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Writing the UVA Arts and Sciences College Essay (and every undergraduate program essay in the UVA supplement)

The UVA Arts and Sciences College essay is a great opportunity to demonstrate how passionately you engage with things that interest you. This UVA supplement is required if you’re applying to CAS at the University of Virginia. (No matter which school you are applying to, you'll also have to write a Common App personal statement and choose one of five supplemental prompts.)

The prompt for the UVA Arts and Sciences College essay is pretty broad, with various angles you could take. So let’s look at how to pick a topic that’s meaningful to you and how to use your topic to showcase your passions and personality.

CAS: A Challenge

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.

What work of art, music, science, mathematics, or literature has surprised, unsettled, or challenged you, and in what way?

To home in on a “work” that is meaningful to you, try this: Brainstorm about some exciting (and perhaps heated) conversations you’ve had with your friends, family, or teachers. What were you discussing? Was there a “work” that instigated the discussion? When something really moves or challenges us, we tend to talk about it with other people. Or maybe there’s a topic that you wanted to talk about with others, but you couldn’t find anyone who cared about or appreciated it quite as much as you. Now’s your chance to have that discussion!

Note: If you have a very specific focus for what you want to study in college, pick a work from that general area.

Once you have some potential conversation topics, it’s time to have some (imaginary) conversations! For each work, imagine you’re talking it over with someone who is also familiar with it, so you don’t have to go into great detail describing the work itself—just enough to help readers understand the key aspects that affected you. The bulk of your UVA Arts and Sciences College essay should cover why and how it impacted you. What thoughts struck you when you first experienced the work? How did it relate or connect to your life? How did it change your worldview, inspire you to take some action, or solidify your fascination with some academic area or career path?

You’ll know which work is the best topic for you because you’ll have the most to say about it in your “conversation”; you’ll have plenty of ideas with which to answer the questions above. This means it truly engages you and touches on ideas and themes that are meaningful to you. If you’ve only picked a work because you think it sounds “impressive” to admissions readers, and it doesn’t really connect to your life and passions, it’s likely you won’t be able to say many genuine things about it.

Here are some examples of works an applicant might choose and reasons why each one might be meaningful:

  • Glassworks album by Philip Glass
    • I played classical piano all my life, but hearing Glassworks made me rethink my view of how “classical” music sounds.
    • Now I want to become a composer.
  • Deep Fritz chess program
    • Reading about its 2006 win against grandmaster Vladimir Kramnik inspired me to study artificial intelligence and machine learning.
    • I taught myself LISP in order to write my own AI programs.


If you’re applying to the UVA School of Engineering, you'll have to answer the following 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?

This is a very popular essay, so we've created a separate guide. Check it out here!


If you’re applying to another UVA program or school, you’ll have to respond to the one the prompts below. Each one asks about an experience or instance that had a significant effect on you. The key to all of these essays is to brainstorm about specific ways that you and your thinking changed. When you go to write your response, provide the main “technical” details (the “what”) of the experience as concisely as possible. Devote most of your essay to discussing the “why” and “how”: why did the experience resonate so strongly with you, and how did it change your thinking or inspire you to actively pursue this interest?


School of Architecture

300 words max

Describe an instance or place where you have been inspired by architecture or design.


Kinesiology Program

Why Kinesiology?

300 words max

Discuss experiences that led you to choose the kinesiology major.


School of Nursing

Why Nursing?

300 words max

School of Nursing applicants may have experience shadowing, volunteering, or working in a health care environment. Tell us about a health care-related experience or another significant interaction that deepened your interest in studying Nursing.


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