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 write one UIUC essay on the major they've chosen and explain why they are interested in this particular major and/or field of study. You will get just one essay prompt (it's not like the Common App essay, which offers you several prompts to choose from).
Explain your interest in the major you selected and describe how you have recently explored or developed this interest inside and/or outside the classroom. You may also explain how this major relates to your future career goals. If you're applying to the Division of General Studies, explain your academic interests and strengths or your future career goals. You may include any majors or areas of study you're currently considering.
If you've indicated on your UIUC application a second-choice major, then you must submit another essay on this major as well. The prompt for this essay is the same as the one above—you just need to write on the other major you've chosen and explain why you're interested in it.
If you don't put down a second major on your application, you only need to write one UIUC essay.
The UIUC essay must be 300-400 words in length, making it a bit shorter than your typical college essay, which is usually 500-600 words long.
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 why you're interested in the major you've selected.
Though the UIUC essay prompt above might look daunting, the questions it asks are actually pretty simple. The three basic parts of this prompt are as follows:
- What is the major you've selected?
- How did you develop an interest in this major/field? What excites you about it?
- How do you plan to make a career out of this major/field?
You could write about how you developed this interest through school (e.g., you took a class in marine biology) or outside school (e.g., you participated in a marine science club).
In your UIUC essay, you must focus on your commitment to the field you've chosen to major in, taking care to touch on the past, present, and future—in other words, how you developed this interest, how it currently figures into your life, and what you plan to do with it in the future.
UIUC is pretty clear about what it's looking for in this essay. In fact, the official University of Illinois website offers applicants six key tips on how to approach the UIUC essay:
- Be memorable
- Be prepared
- Be yourself
- Be focused
- Be current
- Be professional
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 then, what are some possible topics you could write about in your UIUC essay? Here are just a few examples:
- A specific (positive) experience you had, either in or outside school, with the field you plan to major in. Example: You spontaneously decided to enter a science fair, which helped you realize you have a passion for inventing things.
- A specific person, such as a teacher, parent, or friend, who introduced the field to you. Example: Your sophomore English teacher encouraged you to try the National Novel Writing Month event, which furthered your interest in creative writing.
- The first class you took in the field, why you chose to take this class (if you chose to take it), and how taking it inspired you to continue studying the field. Example: After taking a cooking class freshman year, you began to grow more interested in food science, leading you to read up on the topic in your spare time and start a cooking blog.
- A club/activity you did that introduced you to the field or allowed you to learn more about it. Example: You joined your school's Spanish club in an attempt to raise your grade, but after making a few close friends through the club, you started to realize how much you actually enjoyed the challenge of communicating in Spanish.
- How you weren't initially interested in the field but gradually became interested in it due to the influence of a specific person, a book you read, a speech you heard, and so on. Example: You always despised commercials, but after seeing a particularly funny ad one day, you decided to look more into how this ad was created and why it was so successful in drawing viewers; now, you want to major in advertising.
As you write the UIUC essay, make sure to connect your topic to the now. Simply put, what are you currently doing to learn more about this field and to keep it an active part of your life?
For example, maybe you plan to major in English and now follow a rigid schedule of writing in a journal every day, even when you really don't feel like writing or you have nothing interesting to say.
Additionally, try to discuss your future with your intended major. Ask yourself: what do you hope to do professionally with this major? Do you have a dream job or career in mind? How will this major help you achieve your professional goals? How will UIUC specifically help you?
Think about how possible classes; academic, professional, or extracurricular opportunities; and programs at UIUC could further your future goals in the field. For instance, if you want to major in math, you could mention in your UIUC essay how you're interested in participating in the several math contests available at the university, and how you feel these events will help mentally prepare you to pursue an advanced math degree.
Finally, as with any college essay, there are a few things you should absolutely avoid doing in your UIUC essay:
- Focusing way too much on the past: While it's OK to mention your childhood, especially if you developed your academic interest early on in life, UIUC wants to know more about you now, as a promising young adult, than it does you as a merely curious kid.
- Too many negatives: It's perfectly fine (and expected) to have faced challenges in the field you've chosen and in life in general. Just be sure to put a positive twist on your topic so that you come across mature, wise, and goal-oriented.
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.
Note that this essay responds to a slightly different prompt (though it's still pretty similar to the current UIUC essay prompt) and has a slightly shorter word limit of 300 instead of 400 words.
Here is the prompt:
In an essay of 300 words or less, please discuss your academic interests and/or professional goals.
And here is the essay:
As a senior in high school, I believe I have my mind set on how I want my life to go after I graduate from Bloom Trail High School and move on to the "real world." While attending the university of my dreams, I will study biology while taking pre-med classes. Afterwards, I will attend medical school and study to become an obstetrician.
I have an interest in studying biology while in college. After my biology honors class freshman year, I have always had an interest in the study of life. The units that I loved learning about the most were reproduction and the human body. The two struck my interests the most in the class, and even influenced me to take AP Biology my senior year and decide to major in biology in college. I also have an interest in math, which has been my best subject in school for as long as I can remember. Unlike most, math comes easy to me and since it is universally used everywhere for everything, it is probably one of my best skills, interests, and assets.
My personal career goal in life is to become an obstetrician. I have a love for newborn babies and I feel this would be the most rewarding career I could have. I also would love to come back to the Chicagoland area where I was born and raised to help pregnant women and their babies have a safe and healthy lifestyle before, during, and after birth. My goal is to assist people in my community. I will feel accomplished with my life as long as I help others. Even if I only successfully help one woman and her family, I would be satisfied with myself forever.
What Makes This UIUC Essay Work?
It's clear, focused, and easy to follow: The applicant doesn't dawdle and gets straight to the point by explaining their desire to study biology and take pre-med classes at the University of Illinois. We also learn at the start that they want to become an obstetrician; this helps us keep track of the direction of the essay. Word choice is consistently clear as well, making the essay both relatable and easy to understand.
It's full of passion: This UIUC essay focuses on how the applicant developed a strong interest in biology, math, and pre-med, and it does a fantastic job emphasizing their passion for these fields. We learn how they became fascinated with the human body and developed a desire to help others, specifically women and newborn babies, by becoming an obstetrician. The final sentence is what really brings home the applicant's devotion to medicine and service.
How Could This UIUC Essay Be Even Better?
It could be more specific and creative: Although this UIUC essay is well written and tightly focused, it isn't super specific or creative in terms of storytelling. Some admissions officers might find it a little dry and boring. Therefore, this essay could have been a more effective narrative had it included or opened with a personal anecdote, such as a conversation the applicant had with someone in the medical field.
It could have more personality: Although we understand that the applicant is interested in studying biology and working in the medical field, we don't get a clear sense of their voice or personality here. Had the applicant incorporated more details unique to their life or view, we readers could've felt closer to knowing who they are and what they value.
4 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 Extracurriculars
While the UIUC essay prompt asks about your chosen major and what types of activities (school or otherwise) you've done related to your major, you don't want to simply list your extracurriculars in your essay.
The point of the UIUC essay is to give the admissions committee more detailed and personal commentary on why you've selected this major, what personally drew you to it, and how you believe this major will benefit your future.
#2: Pace Yourself
You've only got one major essay to write for the UIUC application (unless you put down a second-choice major on your application, in which case you'll need to submit another essay on the same prompt), so definitely take your time with it! This year, the UIUC deadlines are November 1 for early action and January 5 for regular decision.
I recommend starting your U of I application essay at least two months before the application is due. This should give you plenty of time to brainstorm potential topics, write a rough draft, edit your draft, and get feedback (see Tip 4 for more details on how to do this final step).
#3: Highlight Your Passion
The UIUC essay might sound as though all you're doing is simply stating what major you want to study and why—but it's a lot more than this. With this essay, what you're really trying to do is demonstrate your academic 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 the field/major you've selected?
By highlighting your passion for your intended major, 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
#4: 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.
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 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.