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The Requirements: 4 short essays of 120 words
For the 2020-21 Undergraduate Application, the following essay questions will be included. All four questions are required for a complete application. Responses will be limited to 120 words per question.
Chances are, you’ve done some community service at some point in your life, and this prompt asks you to reflect on that experience. The prompt is clear about what it wants you to cover and lays out a basic list of questions that we’d expect you to answer regardless: from some basic details about your involvement to the personal values that inspired you to get involved. You only have 120 words, so you will have to cut straight to the chase. In some ways, this is a glorified resume entry, but you can bring it to life by devoting more of your word count to concrete, personal details than to a verbatim recitation of the organization’s mission and vision (or worse, a bloated list of clichés related to the value of service). Why do you care so deeply about a particular cause or community? What change do you hope to see in the world? Remember that, fundamentally, community service is not about personal glory or achievement. Did you volunteer at a hospital over the summer? Describe how this affected your beliefs about what doctors owe their patients and vice versa. Have you been fundraising for girls’ education in developing countries? Reflect on what drew you to this cause and how you knew your efforts had paid off. For bonus points, talk about how you’d like to continue your service on Virginia Tech’s campus.
Wow. This multi-part required question does not pull its punches. While both the Common App and the Coalition offer prompts about making the world a better place, neither poses a question this direct about discrimination or its possible solutions. That said, one general piece of advice should still apply to this essay: think carefully about the topic you choose to address. This prompt asks you to share a personal anecdote about a time you witnessed discrimination, and in so doing, is also mining for your views on the definition of discrimination, communities that face it, and your own social responsibility. Although we always encourage students to draw on their life experience (and this prompt requires it), this is the one case where some emotional distance could be helpful. It can be hard to analyze memories that still make us feel anger, shame, or any strong emotion. So be sure you are prepared to answer every part of this prompt in a complete, level-headed manner. (And in only 120 words!) You will need to be descriptive without completely reliving the situation; you will need to explain what you learned without getting up on a soapbox.
If we were to rephrase the prompt, we would write: Describe a situation where you were involved or witness to an act of discrimination. What did you do in the moment? What happened to you or your community after this event? What did you learn?
At a glance, this might seem like a question about leadership, but secretly, it’s about collaboration. What is the role that you choose in group situations, and how do you connect to others? The greatest challenge may be choosing the right story. Any time you worked with others is fair game, so don’t restrict yourself merely to your science fair project or the baseball team. This is also a great opportunity to write about a professional experience (your first time working as a hostess!) or even community service (organizing the town coat drive!). Since the word limit is relatively tight, you’ll want to zero in on a specific moment or challenge. And remember that this question is about collaboration. It’s not just about how you saved the day, but about how you interacted with and supported a larger group. How did your contribution contribute to your team’s ultimate success (or failure)? If you’re talking about a large group (leading a tour group of 50 people!), perhaps you’ll want to focus on the values or goals that are strong enough to unite such a large group of people. In the end, you should be driving at a lesson that you will be able to carry with you into the future. In other words: an experience that will have a positive impact on your collaborative work at Virginia Tech.
This seemingly broad prompt bears more similarities to Question 3 than you might think. On its face, it seems to be asking about you as an individual as well as your personal goals. But at its core, it is mining for information about what inspires you, and most importantly, when and how you seek help. At 17, not all of us have clearly stated life goals, so it might be easier to start by brainstorming a list of times when you had to ask for outside help. The most meaningful stories will likely come from your personal life, when you sought help for something that mattered to you. Low stakes or high stakes, the best topics will reveal new information about who you are and what matters to you. Here are two examples: