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, almost 51,000 students applied and only 19% 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 2022 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 its two additional essays, 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 2022-23 admissions cycle along with our advice for composing winning essays.

2022-2023 UVA Supplemental Essays – Question #1

  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.

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? 

Firstly, you’ll want to select a course centered around a topic about which you are an expert. The admissions reader is well aware that you are a teenager and not someone who has yet earned a Ph.D. Therefore, being a self-taught, informal expert is perfectly fine. The “why” portion of the prompt is of equal importance. Think about how your passions can be made relevant to a wider audience. Here are few additional tips to keep in mind:

  • Quality answers often involve the intersection of two or more disciplines.
  • Course creation essays can and should reveal your ability to connect and synthesize information.
  • Make sure that the topic of your course is not overly broad. The topic should not be akin to a 101 college course like: Intro to Psychology.

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

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

Many other schools ask prospective engineers to speak in detail about what draws them to the field. UVA, quite uniquely, forces applicants to describe that passion and inspiration through the lens of a single feat or engineering. Even more specifically, it needs to be for the common good, ruling out luxury towers in Dubai or the graphics in Grand Theft Auto VI. Electrical engineering applicants often talk about innovations in the computing, robotics, machine learning sphere, citing their positive contribution(s) to humanity. Civil engineering students might focus on a particular innovation in the constructing of public works, the environment, or transportation.

Two key things to keep in mind:

1) No matter what branch of engineering you are entering, it is crucial to connect your “engineering feat” of choice to its impact toward the betterment of the human condition.

2) While the launching point for this essay is a particular innovation, the primary focus of the piece should be about why and how it inspires you.

School of Architecture

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

Outside of Seinfeld’s George Constanza, it’s hard to imagine someone deciding to become (or in George’s case—pretend) to be an architect without having had an experience that captured your imagination and sparked a lifetime passion for the subject. Like any great essay, this one needs to come from the heart. You can share one “a-ha!” moment like, for example, a family trip you took to Rome where you took in the splendor of the Parthenon and the Colosseum firsthand. You can also share a series of events that gradually built up your interest in architecture to the point where you decided to make it a career.

School of Nursing

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

“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 many 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.”

Kinesiology Program

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

Unlike many majors, young people often begin an undergraduate degree program in kinesiology with a pretty clear idea of where they want to go in life. Otherwise, it stands to reason, you wouldn’t be committing the next four years to the study of how the human body moves.

You may be eying medical school, a physician assistant program, a physical therapy degree, or aim to work in the exercise/fitness industry or as a physical education teacher in a k-12 school. For any of these future paths, showcase the pivotal moments in your life that ignited your interest in the human body and eventually led you to the present version of your academic/life plan.

2021-2022 UVA Supplemental Essays – Question #2

Part II: Students will then write responses to two prompts out of ten options in about 50 words each.

1) What’s your favorite word and why?

There are presently over 171,000 words in use in the English language. Then there are the other 6,500 languages spoken worldwide, so….no shortage of choices here! The level of open-endedness inherent in this prompt can be freeing but also somewhat intimidating. Tips that sometimes help applicants find their focus for this essay include:

  • Discuss where you first encountered the word.
  • Has the significance of the word changed for you over time?
  • Is it a word with multiple meanings? If so, this can lead to a more nuanced and introspective piece of writing.
  • If you come from a unique ethic background, this can be a helpful way to share more about your heritage.

2) We are a community with quirks, both in language and in traditions. What is one of your quirks?

This is a fun opportunity to share something genuinely unique about yourself that may not shine through anywhere else on the application. The key to answering this one is to pick one of your quirks that truly reveals something deep and meaningful about you. In other words, you don’t necessarily want to share that you collect photos of old cakes even though you don’t actually even like cake (shout-out to Principal Skinner’s mother) just for the sake of offering up a strange fact about yourself. Try to keep in mind that some of our quirks can reveal our:

  • Commitment, passion, and enthusiasm.
  • Core values and beliefs.
  • Attention to detail.
  • Most intriguing and unique attributes.

3) About what topic could you speak for an hour?

In our experience, this one of UVA applicants’ favorite prompts for essay number 2. This prompt essentially invites you to share a topic about which you are a) an expert and b) extremely passionate. This may be the subject that your friends and family (even those who love you dearly) are getting tired of hearing about every day, but it’s your thing and now is your time to turn it into a formal lecture. You shouldn’t have to think too hard about this topic. Instead, go with the topic that you could easily write 50,000 words about and condense those thoughts down to just 50 words.

4. Take us to your happy place.

What brings you glee, exuberance, jubilation, delight, elation, bliss…joy? There are a multitude of universal and highly relatable experiences that bring happiness to one’s soul, whether it involves children, pets, scenes of natural beauty, a great song, etc. However, you could also talk about dreams for the future, more bittersweet moments, abstract thoughts, moments of glorious introversion, or a time that you unexpectedly felt joy.

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

You can be straightforward, offbeat, or highly-creative on this one—all with equal effectiveness. The straightforward answer would be something directly related to UVA’s programmatic or extracurricular offerings. Discussing particular character traits, work habits, or social goals you hope to pursue are fair game as well. If you really hope that college is when you finally take the time to pursue a new hobby—crossword puzzles, stand-up comedy, yoga, genealogy, journaling—go ahead and share those aims in this space.

6. What is the last gift you gave someone that wasn’t bought with money?

You could write about a piece of pottery you made with your hands or a cake you baked from scratch. However, the gift in question here does not have to be a physical item. Rather, you could talk about giving the gift of forgiveness, understanding, friendship, love, respect, or compassion. Only pick this prompt is you have a true story that is compelling and reveals something about your character.

7. What website is the internet missing?

Is the internet really missing a single website!? Hmmmm…let’s try to rephrase this one: What is an area you know a ton about? What are you obsessed with? After all, you can’t know what’s missing in a particular space unless you know that space inside and out. Now, come up with the natural extension of that topic that you would like to be explored. For example, I listened to Podcast X and Book Y, but I still want to know more about _____ . Ideally, an admissions officer will come away from this section thinking, “This sounds like a really interesting person that I’d like to know more about.” Of course, you might get lucky and happen to adore the same obscure topic/subgenre as the admissions reader which certainly can’t hurt your admissions odds.

8. After a challenging experience, how do you recharge?

Colleges like students who demonstrate grit, perseverance, and resilience as these qualities typically lead to success in a postsecondary environment. No matter what type of example you offer, demonstrating these admirable traits can do wonders for your admissions prospects. Challenges can be anything from disabilities, depression, anxiety, or attentional to a tumultuous event like: you moved in the middle of junior year, the COVID-19 pandemic interfered with your activities, your parents got divorced, a grandparent passed away, or any number of other personal/family traumas one can name. Be as emotionally honest and nuanced as possible. Trust us—the admissions reader will appreciate your honest thoughts (even if they are a bit scary to share) more than clichés and platitudes. Make sure to include your method of self-care that helps you recharge. This may be something you learned like meditation or going for a run.

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

It pretty much goes without saying, but you should avoid anything overly-controversial here. On the flip side, you don’t want to throw out a “safe” platitude either. This isn’t the place for generic inspirational quotes that you’d see on Instagram or a poster in your guidance counselor’s office (set against a beautiful sunset). The goal here is to give the admissions officer a small but meaningful glimpse into your soul (that may sound a bit mushy, but we mean it!). You may have to reflect a bit on this one, but aim to settle on a “place” that truly represents who you are/aspire to become. Keep in mind that this can be a physical place or a place inside of you.

10) 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?

What’s your motto in life right now? What message is so meaningful to you that you would consider getting it tattooed on your arm or, at the very least, as a senior quote submission for your yearbook? If there is a succinct statement or symbol—whether it is your own words or those borrowed from an author/poet/philosopher/singer/politician—that really sums up a core value of yours that you want to yell to the world from the rooftops (or, perhaps bridgetops), this may be the perfect prompt for you.

11) 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.

In a highly polarized society, respectful listening is in short supply. This is a great opportunity to demonstrate your maturity and willingness to hear opinions that differ from your own. That said, you don’t have to sugarcoat the experience. Take the reader inside your head. What emotion did you feel during this encounter? What was your internal experience like? Explain how you demonstrated generosity and empathy toward the other person.

How important are the UVA supplemental essays?

The essays (both the Common App essay and two supplemental ones) are “important” to the UVA admissions committee. This places them 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?

If 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.


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.