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Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Three Last Minute Essay Reminders for Early #UVA Applicants

We are a few days from the Early Action and Early Decision deadlines and some of you are probably putting the finishing touches on your application essays. I thought I'd share a few last minute tips for you.

1. The Prompts are Deliberately Broad

I get a lot of DMs on Instagram from students asking whether their essay topics are appropriate for a certain prompt. They seem to think there's a right answer, but there really isn't! We wrote the UVA essay prompts in hopes of inspiring you to share something about yourself that we wouldn't otherwise know from your application. Ideally, your topic will be a vehicle for sharing your voice and style. It'll let you be authentic in your writing. It will give us insight into who you are and what things interest you.

One specific tip about the favorite word essay: It's not a literal question. I love the sound of the word pamplemousse, but I would never, ever write an essay about that. Maybe I'd use la investigadora or la chercheuse because I love to research things using or for fun. Then that would lead to talking about a love of language and the importance of the internet in helping us connect to people/places we don't usually. Get it? Don't fixate on the word.

2. There's No Correct Format and We Aren't Counting the Words

Many students assume there are "correct" answers for certain parts of the application and essay formatting seems to be one of them. They ask about word counts, whether it's okay to rhyme or be funny, and if they use a certain tense or point of view in their writing. If you see general language (like when we say the essay should be "half a page or roughly 250 words"), that is permission to be in the ballpark.
When it comes to the specific format of the essay, you have my permission (and encouragement!) to deviate from the more traditional style of writing essays that you use for class. The five-paragraph essay is great for school and for timed testing situations, but your application essays aren't academic papers. I'd much rather read a personal story about how your topic affected you or why it's important to you than a report about why it's important/interesting to all people who have experienced it. I think the academic essay format leads you to write the later kind of essay. I don't need a stale run down of why a piece of music is technically sound or considered important by critics. I want to read about what that piece of music(*) means to you. How does it make you feel? Where does it take you? How has its message impacted you? Use the format that lets you do that.
*This applies to any topic, whether it's a book, academic interest, activity, etc.

3. Stop Getting Advice

At this point, I think you should lock your essays down and stop asking for advice about them. The anxiety of a big deadline sometimes has us consulting too many people on our work. Look your essays over a couple more times. Read the essays out loud to make sure they sound right. Remember that you are an expert on what college-bound students sounds like. Hit submit.

Parents, run interference for your student if there are people who think this is a team activity. They are well-meaning, but this isn't the time for that. The period leading up to submitting an application can be scary for a student and you can be a calm, supportive influence.

  As always, I'm happy to answer your questions in the comments!