Not sure how to approach the UVA essay prompts? With tips from an Ivy League graduate, CollegeAdvisor.com’s guide to the UVA supplemental essays will show you exactly how to write engaging UVA essays and maximize your chances of admission. If you need help crafting your UVA supplemental essays, create your free account or schedule your no-cost advising consultation with an Admissions Specialist by calling (844) 343-6272.


UVA essay guide quick facts:

  • With an acceptance rate of 23%, US News ranks UVA as the #25 research university in the nation.
  • US News categorizes UVA as a most selective university.
  • We recommend answering all UVA essay prompts—optional UVA essays included—thoroughly and thoughtfully.

Does the University of Virginia have supplemental essays?

Yes—all students must complete several UVA supplemental essays to be considered for admission. Accordingly, UVA requires all applicants to complete two required UVA essays in addition to the personal statement that you’ll encounter within the Common App or the Coalition App.

One of your UVA supplemental essays will relate to the specific college where you have chosen to apply, such as UVA’s College of Arts and SciencesSchool of ArchitectureSchool of EngineeringSchool of Nursing, or School of Kinesiology. Your other UVA essay will relate more to your own identity.

How many essays are required for the University of Virginia?

There are two required UVA supplemental essays. The first of the UVA essays addresses your chosen field and major. The second of the UVA supplemental essays centers around your own identity. Both required UVA supplemental essays can make a major difference in admissions.

Are the University of Virginia essays important?

Yes, the University of Virginia supplemental essays are an important aspect of your application. In fact, all of the UVA essays give admissions officers a different perspective on what you’ll bring to UVA. So, think of the UVA essay prompts as an opportunity for you to show the admissions team what makes you unique and why you belong at UVA.

With an acceptance rate of just 23%, UVA is a competitive school. The UVA essay prompts give you the chance to stand out from the crowd by offering AOs a glimpse into who you are and what matters to you. To maximize your admissions odds, you’ll want to spend as much time perfecting your UVA supplemental essays as possible!

How do I write a supplemental essay for the University of Virginia?

The best UVA supplemental essays will do two things. First, they will showcase your personality, identity, and values. Second, they will draw connections between your interests and UVA itself. In short, admissions officers should finish reading your UVA supplemental essays with a clear understanding of who you are and why you belong at UVA.

Remember, your UVA supplemental essays are your chance to help admissions officers get to know you. A strong sense of personality and voice, therefore, will make your UVA essays shine. As you consider the UVA supplemental essays 2021, look for the unique stories you can tell that will help your application stand out.

Research

In order to prepare for the UVA essay prompts, you might research UVA’s extracurricular offerings, courses, traditions, and campus culture. As you look through UVA’s website, think about what specific opportunities UVA could offer you. For example, if you are interested in medicine, you might discuss your desire to do research at UVA’s nationally recognized hospital. You could also strengthen your University of Virginia supplemental essays by describing one of UVA’s 800+ student groups. Or, you might also choose to focus on a tradition like the Lighting of the Lawn that you witnessed years ago and that made you excited to apply.

Whichever topic you address in the UVA essay prompts, make sure to emphasize why you want to attend UVA over any other school. By describing the specific reasons why UVA interests you, you can show the admissions team that you’ve thought carefully about your application. These details will also make your UVA essays more authentic.

How do you answer the University of Virginia essays?

In a word—authentically!

As you approach the UVA essay prompts, make sure you center your answer around your unique perspective. Avoid vague or broad statements; instead, focus on specific details about UVA (and about you!) that matter most. The strongest UVA essays will give readers a window into an applicant’s inner life while also showing them how this applicant would fit into the UVA community.

Let’s break down the UVA supplemental essays and discuss strategies to help your essay stand out. We’ll begin with the first set of prompts, of which you will choose one.

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021 – Question 1

What is your favorite word and why? (250 words max)

At first glance, this UVA essay prompt might seem frivolous. Remember, however, that the UVA supplemental essays are intended to help the admissions team learn more about who you are. So, if you choose this question, use the first of the UVA essay prompts to show the admissions officers what makes you unique!

As you approach the UVA supplemental essays, you should think less about the actual word you choose and more about what this choice of word reveals about you. In other words, think about words that are unique, appropriate, and significant to you. Don’t choose a word just because it will stand out. Instead, focus on why a specific word matters to you. For example, you shouldn’t choose the word “lullaby” if it had no deeper meaning to you. Remember, your goal in this UVA essay is to help the admissions team learn more about your identity.

Begin your response to the first of the UVA essay prompts by stating your favorite word. Then, offer some context on why this word—and the ideas that it represents—matters to you. Finally, end the first of your UVA essays by applying your chosen word to your identity, background, or values.

UVA Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Have you conveyed your favorite word in a clear manner?
  • Does your chosen word represent your curiosity and depth?
  • Have you conveyed to the reader why this word is important to you?

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021- Question 2

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. (250 words max)

In the UVA supplemental essays, you have the chance to emphasize parts of your personality that the admissions team would not normally see. So, how do you make your University of Virginia supplemental essays memorable and genuine? If you choose this second of the UVA essay prompts, you’ll have a great chance to showcase what makes you unique.

This UVA essay should help your reader envision you—quirks and all—as a member of the UVA community. Think about something special that defines you. For instance, you might wear a lucky jersey before every game or always draw hearts over your lowercase i’s. Like the first of the UVA essay prompts, the success of this UVA essay depends less on what you discuss and more on how you discuss it.

All of your UVA supplemental essays should help your reader learn something new about you. So, whatever quirk you describe in your UVA essay, make sure this quirk reveals something important about your identity. Don’t include meaningless details; instead, focus on specific and significant things you do that make you unique.

UVA Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does the quirk you describe reveal something important about you?
  • Does your essay convey your quirk in a clear manner?
  • Have you conveyed to the reader why it is part of who you are?

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021- Question 3

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? (250 words max)

This third of the UVA essay prompts asks you to think about your interests through the lens of UVA’s culture. Like the other UVA supplemental essays, the third of the UVA essay prompt asks you to illustrate both your own identity and how you would fit in at UVA. If you’re invested in joining an intellectual community, then, you might choose this prompt!

While this UVA essay might seem purely academic, you don’t need to approach it this way. According to the prompt, UVA’s Flash Seminars revolve around “thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework.” The term “thought-provoking” can mean many things. As you prepare for this UVA essay, think about which topics you would love to discuss with a room full of intellectually engaged UVA students.

Complementary topics

The topic you choose for the third of your University of Virginia supplemental essays should complement the other aspects of your application. This doesn’t mean you can’t describe an interest that you haven’t already addressed! However, keep in mind that your responses to the UVA essay prompts should work together to give the admissions team a complete understanding of your identity, background, interests, and values. Every topic you discuss in your University of Virginia supplemental essays, therefore, should contribute to this understanding. This means that if you’ve spent your whole application describing your interest in poetry and desire to study literature, you might want to think twice before writing an essay about neuroscience (unless, of course, this topic appears elsewhere in your application).

Once again, make sure this third of your UVA essays focuses on why your chosen topic matters to you. As you structure your response, first, describe the topic that you’d explore in a Flash Seminar. Then, discuss why this topic matters to you. What about this topic excites or inspires you? What about it would you want to discuss in a Flash Seminar? How might the UVA community deepen your understanding of this topic?

In this UVA essay, you don’t necessarily have to discuss your opinion on your chosen topic. However, you can focus on how you would contribute to class discussions at UVA. The UVA supplemental essays are meant to exhibit your personality and individuality. In reading your UVA essay, therefore, the admissions team should understand how you will positively contribute to your UVA cohort.

UVA Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Do you choose a unique topic to discuss in a Flash Seminar?
  • Does your chosen topic enhance the rest of your application?
  • Do you clarify why this topic matters to you?
  • Does your essay show how you would contribute to the intellectual life of UVA?

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021 – Question 4

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? (250 words max)

Like the other University of Virginia supplemental essays, the fourth of the UVA essay prompts asks you to use UVA’s traditions to showcase what makes you unique. For this UVA essay, it might help to do some research: you might look up the Beta Bridge to get inspiration. However, don’t get hung up on the messages other students have painted; instead, choose a message that represents who you are.

Your topic should reflect your core values and identity. It might even relate to the qualities you’ve shown in your other University of Virginia supplemental essays. Maybe you want to share advice to future students or a phrase that connects to you. So, whatever message you choose for this UVA essay, make sure that you explain the meaning and reason for your choice. Additionally, keep in mind that Beta Bridge is used to “share information with [UVA’s] community.” The message you describe, therefore, should be impactful to a broader audience than just yourself.

Begin the fourth of your UVA supplemental essays by stating your chosen message. Then, describe the reasons why this message matters to you and what you think it would contribute to the UVA community. Don’t be tempted by clichés—the best responses to the fourth of the UVA essay prompts will be genuine and unique.

UVA Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your chosen message reflect your identity and values?
  • Do you describe the significance of the message you would write on the Beta Bridge?
  • Do you detail what this message means and what would it mean to others that view it?
  • Does your essay reveal the kind of community member you would be at UVA?

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021 – Question 5

Rita Dove, UVA English professor and former U.S. Poet Laureate, once said in an interview that “…there are times in life when, instead of complaining, you do something about your complaints.” Describe a time when, instead of complaining, you took action for the greater good. (250 words max)

Of all the University of Virginia supplemental essays, this might be the most conventional. Simply put, this UVA essay asks you to describe a time when you chose to act to solve a problem and, in doing so, served your community.

While the other UVA supplemental essays focus on your interiority, the fifth of the UVA essay prompts allows you to share a distinct story of a time you made a difference. Choose an event that illustrates your commitment to helping others. The event you choose should also help your readers visualize how you will continue to enrich your community within UVA. Begin your UVA essay by explaining the problem you faced and how you solved it. How did solving this problem contribute to your community? What challenges did you face? How did this experience influence the broader ways you operate as a leader and community member?

If you haven’t done a lot of community organizing or leadership work, this prompt might seem intimidating. However, it doesn’t have to be. Strong UVA supplemental essays can address a wide variety of topics! You might have done something as large-scale as organizing a protest against police brutality or something as small-scale as lobbying your school district to serve meals during the pandemic. When it comes to the UVA supplemental essays, the most important thing is that you show your commitment to serving others in your community—whatever the scale.

UVA Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your essay describe how you helped others by solving a problem?
  • Do you reveal how you’ll be an impactful community member at UVA?
  • Do you clarify why your solution to this problem influenced the greater good?

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021– College-Specific (Arts & Sciences)

What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way? (250 words max)

Generally speaking, the college-specific University of Virginia supplemental essays should show the UVA admissions team why you belong in a particular college at UVA. The best college-specific UVA supplemental essays will help the admissions team envision you on their campus. In short, use this UVA essay as your chance to show off your thoughtfulness, intellect, and dedication to your chosen field.

Pay attention to the specific language used in the first of the UVA essay prompts. UVA asks you to discuss an intellectual concept that has “surprised, unsettled, or challenged you.” This UVA essay isn’t asking you to describe your favorite book or song; instead, it asks you to discuss how you engaged on an analytical level with a particular idea or piece of work.

Keep it concise

First, describe your topic. Since you only have 250 words, you shouldn’t feel obligated to include a longwinded anecdote about your interests (though you can always include a brief story to help engage your reader). Then, move into why and how this topic “surprised, unsettled, or challenged you.” For instance, you could discuss how a novel by an author from another cultural background made you think about global issues in a different light. Or, you might discuss how a particular scientific discovery challenged your understanding of the world. Strong UVA essays will help the UVA admissions team understand how a student engages intellectually with the world.

Finally, while you can mention UVA’s specific offerings, don’t feel obligated to answer this prompt as you would a “Why UVA” essay. With only 250 words, don’t focus on the classes you hope to take at UVA or the reasons you think you’d be a good fit. Instead, show the admissions team why your thoughtfulness and intellect would make you an asset to their campus.

UVA Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your UVA essay describe one (and only one) concept or piece of work that surprised, unsettled, or challenged you?
  • Do you explain why this concept surprised, unsettled, or challenged you?
  • Does your essay foreground your intellect and critical thinking skills?
  • Does your essay show why you’d be a good fit at UVA’s College of Arts and Sciences?

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021– College Specific (Kinesiology)

Discuss an experience that led you to apply to the kinesiology major. (250 words max)

When trying to choose your topics for any of the University of Virginia supplemental essays, do some research. The college-specific UVA supplemental essays address why you want to attend a particular college at UVA. Students who know specific details about the programs they’ve chosen will write the best UVA essays!

This particular UVA supplemental essay prompt asks what specific experience sparked your interest in kinesiology at UVA. Avoid general statements, such as “I’ve always been interested in kinesiology and that’s why I want to pursue a major in the field.” This UVA essay prompt asks you to “discuss an experience”—that is, you’ll want to cite a specific event or circumstance that made you interested in kinesiology. For instance, you might talk about how being a dancer made you interested in the body’s ability to create fluid movements. The strongest UVA supplemental essays will address the specific reasons why kinesiology interests you.

To enhance your response to this prompt for the University of Virginia supplemental essays, research what makes UVA’s kinesiology program unique. For example, you might relate the program to your own experiences to emphasize a personal connection to the program and to UVA. Avoid repeating general information—everything you share should come back to your own interests and experiences. However, with only 250 words, don’t spend the majority of this UVA essay describing UVA. Instead, focus your UVA essay on the specific reasons why you want to study kinesiology.

UVA Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your UVA essay illustrate the specific reasons why you want to study kinesiology?
  • Do you discuss a particular experience that sparked your interest in kinesiology?
  • Does your essay help your reader envision you in UVA’s kinesiology program?
  • Is your essay about you?

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021– College Specific (Architecture)

Describe a significant experience that deepened your interest in studying in the School of Architecture. (250 words max)

Like the other college-specific University of Virginia supplemental essays, the UVA essay prompt for the College of Architecture asks what experience provoked your interest in the major.

Start by doing some research on the College of Architecture. Think about any experiences you’ve had that align with UVA’s architecture program. If you do not have vast established experience with architecture, don’t worry! UVA doesn’t expect you to have a full architecture portfolio; instead, the admissions team just wants to know what experience has sparked your interest in architecture.

Think about what sparked your interest in studying architecture at UVA. To get some ideas for your UVA essay, you might brainstorm on any experiences you’ve had that relate to architecture. Strong UVA supplemental essays can come from a wide variety of places, so don’t discount any of your experiences! Perhaps you often binge shows on HGTV, or maybe you have every copy of Architectural Digest. Maybe you had an inspiring internship with a designer or structural engineer that made you want to pursue architecture. Whatever topic you choose, make sure you emphasize your personal connection to architecture alongside your desire to study in UVA’s program.

Want some extra help creating your UVA School of Architecture application? Check out CollegeAdvisor.com articles on choosing an architecture program and applying to architecture schools. Listen to the UVA School of Architecture’s Dean discuss their strengths and values in this video below.

UVA Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your UVA essay describe a specific experience that sparked your interest in architecture?
  • Do you use specific details to tell your story?
  • Do the interests you describe in your essay align with UVA’s offerings?

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021– College Specific (Nursing)

Describe a healthcare-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying nursing. (250 words max)

Like the other college-specific University of Virginia supplemental essays, the College of Nursing prompt asks you to describe an experience that fostered your interest in healthcare.

As you choose a topic for this UVA essay, try to highlight an experience that shows depth. For example, avoid superficial experiences like watching Grey’s Anatomy; instead, you might focus on a shadowing experience you had in a lab or a meaningful conversation you had with a healthcare provider. You may also research the opportunities available at UVA to see what aligns with your interests. While you shouldn’t spend your whole essay discussing UVA’s programs, you should still have a strong sense of the school’s offerings to make your UVA essay as strong as possible.

Keep in mind that you don’t need to discuss formal medical experience in this UVA essay. Think about any ways you’ve interfaced with the medical profession. This could be through formal classes, informal conversations, or anything in between; anything that piqued your interest in healthcare can make a great topic for this UVA essay. For instance, if you took a public policy course that showed you the disparities within the current healthcare structure, highlight that in your essay. Finally, remember that while your choice of topic matters, the most important element of your UVA essay is how your topic relates back to you and your interests. The best UVA supplemental essays will be the most authentic!

UVA Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Do you cite specific experiences that fostered your interest in nursing?
  • Does your essay clearly represent your inspiration for pursuing nursing?
  • Do you illustrate a deep engagement with the healthcare field?

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021– College Specific (Engineering and Applied Sciences)

Describe an engineering feat that serves the common good and why it inspires you to study engineering. (250 words max)

The Engineering and Applied Sciences portion of the UVA supplemental essays ask you to describe an engineering venture that serves the common good and why it inspires you. In evaluating this UVA essay, therefore, the admissions team wants to see that you’ve thought deeply about how engineering can contribute to the world.

Think about why you want to study engineering. What do you want to make, and how will the things you make help improve the world? What feats have shown you what engineering can do for the world? Remember, the engineering feat you choose doesn’t need to be large-scale. If you’re struggling to find a topic, perhaps look at engineering projects that have made an impact on your own community.

Once you’ve chosen your topic for this UVA essay, it’s time to start drafting. Remember that the most important aspect of this UVA essay is why this engineering feat inspires you. Don’t get sidetracked by describing the intricate methodologies behind your chosen topic; instead, tie your essay back to you. Like the other University of Virginia supplemental essays, this UVA essay should connect to your experiences and emphasize your desire to study engineering at UVA.

UVA Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your essay make it clear why you want to study engineering?
  • Do you explain why your chosen feat contributed to the public good?
  • Does your response clarify why engineering matters to you?

Additional Tips for Writing your University of Virginia Supplemental Essays

  • Create a checklist for your UVA essays. Try and keep an outline handy as you write each supplemental essay. Make sure that you answer each of the UVA essay prompts in full by breaking down each question.
  • Prepare in advance. UVA’s Regular Decision deadline is January 3rd, which is coming up soon! You should begin looking at the UVA essay prompts as early as possible to ensure enough time for careful editing.
  • Avoid overthinking. Since most of the UVA essay prompts give you the freedom to express yourself, many students overthink what they should write. This can impede students’ ability to craft authentic University of Virginia supplemental essays.
  • Get multiple perspectives. It’s always good to have a second pair of eyes checking your UVA essays for tone, grammar, and clarity. For example, you might ask your counselor, teacher, or a CollegeAdvisor.com Admissions Expert to read over your University of Virginia supplemental essays to help make them as strong as possible.

UVA Supplemental Essays 2021 – Final Thoughts

Completing the UVA supplemental essays can seem like a daunting challenge, but don’t be discouraged from applying. Instead, view these UVA supplemental essays as an opportunity to introduce yourself to the admissions team. Well-written UVA essays can make a huge difference in admissions, especially if you’re applying with lower grades or test scores.

While doing your research on UVA consider reading the not-so-secret blog written by the Associate Dean in the Office of Admissions. Dean J shares important application information, as well as tips and tricks on completing your UVA supplemental essays.

Use resources like the blog and this guide to help you approach the UVA essay prompts with a solid strategy and a timeline that gives you a few months to create a draft and allow for revisions. Good luck!


This 2021-2022 essay guide on UVA was written by Arianna Lee, Dartmouth ‘17. Want more CollegeAdvisor.com resources on UVA or help crafting your UVA essays? Create your free account or schedule a complimentary advising assessment by calling (844) 343-6272.