The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has it all. Not only is UIUC a Big Ten school, but it also boasts abundant research opportunities, a thriving arts scene, and strong academics.
The UIUC application is refreshingly straight-forward: instead of submitting a personal statement, you’ll write a short essay that expresses your interest in your chosen field of study.
(Note: the prompts have changed slightly since 2019-20.)
Let’s start by taking a look at the University of Illinois Urbana essay prompt:
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. Limit your response to 300 to 400 words.
Covering so much ground in just 400 words can be challenging. Our advice? Start by thinking of yourself as the hero.
Step One: Your Origin Story
Spiderman was bitten by a radioactive spider. Captain America was injected with Super-Serum. Your origin story might not be as dramatic as a superhero’s, but the experiences that created your academic interests are still significant. What is your origin story?
The prompt specifically asks you to describe recent experiences, so avoid saying things like, “I’ve always wanted to be a doctor.”
Here are some examples of everyday “origin stories:”
- I became interested in studying biochemistry after reading an article about the impact of SSRIs on mental health.
- When I joined the school newspaper, I realized I love interviewing people in my community.
Step Two: Mastering Your Powers
Before a superhero can save the world, they have to master their powers through training.
What are some of the ways you “trained”? Jot down any classes you took or activities you participated in that helped further your interest in your subject of choice. What did you learn from these experiences?
Step Three: Adventures Await
The more powerful a superhero becomes, the more challenges they face. You already know a lot about your major of choice, but you’re going to college to learn even more.
Why do you want to further your existing knowledge through college-level classes and opportunities? Make a list of subtopics you’re curious about under the umbrella of your major. Then, comb through the UIUC website to find 1-2 opportunities for each subtopic you listed.
Step Four: Finding a Catchphrase
Your UIUC essay needs a core message to tie your past experiences to your future academic goals. You can think of this message as your superhero catchphrase.
For example, the journalism student from above might write something like, “As a reporter for my school’s newspaper, I discovered a passion for writing about community issues. As a journalism major, I intend to engage deeply with the Urbana community, using the skills I gain in the classroom to illuminate important issues.”
What’s your catchphrase?
Sidekick: Second Choice Major
UIUC gives you the opportunity to indicate a second-choice major. If you do so, you’ll need to submit a second essay. Repeat this process to find another strong guiding message.
If you select a second-choice major other than the Division of General Studies on your application, write a second essay explaining your interest in this major, too. Again, limit your response to 300 to 400 words.
After completing this brainstorming activity, your path to a strong UIUC essay (or two) will be clear! Up, up, and away!