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6 Awesome UVA Essay Examples

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UVA is a pretty selective school, so writing strong essays is essential to improving your chances. By reading former applicants’ essays and seeing what they did right and what they did wrong, you can learn how to better impress UVA admissions officers!

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Read our UVA essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts. 

Essay Example #1: College of Arts & Sciences

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

Cringing when thinking about human sacrifice in “Vida y muerte en el Templo Mayor,” I puzzled over the motive behind the Aztec practice of killing a person to appease the gods of nature.

 After a lengthy discussion with Mexican friends, I learned that Aztec civilization considered humans just one part of the natural world, rather than the dominant species. Only when the gods of nature are satisfied, they believed, can worldly creatures live in peace.

That’s when I recognized how I’ve been looking at the world from an anthropocentric model. Whether in the Four Heavenly Kings of Chinese mythology, or in the Bible story of Noah’s Ark my Christian grandma told, these stories revolve around humans’ survival and prosperity, and nature is just a backdrop.

The Aztec “nature-centric model,” truly challenged my perspective. Humans might not be as superior as we think; everything may not be about us. Reflecting on my motivations for advocating sustainability, I’m guilty of preserving the Earth for the sake of our human offspring, not for the Earth’s own sake.

The Aztec perception of humans’ relationship to nature inspired me to reconceptualize my own perspective. I expanded my framework from humanity to all creatures: why not consider the elephants our siblings, or the trees our cousins?

I reject the Aztec practice of human sacrifice, but their belief that we are but a tiny part of nature resonated deeply with me. Rather than protecting Earth with self-interest and fear, I now treat Earth with empathy and love.

What This Essay Did Well

This UVA essay is well-structured and well-written. It answers the prompt while providing valuable personal information about the applicant.

With the introduction, the student achieves the most important part of this essay: answering the prompt. This student identifies their topic of discussion— “Vida y muerte en el Templo Mayor,”— quickly, but keeps it interesting through using a complex sentence structure.

Rather than stating it explicitly, the author shows their desire to understand other cultures and positions themself as open-minded, as they took the time to have “lengthy discussion with Mexican friends.” 

The student also relates the story back to their interests and perspectives. They share how this book caused them to reflect on the way they’d been advocating for sustainability, and view their advocacy more holistically to benefit the earth itself rather than just humans. Presumably, this student is declaring environmental studies or environmental science as a major. That means that, while readers are learning about the student’s values, they also learn that values are the central motivation behind this student’s career choices. This self-reflection is important and looks great to admissions officers!

The conclusion of the essay perfectly summarizes the growth that the student has described. It shows the self-reflection that they have experienced, with some of their beliefs staying the same and others changing.

What Could Be Improved

While overall this essay is a great example, this paragraph is its weakest link:

That’s when I recognized how I’ve been looking at the world from an anthropocentric model. Whether in the Four Heavenly Kings of Chinese mythology, or in the Bible story of Noah’s Ark my Christian grandma told, these stories revolve around humans’ survival and prosperity, and nature is just a backdrop. 

That’s because this paragraph makes the error of telling, not showing . The student uses the summarizing phrase “that’s when I recognized” (which should generally be avoided) then continues to tell readers what they learned. Rather, the student could have provided a piece of dialogue from their discussion with their friend or used self-reflective questions to show us the message of this paragraph.

An example of how this paragraph could be improved:

“So you’re telling me that your culture doesn’t view humans as the main characters?” I asked my friend, still slightly baffled. When I got home, I went down a Google rabbit hole, obsessively researching Aztec beliefs. I landed on a page about the anthropocentric model. Had I been learning this model all along without even knowing? I thought about my Christian grandma’s stories—Noah’s arc, the Four Heavenly Kings, Genesis. They all revolve around humans’ survival and prosperity, and nature is just a backdrop.

This revised paragraph is much more captivating and would have strengthened the overall essay.

Essay Example #2: School of Architecture

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

During my freshman year, my studio art class arranged a field trip to the National Portrait Gallery. To say I was excited was an understatement. Although I have lived near DC all my life, I never had the chance to visit its art museums. This trip would be my first time. 

When we arrived, I stood in the courtyard, waiting for directions. I don’t remember what spurred me to look up, but when I did, the sight of a floating steel and glass canopy above amazed me. It was unlike anything else in the room. The undulant form of the ceiling reminded me of being underwater, looking up to see waves dancing. What struck me the most was how its sleek and modern design juxtaposed the gallery’s Greek revival architecture. 

I’ve gone back several times since then, each time appreciating something new from the ceiling—in the shelter, it provides from the outside elements to the beautiful grid of shadows it leaves on the ground and walls on sunny days. Inspired by the relationship between the ceiling and the rest of the gallery, I have sought out ways to combine contrasting styles like classic vs. modern, organic vs. geometric, hard vs. soft, and fine art vs. crafts in my art. I’ve become hyper-aware of the physical spaces I occupy and their functional yet artistic characteristics. While studying architecture at UVA, I hope to continue exploring these relationships and apply them to my architectural style. 

This essay clearly answers the prompt and provides a tangible example for readers. 

From the intro, it is clear that the experience will be visiting the National Portrait Gallery. 

The writer uses a simple writing style for most of the essay, but shows that this straightforwardness is not due to lack of ability or effort, but is intentionally authentic. Through the phrase “ I don’t remember what spurred me to look up” the writer lets readers know that they aren’t going to tell us anything that isn’t true. This value placed on authenticity is important and tells us a lot about the student.

The student uses elaborate language to emphasize the important part of their story. The description of the ceiling—“ The undulant form of the ceiling reminded me of being underwater, looking up to see waves dancing”— is interesting and engaging. It creates an image of the ceiling in the reader’s mind, but also makes the reader want to hear more!

This final paragraph ties it all together. We learn that the National Portrait Gallery’s architecture isn’t just cool, but is inspirational for this student. Additionally, through this paragraph, admissions officers learn that this student has thought out their decision to apply to UVA’s Architecture school. They are familiar with architectural styles and already think like an architect. A student who is ahead of the game and passionate about their field of study is very important to admissions officers!

The essay could be considered unengaging at times, but there is also beauty in its simplicity that gives it an authentic feel. It lacks the bells and whistles that often accompany college essay writing and just tells the writer’s truth. While this wouldn’t be a great essay if you’re applying to creative writing, it works well for this writer and this writer’s intentions!

Still, the intro paragraph could be improved through editing the second sentence: “ To say I was excited was an understatement.” Because this writer engages with a simple style (with little imagery or elaborate descriptions), they can use descriptive language strategically to emphasize certain scenes, emotions, or aspects of their story. Because they are applying to Architecture, their excitement about art is important and this excitement could have been emphasized through more elaborate language. This would also make the essay more engaging from the start and draw the reader’s attention.

Essay Example #3

We are a community of quirks, both in language and in traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are. (250 words)

I haven’t let another person cut my hair in four years. Bangs, layers, a fringe, a bob, I have been my own hairdresser. With only me, a mirror, and scissors in hand, I enjoy having complete control over my appearance. Cutting my hair is liberating; it’s like removing dead weight off my shoulders. Messing up isn’t a concern, as I know my hair will grow back. I am proud of the freedom I have with my hair, but I haven’t always been this way. 

 In traditional Quechua culture, women have long, braided hair. One braid indicates that a woman is single, while two means she is married. Growing up surrounded by women who kept their hair long, I desperately wanted to stand out but was too afraid to break tradition. I love my Quechua heritage, but as a young girl, I thought it was silly to have braids when I wasn’t even allowed to date. Why did it matter if others knew I was single?

Eventually, my parents agreed to let me cut my hair, and for a moment I’d been looking forward to for so long, I wanted to be the one to do it. Like every time I’ve cut my hair since then, I felt like a new person. Looking back to who I was then and who I am now, I know 12 year old me would think I look cool, and she’s the only person I want to impress.

This essay is fun and interesting! Readers learn about the student’s personality, family history, and values. It is well-structured, engaging, and original.

For a short essay, a lot of words are given to this introduction. That being said, this introduction also provides a lot of the essay’s content. First, the student identifies their quirk—cutting their own hair. This topic is interesting and automatically makes readers think “oh, that’s cool!” but then the student takes it a step further by engaging readers with a small cliffhanger—“ I haven’t always been this way.” Cutting your own hair isn’t a quirk that inherently requires a deeper meaning, but this student draws us in by letting us know that there is one.

This essay’s second paragraph is where we get to know the student, which should always be a priority when writing any college essay. We learn about the student’s Quechua heritage and how it affected their childhood. We also learn about the student’s capacity for self-reflection, which seems to have existed from a young age—“ I thought it was silly to have braids when I wasn’t even allowed to date. Why did it matter if others knew I was single?”

Finally, the last paragraph brings things full circle and draws a connection between the young girl’s confusion about Quechuan braids and the current writer’s passion for cutting their own hair. The last sentence of this essay is particularly powerful—“ I know 12 year old me would think I look cool, and she’s the only person I want to impress.” 

The beginning of the final paragraph is the only part of this essay that could use some rewriting. This essay is generally well-written, so the confusing sentence structure of “ Eventually, my parents agreed to let me cut my hair, and for a moment I’d been looking forward to for so long, I wanted to be the one to do it” throws off the essay’s flow. Similarly, it is difficult to parse through the sentence “ Like every time I’ve cut my hair since then, I felt like a new person.” 

After improving the language of these two sentences, this would be a top-notch essay! This student’s personality really shines through.

Essay Example #4

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

“I hope your kids have my curly hair,” quipped my mom. “As long as they have my eyes, I’m happy,” joked my dad. While my parents were casually bantering with me at the dinner table, I was closeted as bisexual, and my mind started to reel. Eventually, I knew I wanted to have kids, and the nuclear family I had previously envisioned began to crumble. What if I couldn’t have genetically related children with my partner?

As I grappled with this question, I discovered that biomedical engineering could provide me with an answer. Gene-editing technology CRISPR-Cas9 could allow for a same-sex couple to have genetically related children. This tool works as a precise pair of molecular scissors to cut out targeted DNA sequences in an organism’s genome. In China, researchers experimented with CRISPR and obtained live bipaternal and bimaternal mice.

CRISPR’s potential to change the world thrills me for reasons beyond my future family. With CRISPR, researchers began to cut out human DNA sequences associated with neurodegenerative diseases, blood-related disorders, and cancer. CRISPR is on the cusp of revolutionizing the medical industry, and I want to be part of innovating and discovering new uses for the technology.

Maybe one day, I’ll share a meal at the dinner table with a husband and a child who shares our features, laughing as we talk about our day. At UVA Engineering, I will acquire the tools necessary to pioneer research that could make this possibility a reality for millions of same-sex couples around the world.

This essay does a great job infusing a personal story into an engineering feat that inspires them. The intro opens with an anecdote, which is engaging and brings us closer to the writer by showing some vulnerability, as the student shares their thoughts and fears with us.

We learn about CRISPR in easy-to-understand terms. The writer lays out how it works, what it’s done so far, and how it could benefit society.

The final paragraph brings the essay full circle, with the student imagining their future family, made possible by CRISPR and the impact it could have for other same-sex couples.

There honestly isn’t much that the writer could’ve done to strengthen this essay. It’s already extremely engaging, personal, well-written, and easy to understand.

Essay Example #5: College of Arts and Sciences

College of Arts and Sciences – What work of art, music, science, mathematics, literature, or other media has surprised, unsettled, or inspired you, and in what way? (250 words)

Every ten years the state and congressional district lines open up to the public; the only piece of art influenced by the fluctuating votes of human souls. The bold black lines, separating communities with luscious green lawns from those with concrete playgrounds, are redrawn redirecting millions of dollars and sparking waves of protests on state capitol steps. In its sum, the wonky headphones and salamander shapes reflect the imperfect art of gerrymandering. Within its components, the fabric is sewed with the sweat and tears of communities. From ones with family obligations rendering them unable to advocate for themselves to communities a five-minute walk from the state capitol. 

In its final form, the line strokes between streets, bayous, and freeways surprise me. Instead of equal representation and distribution of power, districts group communities voting in accordance to a political party with communities who do not vote – essentially maintaining an iron grip on power. To challenge it, I have gone into non-voting communities helping register voters and have taken the time to listen to families terrified of the political process. One of my most cherished memories was meeting an elderly man who had immigrated to the U.S. and became naturalized but never registered to vote. For years, he watched his community change and never understood why he could not stop the process. Now, every time I see the district lines, I sense the unsettled doubt that within each district resides one person taken advantage of and never nurtured with civic love.

The subject of this essay—gerrymandering—is a surprising choice for this essay, as most people wouldn’t consider it a “work of art, music, science, mathematics, literature, or other media,” but more of a concept. Still, the author makes it work by likening the gerrymandering lines to a work of art.

The writing in this essay is very descriptive and rich with imagery, with phrases such as “luscious green lawns” and “salamander shapes.” We can clearly visualize how unusually these districts are drawn.

The author also incorporates a personal connection through their work in registering voters. We see that they care about helping others participate in the political process and exercise their civic rights/duties.

One of the biggest weaknesses of this essay is that it spends nearly half the space describing gerrymandering, leaving not enough room to discuss how it’s impacted them personally.

The intro paragraph helps us visualize gerrymandering very well, but the wording of many sentences is confusing (some are even not grammatically correct, and it doesn’t seem that this was a conscious decision, such as this line: From ones with family obligations rendering them unable to advocate for themselves to communities a five-minute walk from the state capitol) . It takes a few sentences to even realize what the topic of the essay is, and that is a critical flaw when admissions officers need to read essays quickly. 

The author should’ve introduced their topic more simply, especially since gerrymandering is an unexpected subject for this essay. They could’ve also cut out several lines to focus more on the work they’ve done in their communities. The story about the immigrant man is underdeveloped and vague; the writer could’ve shared more specific details about their interaction or even included some dialogue.

The impact of this topic on the student’s identity and future goals is also unclear. Do they plan to try to work to end gerrymandering or increase access to voting? The last sentence of the essay is a missed opportunity: Now, every time I see the district lines, I sense the unsettled doubt that within each district resides one person taken advantage of and never nurtured with civic love . This line is not only difficult to understand, but ends on a sad note rather than looking towards the future with how the student hopes to make an impact.

Essay Example #6

We are a community with quirks, both in language and traditions. Describe one of your quirks and why it is part of who you are. (250 words)

I sit at a booth at California Pizza Kitchen as my legs swing back and forth, barely scraping the floor. With a mischievous grin, I grab a red crayon and scribble on the black-and-white coloring book with my own mission in mind. One times two equals two, times two equals four, times two equals eight, and so on. After I fill the page, the napkins in the dispenser in front of me become my canvas. When I finish, red numbers sprawl across the workbook and neatly ordered napkins on the table, mimicking a college professor’s chalkboard. My masterpiece is complete.

At five years old, I cherished multiplying numbers by two until I reached numbers in the millions, and my love for simple math became a staple of my personality. When I entered high school, I was delighted to discover my passion for mental math reflected in the activities I pursued:

( 310 total seconds – 162 seconds ran) / 2 laps left = 74 seconds per lap. During a 1600m dash, I recalculated the average pace I needed to meet my goal after every lap and adjusted my stride accordingly. 28 rows * 36 seats per row = 1008 total seats. During a chorus class, I calculated the number of seats in the auditorium we sang in with enthusiasm.

My arithmetic may not always serve a practical purpose, yet I find comfort in making sense of the little things in my life. The math problems penned with a red crayon may seem trivial to some, but they represent my curiosity seeking a better grasp of the world around me.

This essay paints the student as intellectually-engaged and ambitious. We see all the different ways they incorporate mental math into their life.

The anecdote at the beginning shows us exactly what it may be like to spend time with the student in an everyday setting, which helps admissions officers visualize what the student may be like on-campus.

While well-written, the essay falls a bit flat since the student spends almost all the allotted space describing the quirk rather than discussing what it means to them.

They also explicitly tell us the significance of their quirk by saying it “represent[s] my curiosity seeking a better grasp of the world around me.” This is redundant since they already show their curiosity through the details they reveal, such as counting the number of seats in the auditorium during chorus.

The topic of this essay may simply not be ideal since there isn’t much of an emotional backstory, unlike the third essay example where the student cuts their own hair. As you’re selecting a quirk, you should ensure that there is an opportunity for you to share your identity, emotions, and thoughts more deeply.

Where to Get Your UVA Essays Edited

Do you want feedback on your UVA essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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2023-2024 University of Virginia Supplemental Essay Prompts

A library with Jeffersonian columns is featured at the University of Virginia.

The University of Virginia has released its supplemental essay prompts for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle . In addition to The Common Application ’s Personal Statement, applicants to UVA’s Class of 2028 must answer one essay question. Additionally, an optional essay question is hidden at the bottom of the “General” section that we at Ivy Coach encourage students to write — even though it is the most inappropriate question posed by any of our nation’s elite universities this admissions cycle. So, what are this year’s essay prompts for Virginia’s flagship university?

2023-2024 UVA Essay Topics and Questions

Required essay.

Students should answer the following prompt in around 250 words:

What about your individual background, perspective, or experience will serve as a source of strength for you or those around you at UVA? Feel free to write about any past experience or part of your background that has shaped your perspective and will be a source of strength, including but not limited to those related to your community, upbringing, educational environment, race, gender, or other aspects of your background that are important to you.

In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s ruling outlawing Affirmative Action , America’s colleges are maneuvering around not being able to lawfully consider an applicant’s race in the college admissions process by capitalizing on a loophole penned in the majority opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts .

As Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

This essay is an opportunity for applicants to discuss how their race has impacted their lives. Or they could write about their faith, their community, their sexuality, or their gender identity — the possibilities are endless. 

Optional Essay

Students should answer the following prompt in up to 100 words:

If you have a personal or historic connection with UVA, and if you’d like to share how your experience of this connection has prepared you to contribute to the university, please share your thoughts here. Such relationships might include, but are not limited to, being a child of someone who graduated from or works for UVA, a descendant of ancestors who labored at UVA, or a participant in UVA programs.

We at Ivy Coach deem this optional essay question the most  outrageously inappropriate  prompt posed by any highly selective university during the 2023-2024 admissions cycle. Why’s that?

In our experience, most UVA applicants will not choose to write a response to this optional essay prompt because they’ll think they need to be legacies , students who attended fancy shmancy UVA summer programs , or the descendants of enslaved people. Yes, the question is as jarring as it seems and, for the first two groups of people (legacies and summer camp attendees), it caters to the privileged.

It’s why we encourage  all  applicants to answer this optional essay question by writing a Why UVA essay — one filled with specific reasons why they wish to attend Virginia’s flagship. Their response should include enduring aspects of the university — programs, institutes, activities, culture, traditions, etc. — rather than names of professors and classes, which can easily be found and replaced like a game of Mad Libs from one college to the next.

So, yes, we are saying even if an applicant has no familial connection to UVA or didn’t attend a UVA summer enrichment program, they should write this essay to make their case for admission. Essays give students an opportunity to tell their stories. Legacies and summer program attendees should not be afforded more space than everyone else. Shame on UVA!

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with UVA Essays

If you’re interested in optimizing your case for admission to UVA by submitting essays that compel admissions officers to wish to offer you admission, fill out Ivy Coach ’s free consultation form , and we’ll be in touch to outline our college counseling services.

You are permitted to use www.ivycoach.com (including the content of the Blog) for your personal, non-commercial use only. You must not copy, download, print, or otherwise distribute the content on our site without the prior written consent of Ivy Coach, Inc.

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University of Virginia (UVA) Supplemental Essays 2023-24 Prompts & Advice

August 16, 2023

uva supplemental essays university of virginia

The University of Virginia is one of the handful of flagship public institutions in the United States that attract massive numbers of high-achieving applicants from around the country/globe each and every year. In the most recent admissions cycle, over 56,000 students applied (up 10% from the previous year) and only 16% were accepted. While becoming a Cavalier is challenging for a Virginia resident, out-of-staters and international applicants face an even tougher admissions gauntlet. You’ll likely need a straight A average (or very close) to get serious consideration at the 2023 version of UVA and an SAT in the 96th percentile (or better) doesn’t hurt either. And that brings us to today’s main topic- the UVA supplemental essays.

 (Want to learn more about How to Get Into the University of Virginia? Visit our blog entitled:  How to Get Into the University of Virginia: Admissions Data and Strategies  for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

With only one supplemental essay for the majority of applicants (you’ll only need to write more than one if applying to the School of Nursing or the Dance program), UVA’s supplemental section affords applicants the chance to illustrate what makes them uniquely qualified for admission. Below are the University of Virginia’s supplemental prompts for the 2023-24 admissions cycle along with our advice for composing winning essays.

2023-2024 UVA Supplemental Essay (All Applicants)

What about your individual background, perspective, or experience will serve as a source of strength for you or those around you at UVA? Feel free to write about any past experience or part of your background that has shaped your perspective and will be a source of strength, including but not limited to those related to your community, upbringing, educational environment, race, gender, or other aspects of your background that are important to you. (300 words)

This prompt asks you to not only share a particular life experience, element of your background, or perspective but also describe why that experience, element, or perspective will help you serve as a source of strength to either yourself or those around you. Essentially, it’s asking you to take your essay’s reflection one step further—you’ll need to communicate why the experience or element you’ve chosen is important to you as well as why/how you believe it will allow you to thrive at UVA or positively impact the UVA community.

UVA Supplemental Essays (Continued)

First, choose a key aspect of your experiences, background, or identity that reveals something deep and meaningful. (Although you could choose more than one, we’d advise against it, given that you only have 300 words in which to respond.) As you brainstorm, consider the following avenues:

  • Your role in your family.
  • A challenge you’ve faced.
  • A formative experience or realization.
  • Important aspects of your upbringing.
  • Cultural, religious, community influence.
  • Racial background.
  • Sexual orientation and/or gender identity.

Second, you’ll need to explain how you’ll use what you’ve learned to persist through future personal challenges or strengthen others at UVA. Will your life experiences allow you to uplift those around you? Will your unique perspective enable you to connect more deeply with others? Lastly, will your background make it possible for you to advocate more effectively for specific populations? Alternatively, has your experience or background provided you with a perspective that will benefit and support you as you move on to college? If you connect with at least one of these questions, you’re headed in the right direction for this essay.

UVA Program-Specific Essays

School of nursing.

Describe a healthcare-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying nursing. (300 words)

“A nurse is not what you do, it is who you are.”

This quote from an anonymous source captures the idea that becoming a nurse is more of a calling than a profession you just stumble into. Nurses are willing to work long shifts in the service of others, be on the frontlines of a pandemic, and deal with life’s toughest challenges (e.g., suffering and death) on a regular basis. Many applicants share stories of caring for sick relatives or going through a tough medical episode themselves as inspiration for wanting to study nursing. This essay is a chance to show the admissions committee that you are a passionate and mature nursing candidate and that nursing is genuinely “who you are.”

Dance Program

Submit a short essay discussing your interest in dance as a practice and/or a form of scholarship. What roles have dance and movement played in your life thus far? What insights and connections have you made in your day-to-day and academic life through the practice and study of movement? What do you hope to explore further by participating in dance program courses upon entry to UVA? (275 words)

Essentially, UVA wants to understand how your participation in dance has impacted your life. How has it benefited, strengthened, and/or challenged you as a person? Moreover, they’d like to understand the connections you’ve made between dance and other academic subjects, if any—what interdisciplinary connections have you observed? How has your academic life been made richer by dance? Finally, in addition to how dance has already impacted you, UVA is looking for a brief discussion of what the future holds in regard to dance, and how you plan to pursue that future at UVA.

How important are the UVA supplemental essays?

The essays (both the Common App essay and the supplemental response(s)) are “important” to the UVA admissions committee. This places them in the same tier of importance as extracurricular activities and talent/ability. Standardized test scores are rated a notch below as “considered.” Read more about the importance of the UVA supplemental essays in the fabulous  Notes from Peabody blog .

At UVA, the rigor of your coursework, class rank, GPA, recommendations, character/personal qualities, and state residency status are the most important factors in the admissions process. However, application components like the supplemental essay can serve as a critical tie-breaker between similarly-credentialed applicants.

Want Personalized Essay Assistance with the UVA Supplemental Essays?

Are you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your UVA supplemental essays? We encourage you to get a quote  today.

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Andrew Belasco

A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew's experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans two decades. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.

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University of Virginia (UVA) 2020-21 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

UVA 2020-2021 First-Year Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: Answer two essay prompts of roughly 250 words each.

Supplemental Essay Type: Why , Oddball , Community

1. We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists.  Answer the question that corresponds to the school/program to which you are applying in a half page or roughly 250 words.

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.

College of Arts and Sciences

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.

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Describe an engineering feat that serves the common good and why it inspires you to study engineering.

UVA is giving you the opportunity to nerd out. The feat you describe could be something super simple (the wheel!) or more complex (The Bailong Elevator!), what matters most is that it inspires you to study engineering. What is it about the feat you chose that makes the gears in your brain turn? Do you hope to create or build something similar? Are you a fan of the engineer behind the feat? If so, why? With this prompt, the nerdier you can get, the better. UVA wants to accept students who are excited about learning and building. Bonus points if you can connect your favorite feat to something you hope to create in the future!

School of Architecture

Describe significant experience that deepened your interest in studying in the School of Architecture.

Why do you want to study architecture? Be specific. Admissions even goes so far as to ask you to describe a significant experience that deepened your interest. Maybe you’ve been sketching in notebooks since you were a little kid, and became entranced when you saw the Burj Khalifa for the first time in eighth grade. What was it about the building that caught your eye? How did it make you feel? Perhaps your neighbor once regaled you with his predictions on the future of architecture in a carbon neutral world. What about his vision inspired you to become an architect yourself? Whatever your significant experience may be, use details to draw the reader in. Make admissions feel like they’re with you in that building or listening to your neighbor. Invite admissions to see the world through your eyes.

School of Nursing

Describe a healthcare-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.

Kinesiology Program

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.

2. Answer one of the following questions in a half page or roughly 250 words.

What’s your favorite word and why.

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.

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.

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!

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?

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.

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?

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.

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.

UVA wants to accept the kind of students who take action to make the changes they want to see in the world. When have you stepped out of your comfort zone to do something you thought was right, or necessary? Maybe it boggled your mind that your high school still didn’t have recycling bins in each classroom. Did you contact administrators to find out why your school was so behind the times? Were you able to convince them to supply each classroom with recycling bins by the end of the month? Maybe in the wake of George Floyd’s death, you organized a protest in your small town. How did it go? How did the experience make you feel? Be as specific as possible, and give admissions a glimpse into your motivations and aspirations.

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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, 3 expert tips for tackling the uva essay prompts.

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College Essays


Founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson, the University of Virginia boasts impressive academics, competitive sports team, and a long list of notable alumni. Though about 17,000 students attend UVA, the school has an admissions rate of 19%—meaning you'll have to work hard if you want to be a Cavalier.

One of the best ways to boost your chances of admissions is by writing great UVA essays as part of your application. In this article, we'll break down what the UVA essay prompts are and how you can write responses to each prompt that will make you stand out.

What Are the UVA Supplemental Essay Prompts?

In order to apply to UVA, you'll submit the Common Application . No matter which option you choose, you'll have to complete the UVA supplement, which includes three writing prompts.

The first prompt requires a response of about 100 words, and the other two recommend 50 words each. So these are definitely more short responses than full-length essays. For the first UVA supplement essay, you're required to write a response based on the school within UVA that you're applying to. For the second and third UVA writing supplements, you get to choose the topic that resonates most with you.

UVA Essay Prompts

Here are the UVA essay prompts for 2022-2023:

We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer this question, which corresponds to the school/program you selected above in around 100 words.

  • College of Arts and Sciences — If you could create a college course that all UVA students would take, what would it be about and why?
  • School of Engineering and Applied Sciences — How will you use an engineering degree to change the world for the better?
  • School of Architecture —Describe a significant experience that deepened your interest in studying in the School of Architecture.
  • School of Nursing —Describe a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying nursing.
  • Kinesiology Program — Describe an experience that has deepened your interest in studying kinesiology.

Prompts #2 and #3

Answer one of the following questions in around 50 words. (You'll answer one question from this set for prompt 2 and a different question from this same set for prompt 3).

What's your favorite word and why?

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.

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?

About what topic could you speak for an hour?

Take us to your happy place. 

You can wake up tomorrow and a skill you already have will become expert-level. What skill is that?

What is the last gift you gave someone that wasn't bought with money?

What website is the internet missing?

After a challenging experience, how do you recharge?

Tell us about a place you'd like to share with everyone, but also keep to yourself.

Tell us about a time when, faced with an opinion or perspective that differed from your own, you responded as an empathetic speaker or a generous listener.


UVA Essays, Analyzed

Looking for advice on how to write amazing UVA essays? Let's break down how to answer each prompt.

UVA Prompt #1

The instructions are the same for all of the first UVA essays:

" We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer this question, which corresponds to the school/program you selected above in around 100 words ."

Let's look at how to answer each one.

College of Arts and Sciences— If you could create a college course that all UVA students would take, what would it be about and why?

This slightly unusual prompt lets you show UVA what knowledge you think every student there should know. The prompt isn't asking what you think would be an interesting or fun course necessarily, but a course that every UVA student should need to take and pass in order to graduate. To answer this prompt, you'll need to decide: what topic is important for every UVA student to think about and know before they graduate? 

You could take this in a lot of different directions. You might choose a practical topic, like Intro to Paying Taxes, Basic Home and Car Repairs, or Financial Planning 101. Certainly everybody will need to know that information sooner or later! You could also choose a more abstract topic that you think no one should graduate college without thinking critically about. Topics in this area could include living sustainably, understanding prejudice, or how to be a good communicator.

Whichever topic you choose, be sure to give a brief overview of what the course would cover and, most importantly, why you think every UVA student should take it. The topic you choose is less important than your reasoning behind it, so make sure you make a strong argument for why your course choice is valuable to the entire UVA community.

School of Engineering— How will you use an engineering degree to change the world for the better?

This prompt is all about you and your plans for the future. What specifically do you plan on doing as an engineer? UVA asks this to understand your goals and motivations for wanting to enroll in their School of Engineering.

When answering this prompt, you might feel pressured to write something really impressive, like designing a space shuttle that'll allow humans to travel to Mars or developing a cheap water purification system that can be distributed to the millions of people living without access to clean drinking water. And if you do have those goals for yourself, then go for it! 

However, if you have more modest goals, don't feel like you need to "dress them up" in order to impress UVA. Wanting to become an engineer so you can create safe buildings, help people  manage and protect their data, or even just build cool roller coasters that people enjoy are just as valid.

The key is to be honest and enthusiastic about your career goals. Let your passion for engineering and your excitement for your future plans shine through, and you'll be all set for this prompt.

School of Architecture—Describe a significant experience that deepened your interest in studying in the School of Architecture.

Inspiration comes in many forms —what's important for this prompt is to think about an experience that has inspired you. Also, keep in mind that this prompt isn't asking you about a specific building or project that you love. Instead, it wants you to tell a personal story about how architecture has inspired you...and how that inspiration led you to choose architecture as a major.

The trick for this essay prompt is connecting your experience to architecture . For example, maybe you wanted to be an architect because you visited the Academy of Sciences in California, and you thought their underground aquarium was amazing. That inspired you to want to learn to build structures that create that sense of awe in others.

Whatever you choose, you should be sincere about your inspiration. Anything that sounds trite will be really obvious to the admissions committee. They'll read thousands of applications about wanting to make the tallest building in the world—make yours sound different.

School of Nursing—Describe a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying nursing.

Don't feel like you need to highlight a huge moment here—rather, focus on something that's significant to you even if that experience was small!

The key to this prompt is to make sure that you're highlighting something real that happened to you or someone important to you. The more personal you can make the experience, the better.

Saying something like "I want to solve cancer for everyone" is less impactful than saying that you have seen firsthand how cancer affected your grandmother. Nursing is a personal profession—lean into that for this essay.

Kinesiology Program— Describe an experience that has deepened your interest in studying kinesiology.

For this prompt, focus on one experiences and discuss it in detail. Don't give an entire overview of your history—describing something more fully will resonate more than trying to cram a lot of experiences into a relatively short essay.

Be honest about what drove you to kinesiology— don't write what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. Write what's true for you.


UVA Prompts #2 and #3

Again, for both prompts 2 and 3, you'll choose one prompt from the list below (so two different prompts total) and write a response of roughly 50 words each.

This is quite an eclectic list! Of the 11 prompts, you only need to answer two, so don't worry if you can't think of a good response to some or even most of the prompts. Don't worry about choosing the two "best" prompts either; UVA chose each of these prompts which means they think they're all valuable. Choose the two that speak to you the most and that you can answer in a way that lets UVA learn more about you as a person.

Also aim to choose two prompts that show different sides of yourself as opposed to two prompts where your answers are quite similar. That helps UVA get more of a look into who you are as a person, which is the entire point of the prompts.

To choose your prompts, go through the list and think about potential responses for each question. Some you might not come up with anything for, but hopefully for a few an answer will jump out at you. For example, do you have a passion for collecting Minnie Mouse figurines? Do you have to run four miles every single morning? Do you stop everything you're doing whenever the Red Sox are playing? Do your parents always make fun of you for pronouncing a word strangely? Then you might want to answer the question about quirks. 

Or maybe the prompt about students writing messages on the Beta Bridge speaks to you. As with the other prompts, the "why" is the most important part of this prompt. Whatever message you land on, make sure you have a good reason for it.

Avoid trite or cliched phrases, like "Be the change you wish to see in the world." The admissions committee will have seen thousands of these—and those words are probably already written on Beta Bridge. What do you have to say? What message is personal to you? What lesson have you learned that you specifically can communicate?

For whichever prompts you choose, be honest and reflective so that your response gives a window of insight into who you are and what matters to you. Another thing to note: 50 words is not very long at all! So keep things concise in order to stay within the word count.

How to Write UVA Essays

Here are some general tips for how to write UVA essays that will wow the committee.

Your UVA supplement essays are a chance to show the admissions committee who you are. Take that opportunity to flesh yourself out. You're not simply a collection of A's and B's printed on a transcript. You're a real person! Show that in your UVA essays.

#2: Feedback Is Cool; Plagiarism Is Not

It can be tempting to bounce essay ideas off your peers, parents, and teachers. That's fine! But don't rely on them too heavily. Your work should be your own—from the ideas to the execution. There's a fine line between receiving helpful feedback and using that feedback in a way that misrepresents your work and ability . Seek out help, but know that you have the first and final say.

#3: Play With Form

Your UVA essays don't have to follow the traditional five paragraph structure. UVA encourages you to play with form. That means you can submit a poem, if you want!

Take advantage of the freedom from structure to write in a way that feels authentic to you. If that means starting every sentence with the letter "E", then go for it! As long as your work is well-written and engaging, the form doesn't matter.

What's Next?

There are over 5,000 colleges in the United States—how can you possibly decide which to apply to? Using a college finder tool can help you sort through your options and find your ideal school without having to tour every single campus.

Once you've decided on some colleges or universities that you're interested in attending , our guide will help you narrow down your list to safeties, matches, and reach school.

Still not sure what you're looking for in a college? Read our articles on whether you should go to a school close to home and whether you should attend a large or small college .

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Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.

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How to Write Your Way into UVA

In college admissions, essays can serve as the tipping point. Here are some tips, pointers and actual essays that recently made the cut.

common app essays uva

To build the 3,974-member Class of 2023, UVA admission deans culled through 40,880 applications. How big a role did the student essays play in the final decision? We asked an expert: Macy Lenox (Col ’94), associate dean of undergraduate admission. Here’s our conversation, edited and condensed.

Virginia Magazine: What carries the most weight in the final admission decision?

Lenox: What we find on the transcript is going to be the first and most important aspect of the application. [Then] we’re going to start looking at impact and contribution, and we get to that through extracurricular activities and teacher recommendations.

The essay is the one time we’re going to kind of sit back in our chair and give students the opportunity to talk to us. So they want to use that time wisely. The best essays are those that you read and you don’t just want to admit the student, you want to take them out for coffee once they get to Grounds.

With that said, will an extraordinary essay make the case for a student who is not qualified? The answer is no. One of my former colleagues used to say: It can heal the sick, but it can’t raise the dead.

Are any essay topics better than another?

There’s no such thing as a golden-ticket topic. What makes the essay is not the topic; it’s how you approach your topic and what it reveals about you.

We read a lot of essays about sports and that sort of thing. And I would say most of them are solid, and they’re grammatically correct, and there are no typos, and they’re well-organized, and they tell me something about a student. It’s going to be confirming that you can write an essay.

But this is a process where you want to stand out. And so it’s a process of not just writing a confirming essay but writing an elevating essay. Don’t tell me everything that soccer has taught you. Tell me the one thing that’s been truly transformative. Tell it to me as a story. Be descriptive. Be reflective.

Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable—you know, to talk about shortcomings or areas where you felt weak. We all have that. It’s perfectly fine to be normal. And at no point should you say, “Soccer taught me to be a leader.” That should emerge from your essay. You know: Show me, don’t tell me.

What’s one common mistake you see in essays?

So many try to be the person they think we want them to be. Stay in your lane, if you will. If you’re a funny person, write a funny essay. But if you’re not really known as a funny person, don’t write a funny essay. It’s probably not going to be funny. If you write about something you love, it’s probably going to come through.

We are comfortable with a 17-year-old voice. We typically know when we’re hearing a 40- or 50-year-old voice.

Any final piece of advice for essay-writing?

What we caution against is what we call death by committee—where you’ve had so many people contributing little pieces of an essay [that] all of a sudden you’ve got five different voices in your essay.

I definitely recommend you get other people to read your essay for advice. But when you hand it to them, the question you should ask is, “Does this sound like me?” You should never hand a pen or pencil to someone when you give them your essay. Just have them read it, and then sit down with them afterward and talk about it, and you take notes.

We say this all the time: If it dropped out of your backpack and fell on the cafeteria floor, your friend could pick it up and, even if your name wasn’t on it, know it was yours.

Enjoy meeting a few individuals from the Class of 2023. In response to writing prompts with word limits, they each submitted several admission essays (both short and long). The ones published here, lightly edited, reveal a bit of the unique selves they will bring with them to the University of Virginia this fall.

Living Out-of-the-Box

A bead of sweat trickled down my temple. A wave of excitement crashed over me. With nimble fingers I tore the wrapping paper off of the Christmas gift before me. This is it. I was sure the box contained the Razor scooter that I had wanted for months. I envisioned myself skating through the neighborhood, Skechers lighting up with each kick off the ground, low ponytail protruding from my hot pink helmet. I would rule my cul-de-sac.

Elizabeth Kilgore

When I opened the box and dug through mounds of packing peanuts, my eyes finally fell upon the treasure beneath. But I was immediately overcome with paralyzing disappointment. My short life flashed before my eyes. Something had gone very, very wrong at Santa’s workshop. The item within the box had one less wheel than it should have had. In fact, it was not a scooter at all, but a unicycle.

Disappointment faded into acceptance and ultimately enthusiasm as I imagined the possibilities. I could learn to juggle on one wheel. I could unicycle to school. I could join the circus. Abandoning my other Christmas presents, I descended to the basement, which would become my training ground for the next three frozen months. Hugging a wall, straddling the seat and lifting my feet onto the pedals, I was ready to ride. Yet I sat frozen, unsure of how to proceed. I had read the instructions, but they were remarkably uninstructive. Awkward minutes ticked by.

Eventually I built up the courage to rock back and forth. But I never made it forth; instead, the wheel shot out from under me and I landed hard on my face. Pride and dignity extinguished, yet undeterred, I mounted again. I fell again. From dawn till dusk for days on end, I wrestled with that wheel. Eventually I learned to balance, and then to pedal.

When the snow finally melted, I was riding at lightning speed around my cul-de-sac, to the awe of friends and neighbors astride their strangely complicated two-wheeled contraptions.

Yet simply learning to unicycle did not quench my insatiable desire to expand my skillset. Uni-juggling bored me, so I taught myself to play basketball atop the wheel. And thus I developed a habit of concocting unconventional combinations, which would give birth to my most epic brainchildren.

I began performing my trademark magic shows on the unicycle. Using my black top hat, I impersonated Abraham Lincoln on the unicycle, reciting the Gettysburg Address from memory. (I wondered if Honest Abe would have been able to unicycle; considering the length of his legs, I concluded not.) I taught myself to solve a Rubik’s cube on the unicycle, a feat that required utmost focus, unwavering balance, and a street with no potholes.

I began applying that out-of-the-box mentality to my life off the wheel. I fused my love for paradoxes and poetry to create poems that could be read forward and backward to convey two contradictory messages. I layered peanut butter, avocado, and bacon atop toast to create an amalgam of my favorite foods, in the process inventing the world’s most delicious and substantial open-faced sandwich.

Conquering the unicycle made me realize that conventions need to be challenged. Just because some cycles have two wheels does not make them better. And who says that poems can only be read top to bottom? I thrive kinesthetically, learning by doing, dedicating countless hours to master anything that excites me in the slightest. But I believe there is more to life than someone else’s instruction book. I prefer to write my own instructions, try the unconventional, and explore the unknown. I am a unicyclist amongst scooterers. I make my own path, usually on just one wheel.

—Elizabeth Kilgore , Madison, New Jersey

Zoom In, Focus, Get Into the Rhythm

Cap off, shutter on. I am ready. There is a rhythm to it. I stand alone with my camera, surrounded by hundreds of people. I slowly scan the field and the stands, prepared for the unexpected scenes; the irony encourages me. Friday nights offer so many opportunities to focus on one moment, on one frame, blurring out all else around me.

Khuyen Dinh

There is excitement in my voice and, I have been told, a notable glimmer in my eyes when I talk about those Friday nights under the lights. These evenings challenge and excite me as I zoom in on one moment at a time, one frame at a time, quickly changing perspective and refocusing as the evening unfolds.

What am I looking for? The quarterback’s nervous focus as he stares down his targets in the face of the impending blitz, drum majors attempting to maintain a determined expression among the cacophony of the halftime festivities, and parents concealing their nerves, seemingly willing the team to a touchdown with the pressure of their clasped hands alone. Through the 200 millimeters of my lens, I am searching for the special moments that prove these are more than just games for everyone in attendance.

Endpin out, rosin my bow, tuned correctly, I am ready. There is a rhythm to it. Staring at the eighth notes that dance across the marked up score, I wait for my cue, blurring out the hushed whispers from the audience. As I anticipate the moment the curtains open, allowing me to pull my bow against the string, I am reminded of last night’s football game. I remember the way I zoomed in on each face, story and play, and now place this focus into my performance. Measure upon measure, the perspectives of the notes change, following the tone of the play, and these instant adjustments exhilarate me.

I play out; I am in the dark, but I am lit up by my desire to move someone with a strong melody that I have rehearsed time after time in my living room, until calluses are built, and I can hear the melody in my sleep.

The music that sits before me and the firm hand of the conductor are the only things I take in. Through the weight of my bow and the articulation in my left hand, I am seeking to give flight to the imagination so that the audience will be as moved as the composer intended.

Cap and gown on, Pomp and Circumstance echoing throughout the room, IB diploma in hand, I am ready. I know the rhythm. I know the rhythm because I’ve practiced all of my life. Focus on what’s important. Zoom in on what is to come. Change perspective and refocus when needed. Blur out the background noise. Through the experiences I seek out, I am invigorated and motivated by the challenges that accompany each new endeavor.

—Khuyen Dinh, Fairfax Station, Virginia

Stories From the Porch Swing

The wooden porch swing at my grandfather’s old house was very talkative. It used to creak and moan, irritated with eight-year-old me for attempting to swing so high I could touch my bare feet to the porch ceiling. It hummed as my mother gently rocked back and forth, drinking coffee. It laughed along with my little sister who used to leap off the swing as it was still moving, landing on her hands and knees with a thud. It took part in the family conversations every Sunday, faintly squeaking behind the noise of us chatting and eating dinner outside on warm nights. But when my grandfather told his stories, the swing didn't make a sound.

Audrey Hicks

I remember the evening I first fell in love with stories. Under the weight of both myself and my grandfather, the swing was completely silent, careful not to interrupt. Listening earnestly with my hands resting in my lap, I was silent as well. The robin that was usually chirping in the front yard was quiet for a minute. The white oak trees with their wise faces and twisted limbs stopped whispering to each other. The world was still and listening; I could hear only my grandfather’s voice and my own soft, measured breath.

My grandfather is a storyteller. He always says that it’s his innate ability to tell a story that makes him good at his job. Whether he’s standing in front of a packed, buzzing courtroom or simply sitting on his creaky porch swing, the world listens when my grandfather speaks. From an early age, this has always been what I admire most about him. He is intelligent and kind. He is fiercely strong-willed in the way he values and fights for social justice. But most of all, he knows how to make people listen. His words inspire action. From him, I developed a strong fascination with stories.

Some of my favorite stories to hear growing up were the ones about my dad’s childhood. Although we’d heard the story hundreds of times already, my siblings and I would beg my grandfather to tell us about when my dad accidentally got stuck in a tree. My grandfather would also tell us about his own childhood during the Great Depression, his time as a drafted soldier in the Vietnam War, and the long hours he worked as a graveyard shift police officer to pay for law school.

Stories can be found anywhere. They are catalysts of social change and vehicles of shared knowledge. I find them in the pages of my history textbook, in the spirited conversations of the lunchroom, and in every person I meet. My avidity for learning has bloomed from my obsession with stories. From the fall of the Romanov Dynasty to how Alexander Fleming discovered penicillin by accidentally leaving out a moldy petri dish, stories prompt my active, electrified engagement in school. They have given me an unbounded curiosity about our world.

By reading my favorite novels, traveling to unfamiliar places, and even just talking to the stranger in line at the grocery store, I continue in my search for stories. That quiet evening on my grandfather’s porch swing unleashed within me a deep-seated passion for stories that has seeped into and invigorated my intellectual pursuits.

—Audrey Hicks, Fairfax, Virginia

One Small Touch 

“J’adoube,” I said, adjusting the placement of my queen to the center of her square.

Kyle Goldrick

My opponent looked at me with a puzzled gaze. As the game continued, there came a second time where saying j’adoube became necessary. But this time, after again seeing the puzzled look on my opponent’s face, I said, “It means the same thing as adjust.” This time it seemed to click in his head.

Since I began playing chess competitively, I have heard the word used less and less. J’adoube is announced by a player who is going to touch a piece to adjust its positioning but has no intention of moving it from its square. This one word changes the meaning of touching a piece. Without uttering j’adoube , a player must move the piece they touch, unless moving that piece would result in an illegal move.

The word is not something that you will find in a rulebook or necessarily learn from beginner chess lessons. I imagine that it has developed over time from chess players wanting to associate the beauty of perfectly aligned pieces on the board with the beauty of the French language.

When I hear the word whispered in my direction, I smile because to me it sounds so much better than “adjust.” J’adoube cannot win games, but by saying it, you can prevent yourself from making ill-advised moves. Like in life, saying j’adoube can neither fix the past nor change the future, but it does allow you to control the present.

—Kyle Goldrick, Jamison, Pennsylvania

Sea Creature #3

“Hi, my name is Marin and I’m a piece of coral.” These were my dignity’s last words as I realized I was cast in the ensemble of my high school’s production of The Little Mermaid . In spite of my consistency and experience within the department, I was a lowly sea-creature: a fish on roller blades. As rehearsals commenced, I attempted to decipher a complex emotion: jealousy.

Marin Bronaugh

My best friend of 11 years obtained a highly coveted principal role following her maiden high school audition, leaving me with the role of Sea Creature #3. I looked simultaneously something akin to a prepubescent middle school boy and an ’80s jazzercise instructor. I was mercilessly clad in a deep blue unitard, complete with unflattering biker shorts, neon pink fishnet crop top, and swim cap. My insecurities were further manifested in a pair of rollerblades.

My best friend, the mermaid I felt so inferior to, was adorned in a bejeweled crown, which seemed only to further emphasize our distance apart in the hierarchical class system that is high school theater. She was oceanic royalty, and I was a plebian parrot fish. I stood sheepishly in my unitard, in my swim cap, and in the most intense state of jealousy I have ever experienced. My humiliation was complete as I stumbled across the stage, fish puppet in hand, in front of my friends and family, while enviously watching her glide gracefully from stage right to stage left, singing angelic melodies.

Alongside me in this endeavor was someone completely unexpected: a cheeky, cherubic third grader who was cast not in the principal cameo role he’d hoped for, but as a humble sea snail. Wanting to make the most of a mediocre situation, I became the unofficial cast child wrangler for the duration of the show. Rhett and I spent copious amounts of time together doing schoolwork, eating various snack foods, and learning to rollerblade. For safety's sake, I chased him through the most remote stretches of Fairfax High School as he cleared flights of stairs, careened around corners and flung himself down steep ramps in his little plastic red and black roller blades.

We got along swimmingly. Our shared experience connected us. We were inseparable. Rhett was not open to forming friendships with cast members who treated him with condescension. I, however, proved to be a completely honest and consistent friend. I remained by his side, a third grader's loyal sidekick for the entirety of the show. I helped him with his schoolwork and he helped me forget my jealousy. I kept him entertained and he provided me with positive experiences to reflect back on. The attitude he helped me to embrace gave me reason to act with integrity: I assembled a nervous cast for a prayer circle before each performance, comforted mermaids in crisis, and even stepped away from myself to help the former object of my jealousy when she was struggling.

In the end, our small group of fish-wielding jazzercise instructors went on stage and took advantage of each and every moment we had. The tangible evidence that bad situations can reap surprising rewards came in the form of a D.C. area Cappie award for my contribution to our department and our show. My situation went from mildly humiliating to outwardly validating. The jealousy I had toward my friend for her seemingly endless opportunities dissipated daily as I discovered the sometimes hidden blessings found in humility, humor, friendship, and community. My unspoken fear that my value or worth was somehow in part determined by the role I secured in a show was completely and utterly demolished by an extremely sassy, blond, nine-year-old boy, dressed as a sea snail.

—Marin Bronaugh, Fairfax, Virginia

My Mom’s Gifts to Me

The scene is ingrained into my memory. It was 2nd grade, and my teacher asked all of the students in my homeroom to put up pictures of their family on the bulletin board. Kids scrambled to the front of the room to stick on their photograph. I was at the front of the pack, eager to show everyone my picture of my mom and me holding a parrot in Hawaii three years prior.

Kendall Davis

“Kendall, why don’t you have a dad?” a bewildered Sydney asked, almost skeptical.

Everyone froze and turned to me, expecting an answer. The teacher tried to lessen my humiliation saying, “Sydney, that wasn’t nice,” and some other impotent reprimands, but the damage was done. I looked at the other kids’ photos. Each of them the same: a mother, one kid, two kids, or three, and a father. A part of me was shattered. I believed that the absence of a father would deprive me of something; my life would never compare to kids who lived with two parents.

For a long time, that mindset remained. I was ashamed of having a single mother, so I went out of my way to act like my father was in my life. Talking to friends about “my parents” and fabricating stories about my dad were coping mechanisms I used to fit in. Attending independent schools for most of my life, it seemed like everyone’s family was intact and lived in mansions, so the possibility of people knowing that I never saw my dad was terrifying. It would be something else to set me apart.

Everything changed once I moved from California to Virginia, where I had no family or friends. This forced me to spend more time with my mom, giving me a new perspective on my situation. I began to understand the sacrifices my mom made, raising me on her own, providing me with the best of everything: education, opportunities, experiences, anything a child living with two parents would have.

I now acknowledge the privilege I’ve had growing up with a mother like her. She made a successful career for herself by promoting equity and diversity in education and has passed on her beliefs that all people are worthy of respect. This influenced my love of experiencing new people, cultures, and places. So far, I have traveled to Haiti on a service trip, and France on a cultural exchange. While both experiences had their own challenges, they contributed to my understanding of cultural competence and showed me the value of forming relationships with others abroad.

My mom also instilled in me a dignified work ethic that shows through my academics, athletics, and extracurriculars. I try my best in everything I do, mimicking the strength and perseverance she had while attending college without guidance from anyone. If that means having a softball game at 5pm, tutoring elementary school kids at 7pm, then studying and homework afterward, I do it all with my best effort.

One of my mother’s qualities that I admire most is the support and acceptance she continually shows me. Regardless of our differences or circumstances, I always know that my mom respects my individuality, something that, for many of my peers, is not true. And in turn, I try to treat others with the same amount of respect and compassion. Whether that translates as talking to a patient in distress while volunteering at my local hospital or simply comforting a friend during a difficult time, sympathy and understanding are traits that hold the highest value in my life.

The trust I’ve formed with my mom is something I doubt I would have experienced with my dad. She has taught me everything about what it takes to be a strong black woman.

If I could answer Sydney's question today, my response would be, “Because my single mom is able to fulfill the role better than any father could.”

—Kendall Davis, Arlington, Virginia

Transfixed by My Toaster

I think that the shower has been the birthplace of more innovative ideas than any other location. Maybe it’s the alone time, the aromatherapy, the water washing off the day, or the ability to watch your troubles go down the drain and step out brand new. I don’t know. But I wish I did. Because it is these very moments, times when a light clicks on or an apple falls on your head, that fascinate me. Even the smallest things, the seemingly insignificant details of our reality, carry with them a story that changed the world.

Laura Boyle

One day, I was making toast, a pretty mundane part of my day. But as I was staring at my toaster, trying to get the bread to the right degree of toastiness, I became captivated by the beauty of the machine that has become a certainty in my life. For months, I had a tab open on my phone about Charles Strite, the inventor of the pop-up toaster, and would read little bits and pieces about him any time I could. All the man wanted was an evenly cooked piece of toast and that quest, distant as it may seem, led him to create something that I now expect in my everyday life.

That’s magical to me. Every step in his life, every burnt piece of toast that he had to endure, led him to that idea. One defining piece of Strite’s life has become a part of so many others. The simple device that I am accustomed to was the result of a lifetime of experience. We may take his idea for granted, but I find it amazing that he managed to change the world in his own way.

Many creations that are now a fact of life were once brave new inventions. So what will be next? Could my writing down the simple phrase “snack pants” in the notes on my phone a little after midnight change the fashion industry forever? Could my restaurant idea “the Porque-sadilla” (a place with Mexican food and trivia) revolutionize the dining experience? Probably not. But one day some goofy idea might develop into something greater: my origin story. And every step that I took, every shower, every note, every essay that I wrote would have led me to that point. Because this is the one story that I get to live, not just read about.

And that’s what fascinates me. The people around me may seem distant at times, but they are each the center of their own story. You never know which one of the people you pass in the hallway or drive past on a busy road is going to change the world. It could be you or the person sitting next to you.

So every time that I see a small invention, I get caught up in the origin story and the beauty of the creation, and how the lives of others become part of our own, and how they connect us and bridge any physical or emotional gaps that arise, and all of this comes and washes over me simply because I wanted a piece of toast.

And so I thank Charles Strite and the inventors, pioneers, iPhone note-takers, and shower-thinkers. I hope one day to be among their ranks, a piece of their stories as they are a piece of mine.

(P.S. I have dibs on both “snack pants” and “the Porque-sadilla,” so don’t get any ideas.)

—Laura Boyle, Falls Church, Virginia

What Would I Paint on Beta Bridge?

“Write your story.” The phrase is printed across the face of a notebook stacked somewhere in my room. It materializes in my mind every time I read a different account of the same historical event. I mutter it under my breath for every word, every page I write of the novel I someday hope to publish. I would paint this phrase on Beta Bridge because I believe the most powerful actions start as words and I know the most intriguing adventures begin with a story.

Alexa Clark

To write your story is to hold your life in your hands. Your story is wholly yours, but it may impact your community and beyond, in more ways than you can imagine. The #MeToo survivors wrote their stories. The New York Times published them, and then the world reacted.

It’s important to first tell your story before you tell the story of others, and it’s even more pressing to write your story before someone else can write it for you. Winston Churchill once said, “History is written by the victors.” He was right. Someone will always attempt to distort a narrative; there will forever be stories written by liars, and sometimes those stories filled with half-truths will win. But they only have that chance at victory if the real story never makes it onto the page, let alone to the printer.

Write your story, even when the only light that hasn’t flickered out is the brightness from your computer screen.

Write your story, even when you think no one else will read it. Write your story, even when it’s only three words painted across a bridge on a university campus. Write your story, before someone else does.

—Alexa Clark, Vienna, Virginia

I laugh to myself all the time.

Sophia Yi

My sisters say it’s always the same thing: the near-silent, short puffs of exhalation, the shake of the shoulders, the slight rock back and forth. Realizing that no one else shares my amusement or (in some cases) even noticed that I attempted a joke, I’ll chortle all alone.

I am past wanting others to laugh with me. Quite frankly, it makes me sad how the best-received wisecracking almost always comes at someone else’s expense. I have noticed that it simply is not “cool” to find the joke about the hydrogen atom who was positive it lost an electron as entertaining as an unflattering imitation of a blundering freshman’s faux pas. I have noticed it, and I don’t like it.

I don’t want to renounce my own unique sense of humor simply because my jokes aren’t of the trendy sort.

Why must we laugh at the girl who tripped over her hand-me-down, glaringly yellow shoes on the way in? Who cares if the boy in the front row misspelled “February” and then proceeded to badly mispronounce it? Why can’t they all laugh, instead, at the grammar joke that caused so many in the classroom to collectively roll their eyes?

I want to laugh at the harmless puns and one-liners in life, the ones that make people whoop with laughter without grimacing on the inside. Even if that means looking a tad crazy as I laugh absurdly and all alone.

—Sophia Yi, Derwood, Maryland

Hi, I’m Zainab

Tugging at my shirt sleeves, I shuffle through the empty hallways of the new school. The butterflies in my stomach feel more like wasps, for my anxiety is less a nervous excitement, and more a dreaded anticipation of what’s to come. My backpack is filled with freshly sharpened pencils, new notebooks, and my mom has packed my favorite snack. I am more than prepared to thrive at this new school, but I can’t seem to get past this crushing worry: who will I sit next to at lunchtime?

Zainab Faisal

The teacher pushes open the 4th grade classroom door, and all eyes immediately turn to me. She introduces me to the class, and I suddenly develop a great fascination with my fingernails. I avoid looking directly at any of the students and I quietly seat myself near the back. Midway through the year, all the other students have already created their social circles. Out of curiosity, a couple students approach me and ask for my name. Hesitantly, I introduce myself, “Hi. I’m the new kid.”

Being in a new, unfamiliar place will eventually become a normal situation for me after having changed schools nine times by the end of senior year. It would be incorrect to say that I enjoyed uprooting myself constantly, but it would also be incorrect to say that I never learned anything along the way.

From New Mexico, I learned about the magic in color. Our insufferably quaint town was filled with artwork and culture. The intricate tiles and paintings of local artisans in the Santa Fe Art Galleries, and the swirl of color and light in the sky at sunrise during the Albuquerque Hot Air Balloon Festival inspired me to surround myself with color and create art wherever I went.

From Massachusetts, I learned how hard my parents worked to ensure that my brother and I were happy. My mother would frequently come home with bags overflowing with books from the local library to keep us occupied when our one bedroom basement apartment was buried in snow. My love for reading can be traced back to her. She could turn our apartment into a wizard’s lair or a fairy forest during the cold, snowy days.

From Texas, I learned about the fragility of human life. My friend’s dad was battling with cancer, and her family became a big part of our life since they needed our support. He passed away on Christmas Eve, and while the world continued on and most people woke up to presents and holiday festivities, my friend woke up to the reality of her father’s death.

From Virginia, I learned about the importance of family. My social life was nonexistent, so instead of going out on the weekends, I stayed home for movie nights, thought-provoking conversations with my dad, and teaching my little sister her first nursery rhymes. By becoming more present in my family’s daily lives, I was able to escape my own self-centered bubble.

All these places collectively taught me two things. First, never knowing if this is the last time you ever see someone or go somewhere, you begin to appreciate everything more, including the little things in life. Second, I learned how to be adaptable and how to relate to others. In the early moves, I tended to dwell on everything I’d left behind, never stopping to reflect on what I’d gained. I’ve picked up flavors of people and places from all around the country, seeing that there is beauty in change, even if it took me more than a few moves to see it.

So, when I moved to my new school last year, instead of immediately labeling myself as “the new kid,” I started with a smile and “Hi! I’m Zainab. Is anyone sitting here?”

—Zainab Faisal, Ashburn, Virginia

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University of Virginia | UVA’s 2023-24 Essay Prompts

Why this college short response.

If you have a personal or historic connection with UVA, and if you’d like to share how your experience of this connection has prepared you to contribute to the University, please share your thoughts here. Such relationships might include, but are not limited to, being a child of someone who graduated from or works for UVA, a descendant of ancestors who labored at UVA, or a participant in UVA programs.

Diversity Short Response

What about your individual background, perspective, or experience will serve as a source of strength for you or those around you at UVA? Feel free to write about any past experience or part of your background that has shaped your perspective and will be a source of strength, including but not limited to those related to your community, upbringing, educational environment, race, gender, or other aspects of your background that are important to you.

Common App Personal Essay

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don‘t feel obligated to do so.

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you‘ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

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25 Elite Common App Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

Essay Examples: Writing the Common App Essay

Applying to competitive colleges? You'll need to have a stand-out Common App essay.

In this article, I'm going to share with you:

  • 25 outstanding Common App essay examples
  • Links to tons of personal statement examples
  • Why these Common App essays worked

If you're looking for outstanding Common App essay examples, you've found the right place.


If you're applying to colleges in 2023, you're going to write some form of a Common App essay.

Writing a great Common App personal essay is key if you want to maximize your chances of getting admitted.

Whether you're a student working on your Common App essay, or a parent wondering what it takes, this article will help you master the Common App Essay.

What are the Common App Essay Prompts for 2023?

There are seven prompts for the Common App essay. Remember that the prompts are simply to help get you started thinking.

You don't have to answer any of the prompts if you don't want (see prompt #7 ).

Here's the seven Common App essay questions for 2022, which are the same as previous years:

  • Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.
  • The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?
  • Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?
  • Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?
  • Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.
  • Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?
  • Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

The last prompt is a catch-all prompt, which means you can submit an essay on any topic you want.

Use the Common App prompts as brainstorming questions and to get you thinking.

But ultimately, you should write about any topic you meaningfully care about.

What makes an outstanding Common App personal essay?

I've read thousands of Common App essays from highly motivated students over the past years.

And if I had to choose the top 2 things that makes for incredible Common App essays it's these:

1. Being Genuine

Sounds simple enough. But it's something that is incredibly rare in admissions.

Authenticity is something we all know when we see it, but can be hard to define.

Instead of focus on what you think sounds the best to admissions officers, focus on what you have to say—what interests you.

2. Having Unique Ideas

The best ideas come about while you're writing.

You can't just sit down and say, "I'll think really hard of good essay ideas."

I wish that worked, but it sadly doesn't. And neither do most brainstorming questions.

The ideas you come up with from these surface-level tactics are cheap, because no effort was put in.

As they say,

"Writing is thinking"

By choosing a general topic (e.g. my leadership experience in choir) and writing on it, you'll naturally come to ideas.

As you write, continue asking yourself questions that make you reflect.

It is more of an artistic process than technical one, so you'll have to feel what ideas are most interesting.

25 Common App Essay Examples from Top Schools

With that, here's 25 examples as Common App essay inspiration to get you started.

These examples aren't perfect—nor should you expect yours to be—but they are stand-out essays.

I've handpicked these examples of personal statements from admitted students because they showcase a variety of topics and writing levels.

These students got into top schools and Ivy League colleges in recent years:

Table of Contents

  • 1. Seeds of Immigration
  • 2. Color Guard
  • 3. Big Eater
  • 4. Love for Medicine
  • 5. Cultural Confusion
  • 6. Football Manager
  • 9. Mountaineering
  • 10. Boarding School
  • 11. My Father
  • 12. DMV Trials
  • 13. Ice Cream Fridays
  • 14. Key to Happiness
  • 15. Discovering Passion
  • 16. Girl Things
  • 17. Robotics
  • 18. Lab Research
  • 19. Carioca Dance
  • 20. Chinese Language
  • 21. Kiki's Delivery Service
  • 22. Museum of Life
  • 23. French Horn
  • 24. Dear My Younger Self
  • 25. Monopoly

Common App Essay Example #1: Seeds of Immigration

This student was admitted to Dartmouth College . In this Common App essay, they discuss their immigrant family background that motivates them.

Although family is a commonly used topic, this student makes sure to have unique ideas and write in a genuine way.

Common App Prompt #1: Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story. (250-650 words)

I placed three tiny seeds, imagining the corn stalk growing while the pumpkin vines wrapped around it; both sprouting, trying to bear fruit. I clenched a fistful of dirt and placed it on them. “Más,” my grandpa told me as he quickly flooded the seeds with life-giving dirt.

Covered. Completely trapped.

Why This Essay Works:

Everyone has a unique family history and story, and often that can make for a strong central theme of a personal statement. In this essay, the student does a great job of sharing aspects of his family's culture by using specific Spanish words like "yunta" and by describing their unique immigration story. Regardless of your background, sharing your culture and what it means to you can be a powerful tool for reflection.

This student focuses on reflecting on what their culture and immigrant background means to them. By focusing on what something represents, rather than just what it literally is, you can connect to more interesting ideas. This essay uses the metaphor of their family's history as farmers to connect to their own motivation for succeeding in life.

This essay has an overall tone of immense gratitude, by recognizing the hard work that this student's family has put in to afford them certain opportunities. By recognizing the efforts of others in your life—especially efforts which benefit you—you can create a powerful sense of gratitude. Showing gratitude is effective because it implies that you'll take full advantage of future opportunities (such as college) and not take them for granted. This student also demonstrates a mature worldview, by recognizing the difficulty in their family's past and how things easily could have turned out differently for this student.

This essay uses three moments of short, one-sentence long paragraphs. These moments create emphasis and are more impactful because they standalone. In general, paragraph breaks are your friend and you should use them liberally because they help keep the reader engaged. Long, dense paragraphs are easy to gloss over and ideas can lose focus within them. By using a variety of shorter and longer paragraphs (as well as shorter and longer sentences) you can create moments of emphasis and a more interesting structure.

What They Might Improve:

This conclusion is somewhat off-putting because it focuses on "other students" rather than the author themself. By saying it "fills me with pride" for having achieved without the same advantages, it could create the tone of "I'm better than those other students" which is distasteful. In general, avoid putting down others (unless they egregiously deserve it) and even subtle phrasings that imply you're better than others could create a negative tone. Always approach your writing with an attitude of optimism, understanding, and err on the side of positivity.

Common App Essay Example #2: Color Guard

This student was admitted to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill . Check out their Common App essay that focuses on an extracurricular:

Sweaty from the hot lights, the feeling of nervousness and excitement return as I take my place on the 30-yard line. For 10 short minutes, everyone is watching me. The first note of the opening song begins, and I’m off. Spinning flags, tossing rifles, and dancing across the football field. Being one of only two people on the colorguard means everyone will see everything. It’s amazing and terrifying. And just like that, the performance is over.

Flashback to almost four years ago, when I walked into the guard room for the first time. I saw flyers for a “dance/flag team” hanging in the bland school hallway, and because I am a dancer, I decided to go. This was not a dance team at all. Spinning flags and being part of the marching band did not sound like how I wanted to spend my free time. After the first day, I considered not going back. But, for some unknown reason, I stayed. And after that, I began to fall in love with color guard. It is such an unknown activity, and maybe that’s part of what captivated me. How could people not know about something so amazing? I learned everything about flags and dancing in that year. And something interesting happened- I noticed my confidence begin to grow. I had never thought I was that good at anything, there was always someone better. However, color guard was something I truly loved, and I was good at it.

The next year, I was thrown into an interesting position. Our current captain quit in the middle of the season, and I was named the new captain of a team of six. At first, this was quite a daunting task. I was only a sophomore, and I was supposed to lead people two years older than me? Someone must’ve really believed in me. Being captain sounded impossible to me at first, but I wouldn’t let that stop me from doing my best. This is where my confidence really shot up. I learned how to be a captain. Of course I was timid at first, but slowly, I began to become a true leader.

The next marching season, it paid off. I choreographed many pieces of our show, and helped teach the other part of my guard, which at the time was only one other person. Having a small guard, we had to be spectacular, especially for band competitions. We ended up winning first place and second place trophies, something that had never been done before at our school, especially for such a small guard. That season is still one of my favorite memories. The grueling hours of learning routines, making changes, and learning how to be a leader finally paid off.

Looking back on it as I exit the field after halftime once again, I am so proud of myself. Not only has color guard helped the band succeed, I’ve also grown. I am now confident in what my skills are. Of course there is always more to be done, but I now I have the confidence to share my ideas, which is something I can’t say I had before color guard. Every Friday night we perform, I think about the growth I’ve made, and I feel on top of the world. That feeling never gets old.

Common App Essay Example #3: Big Eater

This Common App essay is a successful Northwestern essay from an admitted student. It has a unique take using the topic of eating habits—an example of how "mundane" topics can make for interesting ideas.

This essay uses their relationship with food to explore how their perspective has changed through moving high schools far away. Having a central theme is often a good strategy because it allows you to explore ideas while making them feel connected and cohesive. This essay shows how even a "simple" topic like food can show a lot about your character because you can extrapolate what it represents, rather than just what it literally is. With every topic, you can analyze on two levels: what it literally is, and what it represents.

Admissions officers want to get a sense of who you are, and one way to convey that is by using natural-sounding language and being somewhat informal. In this essay, the student writes as they'd speak, which creates a "voice" that you as the reader can easily hear. Phrases like "I kind of got used to it" may be informal, but work to show a sense of character. Referring to their parents as "Ma" and "Papa" also bring the reader into their world. If you come from a non-English speaking country or household, it can also be beneficial to use words from your language, such as "chiemo" in this essay. Using foreign language words helps share your unique culture with admissions.

Rather than "telling" the reader what they have to say, this student does a great job of "showing" them through specific imagery and anecdotes. Using short but descriptive phrases like "whether it was a sum or Sam the bully" are able to capture bigger ideas in a more memorable way. Showing your points through anecdotes and examples is always more effective than simply telling them, because showing allows the reader to come to their own conclusion, rather than having to believe what you're saying.

This student's first language is not English, which does make it challenging to express ideas with the best clarity. Although this student does an overall great job in writing despite this hindrance, there are moments where their ideas are not easily understood. In particular, when discussing substance addiction, it isn't clear: Was the student's relationship with food a disorder, or was that a metaphor? When drafting your essay, focus first on expressing your points as clearly and plainly as possible (it's harder than you may think). Simplicity is often better, but if you'd like, afterwards you can add creative details and stylistic changes.

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Common App Essay Example #4: Love for Medicine

Here's another Common App essay which is an accepted Dartmouth essay . This student talks about their range of experiences as an emergency medical responder:

I never knew I had the courage to talk a suicidal sixteen-year-old boy down from the edge of a bridge, knowing that he could jump and take his life at any moment.

I never knew I had the confidence to stand my ground and defend my treatment plan to those who saw me as less than capable because of my age or gender.

This essay has lots of detailed moments and descriptions. These anecdotes help back up their main idea by showing, rather than just telling. It's always important to include relevant examples because they are the "proof in the pudding" for what you're trying to say.

This topic deals with a lot of sensitive issues, and at certain points the writing could be interpreted as insensitive or not humble. It's especially important when writing about tragedies that you focus on others, rather than yourself. Don't try to play up your accomplishments or role; let them speak for themselves. By doing so, you'll actually achieve what you're trying to do: create an image of an honorable and inspirational person.

This essay touches on a lot of challenging and difficult moments, but it lacks a deep level of reflection upon those moments. When analyzing your essay, ask yourself: what is the deepest idea in it? In this case, there are some interesting ideas (e.g. "when they were on my stretcher, socioeconomic status...fell away"), but they are not fully developed or fleshed out.

Common App Essay Example #5: Cultural Confusion

This student's Common App was accepted to Pomona College , among other schools. Although this essay uses a common topic of discussing cultural background, this student writes a compelling take.

This student uses the theme of cultural confusion to explain their interests and identity:

Common App Essay Example #6: Football Manager

Here's a UPenn essay that worked for the Common App:

This essay has lighthearted moments in it, such as recognizing how being a football manager "does not sound glamorous" and how "we managers go by many names: watergirls..." Using moments of humor can be appropriate for contrasting with moments of serious reflection. Being lighthearted also shows a sense of personality and that you are able to take things with stride.

The reflections in this essay are far too generic overall and ultimately lack meaning because they are unspecific. Using buzzwords like "hard work" and "valuable lessons" comes off as unoriginal, so avoid using them at all costs. Your reflections need to be specific to you to be most meaningful. If you could (in theory) pluck out sentences from your essay and drop them into another student's essay, then chances are those sentences are not very insightful. Your ideas should be only have been able to been written by you: specific to your experiences, personal in nature, and show deep reflection.

Although this essay uses the topic of "being a football manager," by the end of the essay it isn't clear what that role even constitutes. Avoid over-relying on other people or other's ideas when writing your essay. That is, most of the reflections in this essay are based on what the author witnessed the football team doing, rather than what they experienced for themselves in their role. Focus on your own experiences first, and be as specific and tangible as possible when describing your ideas. Rather than saying "hard work," show that hard work through an anecdote.

More important than your stories is the "So what?" behind them. Avoid writing stories that don't have a clear purpose besides "setting the scene." Although most fiction writing describes people and places as exposition, for your essays you want to avoid that unless it specifically contributes to your main point. In this essay, the first two paragraphs are almost entirely unnecessary, as the point of them can be captured in one sentence: "I joined to be a football manager one summer." The details of how that happened aren't necessary because they aren't reflected upon.

In typical academic writing, we're taught to "tell them what you're going to tell them" before telling them. But for college essays, every word is highly valuable. Avoid prefacing your statements and preparing the reader for them. Instead of saying "XYZ would prove to be an unforgettable experience," just dive right into the experience itself. Think of admissions officers as "being in a rush," and give them what they want: your interesting ideas and experiences.

Common App Essay Example #7: Coffee

This student was admitted to several selective colleges, including Emory University, Northwestern University , Tufts University, and the University of Southern California . Here's their Common Application they submitted to these schools:

I was 16 years old, and working at a family-owned coffee shop training other employees to pour latte art. Making coffee became an artistic outlet that I never had before. I always loved math, but once I explored the complexities of coffee, I began to delve into a more creative realm--photography and writing--and exposed myself to the arts--something foreign and intriguing.

This essay uses coffee as a metaphor for this student's self-growth, especially in dealing with the absence of their father. Showing the change of their relationship with coffee works well as a structure because it allows the student to explore various activities and ideas while making them seem connected.

This student does a great job of including specifics, such as coffee terminology ("bloom the grounds" and "pour a swan"). Using specific and "nerdy" language shows your interests effectively. Don't worry if they won't understand all the references exactly, as long as there is context around them.

While coffee is the central topic, the author also references their father extensively throughout. It isn't clear until the conclusion how these topics relate, which makes the essay feel disjointed. In addition, there is no strong main idea, but instead a few different ideas. In general, it is better to focus on one interesting idea and delve deeply, rather than focus on many and be surface-level.

Near the conclusion, this student tells about their character: "humble, yet important, simple, yet complex..." You should avoid describing yourself to admissions officers, as it is less convincing. Instead, use stories, anecdotes, and ideas to demonstrate these qualities. For example, don't say "I'm curious," but show them by asking questions. Don't say, "I'm humble," but show them with how you reacted after a success or failure.

Common App Essay Example #8: Chicago

Here's another Northwestern essay . Northwestern is a quite popular school with lots of strong essay-focused applicants, which makes your "Why Northwestern?" essay important.

To write a strong Why Northwestern essay, try to answer these questions: What does NU represent to you? What does NU offer for you (and your interests) that other schools don't?

This essay uses a variety of descriptive and compelling words, without seeming forced or unnatural. It is important that you use your best vocabulary, but don't go reaching for a thesaurus. Instead, use words that are the most descriptive, while remaining true to how you'd actually write.

This essay is one big metaphor: the "L" train serves as a vehicle to explore this student's intellectual curiosity. Throughout the essay, the student also incorporates creative metaphors like "the belly of a gargantuan silver beast" and "seventy-five cent silver chariot" that show a keen sense of expression. If a metaphor sounds like one you've heard before, you probably shouldn't use it.

This student does a fantastic job of naturally talking about their activities. By connecting their activities to a common theme—in this case the "L" train—you can more easily move from one activity to the next, without seeming like you're just listing activities. This serves as an engaging way of introducing your extracurriculars and achievements, while still having the focus of your essay be on your interesting ideas.

Admissions officers are ultimately trying to get a sense of who you are. This student does a great job of taking the reader into their world. By sharing quirks and colloquialisms (i.e. specific language you use), you can create an authentic sense of personality.

Common App Essay Example #9: Mountaineering

Here's a liberal arts college Common App essay from Colby College . Colby is a highly ranked liberal arts college.

As with all colleges—but especially liberal arts schools—your personal essay will be a considerable factor.

In this essay, the student describes their experience climbing Mount Adams, and the physical and logistical preparations that went into it. They describe how they overcame some initial setbacks by using their organizational skills from previous expeditions.

This Colby student explains how the process of preparation can lead to success in academics and other endeavours, but with the potential for negative unintended consequences.

Common App Prompt #2: The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience? (250-650 words)

This essay does a great job of having a cohesive theme: mountaineering. Often times, great essay topics can be something simple on the surface, such as your favorite extracurricular activity or a notable experience. Consider using the literal activity as a sort of metaphor, like this essay does. This student uses mountaineering as a metaphor for preparation in the face of upcoming challenge. Using an overarching metaphor along with a central theme can be effective because it allows you to explore various ideas while having them all feel connected and cohesive.

Admissions officers want to see your self-growth, which doesn't always mean your successes. Often times, being vulnerable by expressing your struggles is powerful because it makes you more human and relatable, while providing the opportunity to reflect on what you learned. The best lessons from come failures, and writing about challenge can also make your later successes feel more impactful. Everyone loves to hear an underdog or zero-to-hero story. But counterintuitively, your failures are actually more important than your successes.

This essay has some nice ideas about focusing only on what's in your control: your attitude and your effort. However, these ideas are ultimately somewhat generic as they have been used countless times in admissions essays. Although ideas like this can be a good foundation, you should strive to reach deeper ideas. Deeper ideas are ones that are specific to you, unique, and interesting. You can reach deeper ideas by continually asking yourself "How" and "Why" questions that cause you to think deeper about a topic. Don't be satisfied with surface-level reflections. Think about what they represent more deeply, or how you can connect to other ideas or areas of your life.

Common App Essay Example #10: Boarding School

This personal essay was accepted to Claremont McKenna College . See how this student wrote a vulnerable essay about boarding school experience and their family relationship:

I began attending boarding school aged nine.

Obviously, this is not particularly unusual – my school dorms were comprised of boys and girls in the same position as me. However, for me it was difficult – or perhaps it was for all of us; I don’t know. We certainly never discussed it.

I felt utterly alone, as though my family had abruptly withdrawn the love and support thatI so desperately needed. At first, I did try to open up to them during weekly phone calls, but what could they do? As months slipped by, the number of calls reduced. I felt they had forgotten me. Maybe they felt I had withdrawn from them. A vast chasm of distance was cracking open between us.

At first, I shared my hurt feelings with my peers, who were amazingly supportive, but there was a limit to how much help they could offer. After a while, I realized that by opening up, I was burdening them, perhaps even irritating them. The feelings I was sharing should have been reserved for family. So, I withdrew into myself. I started storing up my emotions and became a man of few words. In the classroom or on the sports field, people saw a self-confident and cheerful character, but behind that facade was someone who yearned for someone to understand him and accept him as he was.

Years went past.

Then came the phone call which was about to change my life. “Just come home Aryan, it’s really important!” My mother’s voice was odd, brittle. I told her I had important exams the following week, so needed to study. “Aryan, why don’t you listen to me? There is no other option, okay? You are coming home.”

Concerned, I arranged to fly home. When I got there, my sister didn’t say hi to me, my grandmother didn’t seem overly enthusiastic to see me and my mother was nowhere to be seen. I wanted to be told why I was called back so suddenly just to be greeted as though I wasn’t even welcome.

Then my mother then came out of her room and saw me. To my immense incredulity, she ran to me and hugged me, and started crying in my arms.

Then came the revelation, “Your father had a heart attack.”

My father. The man I hadn’t really talked to in years. A man who didn’t even know who I was anymore. I’d spent so long being disappointed in him and suspecting he was disappointed in me, I sunk under a flood of emotions.

I opened the door to his room and there he was sitting on his bed with a weak smile on his face. I felt shaken to my core. All at once it was clear to me how self-centered I had become. A feeling of humiliation engulfed me, but finally I realized that rather than wallow in it, I needed to appreciate I was not alone in having feelings.

I remained at home that week. I understood that my family needed me. I worked with my uncle to ensure my family business was running smoothly and often invited relatives or friends over to cheer my father up.

Most importantly, I spent time with my family. It had been years since I’d last wanted to do this – I had actively built the distance between us – but really, I’d never stopped craving it. Sitting together in the living room, I realized how badly I needed them.

Seeing happiness in my father’s eyes, I felt I was finally being the son he had always needed me to be: A strong, capable young man equipped to take over the family business if need be.

Common App Essay Example #11: My Father

This Cornell University essay is an example of writing about a tragedy, which can be a tricky topic to write about well.

Family and tragedy essays are a commonly used topic, so it can be harder to come up with a unique essay idea using these topics.

Let me know what you think of this essay for Cornell:

My father was wise, reserved, hardworking, and above all, caring. I idolized his humility and pragmatism, and I cherish it today. But after his death, I was emotionally raw. I could barely get through class without staving off a breakdown.

Writing about tragedy, such as the loss of a loved one, is a tricky topic because it has been used countless times in college admissions. It is difficult to not come off as a "victim" or that you're trying to garner sympathy by using the topic (i.e. a "sob story"). This essay does a great job of writing about a personal tragedy in a meaningful and unique way by connecting to values and ideas, rather than staying focused on what literally happened. By connecting tragedy to lessons and takeaways, you can show how—despite the difficulty and sorrow—you have gained something positive from it, however small that may be. Don't write about personal tragedy because you think "you should." As with any topic, only write about it if you have a meaningful point to make.

This essay is effective at making the reader feel the similar emotions as the author does and in bringing the reader into their "world." Even small remarks like noting the the "firsts" without their loved one are powerful because it is relatable and something that is apparent, but not commonly talked about. Using short phrases like "That was it. No goodbye, no I love you..." create emphasis and again a sense of relatability. As the reader, you can vividly imagine how the author must have felt during these moments. The author also uses questions, such as "What did I last say to him?" which showcase their thought process, another powerful way to bring the reader into your world.

Admissions officers are looking for self-growth, which can come in a variety of forms. Showing a new perspective is one way to convey that you've developed over time, learned something new, or gained new understanding or appreciation. In this essay, the student uses the "sticker of a black and white eye" to represent how they viewed their father differently before and after his passing. By using a static, unchanging object like this, and showing how you now view it differently over time, you convey a change in perspective that can make for interesting reflections.

Common App Essay Example #12: DMV Trials

Here's a funny Common App essay from a Northwestern admitted student about getting their driver's license.

This topic has been used before—as many "topics" have—but what's important is having a unique take or idea.

What do you think of this Northwestern essay ?

Breath, Emily, breath. I drive to the exit and face a four-lane roadway. “Turn left,” my passenger says.

On July 29, [Date] , I finally got my license. After the April debacle, I practiced driving almost every week. I learned to stop at stop signs and look both ways before crossing streets, the things I apparently didn’t know how to do during my first two tests. When pulling into the parking lot with the examiner for the last time, a wave of relief washed over me.

This essay does a good job of having a compelling narrative. By setting the scene descriptively, it is easy to follow and makes for a pleasant reading experience. However, avoid excessive storytelling, as it can overshadow your reflections, which are ultimately most important.

This essay has some moments where the author may come off as being overly critical, of either themselves or of others. Although it is okay (and good) to recognize your flaws, you don't want to portray yourself in a negative manner. Avoid being too negative, and instead try to find the positive aspects when possible.

More important than your stories is the answer to "So what?" and why they matter. Avoid writing a personal statement that is entirely story-based, because this leaves little room for reflection and to share your ideas. In this essay, the reflections are delayed to the end and not as developed as they could be.

In this essay, it comes across that failure is negative. Although the conclusion ultimately has a change of perspective in that "failure is inevitable and essential to moving forward," it doesn't address that failure is ultimately a positive thing. Admissions officers want to see failure and your challenges, because overcoming those challenges is what demonstrates personal growth.

Common App Essay Example #13: Ice Cream Fridays

This Columbia essay starts off with a vulnerable moment of running for school president. The student goes on to show their growth through Model UN, using detailed anecdotes and selected moments.

My fascination with geopolitical and economic issues were what kept me committed to MUN. But by the end of sophomore year, the co-presidents were fed up. “Henry, we know how hard you try, but there are only so many spots for each conference...” said one. “You’re wasting space, you should quit,” said the other.

This essay has a compelling story, starting from this author's early struggles with public speaking and developing into their later successes with Model UN. Using a central theme—in this case public speaking—is an effective way of creating a cohesive essay. By having a main idea, you can tie in multiple moments or achievements without them coming across unrelated.

This student talks about their achievements with a humble attitude. To reference your successes, it's equally important to address your failures. By expressing your challenges, it will make your later achievements seem more impactful in contrast. This student also is less "me-focused" and instead is interested in others dealing with the same struggles. By connecting to people in your life, values, or interesting ideas, you can reference your accomplishments without coming off as bragging.

This essay has moments of reflection, such as "math and programming made sense... people didn't". However, most of these ideas are cut short, without going much deeper. When you strike upon a potentially interesting idea, keep going with it. Try to explain the nuances, or broaden your idea to more universal themes. Find what is most interesting about your experience and share that with admissions.

Stories are important, but make sure all your descriptions are critical for the story. In this essay, the author describes things that don't add to the story, such as the appearance of other people or what they were wearing. These ultimately don't relate to their main idea—overcoming public speaking challenges—and instead are distracting.

Common App Essay Example #14: Key to Happiness

Here's a Brown University application essay that does a great job of a broad timeline essay. This student shows the change in their thinking and motivations over a period of time, which makes for an interesting topic.

Let me know what you think of this Brown essay:

Common App Prompt #3: Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome? (250-650 words)

This student's first language is not English, which provides some insight into why the phrasing may not seem as natural or show as much personality. Admissions officers are holistic in determining who to admit, meaning they take into account many different factors when judging your essays. While this essay may not be the strongest, the applicant probably had other qualities or "hooks" that helped them get accepted, such as awards, activities, unique background, etc. Plus, there is some leniency granted to students who don't speak English as their first language, because writing essays in a foreign language is tough in and of itself.

It's good to be confident in your achievements, but you don't want to come across as boastful or self-assured. In this essay, some of the phrasing such as "when I was the best at everything" seems exaggerated and is off-putting. Instead of boosting your accomplishments, write about them in a way that almost "diminishes" them. Connect your achievements to something bigger than you: an interesting idea, a passionate cause, another person or group. By not inflating your achievements, you'll come across more humble and your achievements will actually seem more impactful. We all have heard of a highly successful person who thinks "it's no big deal," which actually makes their talents seem far more impressive.

This essay has some takeaways and reflections, as your essay should too, but ultimately these ideas are unoriginal and potentially cliché. Ideas like "what makes you happy is pursing your passion" are overused and have been heard thousands of times by admissions officers. Instead, focus on getting to unique and "deep" ideas: ideas that are specific to you and that have meaningful implications. It's okay to start off with more surface-level ideas, but you want to keep asking questions to yourself like "Why" and "How" to push yourself to think deeper. Try making connections, asking what something represents more broadly, or analyzing something from a different perspective.

You don't need to preface your ideas in your essay. Don't say things like "I later found out this would be life-changing, and here's why." Instead, just jump into the details that are most compelling. In this essay, there are moments that seem repetitive and redundant because they don't add new ideas and instead restate what's already been said in different words. When editing your essay, be critical of every sentence (and even words) by asking: Does this add something new to my essay? Does it have a clear, distinct purpose? If the answer is no, you should probably remove that sentence.

Common App Essay Example #15: Discovering Passion

Here's a Johns Hopkins essay that shows how the student had a change in attitude and perspective after taking a summer job at a care facility.

It may seem odd to write about your potential drawbacks or weaknesses—such as having a bad attitude towards something—but it's real and can help demonstrate personal growth.

So tell me your thoughts on this JHU Common App essay:

Common App Prompt #5: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (250-650 words)

This student uses vulnerability in admitting that they held preconceived notions about the elderly before this experience. The quote introduces these preconceived notions well, while the description of how this student got their job in the care facility is also engaging.

Admission officers love to see your interactions with others. Showing how you interact reveals a lot about your character, and this essay benefits from reflecting upon the student's relationship with a particular elderly individual.

It is good to be descriptive, but only when it supports your expression of ideas. In this essay, the author uses adjectives and adverbs excessively, without introducing new ideas. Your ideas are more important than having a diverse vocabulary, and the realizations in this essay are muddled by rephrasing similar ideas using seemingly "impressive," but ultimately somewhat meaningless, vocabulary.

This essay touches on some interesting ideas, but on multiple occasions these ideas are repeated just in different phrasing. If you have already expressed an idea, don't repeat it unless you're adding something new: a deeper context, a new angle, a broadened application, etc. Ask yourself: what is the purpose of each sentence, and have I expressed it already?

It's true that almost any topic can make for a strong essay, but certain topics are trickier because they make it easy to write about overly used ideas. In this essay, the main idea can be summarized as: "I realized the elderly were worthy humans too." It touches upon more interesting ideas, such as how people can be reduced down to their afflictions rather than their true character, but the main idea is somewhat surface-level.

Common App Essay Example #16: "A Cow Gave Birth"

This Common App essay for the University of Pennsylvania centers on the theme of womanhood. Not only is it well-written, but this essay has interesting and unique ideas that relate to the student's interests.

Common App Essay Example #17: Robotics

This Common App essay was for Washington University in St. Louis .

This student writes about their experience creating and using an engineering notebook to better document their robotics progress. They share the story of how their dedication and perseverance led to winning awards and qualifying for the national championships.

Lastly, they reflect on the importance of following one's passions in life and decision to pursue a business degree instead of a engineering one.

This essay touches on various lessons that they've learned as a result of their experience doing robotics. However, these lessons are ultimately surface-level and generic, such as "I embraced new challenges." Although these could be a starting point for deeper ideas, on their own they come off as unoriginal and overused. Having interesting ideas is what makes an essay the most compelling, and you need to delve deeply into reflection, past the surface-level takeaways. When drafting and brainstorming, keep asking yourself questions like "How" and "Why" to dig deeper. Ask "What does this represent? How does it connect to other things? What does this show about myself/the world/society/etc.?"

Although this essay is focused on "VEX robotics," the details of what that activity involves are not elaborated. Rather than focusing on the surface-level descriptions like "We competed and won," it would be more engaging to delve into the details. What did your robot do? How did you compete? What were the specific challenges in "lacking building materials"? Use visuals and imagery to create a more engaging picture of what you were doing.

The hook and ending sentences of "drifting off to sleep" feel arbitrary and not at all connected to any ideas throughout the essay. Instead, it comes off as a contrived choice to create a "full circle" essay. Although coming full circle is often a good strategy, there should be a specific purpose in doing so. For your intro, try using a short sentence that creates emphasis on something interesting. For the conclusion, try using similar language to the intro, expanding upon your ideas to more universal takeaways, or connecting back to previous ideas with a new nuance.

Common App Essay Example #18: Lab Research

Common app essay example #19: carioca dance.

Having a natural-sounding style of writing can be a great way of conveying personality. This student does a fantastic job of writing as they'd speak, which lets admissions officers create a clear "image" of who you are in their head. By writing naturally and not robotically, you can create a "voice" and add character to your essay.

This student chooses a unique activity, the Carioca drill, as their main topic. By choosing a "theme" like this, it allows you to easily and naturally talk about other activities too, without seeming like you're simply listing activities. This student uses the Carioca as a metaphor for overcoming difficulties and relates it to their other activities and academics—public speaking and their job experience.

Showing a sense of humor can indicate wit, which not only makes you seem more likeable, but also conveys self-awareness. By not always taking yourself 100% seriously, you can be more relatable to the reader. This student acknowledges their struggles in conjunction with using humor ("the drills were not named after me—'Saads'"), which shows a recognition that they have room to improve, while not being overly self-critical.

Common App Essay Example #20: Chinese Language

The list of languages that Lincoln offered startled me. “There’s so many,” I thought, “Latin, Spanish, Chinese, and French.”

As soon as I stepped off the plane, and set my eyes upon the beautiful city of Shanghai, I fell in love. In that moment, I had an epiphany. China was made for me, and I wanted to give it all my first; first job and first apartment.

Using creative metaphors can be an effective way of conveying ideas. In this essay, the metaphor of "Chinese characters...were the names of my best friends" tells a lot about this student's relationship with the language. When coming up with metaphors, a good rule of thumb is: if you've heard it before, don't use it. Only use metaphors that are specific, make sense for what you're trying to say, and are highly unique.

Whenever you "tell" something, you should try and back it up with anecdotes, examples, or experiences. Instead of saying that "I made conversation," this student exemplifies it by listing who they talked to. Showing is always going to be more compelling than telling because it allows the reader to come to the conclusion on their own, which makes them believe it much stronger. Use specific, tangible examples to back up your points and convince the reader of what you're saying.

Although this essay has reflections, they tend to be more surface-level, rather than unique and compelling. Admissions officers have read thousands of application essays and are familiar with most of the ideas students write about. To stand out, you'll need to dive deeper into your ideas. To do this, keep asking yourself questions whenever you have an interesting idea. Ask "Why" and "How" repeatedly until you reach something that is unique, specific to you, and super interesting.

Avoid writing a conclusion that only "sounds nice," but lacks real meaning. Often times, students write conclusions that go full circle, or have an interesting quote, but they still don't connect to the main idea of the essay. Your conclusion should be your strongest, most interesting idea. It should say something new: a new perspective, a new takeaway, a new aspect of your main point. End your essay strongly by staying on topic, but taking your idea one step further to the deepest it can go.

Common App Essay Example #21: Kiki's Delivery Service

Common App Prompt #6: Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? (250-650 words)

I spent much of my childhood watching movies. I became absolutely engrossed in many different films, TV shows, and animations. From the movie theatres to the TV, I spent my hours enjoying the beauty of visual media. One place that was special to me was the car. My parents purchased a special screen that could be mounted on the back of the headrest, so that I could watch movies on trips. This benefited both parties, as I was occupied, and they had peace. Looking back, I realize this screen played a crucial role in my childhood. It was an integral part of many journeys. I remember taking a drive to Washington D.C, with my visiting relatives from Poland, and spending my time with my eyes on the screen. I remember packing up my possessions and moving to my current home from Queens, watching my cartoons the whole time. I can comfortably say that watching movies in the car has been an familiar anchor during times of change in my life.

I used to watch many different cartoons, nature documentaries, and other products in the car, yet there has been one movie that I have rewatched constantly. It is called “Kiki’s Delivery Service” by Hayao Miyazaki. My parents picked it up at a garage sale one day, and I fell in love. The style of the animations were beautiful, and the captivating story of a thirteen year old witch leaving home really appealed to me. To be honest, the initial times I watched it, I didn’t fully understand the story but the magic and beauty just made me happy. Then, the more I watched it, I began to see that it was more about independence, including the need to get away from home and establish yourself as your own person. This mirrors how I felt during that period of my life,with mehaving a little rebellious streak; I didn’t agree with my parents on certain topics. That is not the end of the story though. As the years passed, and I watched it a couple more times, although with less frequency than before, my view of this movie evolved yet again.

Instead of solely thinking about the need for independence, I began to think the movie was more about the balance of independence and reliance. In the movie, the girl finds herself struggling until she begins to accept help from others. Looking back, this also follows my own philosophy during this time. As I began to mature, I began to realize the value of family, and accept all the help I can get from them. I appreciate all the hard work they had done for me, and I recognize their experience in life and take advantage of it. I passed through my rebellious phase, and this reflected in my analysis of the movie. I believe that this is common, and if I look through the rest of my life I am sure I would find other similar examples of my thoughts evolving based on the stage in my life. This movie is one of the most important to me throughout my life.

Common App Essay Example #22: Museum of Life

Using visuals can be a way to add interesting moments to your essay. Avoid being overly descriptive, however, as it can be distracting from your main point. When drafting, start by focusing on your ideas (your reflections and takeaways). Once you have a rough draft, then you can consider ways to incorporate imagery that can add character and flavor to your essay.

Admissions officers are people, just like you, and therefore are drawn to personalities that exhibit positive qualities. Some of the most important qualities to portray are: humility, curiosity, thoughtfulness, and passion. In this essay, there are several moments that could be interpreted as potentially self-centered or arrogant. Avoid trying to make yourself out to be "better" or "greater" than other people. Instead, focus on having unique and interesting ideas first, and this will show you as a likeable, insightful person. Although this is a "personal" statement, you should also avoid over using "I" in your essay. When you have lots of "I" sentences, it starts to feel somewhat ego-centric, rather than humble and interested in something greater than you.

This essay does a lot of "telling" about the author's character. Instead, you want to provide evidence—through examples, anecdotes, and moments—that allow the reader to come to their own conclusions about who you are. Avoid surface-level takeaways like "I am open-minded and have a thirst for knowledge." These types of statements are meaningless because anyone can write them. Instead, focus on backing up your points by "showing," and then reflect genuinely and deeply on those topics.

This essay is focused on art museums and tries to tie in a connection to studying medicine. However, because this connection is very brief and not elaborated, the connection seems weak. To connect to your area of study when writing about a different topic, try reflecting on your topic first. Go deep into interesting ideas by asking "How" and "Why" questions. Then, take those ideas and broaden them. Think of ways they could differ or parallel your desired area of study. The best connections between a topic (such as an extracurricular) and your area of study (i.e. your major) is through having interesting ideas.

Common App Essay Example #23: French Horn

This student chose the creative idea of personifying their French horn as their central theme. Using this personification, they are able to write about a multitude of moments while making them all feel connected. This unique approach also makes for a more engaging essay, as it is not overly straightforward and generic.

It can be challenging to reference your achievements without seeming boastful or coming across too plainly. This student manages to write about their successes ("acceptance into the Julliard Pre-College program") by using them as moments part of a broader story. The focus isn't necessarily on the accomplishments themselves, but the role they play in this relationship with their instrument. By connecting more subtly like this, it shows humility. Often, "diminishing" your achievements will actually make them stand out more, because it shows you're focused on the greater meaning behind them, rather than just "what you did."

This student does a good job of exemplifying each of their ideas. Rather than just saying "I experienced failure," they show it through imagery ("dried lips, cracked notes, and missed entrances"). Similarly, with their idea "no success comes without sacrifice," they exemplify it using examples of sacrifice. Always try to back up your points using examples, because showing is much more convincing than telling. Anyone can "tell" things, but showing requires proof.

This essay has a decent conclusion, but it could be stronger by adding nuance to their main idea or connecting to the beginning with a new perspective. Rather than repeating what you've established previously, make sure your conclusion has a different "angle" or new aspect. This can be connecting your main idea to more universal values, showing how you now view something differently, or emphasizing a particular aspect of your main idea that was earlier introduced.

Common App Essay Example #24: Dear My Younger Self

Common App Prompt #7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. (250-650 words)

Younger Anna,

  • Don’t live your life as if you're constantly being watched and criticized. Chances are, no one is even paying attention to you.
  • Wear your retainer.
  • Empathy makes your life easier. People who are inexplicably cruel are suffering just as much as the recipients of their abuse. Understanding this makes your interactions with these people less painful.
  • Comparing yourself to your classmates is counterproductive. Sometimes you will forge ahead, other times you will lag behind. But ultimately, you’re only racing yourself.
  • Speak up to your stepmom.
  • Always eat the cake. I couldn't tell you how many times I’ve turned away a slice of cake, only to regret it the next day. If you really can’t commit, do yourself a favor and take a slice home with you.
  • Cherish your grandparents.
  • Forgive your mother. Harboring resentment hurts you just as much as her. All the time I spent being angry at her could’ve been spent discovering her strengths.

This essay chose a unique structure in the form of a letter addressed to themselves with a list of lessons they've learned. This structure is unique, and also allows the student to explore a variety of topics and ideas while making them all feel connected. It is tricky to not seem "gimmicky" when choosing a creative structure like this, but the key is to make your essay well thought-out. Show that you've put effort into reflecting deeply, and that you aren't choosing a unique structure just to stand out.

This essay is highly focused on lessons they've learned, which shows a deep level of reflection. Your ideas and takeaways from life experience are ultimately most compelling to admissions officers, and this essay succeeds because it is focused almost entirely on those reflections. This student also manages to incorporate anecdotes and mini stories where appropriate, which makes their reflections more memorable by being tangible.

Showing humility and self-awareness are two highly attractive traits in college admissions. Being able to recognize your own flaws and strengths, while not making yourself out to be more than what you are, shows that you are mature and thoughtful. Avoid trying to "boost yourself up" by exaggerating your accomplishments or over-emphasizing your strengths. Instead, let your ideas speak for themselves, and by focusing on genuine, meaningful ideas, you'll convey a persona that is both humble and insightful.

The drawback of having a structure like this, where lots of different ideas are examined, is that no one idea is examined in-depth. As a result, some ideas (such as "intelligence is not defined by your grades") come across as trite and overused. In general, avoid touching on lots of ideas while being surface-level. Instead, it's almost always better to choose a handful (or even just one main idea) and go as in-depth as possible by continually asking probing questions—"How" and "Why"—that force yourself to think deeper and be more critical. Having depth of ideas shows inquisitiveness, thoughtfulness, and ultimately are more interesting because they are ideas that only you could have written.

Common App Essay Example #25: Monopoly

Feeling a bit weary from my last roll of the dice, I cross my fingers with the “FREE PARKING” square in sight. As luck has it, I smoothly glide past the hotels to have my best horse show yet- earning multiple wins against stiff competition and gaining points to qualify for five different national finals this year.

This essay uses the board game "Monopoly" as a metaphor for their life. By using a metaphor as your main topic, you can connect to different ideas and activities in a cohesive way. However, make sure the metaphor isn't chosen arbitrarily. In this essay, it isn't completely clear why Monopoly is an apt metaphor for their life, because the specific qualities that make Monopoly unique aren't explained or elaborated. Lots of games require "strategy and precision, with a hint of luck and a tremendous amount of challenge," so it'd be better to focus on the unique aspects of the game to make a more clear connection. For example, moving around the board in a "repetitive" fashion, but each time you go around with a different perspective. When choosing a metaphor, first make sure that it is fitting for what you're trying to describe.

You want to avoid listing your activities or referencing them without a clear connection to something greater. Since you have an activities list already, referencing your activities in your essay should have a specific purpose, rather than just emphasizing your achievements. In this essay, the student connects their activities by connecting them to a specific idea: how each activity is like a mini challenge that they must encounter to progress in life. Make sure your activities connect to something specifically: an idea, a value, an aspect of your character.

This essay lacks depth in their reflections by not delving deeply into their main takeaways. In this essay, the main "idea" is that they've learned to be persistent with whatever comes their way. This idea could be a good starting point, but on its own is too generic and not unique enough. Your idea should be deep and specific, meaning that it should be something only you could have written about. If your takeaway could be used in another student's essay without much modification, chances are it is a surface-level takeaway and you want to go more in-depth. To go in-depth, keep asking probing questions like "How" and "Why" or try making more abstract connections between topics.

In the final two paragraphs, this essay does a lot of "telling" about the lessons they've learned. They write "I know that in moments of doubt...I can rise to the occasion." Although this could be interesting, it would be far more effective if this idea is shown through anecdotes or experiences. The previous examples in the essay don't "show" this idea. When drafting, take your ideas and think of ways you can represent them without having to state them outright. By showing your points, you will create a more engaging and convincing essay because you'll allow the reader to come to the conclusion themselves, rather than having to believe what you've told them.

What Can You Learn from These Common App Essay Examples?

With these 25 Common App essay examples, you can get inspired and improve your own personal statement.

If you want to get accepted into selective colleges this year, your Common App essays needs to be its best possible.

What makes a good Common App essay isn't easy to define. There aren't any rules or steps.

But using these samples from real students, you can understand what it takes to write an outstanding personal statement .

Let me know, which Common App essay did you think was the best?

Ryan Chiang , Founder of EssaysThatWorked

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Princeton Admitted Essay

People love to ask why. Why do you wear a turban? Why do you have long hair? Why are you playing a guitar with only 3 strings and watching TV at 3 A.M.—where did you get that cat? Why won’t you go back to your country, you terrorist? My answer is... uncomfortable. Many truths of the world are uncomfortable...

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Her baking is not confined to an amalgamation of sugar, butter, and flour. It's an outstretched hand, an open invitation, a makeshift bridge thrown across the divides of age and culture. Thanks to Buni, the reason I bake has evolved. What started as stress relief is now a lifeline to my heritage, a language that allows me to communicate with my family in ways my tongue cannot. By rolling dough for saratele and crushing walnuts for cornulete, my baking speaks more fluently to my Romanian heritage than my broken Romanian ever could....

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UPenn Admitted Essay

A cow gave birth and I watched. Staring from the window of our stopped car, I experienced two beginnings that day: the small bovine life and my future. Both emerged when I was only 10 years old and cruising along the twisting roads of rural Maryland...

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UVA Essay Examples

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UVA Essay Examples – Introduction

In this guide, we’ll learn about the University of Virginia supplemental essays through several UVA essay examples. We’ve included UVA supplemental essays examples, addressing various UVA essay prompts to teach you what a successful essay looks like. After each, we’ll discuss the parts of these UVA essays that worked. Read on to learn more about writing strong University of Virginia essays.

University of Virginia background

The University of Virginia is a public research university located in Charlottesville, Virginia. Founded by Thomas Jefferson in 1819, today UVA is home to over 27,000 undergraduate, graduate, and post-graduate students. With UVA ranking among the top U.S. public universities, thousands of UVA applications flood the University of Virginia admissions annually. Of all the UVA application requirements, the University of Virginia supplemental essays are perhaps the most important aside from grades.

What are the UVA Supplemental Essays?

Ultimately, applicants to UVA will write three essays. The first has a 100-word limit, while the other two are 50 words or fewer. Since the UVA application is part of the Common Application , you’ll also need a personal statement .

When you apply to UVA through the Common App , you must choose to apply to one of UVA’s five schools and colleges. The school or college you select on your UVA application is an important decision as it will determine one of three essays that you will write. Below is a list of UVA’s five schools and colleges and their respective essay prompts.

University of Virginia- School-Specific Essays (100 words)

I. college of arts & sciences.

If you could create a college course that all UVA students would take, what would it be about and why? 

II. School of Engineering

How will you use an engineering degree to change the world for the better? 

III. School of Architecture

Describe a significant experience that deepened your interest in studying at the School of Architecture. 

IV. School of Nursing

Describe a healthcare-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing. 

V. Kinesiology Program

Describe an experience that has deepened your interest in studying kinesiology.

Mind the word limits

This first University of Virginia essay has a word limit of 100 words. For your second and third essays for the University of Virginia, you will choose from a list of eleven UVA essay prompts. Remember, the last two University of Virginia essays have a word limit of only 50-words. Below are the prompts students must choose from.

UVA Essay Prompts- Choose Two 

  • What’s your favorite word and why?
  • We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. What is one of your quirks?
  • About what topic could you speak for an hour?
  • Take us to your happy place.
  • You can wake up tomorrow and a skill you already have will become expert-level. What skill is that?
  • What is the last gift you gave someone that wasn’t bought with money?
  • What website is the internet missing?
  • After a challenging experience, how do you recharge?
  • Tell us about a place you’d like to share with everyone, but also keep to yourself.
  • 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?
  • Tell us about a time when, faced with an opinion or perspective that differed from your own, you responded as an empathetic speaker or generous listener.

Essay prompts do change

If you’ve read our University of Virginia supplemental essays guide from last year, you may be scratching your head. Weren’t there only two required University of Virginia essays? Well, the University of Virginia admissions team has changed the UVA application requirements when it comes to essays. This isn’t uncommon—college essay prompts usually change in some way from year to year. But the University of Virginia supplemental essays and UVA essay prompts have seen a pretty big change.

As a result of this change, the UVA supplemental essays examples we’ve included below may not exactly reflect this year’s UVA essay prompts. However, reading our UVA essay examples and other college essay examples can still help you brainstorm for other essays.

UVA Essay Examples – Prompt #1

To kick off our UVA supplemental essays examples, we have three UVA essays addressing a singular prompt. As mentioned above, the UVA essay prompts have changed pretty drastically this year. Therefore, this prompt isn’t part of this year’s UVA application. However, these UVA essays that worked have some strengths you can apply to any college essay.

Even if these UVA essay examples are different from what you’ll write, it’s good to consider how you might approach different essay prompts . 

Our First Essay Example Prompt

So, for UVA essay prompts like the one below, what should strong UVA essay examples have in common? Obviously, the work you choose should have impacted you deeply. However, it doesn’t have to be a world-famous work: it could be a manga, a theorem, or a video game. Most importantly, the impact this work had on you should reflect something about you, your values, or your worldview.

At the end of the day, successful UVA supplemental essays examples share traits with all effective college essays. They address the prompt, tell a compelling story, and shine a spotlight on you. Strong UVA supplemental essays examples, even short ones, add depth to your personal narrative — so make every word count! With that in mind, let’s look at three UVA essay examples for this prompt.

What work of art, music, science, mathematics, literature, or other media has surprised, unsettled, or inspired you, and in what way?

Uva essays that worked #1.

Staring blankly at a black square, I pull on my hair in frustration. As my teacher announces that there are three minutes left on the test, my frustrations turn into rage and I burst out in the middle of class: “How do we analyze this? This isn’t art!”

My love-hate relationship with Kazimir Malevich’s Black Square piece started when my middle school art teacher told us to analyze his work on a test.

Although I wasn’t a renowned artist, I thought Kazimir’s Black Square was nowhere near art. How could someone paint a black square, declare it art, and then call it a day? My dislike for Kazimir’s art, however, changed when I learned about the context behind his artwork. I became fascinated by how Kazimir was able to use his artwork to completely revitalize people’s definition of “art”. As I learned about Kazimir’s motives I had an epiphany: the Black Square was more than just… well, a black square. Instead, it was a revolutionary tool used to deconstruct reality and form a new perception of art.

To this day, Kazimir has taught me to not let my preconceptions of reality shape how I process information. I realized the importance of striving to understand cultures, identities, and ideas that are different from mine rather than reject them because of my preconceptions. With this in mind, I learned that any idea or concept is not static and can be expanded and changed; it’s imperative to not reject any ideas that are different from my own to expand my own understanding of a concept.

It’s safe to say that my 12-year-old self was wrong: black squares can be art too.

Why This Essay Worked

Most essay guides, ours included, will hammer home the effectiveness of narrative essays. This doesn’t make a narrative structure essential—as we’ll see, plenty of UVA essays that worked aren’t narratives. However, UVA essay examples that open with some action or scene have the power to instantly grab a reader’s attention. The vivid language this author uses in their opening to frame their topic quickly conveys their frustration.

Regardless of how they hook readers, strong UVA supplemental essays examples for any prompt will look inward. After the opening, the author talks about how their perspective changed. This is what the prompt asks, and strong UVA essay examples like this clearly define that change. Again, impactful language illustrates how the author’s new understanding of Kazimir’s work widened their perspective on art.

The author concludes by connecting their revelations from Kazimir to their worldview as a whole. All of these UVA essay examples show admissions officers who the author is and what they consider important. Effective UVA supplemental essays examples illustrate your values or background and how you’ll enrich the campus community with them. In your University of Virginia essays, be reflective in your writing to allow your principles to shine through.

Another Response to the First Prompt

Uva essays that worked #2.

I think that this is best answered by sharing the letter I wrote the author after reading A Place for Us :

Reading has always been my favorite escape, my favorite pastime. Only, your book was never an escape, but a mirror: the first time I saw my life truly reflected in literature, and not because you told an Indian-American story. I felt as though you had written my story, because of the raw and honest meditation on family that your book centers on. 

As is true with many immigrant families, my family resorts to anger often too quickly. We shy away from expressing love. I have cried out that I hated my father on more than one occasion and passionately believed it to be true each time, just like Amar did to Rafiq. As I read Rafiq’s dying words to Amar at the end of the book, expressing his regret, his love for his son–I couldn’t stop crying because suddenly, I saw my family in a completely different light. Not that we will never disagree or fight again, but I began to consider all that goes unsaid between us. A lack of communication caused their family to fall apart, and it made me examine the cracks in mine. 

Behind the anger is almost always love, and while I’ve known this subconsciously, there is something about seeing your struggles outside the context of your own life that forces you to confront the truth about them. I’m endlessly indebted to you, in awe of you, and I needed to say thank you. I cannot begin to express how much this book truly means to me, but I have tried to explain a little portion of my love for it. Thank you, Ms. Mirza, for my new favorite book. I will carry it with me always. Sincerely, [NAME REDACTED]

The second of our UVA essay examples also has a compelling frame: it’s a letter to an author. This opening immediately tells us just how deeply this work moved the applicant. It’s a unique hook among UVA supplemental essays examples. If you have a fresh frame, don’t be shy! This structure works because it allows the author to be emotionally open as well as specific in discussing the work.

By virtue of the subject, this University of Virginia essay is inseparable from the author’s background. Like all good UVA essay examples, this essay reflects on the author’s experiences. Instead of simply praising the book, the author connects it to their place within their family relationships. They describe how it gave them a different perspective on their family and a new awareness going forward.

Ideal UVA supplemental essays examples show readers that the author can reflect on and grow from their experiences. This author checks that box by illustrating the connections among the book, their experiences, and how they’ve reflected on both. Furthermore, they recognize the new ways they view their life and relationships thanks to this book. That’s growth! Take note of these UVA essay examples and include moments of personal growth in your essays whenever possible.

A Final Response to the First Prompt

Uva essays that worked #3.

I’m a firm believer that J.G Quintel’s Regular Show is the only TV series capable of portraying an apocalyptic, flesh-hungry black hole spiraling out of the skies while an anthropomorphic blue jay, Mordecai, and raccoon, Rigby, play nearly one hundred tied games of rock, paper, scissors. I knew that there was only one way for Mordecai and Rigby to preserve the world as they knew it; the tie had to be broken.

Wait a second—How does declaring the victor of a stupid hand game dictate world order? J.G, how did you forget to add “Ir-” in front of your show’s title?

This was just the pilot episode and I had witnessed a revolution in children’s television programming: an animated one that struck an undeniably perfect balance between science fiction and satire. Regular Show fascinates me in that its supernatural occurrences aren’t unreasonably dramatic and its humor is intentionally well-played and witty. I would argue that episodes of Regular Show embrace the beauty of tragicomedies in roughly the same way that Plautus, the Roman creator of tragicomedies, intended to in his famed work, Amphitryon. Quintel, however, captivates me with a compelling twist. He ditches traditional Greco-Roman tragicomic themes of seduction and envy and models his artform around a more bizarre construct: randomness.

The only constant in Regular Show is the mere existence of the main characters; every other component of the show is wildly variable. The structure of the show is liquid as it is free flowing and takes the shape of its container, or the viewer’s interpretation. Although I’ve come to understand most of the conundrums my prepubescent self was unable to comprehend, it still baffles me as to how Regular Show can weave together the most unrelated and paradoxical concepts into an animated, twelve-minute masterpiece.

As exemplified see in our UVA essay examples, a distinct writer’s voice can immediately elevate a supplemental essay. The lines following the first paragraph, where the author asks a rhetorical question, inject some humor. After that, the use of strong language like “revolution,” “undeniably perfect,” and “fascinates” convey the writer’s admiration for Regular Show. Don’t be afraid to embrace expressive words like the ones you’ve read in our UVA supplemental essays examples. Still, remember not to go overboard with a thesaurus to the point where you’re using complex words insincerely.

For this author, the impact of their selected work is creative, like the first of our UVA essay examples. They explore what it is about Regular Show that captivates them, even drawing parallels to Greco-Roman tragicomedy. That’s not to say you have to cite Plautus—most UVA essays that worked probably didn’t mention Amphitryon. But by linking those together, we understand that this author enjoys classical plays as well as finding connections across media.

Rather than telling the reader about their love of classics or literature, this author lets their analysis speak for itself. This University of Virginia essay shows us the author is thoughtful toward the media they interact with, from cartoons to classics. Strong UVA essay examples will show — not tell — the reader what’s important to you.

UVA Essay Examples – Flash Seminar Prompt

uva essay examples

Although the three UVA essay examples above responded to an old prompt, we hope they were helpful. Reading various UVA essays that worked can help you write your own, regardless of the prompt. Remember, all good UVA essay examples have something to teach you. The next of our UVA supplemental essays examples is also for an old prompt. 

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?

In truth, this prompt is somewhat similar to the prompt for College of Arts & Sciences applicants. If you could create a college course that all UVA students would take, what would it be about and why? Even though the focus may be somewhat different, effective UVA supplemental essays examples for both prompts should have the same takeaway: what topic do you consider important, and why?

Strong UVA essay examples for this prompt are specific about the topic. Moreover, we still need to consider the tips from our previous UVA essays that worked. The author is personal, referencing and reflecting on their interests, experiences, or goals. With that in mind, let’s look at the next of our UVA supplemental essays examples.

UVA Essays That Worked – Flash Seminar

Before I could even read, The Lorax was my favorite book. When my dad read the book to me, I instantly fell in love with the cotton-like trees and the small orange creature with a mustache. While I still love the cartoonish illustrations, The Lorax remains my favorite book, to this day, because of another reason: it exemplifies how consumerism driven by Capitalism can harm the environment.

So, should the U.S. abandon Capitalism and force everyone to become hunters and gatherers? That would be quite effective, but we don’t have to. My seminar would address how we could use consumerism to protect the environment. For people who think that an individual’s actions to protect the environment are insignificant, this seminar will prove them wrong. People will learn how the money they spend in companies can shape how companies act. While environmental protection is not a priority for most companies, the power of consumerism that individuals have can force companies to care about our environment. Most importantly, the seminar will be a call to action, encouraging people to take initiative for the sake of humanity’s future. The audience would leave the seminar knowledgeable about the ways in which they can use consumerism to create the change that the world needs.

While the damage done to our environment is immense, it’s not too late to change. One small action at a time, I know that humanity can create substantial environmental reform: one that will even make the Lorax proud.

Some UVA essay examples reference the author’s childhood, like this one, to demonstrate a longstanding interest. In their opening paragraph, the author shows how their understanding of The Lorax has grown with them. Where they once saw cute illustrations, they now see an insightful commentary on consumerism and the environment. Already, we see the personal growth that characterizes many of our UVA essays that worked. 

Successful UVA supplemental essays examples that address academic topics include the author’s personal thoughts on the topic. After all, the prompt asks why it’s important to you —so what do you think about it? This author briefly outlines their position: consumers can pressure companies to protect the environment. Additionally, they state their goals for the seminar as a call to action for participants as consumers. Effective UVA essay examples for this prompt should also consider the course’s impact on others.

Obviously, there are as many topics as there are UVA essay examples. You don’t have to choose a sweeping topic like environmentally conscious consumerism—maybe you choose accessible design or internet safety. Whatever the topic, UVA essays that worked for this prompt concisely explained why that topic is significant to the author. More importantly, the best UVA essay examples also make a compelling case for why other people should learn about the topic.

UVA Essay Examples – “Quirks” Prompt

For the last of our UVA essay examples, we’re looking at a prompt from the 2022–2023 list. 

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.

Whereas UVA essay examples in previous years had a 300-word limit, responses to this prompt are limited to 50 words. Keep the limited space in mind when reading the last of our UVA essay examples. Every word counts in college essays, but especially so for short essays. If you’re worried about sticking to the word limit, don’t worry. We’ll talk more about crafting your University of Virginia supplemental essays in the next section.

So, how do you approach UVA essay prompts like this? Well, whatever quirk you choose should be one that is “part of who you are.” What’s a behavior, trait, or habit that anyone who knows you could name? Maybe you sing your way through every day, or perhaps you write exclusively in cursive. Why is it integral to You ? Let’s see what the last of our UVA essay examples has to say.

UVA Essays That Worked – Quirks

While the rest of my body lies in the third dimension, my feet seem to remain entrenched in the second. 

Envision prancing through a never-ending bed of thorns; that’s almost how walking with flat feet feels. Essentially robbed of the rewards of exercise, I never became as tall as I once aspired to be. At age seventeen, I stand at a “solid” five foot four: the average height of a middle schooler. With the help of my toes, however, I’ve always been able to propel myself by an extra two inches while creating a temporary arch to relieve my feet of their chronic soreness. In other words, they’re natural stilts. It was the perfect remedy; ever since my years as a toddler, I’ve never fell off from the tips of my toes.

Of course, I have to deal with my fair share of criticism from my others or as I refer to them, my arch-enemies: usually taller people, whose feet were blessed with arches. I hear everything from “You’re not Peter Pan; why are you walking like a fairy?” to “Maybe you should invest in heels instead of tiptoeing.” To their dismay, I pay them no mind; their “advice” only detracts from my walk. Just like the Hulk’s aggressive lunges add to his grotesque demeanor, my light tiptoed gallops never fail to remind my peers of my classiness and jubilance. Not to mention, tiptoeing also upholds my composure even in the most unflattering situations. Although someone might expect stomps and a vulgar confrontation from me, my tiptoes signal a more diplomatic approach to conflicts, maybe even over a cup of chai.

Chances are that my feet will not enter the next dimension any time soon. I’ll still much rather — proudly — teeter 150 pounds over ten feeble appendages.

Again, many impactful UVA essay examples have a distinctive voice—some wry, others poetic. This author’s quirk is flat feet, a condition they describe tongue-in-cheek as very painful. If your quirk is something that bothers you, consider addressing it with humor if that is how you confront it in your life. Well-executed humor can leave a lasting impression on any reader, especially when applied ironically to an otherwise negative subject.

This writer’s cheeky praise of their toe-walking highlights their ability to make the best of their situation. It demonstrates their confidence and comfort with how they are—or perhaps, how they have to be. From this essay, a reader sees someone who faces adversity with humor while not negating their experience. This author frames flat feet as an irritant while using them to illustrate how they deal with negativity.

Effective UVA essay examples for this prompt contain layers: the quirk also says something about the author. As you think of your quirk, consider which ones can be used to illuminate a deeper truth about you. This could be something about how you learn or how you interact with the world around you. 

How to write the UVA Supplemental Essays

uva essay examples

Now that you’ve read several UVA essay examples, we hope you feel ready to write your own University of Virginia supplemental essays. The first step in writing your University of Virginia essays is choosing from the UVA essay prompts. Luckily, the first prompt is chosen for you based on your school of choice. The second and third ones will come from the list of 11 prompts.

When evaluating the short-answer prompts, you may feel you could write something for all of them—or none of them. Try some different reflection exercises to organize your ideas and get those writing juices flowing. Since our UVA essay examples for these prompts are pretty short, you could try your hand and a handful of the prompts. Then, you can further rewrite and refine the ones that speak to you.

Each of the longer prompts is rather common among supplemental essays , so there’s no shortage of college essay guides out there. In writing your longer essay, you can brainstorm various topics to figure out your focus. Pick what you’re passionate about. Unlike our UVA essay examples, essays that aren’t genuine are really obvious. Go for honesty, and highlight your unique qualities and experiences through your topic.

Don’t forget the editing stage if you really want your essays to shine ! Revising your essays—both on your own and with another person—can weed out errors you may have missed on a first pass.

Additional UVA Essays & the UVA Admissions Process

If you’re looking at the best colleges in the U.S. during your college search , you might consider applying to UVA. UVA ranks highly for both undergraduate and graduate programs every year. The UVA acceptance rate is rather low, at just 21% . Given the high UVA ranking and low UVA acceptance rate, we can tell it’s a selective university. As a result, the University of Virginia supplemental essays are critical for a strong UVA application.

With UVA ranking consistently high and the UVA acceptance rate staying low, acceptance to UVA isn’t guaranteed. To be considered, you need to be sure to meet all of the UVA application requirements.

University of Virginia Application Requirements

  • University of Virginia supplemental essays
  • One academic teacher recommendation
  • Guidance counselor recommendation (optional)
  • Standardized test score (optional for 2022–2023 cycle)
  • Common Application requirements: activity list , personal statement , etc.

At the time of publication, the Early Decision and Early Action deadlines have already passed for Fall 2023 applicants. The Regular Decision deadline for Fall 2023 applicants is January 1, 2023.

These days, having a high GPA alone isn’t enough. With University of Virginia admissions being test-optional this year, the rest of the application is weighted more heavily, especially for those who don’t submit test scores. Your essays and letters of recommendation provide an important window into who you are and what kind of UVA student you’ll be.

What about additional essays? UVA offers two merit-based scholarships for high-achieving students. One of these, the Jefferson Scholarship, requires two additional essays. While UVA isn’t among the most expensive universities , it still costs five figures per semester. In addition to financial aid, scholarships can help with the cost of college once you enroll .

More University of Virginia Resources to Support You

uva essay examples

After reading the UVA essay examples above, maybe you feel ready to jump into the UVA application. Or, you might be looking for more UVA supplemental essays examples and UVA essays that worked. Or maybe you’re still unsure about UVA and just want to learn more. CollegeAdvisor.com has countless resources for you to explore, however you’re feeling.

If you want to hear more about UVA from alumni and current students, check out our webinar panel . The participants talk about their experiences at UVA in and out of the classroom. They also discuss the University of Virginia admissions process and their UVA application experience.

University of Virginia Panel

For more about crafting a successful application overall, we have a how-to get-into UVA guide . The UVA ranking isn’t dropping any time soon, but the acceptance rate will almost certainly stay selective. If you want to maximize your odds of admission, check out our guide.

How to Get Into University of Virginia (UVA) Guide

Lastly, we have an essay guide for the University of Virginia supplemental essays. Instead of providing UVA essay examples, it digs deep into last year’s prompts. You might even recognize some of the prompts from the UVA supplemental essays examples we just read. Although the UVA essay prompts have changed this year, our guide still provides valuable tips that can help you write any college essay.

University of Virginia (UVA) Supplemental Essays Guide: 2021-2022

UVA Essay Examples – Final Thoughts

The UVA acceptance rate makes it a selective school, so every part of your application counts. Writing strong University of Virginia supplemental essays is essential to crafting a stand-out application.

We hope reading our UVA essay examples and discussing areas of these UVA essays that worked has given you an idea of how to get started. Remember, although the essay prompts have changed, these UVA essay examples are still useful.  Take some time to review our UVA essay examples, make a list of things you want to incorporate into your UVA essays, and get writing!

UVA Essay Examples

This article was written by Chelsea Holley . Looking for more admissions support? Click  here  to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how  CollegeAdvisor.com  can support you in the college application process.

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Successful University of Virginia Essays

These are  successful college essays  of students that were accepted to University of Virginia . Use them to see what it takes to get into UVA and other top schools and get inspiration for your own Common App essay, supplements, and short answers. These successful UVA essays include Common App essays , University of Virginia  supplements , and other University of Virginia  essays .

UVA Essays →

common app essays uva

UVA Supplemental Essay: If you created a Flash Seminar, what idea would you explore and why? | Elizabeth

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…...

UVA Supplemental Essay: What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way? | Elizabeth

What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way? (~250 words) When I first looked…...

Common App Essay: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth | Yusef

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others. (650 words) Sitting in

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Virginia Tech


Founded in 1872, Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education. As Virginia’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers about 280 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 37,000 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students and manages a research portfolio of more than $556 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia. Read more Accepts first-year applications Accepts transfer applications South Public Rural Large (15,000+) Co-Ed No personal essay required - First Year No letter of recommendation required - First Year Accepts self-reported test scores - First Year Test Optional/Flexible - First Year No letter of recommendation required - Transfer Test Optional/Flexible - Transfer Virtual Tour Academic Programs

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  • Experiential Learning; Service Opportunities; Corps of Cadets; Top-Ranked Dining

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Find out about requirements, fees, and deadlines

First year applicants should apply by the following deadlines:

  • Early Action: November 15
  • Regular Decision: January 15

Transfer applicants have attempted 12 or more credits after high school graduation. The most important factors considered are:

  • Completion or progress toward completion of prerequisite coursework for your intended major. Create a competitive schedule by following the appropriate  Admissions Transfer Roadmap .
  • Overall GPA in all college coursework with an emphasis on courses related to your intended major, as well as more recent work. 
  • Although we consider applicants with a cumulative GPA of 2.5, most competitive applicants will present a cumulative GPA of 3.0 or higher. In majors where applications exceed available space, the competitive GPA may be higher.
  • Spring Entry: October 1
  • Summer / Fall Entry: March 1


Additional Information

  • General Scholarship Application: January 22
  • FAFSA: March 1 (priority deadline)

Visiting Virginia Tech is a great way to learn more about admissions, the community on campus, and your specific academic interests. No matter where you are in your college search process, we encourage a visit to see Virginia Tech for yourself. We do not track demonstrated interest so you can visit Virginia Tech on your own or through a scheduled information session and tour. If you are unable to come for a scheduled visit during the week, we do offer Open Houses on three different weekends throughout the academic year. 

We are known for our spirit of community, an increasingly rich diversity of human experiences, and the drive to turn discovery into action. Our living motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), is woven through everything we do to harness our students’ passions, develop their strengths, and prepare them for a life and career of impactful service to humanity. Tim Sands, President

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    To build the 3,974-member Class of 2023, UVA admission deans culled through 40,880 applications. How big a role did the student essays play in the final decision? We asked an expert: Macy Lenox (Col '94), associate dean of undergraduate admission. Here's our conversation, edited and condensed.

  11. Deadlines & Instructions

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    February 24, 2023 We are pleased to announce that the Common App essay prompts will remain the same for 2023-2024. It's not just for the sake of consistency that we have chosen to keep the essay prompts the same for the upcoming application year.

  13. Apply to college with Common App

    Common App is a nonprofit organization of 1000+ colleges and universities that simplifies, informs, and supports your college application journey. ... First-year application guide First-year essay prompts Transfer application guide Download mobile app. Support your students.

  14. University of Virginia

    Common App Personal Essay Required 650 words The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores?

  15. 25 Elite Common App Essay Examples (And Why They Worked)

    by Ryan Chiang - Updated Mar. 18, 2023 If you're applying to colleges in 2023, you're going to write some form of a Common App essay. Writing a great Common App personal essay is key if you want to maximize your chances of getting admitted.

  16. UVA Essay Examples & UVA Essays that Worked- Best Guide

    In this guide, we'll learn about the University of Virginia supplemental essays through several UVA essay examples. We've included UVA supplemental essays examples, addressing various UVA essay prompts to teach you what a successful essay looks like. After each, we'll discuss the parts of these UVA essays that worked.

  17. Apply

    Apply | The University of Virginia. Apply. Undergraduate Admission. Graduate Admission. January Term. School of Continuing and Professional Studies. Study Abroad.

  18. First-year essay prompts

    Visit our transfer student help center Here are Common App's essay prompts for this year. Get tips and best practices for writing your college essays as you prepare to apply to college.

  19. Top 3 Successful University of Virginia Essays

    These are successful college essays of students that were accepted to University of Virginia. Use them to see what it takes to get into UVA and other top schools and get inspiration for your own Common App essay, supplements, and short answers. These successful UVA essays include Common App essays, University of Virginia supplements, and other ...

  20. Apply to Virginia Tech

    Large (15,000+) Co-Ed No personal essay required - First Year No letter of recommendation required - First Year Accepts self-reported test scores - First Year Test Optional/Flexible - First Year No letter of recommendation required - Transfer Test Optional/Flexible - Transfer Virtual Tour Academic Programs Design Engineering Research Science

  21. Uva Common App Essay

    Uva Common App Essay. Degree level. . More than 100 online programs aligned to 300+ real-world occupations. Career Services for Life™. While outside career advising can cost over 0/hour, we've built it right into your degree at no added cost, for life. Our instructors are accomplished professionals who average 26+ years of experience.

  22. Uva Common App Essay

    Uva Common App Essay - ASK ME A QUESTION. 100% Success rate Research papers can be complex, so best to give our essay writing service a bit more time on this one. Luckily, a longer paper means you get a bigger discount! Hire a Writer. Toll free 24/7 +1-323-996-2024 How does this work ...