Take Lesson 7 of College Essay Academy!
The Requirements: Answer two essay prompts of roughly 250 words each.
The first of UVA’s two required essays is specific to the school within UVA to which you will be applying. In most cases, the prompt bears some relation to the classic “Why” essay, which probes for the reasons you are a good fit for a school and vice versa. When you search for answers to this prompt, think about why you want to study what you want to study. What past experiences and commitments will show admissions that you are truly committed to the field you’re interested in. And how might you act on your passions and interests?
The small curve ball in these UVA “Why” prompts is that many of them ask you to demonstrate your interest by discussing a topic or providing a specific example of something that inspires you within your chosen field. In these cases, you won’t be talking about why you want to pursue your chosen field in the abstract, but rather you will prove your interest on the spot with your examination of the subject you choose.
What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
This is one of those curve balls we were just referring to. In asking you about an academic or artistic work that has captured your attention, UVA is asking you to put your love of the arts and sciences on display (which in turn will prove your interest in the school you’re applying to). These kinds of questions can be tricky if specific examples don’t immediately come to mind. Try to avoid the obvious (no Great Gatsby, please) unless you have a hyper-personal connection to the material at hand. Instead, search for concepts, ideas, art and stories that ignited your curiosity, made you fall in love with a subject, or pushed you to new academic heights. We recommend going through your bookshelf and old school notebooks to start to collect ideas worth expanding upon.
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?
Again, with this prompt UVA wants to see your interest in a subject in action. If you are an aspiring engineering and applied sciences student and those fields are a good fit for your passions and skills, you will very likely be excited by this prompt. After all, it takes a creative and innovative mind to invent something that improves the lives of others – and as an engineer or applied scientist that is exactly what you will be signing up to do. We recommend starting this prompt by interviewing some of the people that are close to you and asking them about the simple annoyances and inconveniences of their daily lives. This should give you some initial ideas for problems that need solving so you can put on your thinking cap and invent some thoughtful solutions. Again, try to stay away from the obvious here. And do your research to make sure the thing you’re trying to create hasn’t already been invented!
Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
Answering this prompt requires an interesting combo of creative interest in action and traditional why essay elements. In asking you to describe an inspiration, admissions is not simply asking you to identify something that has motivated your interest – they also want to know WHY the landmark, building, or other element of design struck your fancy. Feel free to expand upon how being exposed to creativity pushed you to explore your own talents. Another helpful hint: using terminology that showcases a command of design and architecture concepts can be really helpful in showing admissions your commitment to the field.
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.
This is yet another prompt from UVA that asks students to detail a specific experience to prove interest in a field of study. It is a bit closer to a traditional why essay in that students should make sure, not just to discuss the experience that led them to pursue nursing, but also to connect that experience to their larger goals for the future. If there are elements of the UVA program that support your particular interest or connect to the experience you choose to highlight, definitely build those bridges to show admissions you are familiar with the programs UVA has to offer and have already connected how your experiences will help you achieve future academic success.
Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
This is a straight up “why” essay. As such, it asks you to detail your background and exposure to the field of kinesiology and the inspiration and experiences that led you to want to pursue this passion academically and professionally. Be sure to highlight specific activities and experiences from your past to showcase a history of commitment to the field. It also can’t hurt to highlight some of the elements of the UVA kinesiology program that are of interest to you. There is no better way to prove your interest in a school and your determination to master a subject than to show you understand a school’s offerings and have thought through how you will best use the resources at your disposal to accomplish your goals.
This prompt has been posed by UVA for a few years in a row now, and it’s one that students usually love or hate. If this question immediately tickles your fancy and you have an idea for the word you’d like to highlight, go for it! If you look at this prompt and feel totally stuck, but still want to try answering it, try this trick: What might you tell admissions about yourself that they haven’t already heard from you in your Common App essay? Is there something in your history and experience worth expanding upon? Once you’ve identified what you want to discuss, think about what words might be helpful launch points for describing that experience and back into your “favorite word.” This is also a great strategy for choosing a word that is slightly less expected than those submitted by the average applicant.
This is another prompt that has appeared on past UVA applications. Most students we’ve worked with seem to have difficulty defining the word “quirk” as it applied to themselves. We like to think of a quirk as something you do regularly that is a bit bizarre or charming. For example, our founder often bursts into spontaneous song when she’s happy. (Don’t tell her we told you.) What might that say about her? That she’s an optimist and an extrovert? That she knows all the words to The Little Mermaid’s “Part of Your World”? (She does.) Whatever you choose to highlight, it should reveal something to admissions about your character and personality. If you don’t think you have quirks, you’re probably just not attuned to them – they’re hard to identify from the inside. So maybe ask a parent or a friend if you do anything out of habit that makes them laugh or even shake their heads in mock disapproval. You’d be surprised what you do routinely and never notice!
Responding to this prompt is a fantastic way to showcase an area of interest or passion you have not had the opportunity to expand on already. Maybe you want to teach an entire course of the history of rock poster art. Or pizza-making. Can you combine two of the things you love and discuss the unusual ways in which these things intersect with and influence each other? Make sure you are answering the question and that you frame your subject of interest as something that would make for an interesting course. And try not to limit yourself to the academic – many subjects can be explored through an intellectual lens if you approach them in an unexpected and creative way.
This prompt choice is glorious in its infinite potential. You can choose to elaborate on anything about which you feel passionately here. Do you want to send a message to your fellow students about the environment? Maybe you want to rally students to join you at a demonstration of some kind. What is important to you, and what might be important to communicate to other people in your community? Essays responding to this prompt tend to lean in the direction of activism and community engagement, but don’t feel limited to these angles – anything you want to share with other UVA students is fair game, as long as it is reflective of something about which you feel strongly. After all, you’re trying to communicate what it important to you, both to the community and to admissions.
While this prompt could seem like the perfect opportunity to elaborate on your community service experience, circle back and take another look. UVA wants to see how the pursuit of academic knowledge has made you a better person. How have you “used what learned” to make the world a better place? So, rather than starting with a personal story, we’d encourage you to dig through your memories of your favorite classes. When has a teacher, or text, or debate opened your eyes and inspired you to take action? How has it stuck in your mind and affected the way you see and interact with others? These connections can be hard to force, so if nothing springs to mind, consider picking another prompt. That said, maybe a heated debate over Huckleberry Finn taught you a thing or two about how the personal can become political; and maybe embracing these conversations in your personal life helped create a safe space for other people in your community.How have you made a positive impact on someone’s life in an unexpected way? Maybe it was your little cousin who you’ve babysat since you were thirteen, who you taught how to read and now he looks up to you and has one more role model in his life. Think outside the box about a truly rewarding relationship.