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4 Tips for Writing a Great UIUC Essay


Thinking of attending the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign? Then you've come to the right place. For this highly-ranked public school, you'll need to submit a personal statement with your application. But what should you include in your UIUC essay to make you stand out?

Read on to learn what the current UIUC essay prompt is and how to write a great UIUC essay. We also show you a real UIUC essay example to give you an idea of what a great statement looks like.

Feature Image: Adam Jones/Flickr


What Is the UIUC Essay?

All applicants must answer two to three UIUC prompts and one Common Application prompt as part of their application for admission.

Your UIUC prompt will change based on whether you 1) are applying to a major, 2) are applying to UIUC's Undeclared Program, or 3) have selected a second-choice major (including Undeclared). Each response should be about 150 words. 

Here are this year's UIUC prompts:

If you're applying to a major:

  • Explain, in detail, an experience you've had in the past 3 to 4 years related to your first-choice major. This can be an experience from an extracurricular activity, in a class you’ve taken, or through something else.
  • Describe your personal and/or career goals after graduating from UIUC and how your selected first-choice major will help you achieve them.

If you're applying to UIUC's Undeclared Program:

  • What are your academic interests and strengths? You may also include any majors you are considering.
  • What are your future academic or career goals?

If you've selected a second-choice major (including Undeclared): 

  • Please explain your interest in your second-choice major or your overall academic or career goals.


Students are also required to select one Common application essay prompt from a range of choices and write a response. 

You can view the full list of Coalition application essay prompts here and all of the Common Application essay prompts here. 


How to Write the UIUC Essay: Topics and Tips

The University of Illinois essay is an important part of your application since it's the only personal essay you'll write for the school. This makes it the only area on the UIUC application in which you can show off your personality, academic passion, and storytelling skills.

The overall point of this statement is for UIUC to learn more about you as a person and what qualities you'll bring to the school if you enroll.

In addition, UIUC has a YouTube series on admissions counseling that includes some useful videos with tips on how you can write an effective UIUC essay:

Now that you have a general sense of what UIUC will be looking for in your application essay, let’s break down each UIUC application essay prompt one by one. 


Myllini Major-Specific Prompt #1

Explain, in detail, an experience you've had in the past 3 to 4 years related to your first-choice major. This can be an experience from an extracurricular activity, in a class you've taken, or through something else.

Here's your chance to show your passion for your first-choice major! You have a lot of leeway here: maybe you took a class that lit a fire inside you, maybe you joined a club related to the subject, or maybe you participated in a related activity. Be careful, though. You only have 150 words, and UIUC is asking for an experience related to your major, not why you selected it in the first place. This is a time for you to show that you're already taking steps toward engaging with your chosen major!

Choose a story that is meaningful to you, and remember to be as detailed as you can within the constraints. Show the UIUC admissions counselors that you care about your chosen major, and you're already engaging with it.


Myllini Major-Specific Prompt #2

Describe your personal and/or career goals after graduating from UIUC and how your selected first-choice major will help you achieve them.

Unlike the first essay, which asks you about your past experience, this is where you get to dream big and show UIUC what you want to do with your degree. Remember to write this as if you've already been accepted to UIUC—they want to know how you'll represent them in the world!

You only have 150 words, but you can do a lot in that space. If, for example, you want to be an aerospace engineer, you should check out UIUC's Aerospace Engineering website and connect their specific courses, professors, and extracurriculars to your post-degree goals. Maybe you want to work for NASA, and the UIUC robotics team will aid you in successfully applying. Be as specific as you can! And show UIUC that they are the best school for you to achieve your goals.


Myllini Undeclared Prompt #1

What are your academic interests and strengths? You may also include any majors you are considering.

Much like the Major-Specific Prompt #1, this prompt asks you to share what you're passionate about, and where you excel academically. Be specific! Rather than saying "I've always been good at English and I like it," go into detail: perhaps you won an essay contest, or your op-ed was featured in the school paper. Maybe writing poetry is the best way you can connect your outer and inner worlds.

If you have a few majors in mind, definitely mention them here! It's always good to show that you have a specific plan for your college career, even if you're not 100% sure what you want to major in yet. 


Myllini Undeclared Prompt #2

What are your future academic or career goals?

This question mirrors Major-Specific Prompt #2, and asks you to talk about your ideal future. Maybe you know you want to get a graduate degree in sociology, or you're certain that you want to spend a few years with the Peace Corps before working with the U.S. Department of State.

The key here is to remember that undeclared doesn't mean unplanned. Many students have specific career goals, but they see multiple paths to achieve them. This is your chance to show the future self you want to be, and how UIUC will get you to your goal.


Myllini Second-Choice Major Prompt #1

Please explain your interest in your second-choice major or your overall academic or career goals.

You'll only need to answer this question if you've applied to a second-choice major! This prompt should look pretty familiar: you can choose to answer either the Major-Specific Prompt #1 or the Major-Specific Prompt #2.

The trick here is to show that your second-choice major is deliberate and useful for your future goals. You're not just picking a second-choice major because you really, really want to get into UIUC in any way, shape, or form. If you have a secondary interest that's almost as strong as your first-choice major, consider answering the first prompt. If you have a very strong career goal that multiple majors could feed into, consider answering the second.

Whichever choice you make, remember to clearly state why UIUC is the best school for your major or career path!




A Real UIUC Essay Example + Analysis

To help give you a better idea of what your own UIUC essay could look like, here is one real UIUC essay example we found online, written by an admitted student.

Keep in mind that this essay was written for an old prompt that's no longer on the MyIllini application. However, this essay is still a great example of how college counselors want to see students talk about their interests and passions. 

Here is the prompt:

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more? (250 to 650 words)


And here is the essay:

The chicken, or the egg? The hours I’ve spent pondering this question are countless. People frequently debate the seemingly simple idea of which came first. To me, it is more than just a question, but an example of how human beings think.

The question of “Which came first?” captivates me because it is a question without an answer. It has been asked for centuries and no progress has been made, but it still continues to be brought up. I think this is because humans prefer clear-cut answers. Like in any kind of competition, ending with a tie between teams or individuals isn’t a satisfying conclusion. People would rather the competition continue for extra time than admit there’s no real winner, or in this case, no real answer. So even though it’s obvious there will be no agreement, the debate over chickens and eggs continues.

When people label something a “chicken-egg” situation, it means there is no way to establish the order of cause and effect, again leaving a feeling of uncertainty. But human nature is to seek an answer. The chicken-egg question shows humanity’s inability to accept unfinished business, and this fascinates me most. People want closure in all aspects of life, and big questions like this are no exception. I think the question “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?” is so interesting because people will always try to answer it knowing they will never find a solution. It shows that humans desire understanding above all else.

When I want to learn more about this concept, I turn to my grandfather. He doesn’t have a degree in philosophy or psychology, yet he’s a reliable source on almost any subject given his extensive years spent at the University of Life. With so many experiences under his belt, he understands unanswerable questions much better than I do. “The only truth is uncertainty,” he tells me when I once again dive deep into the possibility of eggs without chickens or chickens without eggs. In his words, the most beautiful parts of life are the questions we can’t answer but spend out whole life trying to.

My own desire for answers keeps me thinking about this question for hours on end. I think there’s good points to grandpa’s perspective, but as an eighteen-year-old entering college, I don’t know if I can accept that the only answer is no answer just yet. Until I can, I’ll gather my own evidence and continue to spend my days wondering whether Aristotle was eating chicken and waffles or omelettes for breakfast.


What Makes This UIUC Essay Work?

  • It’s got a great hook. The applicant starts the essay with a familiar philosophical question: “The chicken, or the egg?”. This pulls the admissions committee into the essay by making them ponder the question too. The applicant then analyzes the question and provides their own unique interpretation of what it’s really getting at. As the applicant says at the end of the first paragraph, “To me, it’s more than just a question, but an example of how human beings think.” By stating their unique take on the chicken vs egg dilemma, the applicant shows the admissions committee that they can interpret complex ideas and analyze tough questions. These are qualities that UIUC wants their incoming class of students to have!

  • It’s clear, focused, and easy to follow: A topic like this one could easily go off the rails, but the applicant keeps the essay focused by responding to exactly what the prompt is asking in the correct order. The first paragraph states the idea that the applicant finds engaging. The next two paragraphs explain why the applicant finds this idea “captivating” and connects their engagement with the idea to deeper meanings about human nature, which also demonstrates why this topic causes the applicant to “lose all track of time.” The fourth paragraph states who the applicant turns to when they want to learn more about this question, and explains what they have gained from exploring this question with their grandpa. The applicant wraps up the essay with a conclusion that describes how their approach to the chicken vs egg question relates to the kind of student they will be at UIUC. The clear structure, clean prose, and adept analysis all make this essay easy to understand and exciting to read


How Could This UIUC Essay Be Even Better?

  • It could be more specific about why the idea is captivating: Although this UIUC essay is well written and tightly focused, it isn't super specific about why the applicant personally relates to the question about the chicken and the egg. The applicant does a great job explaining what they feel this debate reveals about human nature, but doesn’t say much about why that debate is meaningful to them.

  • It could have a stronger conclusion:Although the applicant makes a great attempt at tying their essay response into why they will be a great fit for UIUC, the conclusion could do a bit more to show how this is the case. Reframing the last paragraph so it explains how the applicant’s approach to uncertainty makes them the perfect UIUC candidate could make this essay even stronger.




3 Essential Tips for Writing a Great UIUC Essay

To wrap up, here are four essential tips to keep in mind as you write your U of I application essay.


#1: Don't Just List Your Accomplishments

At first glance, some of the UIUC essay prompts may seem like an invitation to list all of your amazing accomplishments. But none of these prompts actually want you to do that! Instead, you need to use expertly crafted stories to convey everything you have to offer as an applicant to UIUC.

The point of the UIUC essay is to give the admissions committee more detailed and personal commentary on why you've chosen their school and why you would be a great addition to their student community. Leave the list of accomplishments for your resume. Telling a genuine story is the best way to show how your life experiences have shaped you into the perfect candidate for admission to UIUC.


#2: Highlight Your Passion

While the essay prompts all have a different focus, the main goal of each one is to draw out what you’re passionate about and why. With each prompt, what you're really trying to do is demonstrate your passion to the UIUC admissions committee.

In other words, what motivates you to learn? What drives you more than anything else? And why are you so enthusiastic about bringing your ideas, experiences, and character to UIUC?

By highlighting your passions and interests, you're also showing the UIUC admissions committee who you are and what's important to you, both academically and more broadly.

To really make your passion stand out in your University of Illinois essay, take the following steps:

  • Be as specific as possible—give us real names and use visceral descriptions to make us feel as though we're there experiencing and feeling everything with you
  • Be honest—the admissions committee wants to get to know the real you, and it can only do this if you're writing in an authentic voice that's true to who you are


#3: Polish and Proofread

My final tip is to give yourself plenty of time to polish and proofread your UIUC essay.

In your rough draft, keep an eye out for obvious typos and technical mistakes, such as errors in punctuation, grammar, and spelling. Also, look for any areas that are awkward, incomplete, out of place, or unclear.

Once you've edited your essay on your own, give it to someone else to read, such as a parent, teacher, or tutor. Ask them to make technical corrections as needed and to offer you advice on what you might be able to improve in terms of story, cogency, and overall effectiveness.


What's Next?

Applying to other colleges in the midwest? Check out our expert guides to how to write the UChicago essays, the Notre Dame essays, and the Michigan State essay.

If you're using the Common App to submit your college applications, you'll need to figure out which essay prompt is the best one for you.

Learn more about how to get into the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign by visiting our UIUC admission requirements page.



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Hannah Muniz
About the Author

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

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