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Last updated March 22, 2024

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How to Write the UIUC Supplemental Essays

Key Takeaway

UIUC supplemental essays require sharing a meaningful experience related to your major, explaining career goals and major alignment. Undeclared applicants should highlight academic interests and future goals. For a second-choice major, briefly explain your interest or connection. Remember to craft a cohesive application narrative for success.

The University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign has two supplemental pathways and an add-on, all depending on the major(s) you select. If you’re applying to a specific major, you’ll answer the first set of questions. If you’re applying to the undeclared program, then you’ll answer the second set. Finally, if you’ve chosen a second-choice major, you’ll have a third question to answer, too.

You’ll have 150 words maximum to answer each question.

Let’s get into the prompts.

Set #1: If You're Applying to a Major

Explain, in detail, an experience you've had in the past 3 to 4 years related to your first-choice major. This can be an experience from an extracurricular activity, in a class you’ve taken, or through something else.

With this prompt, UIUC admissions officers want to know more about why you’re interested in pursuing the academic pathway you’ve selected.

There are a few details in this prompt to note:

  1. You need to explain the experience in detail.

  2. The experience should be within the last 3-4 years.

  3. Your experience should relate to your first-choice major and can be from any part of your life.

Your experience doesn’t necessarily have to have been life-changing, but it should be personally meaningful. Avoid choosing a surface-level example (”I loved our cell unit in biology class, so I want to study molecular and cellular biology.”) and instead draw upon an authentic, even vulnerable experience (”The night after we learned about cell structure in AP biology, I had a dream that I was a ribosome. Since then, every food I’ve eaten, every animal I’ve encountered, I picture as a cluster of cells.”).

Your experience might be lighthearted or humorous, serious or poignant. Use whatever tone fits best. No matter your topic, your goal should be to show strong academic fit with UIUC and with the major you’re applying to.

Describe your personal and/or career goals after graduating from UIUC and how your selected first-choice major will help you achieve them.

In this take on a why major essay, you’ve got two tasks: to describe your career goals and to explain how your first-choice major will help you reach them.

Your essay should balance a genuine description of your career goals with a strategic alignment between you and your chosen UIUC major. When explaining your career goals, be clear and specific.

Sometimes the students we work with stress out about these kinds of questions because they aren’t 100% sure what they want to do in the future. I’ll let you in on a little secret: no one is going to check back in with you in ten years to make sure you followed the path you laid out in your college essay.

That isn’t to say that you should make up a goal you think admissions officers want to see. But it is to say that you shouldn’t be afraid to write about the path you’re most interested in now, even if you aren’t completely certain. You are choosing a major based on it, after all!

Set #2: If You're Applying to the Undeclared Program in the Division of General Studies

What are your academic interests and strengths? You may also include any majors you are considering.

If you’re undecided about your major, then UIUC admissions officers still want to see that you have clear interests and a sense of where you want to go. You want to avoid coming across as wishy-washy or completely undecided, so try to hone in on a couple of your most salient academic interests and potential majors. Feel free to show your broad curiosity and academic flexibility while also signaling that you’re heading in a particular direction.

You may know from our college essay writing guide that we believe all college essays should be rooted in your core strengths, so this prompt is a great opportunity for you to make a case for your academic strengths. Keep it positive and focused. In other words, don’t say, “I’m bad at math but love reading!” Instead, draw attention to the specifics: “I love to analyze art, literature, and the world around me. I’ve analyzed ten Shakespeare plays line by line—my shelves are filled with annotated copies from the literary greats.”

By the end of your essay, your admissions officer should be able to identify what your academic interests and strengths are, and they should be able to envision you finding your path at UIUC.

What are your future academic or career goals?

Just like applicants who do have a major selected, you don’t need to have your entire life path figured out before you answer this question. But you should have some sense of what you want to do in the future. Again, try to stay clear and focused.

If you discussed multiple academic interests in the previous essay, elaborate on how you see them playing out in your academic future or career. If you’re torn between studying business and English, for example, you might write about how both of those interests lend themselves well to a career in marketing or copywriting.

If you simply don’t know what you want to do, make an educated guess about what you can envision yourself doing. Or lay out a couple of your top options. Admissions officers want to see that you’re thinking ahead, aspiring, and planning, so let them in on your academic and career hopes and dreams, even if you aren’t 100% sure what they’ll look like yet.

Bonus: If You've Selected a Second-Choice Major (Including Undeclared)

Please explain your interest in your second-choice major or your overall academic or career goals.

This question should be pretty straightforward. There’s a reason why you’ve chosen your second major—what is it? You’ll notice that this question is a condensed version of the first two. It’s your chance to say, “Hey, this major is a good fit for me, too.” You’ll have to be more brief with your explanation, but it should be just as clear and specific as your first set of answers.

Key Takeaways

Now you’re ready to write your UIUC supplemental essays! If you want a little more guidance before you jump in, check out our guide to supplemental essays.

And before you get started on your essays, don’t forget to think about your application narrative. Creating a cohesive application is one of the most important things you can do to set yourself up for success, no matter where you’re applying.



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