Let’s start off by talking about what you shouldn’t do. Simply put, don’t be boring! If either your word or its explanation isn’t memorable, you won’t be memorable either. For example, words like “happy” and “hope” are as generic as it gets. You might think Google is your friend here, but the “Top 10 Favorite Words” listicle you find will also be found by hundreds of other applicants.
What would a successful UVA applicant do here? Find a word that allows you to convey a story, to connect a broader narrative to the prompt. In many writing supplements, the chosen topic matters less than how you convey your answer; this is the perfect example of such a situation.
A great answer could center around your multilingualism; if your second language was English, you could pick a word you struggled pronouncing as you grew up. This would be a launchpad to write about the unique struggles and benefits of growing up in a culturally diverse household. Alternatively, if you love math, you can pick a funny or multi-faceted math term like “non-abelian” and tie it into your overarching story about this passion. Either way, the essay should focus on your personal experience with the word — it’s not necessarily an etymological study of the word itself!
Now, we should also discuss how to actually write this essay. First off, don’t wait too long to show the reader what your favorite word is. Start with a hook — a quote of the first time you heard the word, for example, or a brief anecdote to provide context. You could set the stage with an exposition for the story to follow. Try not to say “my favorite word is ____” as your first sentence; nothing screams “stale” more than that!
Then you can follow the introduction with a pivot to the specific word. Make sure you explore both aspects of its “meaning.” That is, reference the dictionary definition of the word, but also dive into its real meaning to you. If your favorite word is “begin,” you could first define it as “to start something” and then explain that it was your grandfather’s perennial advice.
A powerful conclusion will stick in the readers’ heads, so try to write one! Tie the threads together: The word and story might still be disjoint. Continuing our example from before, you might say how, whenever you have a seemingly impossible task in front of you, you can see your late grandfather telling you “begin!” Even though your grandfather is no longer with you, he is still the greatest motivator in your life. Now, you look forward to new beginnings in college and beyond.
University of Virginia
The University of Virginia announced yesterday that essay prompts for fall 2018 applicants will be looking very very similar to those in previous years, with only a few minor tweaks to keep things interesting.
“I share our essay prompts for next year each June with the hopes that we’ll give you plenty of time to think about which one is right for you,” explained Jeannine Lalonde, “Dean J” of the UVa Admissions Blog. “If you are thinking about writing your essays this early, I hope you’ll revisit them before you actually submit an application. It’s amazing how much can change in a few months.”
In addition to a personal statement required of all UVa applicants, students will be asked to write two short responses to prompts provided in the member-specific section of the application.
As in past years, UVa is “looking for passionate students” to join a “diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists.” Prospective “Hoos” are asked to answer in approximately 250 words one of a series of questions corresponding to the school/program to which they are applying:
- College of Arts and Sciences: What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?
- School of Engineering and Applied Sciences: If you were given funding for a small engineering project that would make everyday life better for one friend or family member, what would you design?
- Kinesiology Program: Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.
- School of Nursing: School of Nursing applicants may have experience shadowing, volunteering, or working in a health care environment. Tell us about a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing.
- School of Architecture: Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.
For the second essay, applicants are asked to pick one of four questions to answer in a half page or roughly 250 words:
- 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.
- 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?
- 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?
UVa joined the Coalition for Access, Affordability and Success in September of 2015 and may offer that application as an option for this fall, in addition to the Common Application. Both platforms have already posted their personal statement prompts. Although the questions are very similar, it’s worth noting that while the Common App word count is between 250 and 650 words, the Coalition “strongly recommends” that personal statements stay within 500 to 550 words.
And in the college admissions world, it’s wise to take these kinds of recommendations very seriously!