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How To Write the UVA Engineering Essay

If you’re applying to the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, you’ll have to write the UVA Engineering essay. (Looking for the other requirements? Click here.) With the engineering supplement, UVA hopes to see how you might apply your engineering interests within a wider context.

First, let’s look at the prompt.


300 words max

We are looking for passionate students to join our diverse community of scholars, researchers, and artists. Answer this question, which corresponds to the school/program you selected above, in a half page or roughly 250 words.

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?


As an applicant to SEAS, perhaps you’ve been designing or imagining technological “fixes” to daily challenges for years. That’s a great start, and could give you valuable insights for your essay, but it’s still important to be able to highlight why a project is meaningful to you.

The possibilities here are just about endless, so how can you come up with good project ideas for your UVA Engineering essay? Follow these steps to find a project that lets you showcase not just your engineering savvy, but also your personality, values, and ideals.

Step 1: Brainstorm problems that your friends and family have. If someone you know is facing a huge issue (perhaps medical, financial, or emotional), and you feel up to tackling it, go for it! But don’t feel compelled to solveThese don’t have to be major life tragedies; think about people’s minorpet peeves, small annoyances, frustrations and, daily “headaches,” personal difficulties. What are the people you know always complaining about? By identifying a specific, surprising or, uncommon grievance someone has, you could display your empathy towards others in a more subtle way than by just picking some huge and daunting, but perhaps more common or generic, challenge. For example, maybeperhaps your dad is always falling asleep in front of the TV and never getting a good night’s rest in bed, or perhaps your friend can never come to your Wednesday afternoon robotics club because she has to rush home to walk the family pooch/dog.


Step 2: For each problem that you listed in step 1, write a sentence or two about why it matters to you to help your friend or family member overcome it.

For example:

  • Problem: Friend has to walk her dog.
    • Why it matters to me: My friend and I love building robots together, and it makes us both sad that she can’t make it to robotics club meetings.


Step 3: Now it’s time to put on your engineering hat! Look over your reasons from step 2 and pick the challenge that matters to you the most to solve. Think of some creative ways you could address the issue. (You don’t have to absolutely solve the problem, either; perhaps you could just make it more manageable.) Don’t limit yourself to what is guaranteed to work or to what you have the technical know-how to build; it’s okay to take some risks here! However, do keep your project reasonably small—if it requires mobilizing every (engineering lab) on the Eastern Seaboard, think smaller scale. And try to keep it realistic in the sense that it doesn’t rely on magic or some 25th-century alien technology to function. You’re not applying to the School of Sci-fi/Fantasy, after all!

For the example problem above, perhaps you might design a robotic dog walker or an automated door that lets the poor pooch out into a fenced-in yard. EXAMPLE SOLUTIONS TO SAMPLE PROBLEMS?

If you’re stumped at developing a solution to the problem, go back to your list from step 2 and see if you can engineer solutions for a different problem that also matters to you a lot.

When you go to write your UVA Engineering essay, make sure to spend no more than one-third of it describing the technical details of your project. In the rest of your response, focus on why it’s important to you to address the problem. Elaborate and expand upon your answers from step 2, and discuss what it would mean to you to use engineering to improve someone’s life.


Applying to UVA’s College of Arts and Sciences (or any of the other undergraduate programs)? Check out our article here. Remember, no matter which program you apply to, you'll also have to write a Common App personal statement and respond to one out of five UVA essay prompts.


Need help with your common app essay? Sign up to get our free guided brainstorming tools!

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