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Writing (and Rocking) the Updated University of Rochester Essay 2019-20

The 2019-20 University of Rochester essay goes straight to the heart of the school’s motto and fundamental philosophy of Meliora: “ever better.” Almost every university has a “Why us” supplement essay, but UR’s is particularly specific in its focus. The prompt for this supplement has been updated since last year, but the basic idea is the same: how you relate to the school's guiding ideals.

Let’s delve into how to approach the University of Rochester essay in order to showcase your personality, values, and commitment to improving the world.

The University of Rochester benefactor, entrepreneur, photography pioneer and philanthropist George Eastman said, “The progress of the world depends almost entirely upon education.” With that statement in mind, how will you use your University of Rochester experience to foster positive change in order to make the world, your community and those around you “ever better?” You may answer one of three ways:

You may answer one of three ways:

1. Essay Response: Write an analytical or creative response of 250 words or less.

2. Upload up to three works of your own art (e.g. pictures, video, performances, literary) and use the space below to provide a brief explanation as to how the art is tied to making the world, your community and those around you “ever better.”

3. Upload an abstract describing your own related research and use the space below to provide a brief explanation as to how the research is tied to making the world, your community and those around you “ever better.”


The “Why Rochester” prompt is mandatory, but you have three choices for how to answer it. So how do you decide which option will best let you show who you are and why you belong at Rochester?

If you feel that you express yourself best through art, music, or creative writing, the Creative Response could be perfect for you. If your interests lie in science or the social sciences, you could submit a Research Response summarizing a project you’ve done or plan to do. In either case, your sentences of explanation should briefly address why your art or research is meaningful to you, how it creates positive change, and what specific University of Rochester resources (courses, clubs/organizations, faculty) will help you pursue similar efforts/your passion in the future.

  • For example, if you submit three photographs documenting the closing of a beloved grocery store in your town, your sentences of explanation might touch on:
    • How you and your family shopped there all your life
    • How you raised awareness about the local people who lost their jobs
    • How you hope to take the course AH 242: History of Photography and study the role of photography in modern society

The Essay Response involves the most writing of the three options—but with 250 words max, it’s still pretty short. Follow these steps to develop and structure compelling content.

Step 1: Brainstorm issues, causes, values you care about. In what areas do you hope to make a difference? For example, you might mention such topics as poverty or inequality, environmentalism, human rights, healthy eating, or teen depression. You can use your answers here to show your awareness of “things needed to be done.”

Step 2: Brainstorm specific ways you’ve helped to make a positive change related to your answers from step 1, even if your efforts affected only a small number of people. You don’t have to save the world to make a big impact in a person’s life!

Step 3: Research the University of Rochester in order to identify 2-3 specific opportunities that will help you not only to study things you’ve brainstormed in the previous steps, but also take action.

Now you’re ready to write your University of Rochester essay! You’ll probably want to focus on just one main action from step 2 and relate it to one issue from step 1. Discuss why you care about the issue and how your efforts made an impact. Then mention the related UR resources that attract you.

Here’s an example of what this essay might touch on:

  • Issue + why it’s meaningful to you: Affordable housing, because your best friend had to move away due to rising rents
  • Action + effects: Participated in public protests/marches against new luxury developments in your neighborhood, raised awareness, talked to community members
  • UR opportunities:
    • Political science major and courses such as PSC 226: Act Locally? Local Government in the U.S. and PSC 241: Urban Change and City Politics
    • Anthropology minor and Community-engaged Learning courses such as ANT 307: Race and Space in the City
    • U of R student organization Students for a Democratic Society

Note: You don’t have to get involved with activism or study politics to “take action.” You could just as well discuss how your art, music, writing, or chemistry studies will help you to make a difference in the world!


Get started with our free brainstorming tools!




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