughout high school, you’ve been exposed to so many different subjects, and admissions wants to know why this one in particular has caught your eye.
After explaining why your major is the right choice for you, look ahead five or ten years and imagine how it will catapult you into a fulfilling career—one that you may not have access to otherwise. Maybe when you were younger, you fell in love with stargazing and memorizing constellations and knew you wanted to be involved in a space-related field when you grew up—UIUC’s Astronomy program will help you get there! Build a bridge between your past and your future for admissions so they can see your commitment and demonstrated interest in this field.
There’s only one trick to generating a straightforward explanation of your academic interests: be honest. Since you probably don’t know what you want to major in or are in the process of paring down your list, don’t waste time trying to think of what admissions “wants” you to say! Choosing anything other than your true interests would be a misrepresentation of who you are and a disservice to you and the admissions office. To narrow your focus, try to tell a story with your choices. How can you use your life experiences to reveal something about what you value and what excites you intellectually?
Try to illustrate a general inclination (e.g., journalism, English, and media/cinema studies go hand-in-hand). Or if you really feel like you could go any direction, try to show a balance, picking majors across fields that link to each other in a way that makes sense (e.g., mathematics, linguistics, and music composition all use special notations). Do whatever you can do to give admissions the full picture of who you are.
Even if you’re undecided, it’s important to remember that UIUC seeks to invite movers and shakers to campus, students with big dreams and plans to make them happen. You don’t have to use this prompt to outline your 30-page plan for eliminating world hunger—in fact, with only 150 words to work with, we definitely advise against it! Think about the areas that pique your interest and where your curiosity originated. Was it a philosophy class you took junior year? Or, perhaps what spurred your interest wasn’t a class at all. Maybe you knew you wanted to be at the forefront of the fight against climate change and global warming after watching a poignant documentary with your family that hit close to home. How do you plan to contribute to this effort and how will your time at UIUC set you up for carbon neutral success? (Maybe their Natural Resources and Environmental Sciences major is a good place to start?) Whatever way you decide to answer this prompt, be sure to show admissions that you have an actionable, long-term goal in mind.
For this essay, admissions understands that you haven’t got it all figured out yet. And that’s okay! A lot of very successful people have leapt in and out of various disciplines or have even found common ground where they overlap (think philosophy and economics or agriculture and business). You’re allowed (encouraged, even!) to have many interests, and admissions wants to know where your strengths lie.
Why does this secondary area of education appeal to you? What applications can you see blossoming from studying in this field? We recommend doing another dive into UIUC’s course offerings to show that this isn’t just an afterthought; additionally, feel free to share any previous experiences (in or out of the classroom) that have led you to this choice. Once you’ve succinctly demonstrated your interest, look to the future and explain how UIUC’s offerings will help you achieve your end-goals when it comes to your selected second-choice area of study.