The Ivy Coach Daily

September 13, 2023

The Most Popular College Essay Prompts for 2023-2024

A view inside a Harvard lecture hall, with ovular tables and a projection screen.
What’s the most common supplemental essay prompt this year at America’s elite universities? The community/background question.

With the 2023-2024 college admissions cycle in full swing and now that all of America’s highly selective universities have released their supplemental essay prompts, let’s analyze the most popular types of essay questions asked of applicants to the Class of 2028. So here goes!

Most Common Supplemental Essay Prompts for 2023-2024

While there are many supplemental essay prompts across the highly selective universities for the 2023-2024 admissions cycle, we at Ivy Coach have distinguished four prompts as the ones that pop up the most. These four types of supplemental essays are as follows:

The Why College Essay Prompt

Most of America’s elite universities ask applicants why they wish to attend their institutions. Why do they ask this question? Because America’s elite universities are a tad insecure, and they’re trying to control their yields (or the percentage of accepted students who choose to enroll). Asking students why they wish to attend is a proven way of measuring a student’s Demonstrated Interest — or the likelihood they’ll matriculate.

When students respond to Why College essay prompts and fill their answers with names of professors or classes or generic sentences that can apply to virtually any school in America, they’ve fallen through the trap door of effectively proving to the school that they’d attend if admitted. Admissions officers don’t want to waste offers of admission on students who — no matter how well qualified — have no intention of enrolling. It’s why a student can get into Harvard University but be denied to Cornell University. Harvard, we at Ivy Coach have long argued, is the only school that truly doesn’t care about Demonstrated Interest because Harvard knows students wish to attend. When a school’s yield is over 84%, as it was for the Class of 2027, they have that luxury!

Top Colleges with Why College Essay Prompts

The following elite universities have versions of Why College essay prompts. Some of these prompts are worded differently than others, but they’re all essentially asking the same question:

School with Why College Essay PromptThe 2023-2024 Prompt (including hybrid questions)Notes
Princeton UniversityA.B. Applicants:

As a research institution that also prides itself on its liberal arts curriculum, Princeton allows students to explore areas across the humanities and the arts, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. What academic areas most pique your curiosity, and how do the programs offered at Princeton suit your particular interests? (250 Words)

B.S.E. Applicants:

Please describe why you are interested in studying engineering at Princeton. Include any of your experiences in or exposure to engineering, and how you think the programs offered at the University suit your particular interests. (250 Words)
These are hybrid questions: Why Major and Why College.
Stanford UniversityPlease describe what aspects of your life experiences, interests and character would help you make a distinctive contribution as an undergraduate to Stanford University (100-250 Words)
While this is not a straight-up-the-middle Why College essay, there is an opportunity to inject some Stanford specifics here.
Yale UniversityWhat is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 Words)
University of ChicagoHow does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago. (1-2 Pages)
University of PennsylvaniaHow will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 Words)

School-Specific Essay Prompts (150-200 Words for All):

College of Arts and Sciences

The flexible structure of The College of Arts and Sciences’ curriculum is designed to inspire exploration, foster connections, and help you create a path of study through general education courses and a major. What are you curious about and how would you take advantage of opportunities in the arts and sciences?

The Wharton School

Wharton prepares its students to make an impact by applying business methods and economic theory to real-world problems, including economic, political, and social issues. Please reflect on a current issue of importance to you and share how you hope a Wharton education would help you to explore it.

School of Engineering and Applied Sciences

Penn Engineering prepares its students to become leaders in technology, by combining a strong foundation in the natural sciences and mathematics, exploration in the liberal arts, and depth of study in focused disciplinary majors. Please share how you hope to explore your engineering interests at Penn.

School of Nursing

Penn Nursing intends to meet the health needs of society in a global and multicultural world by preparing its students to impact healthcare by advancing science and promoting equity. What do you think this means for the future of nursing, and how do you see yourself contributing to our mission of promoting equity in healthcare?

Duke UniversityWhat is your sense of Duke as a university and a community, and why do you consider it a good match for you? If there’s something in particular about our offerings that attracts you, feel free to share that as well. (250 Words)
Dartmouth CollegeDartmouth celebrates the ways in which its profound sense of place informs its profound sense of purpose. As you seek admission to Dartmouth’s Class of 2028, what aspects of the College’s academic program, community, and/or campus environment attract your interest? In short, why Dartmouth? (100 Words)
Brown UniversityBrown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about any academic interests that excite you, and how you might pursue them at Brown. (200-250 Words)

In one sentence, Why Brown? (50 Words)

Rice UniversityBased upon your exploration of Rice University, what elements of the Rice experience appeal to you? (150 Words)
Cornell UniversitySchool-Specific Essays:

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. How will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University specifically serve to support your learning, growth, and the pursuit of your goals? (650-word limit)

College of Architecture, Art, & Planning

How do your interests directly connect with your intended major at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP)? Why architecture (B.Arch), art (BFA), or urban and regional studies (URS)? B. Arch applicants, please provide an example of how a creative project or passion sparks your motivation to pursue a 5-year professional degree program. BFA applicants may want to to consider how they could integrate a range of interests and available resources at Cornell into a coherent art practice. URS students may want to emphasize their enthusiasm and depth of interest in the study of urban and regional issues. (650 Words)

College of Arts & Sciences

At the College of Arts and Sciences, curiosity will be your guide. Discuss how your passion for learning is shaping your academic journey, and what areas of study or majors excite you and why. Your response should convey how your interests align with the College, and how you would take advantage of the opportunities and curriculum in Arts and Sciences. (650 Words)

Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy

Why are you drawn to studying public policy? Drawing on your experiences, tell us about why you are interested in your chosen major and how attending the Brooks School will help you achieve your life goals. (650 Words)

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

What kind of a business student are you? Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should convey how your interests align with the school to which you are applying within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration). (650 Words)

College of Engineering

How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering? If you are unsure what specific engineering field you would like to study, describe how your general interest in engineering most directly connects with Cornell Engineering. It may be helpful to concentrate on one or two things that you are most excited about. (250 Words)

College of Human Ecology

How have your related experiences influenced your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology (CHE)? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future? Your response should show us that your interests and aspirations align with CHE and your choice of major. (650 Words)

School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should show us that your interests align with the ILR School. (650 Words)

Columbia UniversityWhy are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (150 Words)
University of Notre DameWhat is something that genuinely interests you and how does this tie to the academic area you hope to study at Notre Dame? (50 Words)While this is not a straight-up-the-middle Why College essay, there is an opportunity to inject a Notre Dame specific or two here.
Emory UniversityWhat academic areas are you interested in exploring at Emory University and why? (150 Words)This is a hybrid question: Why Major and Why College.
University of MichiganDescribe the unique qualities that attract you to the specific undergraduate College or School (including preferred admission and dual degree programs) to which you are applying at the University of Michigan. How would that curriculum support your interests? (550 Words)
University of Southern CaliforniaDescribe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 Words)


The Why Major Essay Prompt

Many of America’s top colleges ask why students wish to major in the disciplines they’ve selected on the application. They want to understand the origin story of a student’s chief academic interest. Too often, applicants set this origin story during their childhoods when it would behoove them to set it during their high school years.

Top Colleges with Why Major Essay Prompts

The following elite universities have versions of Why Major essay prompts. Some of these prompts are worded differently than others, but they’re all essentially asking the same question:

School with Why Major Essay PromptThe 2023-2024 Prompt (including hybrid questions)Notes
Princeton UniversityA.B. Applicants:

As a research institution that also prides itself on its liberal arts curriculum, Princeton allows students to explore areas across the humanities and the arts, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. What academic areas most pique your curiosity, and how do the programs offered at Princeton suit your particular interests? (250 Words)

B.S.E. Applicants:

Please describe why you are interested in studying engineering at Princeton. Include any of your experiences in or exposure to engineering, and how you think the programs offered at the University suit your particular interests. (250 Words)
These are hybrid questions: Why Major and Why College.
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyWhat field of study appeals to you the most right now? (Note: Applicants select from a drop-down list.) Tell us more about why this field of study at MIT appeals to you. (150-200 Words)
Yale UniversityTell us about a topic or idea that excites you and is related to one or more academic areas you selected above. Why are you drawn to it? (200 Words)
Brown UniversityBrown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about any academic interests that excite you, and how you might pursue them at Brown. (200-250 Words)This is a hybrid question: Why Major and Why Brown.
Rice UniversityPlease explain why you wish to study in the academic areas you selected. (150 Words)
Cornell UniversitySchool-Specific Essays:

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. How will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University specifically serve to support your learning, growth, and the pursuit of your goals? (650-word limit)Cornell CALS is dedicated to purpose-driven study of the agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences and welcomes students with interests that span a wide variety of disciplines. Given our agricultural history and commitment to educating the next generation of agriculturalists, please share if you have a background or interest in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. An “agricultural entity” for the purpose of this question is defined as cultivating soil, growing crops, and raising livestock (e.g., farm, ranch, greenhouse, vineyard, etc.).

College of Architecture, Art, & Planning

How do your interests directly connect with your intended major at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP)? Why architecture (B.Arch), art (BFA), or urban and regional studies (URS)? B. Arch applicants, please provide an example of how a creative project or passion sparks your motivation to pursue a 5-year professional degree program. BFA applicants may want to to consider how they could integrate a range of interests and available resources at Cornell into a coherent art practice. URS students may want to emphasize their enthusiasm and depth of interest in the study of urban and regional issues. (650 Words)

College of Arts & Sciences

At the College of Arts and Sciences, curiosity will be your guide. Discuss how your passion for learning is shaping your academic journey, and what areas of study or majors excite you and why. Your response should convey how your interests align with the College, and how you would take advantage of the opportunities and curriculum in Arts and Sciences. (650 Words)

Jeb E. Brooks School of Public Policy

Why are you drawn to studying public policy? Drawing on your experiences, tell us about why you are interested in your chosen major and how attending the Brooks School will help you achieve your life goals. (650 Words)

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

What kind of a business student are you? Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should convey how your interests align with the school to which you are applying within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration). (650 Words)

College of Engineering

How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering? If you are unsure what specific engineering field you would like to study, describe how your general interest in engineering most directly connects with Cornell Engineering. It may be helpful to concentrate on one or two things that you are most excited about. (250 Words)

College of Human Ecology

How have your related experiences influenced your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology (CHE)? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future? Your response should show us that your interests and aspirations align with CHE and your choice of major. (650 Words)

School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should show us that your interests align with the ILR School. (650 Words)
These school-specific prompts are hybrid questions: Why Major and Why School at Cornell.
Columbia UniversityWhat attracts you to your preferred areas of study at Columbia College or Columbia Engineering? (150 Words)
University of Notre DameWhat is something that genuinely interests you and how does this tie to the academic area you hope to study at Notre Dame? (50 Words)
University of California, BerkeleyThink about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 Words)
University of California, Los Angeles Think about an academic subject that inspires you. Describe how you have furthered this interest inside and/or outside of the classroom. (350 Words)
Carnegie Mellon UniversityMost students choose their intended major or area of study based on a passion or inspiration that’s developed over time – what passion or inspiration led you to choose this area of study? (300 Words)
Emory UniversityWhat academic areas are you interested in exploring at Emory University and why? (150 Words)This is a hybrid question: Why Major and Why College.
University of Southern CaliforniaDescribe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 Words)This is a hybrid question: Why Major and Why College.

The Why College/Why Major Hybrid Essay Prompt

Many of America’s top colleges ask an essay with essentially two parts: Why Major and Why College. Thus, their essay should include the origin story of their interest in their chosen field and specifics about the program at the school that only apply to this particular institution.

Top Colleges with Why College/Why Major Hybrid Essay Prompts

The following elite universities have versions of Why College/Why Major hybrid essay prompts. Some of these prompts are worded differently than others, but they’re all essentially asking the same question:

School with Why Major/Why College Hybrid Essay PromptThe 2023-2024 PromptNotes
Princeton UniversityA.B. Applicants:

As a research institution that also prides itself on its liberal arts curriculum, Princeton allows students to explore areas across the humanities and the arts, the natural sciences, and the social sciences. What academic areas most pique your curiosity, and how do the programs offered at Princeton suit your particular interests? (250 Words)

B.S.E. Applicants:

Please describe why you are interested in studying engineering at Princeton. Include any of your experiences in or exposure to engineering, and how you think the programs offered at the University suit your particular interests. (250 Words)
These are hybrid questions: Why Major and Why College.
Brown UniversityBrown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about any academic interests that excite you, and how you might pursue them at Brown. (200-250 Words)This is a hybrid question: Why Major and Why Brown.
Cornell UniversitySchool-Specific Essays:

College of Agriculture and Life Sciences

Why are you drawn to studying the major you have selected? Please discuss how your interests and related experiences have influenced your choice. How will an education from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) at Cornell University specifically serve to support your learning, growth, and the pursuit of your goals? (650-word limit)

Cornell CALS is dedicated to purpose-driven study of the agricultural, life, environmental, and social sciences and welcomes students with interests that span a wide variety of disciplines. Given our agricultural history and commitment to educating the next generation of agriculturalists, please share if you have a background or interest in agriculture, regardless of your intended major. An “agricultural entity” for the purpose of this question is defined as cultivating soil, growing crops, and raising livestock (e.g., farm, ranch, greenhouse, vineyard, etc.). (100 Words)

College of Architecture, Art, & Planning

How do your interests directly connect with your intended major at the College of Architecture, Art, and Planning (AAP)? Why architecture (B.Arch), art (BFA), or urban and regional studies (URS)? B. Arch applicants, please provide an example of how a creative project or passion sparks your motivation to pursue a 5-year professional degree program. BFA applicants may want to to consider how they could integrate a range of interests and available resources at Cornell into a coherent art practice. URS students may want to emphasize their enthusiasm and depth of interest in the study of urban and regional issues. (650 Words)

College of Arts & Sciences

At the College of Arts and Sciences, curiosity will be your guide. Discuss how your passion for learning is shaping your academic journey, and what areas of study or majors excite you and why. Your response should convey how your interests align with the College, and how you would take advantage of the opportunities and curriculum in Arts and Sciences. (650 Words)

Jeb. E. Brooks School of Public Policy

Why are you drawn to studying public policy? Drawing on your experiences, tell us about why you are interested in your chosen major and how attending the Brooks School will help you achieve your life goals. (650 Words)

Cornell SC Johnson College of Business

What kind of a business student are you? Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should convey how your interests align with the school to which you are applying within the Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (Charles H. Dyson School of Applied Economics and Management or the Peter and Stephanie Nolan School of Hotel Administration). (650 Words)

College of Engineering

How do your interests directly connect with Cornell Engineering? If you have an intended major, what draws you to that department at Cornell Engineering? If you are unsure what specific engineering field you would like to study, describe how your general interest in engineering most directly connects with Cornell Engineering. It may be helpful to concentrate on one or two things that you are most excited about. (250 Words)

College of Human Ecology

How have your related experiences influenced your decision to apply to the College of Human Ecology (CHE)? How will your choice of major impact your goals and plans for the future? Your response should show us that your interests and aspirations align with CHE and your choice of major. (650 Words)

School of Industrial and Labor Relations

Using your personal, academic, or volunteer/work experiences, describe the topics or issues that you care about and why they are important to you. Your response should show us that your interests align with the ILR School. (650 Words)
These school-specific prompts are hybrid questions: Why Major and Why School at Cornell.
University of Notre DameWhat is something that genuinely interests you and how does this tie to the academic area you hope to study at Notre Dame? (50 Words)While this is not a straight-up-the-middle Why College essay, there is an opportunity to inject a Notre Dame specific or two here.
Emory UniversityWhat academic areas are you interested in exploring at Emory University and why? (150 Words)This is a hybrid question: Why Major and Why College.
University of Southern CaliforniaDescribe how you plan to pursue your academic interests and why you want to explore them at USC specifically. Please feel free to address your first- and second-choice major selections. (250 Words)This is a hybrid question: Why Major and Why College.

The Community/Background Essay Prompt

In the wake of the United States Supreme Court’s decision to outlaw Affirmative Action, many of America’s elite universities added this prompt to their supplements this year. The prompt capitalizes on Chief Justice John Roberts’ own words in the majority opinion banning the consideration of race in admissions decision-making.

In the majority opinion, Chief Justice Roberts wrote, “Nothing in this opinion should be construed as prohibiting universities from considering an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life, be it through discrimination, inspiration, or otherwise.”

The schools that ask this prompt offer all applicants a chance to tell their stories. But by focusing on candidates’ backgrounds, it’s also an opportunity for underrepresented minority applicants to write about their race so these schools can continue to admit diverse classes.

Top Colleges with Community/Background Essay Prompts

The following elite universities have versions of Community/Background essay prompts. Some of these prompts are worded differently than others, but they’re all essentially asking the same question:

School with Background/Community Essay PromptThe 2023-2024 Prompt
Princeton UniversityPrinceton values community and encourages students, faculty, staff and leadership to engage in respectful conversations that can expand their perspectives and challenge their ideas and beliefs. As a prospective member of this community, reflect on how your lived experiences will impact the conversations you will have in the classroom, the dining hall or other campus spaces. What lessons have you learned in life thus far? What will your classmates learn from you? In short, how has your lived experience shaped you? (500 Words)
Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyHow has the world you come from—including your opportunities, experiences, and challenges—shaped your dreams and aspirations? (100-200 Words)
Harvard UniversityHarvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard? (200 Words)
Stanford UniversityPlease describe what aspects of your life experiences, interests and character would help you make a distinctive contribution as an undergraduate to Stanford University. (100-250 Words)
Yale UniversityReflect on your membership in a community to which you feel connected. Why is this community meaningful to you? You may define community however you like. (400 Words)
Johns Hopkins UniversityTell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g. race, gender, sexuality, religion, community, etc.) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins.? (This can be a future goal or experience that is either academic, extracurricular, or social). (300 Words)
University of PennsylvaniaHow will you explore community at Penn? Consider how Penn will help shape your perspective and identity, and how your identity and perspective will help shape Penn. (150-200 Words)
Duke UniversityWe recognize that “fitting in” in all the contexts we live in can sometimes be difficult. Duke values all kinds of differences and believes they make our community better. Feel free to tell us any ways in which you’re different, and how that has affected you or what it means to you. (250 Words)
Dartmouth CollegeThere is a Quaker saying: Let your life speak. Describe the environment in which you were raised and the impact it has had on the person you are today. (250 Words)

“It’s not easy being green…” was the frequent refrain of Kermit the Frog. How has difference been a part of your life, and how have you embraced it as part of your identity and outlook? (250 Words)
Brown UniversityStudents entering Brown often find that making their home on College Hill naturally invites reflection on where they came from. Share how an aspect of your growing up has inspired or challenged you, and what unique contributions this might allow you to make to the Brown community. (200-250 Words)
Rice UniversityRice is strengthened by its diverse community of learning and discovery that produces leaders and change agents across the spectrum of human endeavor. What perspectives shaped by your background, experiences, upbringing, and/or racial identity inspire you to join our community of change agents at Rice? (500 Words)
Cornell UniversityIn the aftermath of the U.S. Civil War, Ezra Cornell wrote, “I would found an institution where any person can find instruction in any study.” For over 150 years, Cornell University has remained deeply committed to Ezra’s vision. Explain how your life experiences will help inform your contributions to a learning community devoted to “…any person…any study.” We encourage you to think broadly about your life experiences, including how local (e.g., family, school, neighborhood) or global communities you’ve been part of have helped shape your perspective. (350 Words)
Columbia UniversityA hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and thrive in an equitable and inclusive community with a wide range of perspectives. Tell us about an aspect of your own perspective, viewpoint or lived experience that is important to you, and describe how it has shaped the way you would learn from and contribute to Columbia’s diverse and collaborative community. (150 Words)
University of Notre DameWhat is distinctive about your personal experiences and development (e.g., family support, culture, disability, personal background, community, etc.)? Why are these experiences important to you and how will you enrich the Notre Dame community? (150 Words)
Emory UniversityEmory University has a strong commitment to building community. Tell us about a community that you have been part of where your participation helped to change or shape the community for the better. (150 Words)
University of MichiganEveryone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it. (300 Words)

* The University of California schools have a prompt that reads, “What have you done to make your school or your community a better place?” but it’s less focused on background and which community a student comes from than the schools listed above.

Two Schools Deserving of Praise for Their Supplemental Essay Prompts

While many elite universities included a community/background question on their supplements this admissions cycle, few included the word “race” in the language of their questions.

After all, with these questions, America’s elite schools are capitalizing on the loophole penned by Chief Justice Roberts in the majority opinion outlawing Affirmative Action. They want to walk a fine line between continuing to admit a diverse class without facing litigation for not obeying the Supreme Court’s decision.

But there are two highly selective universities that bucked the trend and dared include the word “race” in their community/background questions: Johns Hopkins University and Rice University. In the world of college admissions, for bucking the trend and staring the Supreme Court right in the eyes, these schools are deserving of Profiles in Courage.

A School Deserving of Criticism for a Supplemental Essay Prompt

And while we applaud Johns Hopkins and Rice for daring to include the word “race” in their supplemental essay questions, we wish to shame the University of Virginia for asking what we at Ivy Coach have deemed the most outrageously inappropriate supplemental essay prompt on any of America’s elite college applications this year. That optional prompt is as follows:

If you have a personal or historic connection with UVA, and if you’d like to share how your experience of this connection has prepared you to contribute to the university, please share your thoughts here. Such relationships might include, but are not limited to, being a child of someone who graduated from or works for UVA, a descendant of ancestors who labored at UVA, or a participant in UVA programs.

While UVA’s admissions committee may defend asking this question with the misguided argument that it’s optional, that’s nonsense. UVA’s admissions committee is giving more space to mostly privileged students — the children of alumni and students who attended fancy shmancy UVA summer programs. As such, most students will choose not to answer the essay.

But that’s a mistake because any essay that’s optional in elite college admissions should not be considered optional. Instead, it’s an opportunity for an applicant to make their case for admission, to tell their story. How dare UVA’s admissions committee give extra space for legacy applicants and students who attended fancy shmancy UVA summer programs!

Get with the times, UVA! Legacy admission is on the way out, especially after the SCOTUS ruling outlawing Affirmative Action. Yet, your institution — a public flagship, no less — is seemingly doubling down on legacy status. Your founder, Thomas Jefferson, didn’t write our Declaration of Independence from an aristocracy so you could perpetuate a ruling class in our American meritocracy. Shame on UVA!

All that said, we encourage every applicant to respond to this 100-word question. You don’t need to be a legacy. You don’t need to have attended a UVA summer camp. Just fill the essay with Why UVA specifics. Treat it as a typical Why College essay. Regretfully, we just suspect most students will think the essay doesn’t apply to them — through no fault of their own — and leave it blank.

Ivy Coach’s Assistance with College Essays

If you’re looking to optimize your case for admission to America’s highly selective universities by submitting essays that inspire admissions officers to root for you, fill out Ivy Coach’s free consultation form, and we’ll be in touch to outline our college admissions counseling services for applicants to the Class of 2028.

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