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How to Write the University of Virginia Essays

Updated for 2023-2024

For the 2023-24 cycle, UVA asks students to reflect on their background and experiences and how those experiences will enrich the UVA community. This guide has everything you need to know to catch the eyes of admissions officers with a standout essay!

Essay Prompt:

What about your background, perspective, or experience will serve as a source of strength for you or those around you at UVA? (300 words)

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Explanation:

A useful framework for answering a prompt that asks you, broadly, about your identity is to ask yourself: “What did I not get to write about in my Common App that I want this university to know about me?” This can be any aspect of who you are or what is important to you. You could write about your identity as an older or younger sibling or as an only child; as a member of a particular racial, ethnic, or religious group or community (or any other community); as a musician, artist, athlete; as someone with a learning difference; as someone who has endured through difficult personal or family circumstances. If there is a particular topic you love studying or learning about in your free time or some realm in which you are an expert, you could talk about that. You can be as creative as you want to be, and you should do your best to be as specific as possible. The important thing is that you choose to write about something that has shaped what you value as a person.

Additionally, note that the prompt guides you to write about a specific type of personal value: one that allows you to “serve as a source of strength for you or those around you.” In other words, this prompt is challenging you to articulate how you will give back to the university community. In this sample, the writer felt strongly not only about sharing their Korean and multiracial background with the admissions committee, but also about describing how a particular element of that background has shaped the way they engage with other people and the way they hope to conduct themselves in the roles they will inhabit at UVA as a “classmate, roommate, and friend.”

Responding to this prompt will require you to reflect on the way your experience has informed your values, and to connect that to 1) the values of the university and 2) specific academic and extracurricular opportunities it offers and the communities of which you will be a part.

Start by reading the university’s mission and vision statements, which should be easy to find via a quick Google search. Most universities will also have something called a “Strategic Plan” published online, outlining their goals as an institution for the next five to ten years. You’ll be able to find the mission and vision statements there. Skimming through the strategic plan can also be useful for identifying which programs and/or initiatives the university is hoping to expand or focus on in the near future (its public service program, for example, or its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion). If any of those happen to align with your interests and you feel you can write about how you would engage with or contribute to them in a meaningful way, that would certainly be worth mentioning. You should also read the website of the department in which you hope to major, along with those of any extracurricular programs you are interested in joining. Peruse these websites with intention, looking for indications of how each program contributes to the mission and vision of the university as a whole, as well as what each department says about its own individual values. You can often get a sense of these values from the titles (and syllabi, if available) of the courses offered by that department, as well as from any recent faculty publications and/or talks hosted by the department. Often, extracurricular programs and affinity groups will have their own mission statements. As you conclude your essay, think about how the opportunity to participate in these programs and be part of the university community will help you continue building a life and career informed by the personal values you’ve described.

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Sample:

According to Korean culture, all social interactions are governed by a concept called noonchi, literally one’s “eye power.” Noonchi constitutes a special way of seeing: the ability to discern how another person is feeling, particularly whether they seem uncomfortable, left out, or disempowered. Your responsibility is to do what you can to alleviate that sense of alienation. To practice noonchi is thus to constantly evaluate the part you play in the comfort and belonging of others.

My own noonchi is inextricable from the fact that I am half-Korean—and therefore it is sometimes difficult for me to feel seen (or see myself) as belonging completely to either of the cultures that raised me. That sense of wandering between two worlds has made me realize the many ways in which we all occasionally find ourselves on the margins, whether of conversations, relationships, or different cultural contexts. Most importantly, it has sensitized me to the fact that many Americans are forced to live that experience of marginalization far more frequently and intensely than I am. For me, noonchi means trying to see the vulnerability and tenderness in other people, perhaps because this is what I am most grateful to others for seeing in me.

I hope to contribute that way of seeing to the UVA community and to continue honing it at an institution so committed to celebrating difference and inclusivity. For this reason, I am deeply interested in applying to the Public Service Pathways program and exploring the intersections of race, identity, and justice through independent research in the American Studies department. Most of all, I want to give back to the University community by striving to be a kind and generous classmate, roommate, and friend: someone who seeks to see the goodness in others and to remind them that they belong.