With a 100 words maximum, concision is going to be your friend. There’s not enough space for a full-blown introduction, so it’s best to just dive right in. You will likely want to structure this as two miniature paragraphs — one about your high school endeavors, the other about your plans for UIUC.
Regarding the specific word count breakdown, you will likely want to spend more time discussing your high school experience. This is perfectly fine, especially if you have a lot to touch on.
When you talk about making a difference in high school, don’t exclusively discuss organizations or officer positions, but instead focus on specific actions you engaged in. It’s okay to lead into it with something like “As class president, I…” but your specific duties are the primary focus of this section.
Here are some good examples:
- “I fundraised over $3,000 to end world hunger.”
- “I mentored special needs students after school.”
- “I organized a group to protest a school policy that would’ve cut arts funding.”
- “I tutored middle schoolers in math and science.”
- “I started an initiative dedicated to giving people anonymous compliments.”
You might need to offer a short explanation (no more than a sentence) for more obscure undertakings, but most of your actions should speak for themselves.
As for the section on contributing to life at UIUC, you might spend more time discussing this if you weren’t as heavily involved in community service during high school. If you plan on pursuing something similar at UIUC, now is a great opportunity to express that. For instance, if you started an initiative giving people anonymous compliments, you could briefly discuss your goal of alleviating stress on campus by simply spreading joy to your peers. Ideally, your past experiences relate to you future goals, which lends itself to a nice transition between the two sections.
This part of the response is an excellent opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge of UIUC-specific programs. Do some research on their website about the different types of initiatives and service groups on campus.
Some Final Words
It’s already been mentioned, but it’s important enough to mention again: These are the only essays UIUC will see. That means you have a huge responsibility to be personable and unique while also demonstrating competent writing style and academic focus.
While we at CollegeVine sometimes encourage riskier supplemental essays, you should avoid that for UIUC. This is because you aren’t coupling these with your Common App essay, which tends to be more grounded and central to your identity.
Most importantly, make sure your essays are truly a reflection of you. Don’t try to use overly elevated language if that isn’t how you normally write. If you’re unsure whether your voice is coming across, ask a family member or friend to read over your essays; they often have invaluable advice.
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Moreover, adding “flavor” to the essays by elaborating on your personal connection with your chosen interests, and the unique contributions you have made to them are also critical to your candidacy. Remember that you do not have to win a Nobel Prize or cure cancer to engage your readers and make them feel that you will add to the excellence of the institution. Uniqueness is conveyed through personal anecdotes, narrated with a detailed voice.
If you are passionate about biomedical engineering, do not write, “I love the intersection between biology and engineering.” Everyone majoring in biomedical engineering also finds such overlap appealing. Instead, start the essay with an anecdote about how when you missed school because of a stomach flu, you spent the long hours in bed sketching designs of ingestible micro-machines that could disseminate antibiotics more efficiently than regular medicine, thinking of the pain it would spare you and millions of other people.
Not only is this specific anecdote a more appropriate way of conveying to the reader that biomedical engineering already permeates your life, it also implies that you are inventive and industrious with your time. This supplement is only 300 words, so using specific anecdotes like this with multiple layers of meaning is essential to saturating the space with as much content as possible.
Do not, however, treat this as a shorter Common Application essay. Ultimately, the emphasis is on your fit for Northwestern’s specific resources. You could begin by illustrating how you would bury your head in literature written by the likes of Kafka and Camus all weekend, then show up Monday morning before everyone else arrives at school for an advanced lab that aims to find a cure for Alzheimer’s, then transition to discussing how Northwestern’s Science in Human Culture Program is a perfect fit for you and your interdisciplinary mind.
Remember to talk about what you will actually do in the program; envision yourself there, already at Northwestern. What will your day look like? Which professors would you like to work with within the Science in Human Culture Program? What kind of scholarship or internship opportunities within the program will you take advantage of for your research proposal?
Again, specificity is key. Avoid making general statements such as: “Northwestern’s state-of-the-art theater program makes it the perfect school for me.” That answer is one that could be given by virtually anyone, even those who haven’t the slightest idea of what theater is. Generality connotes lack of interest, lack of research, and worst of all, lack of effort. So when writing this essay, ask yourself: What are the specific aspects of Northwestern University that sets it apart from all the other top 20 schools? What could I do at Northwestern that would be hard for me to do at other colleges?