How to Write the University of Virginia (UVA) Supplement 2019-2020

The University of Virginia is a public research university in Charlottesville, Virginia. It’s a big school (campus is over 1,600 acres) with about 16,000 undergraduate students. The overall acceptance rate for the class of 2023 was 24%. But when broken down, 36% of in-state students were granted admission and only 19% of non-Virginians got in.

UVA’s entire supplement can be found here. If you’re using the common app, you have to select which undergraduate school you’re applying to for the questions to pop up.  

Their supplement is broken down below: 

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 - What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?

There are infinite answers to this question. Our first piece of advice is that you shouldn’t pick the classics. This means that you should not be writing about how you felt when you saw the Mona Lisa in a textbook or waxing poetic about Einstein’s theory of relativity. Your goal is to add another layer of depth to your application, and you’ll do that by picking something niche. What kinds of things (art, music, science, etc.) are you looking at/looking into when no one is forcing you to do so? That’s how you’ll hone in on an interest. If you’re familiar with our blog, you know by now that every supplement gives you an opportunity to reveal a new side of yourself.

Keep in mind that this question is not asking you to explain your work of art in depth.  It will require some (brief) background, but it’s more important to address your connection to what you’re writing about and how it has impacted you.

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?

Excellent question. We love that this supplement doesn’t necessarily demand that you have every single detail of the solution planned out. Rather, it gives you an opportunity to talk about a problem and tell them why it matters to you. Most engineers will have an answer to this. If you don’t, ask your friends and family. Or consider another path. The word “small” is in the prompt, so set aside those big ideas. Your response does not have to be related to your coursework or anything that you’ve done in the past, so take advantage of that. We think the strongest response would be based on a problem that could be solved by a mechanical or technological improvement, like an app that tells you how long the lines are at your local grocery store. Think about the annoying little things that trip you up every day. You should go into as much depth as possible about how you would solve the problem, but don’t gloss over the softer side of why you care.  

School of Architecture - Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design. 

While it’s true that in some cases there are ways to write about travel (or in this case things that you saw while traveling) without seeming super privileged, we suggest going local over global when choosing your building or place. You can find beauty everywhere. It’s not great if you had to travel to Rome to think that buildings are cool. It’s important for the admissions committee to know that you value where you are and your surroundings, as Virginia isn’t exactly known for its architecture. Once you have your spot picked out, remember that WHY you chose something is more important than what you chose. When UVA asks you to “describe” the place, they are asking you to describe what you like about it.

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.

This is a straightforward question that most people who plan to study Nursing will already have an answer to. We have found that most future nurses have an experience (or multiple experiences) that have made them feel strongly called to the career. Think about the shadowing, volunteering, or work experiences that you have had and tell a story with a beginning, middle, and end. UVA is plainly asking you to tell them about a significant interaction, so tell them. Your story might be about a rough day you had while volunteering, the time you went to the hospital with your mom when she was about to give birth, or a problem that you solved while at work. Expand on your experience and tell them what happened that day.

Kinesiology Program - Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major. 

Just like aspiring nurses, if you’re interested in kinesiology then you probably (and definitely should) have a reason why. Maybe you’re the trainer of your own track team, interned at a prosthetics lab, or have experience with physical therapy. Tell them that story.

For the second part of this application, you’ll answer one of the questions below.

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

What’s your favorite word and why?

This is head scratcher, even for us. Can @UVA share some responses that they liked for this one? We were able to think of words that we love, but our explanations about why we loved them said little (read: nothing) about who we are as people. If you’re going to answer this one (which we do not recommend!) you need to use humor. AND PUT AWAY THE SAT FLASHCARDS. No ones favorite word is legerdemain. If you can, tell a story about why it’s your favorite word, but don’t forget to make that nearly impossible link back to what it says about one of your personality traits. 

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.

If you’re reading this question and you’re thinking “this is me!” then you should write it. But first, make sure your quirk is really a quirk. Everyone untangles headphones and everyone has a side of a bed. Those aren’t quirks. Crowdsourcing is great here, so ask your friends and family what makes you weird yet lovable. For example, one of our writers is very particular about how toothpaste should be squeezed, so her and her fiancé each have their own tube of toothpaste. We often don’t realize that something we do is slightly abnormal until someone else points it out. With that said, if you can pull it off, this is a great question. It’s a chance to have fun and not take yourself, and the college process, so seriously. The most important part of this question is “WHY it is a part of you are.” It’s not just that you absolutely refuse to watch any movie made after the year 1990, it’s why.

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 our humble opinion, this is hands down the best question on UVA’s supplement. You know that thing/place/time period/genre of music/unexplainable theory that you’re obsessed with that your parents beg you to stop bringing up at family gatherings? This is your chance to write about it. The first thing that you should do is research what UVA flash seminars are. And don’t even think about clicking on the pop up that says “UVA flash seminar essay examples.” The thing about this prompt is that as great as it is, you shouldn’t force it. Your topic needs to be genuine and creative. It also needs to highlight a passion, interest, or hobby that you have that is not represented with the rest of your application.

The only potential exception to this rule is if you have an extracurricular activity way down at the bottom of your activities section that you never expanded upon. If you created an app that quizzes middle school students on historical figures or play the trombone but haven’t mentioned it, you could expand upon an activity like that. But only if haven’t written about it before.

Requirement: “high energy discussion about thought-provoking topics outside of traditional coursework.” This means that your topic needs to be something that gets you truly EXCITED (!!!) and also something outside of the realm of traditional coursework. So you can’t teach a class of Virginia Woolf or Aerospace Engineering. Use Google to confirm that someone hasn’t already covered your topic in another flash seminar.

Familiarize yourself with a bunch of syllabi on UVA’s website to figure out how they’re structured. Figure out what your message is and write down the most important aspects of your topic of choosing. Make an outline. You then need to name your course, pick out 2-3 suggested readings, and then list the most important talking points of your seminar.

Of all of the prompts, having only 250 words hits the hardest on this one but it’s doable. Include all of the above, but also explain why you’ve chosen this topic.

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 is a hard question because your response needs to shed light on some kind of deeper thinking that you’ve done, and it doesn’t always go well when teenagers try to talk/write about their view of the world. You really need to keep the reader in mind, and this question is definitely not for everyone. Your message or motto is not the answer, it’s the starting point from which you need to explain the “why” for your answer. And the “why” should say something about you that you haven’t expressed yet. There are other great options here, so we recommend skipping this one because this question poses the greatest risk of sounding vapid or super into yourself. Or both.

UVA students are charged with living honorably and upholding a Community of Trust. Give us an example of a community that is important to you and how you worked to strengthen that community.

Community question! While the phrasing of the first part of the question is scary, we love that UVA does not suggest that your community should be defined by race, religion, or ethnicity. We’ve found that those kinds of community prompts often make students feel like they don’t fit in anywhere.

Anything is a community. Think about the things that you do with your friends, the traditions that you have with your family, interest based gatherings you attend, special interest groups, etc. If you and your friends go to art galleries on the weekends or you started a book club that meets once a month, that’s a community.

Once you define your community, think about your role within it. Are you the organizer? Show (don’t tell) them about your community by telling a story with a beginning, middle, and end. The more scenery the better.

If you’d like help brainstorming and writing, contact us here.