Virginia Tech is a large public school (21,000 undergrads) that receives over 17,000 applications for admission. And the admissions portion of the web site makes it clear what they focus on most.
"Admissions directors use a holistic approach throughout the application review process. Many factors are considered, the most important being strength of schedule, high school GPA, and standardized test scores."
That means classes, grades and test scores will dominate the admissions process. But it doesn't mean that VT is using formulas. They're still going to read your application, so you should make the most of what opportunities they give you to help them see the person behind the numbers.
Here are a few tips to balance their need for numbers with your need to express yourself.
Don't slack off
A lot of people talk about how colleges focus on the grades you got in your sophomore and junior years. But at Virginia Tech, the grades you receive in the first semester of your senior year will absolutely be considered, too. So if you're a senior reading this, view this semester as one last opportunity to show admissions officers what you are capable of.
Consider how your test scores stack up.
Virginia Tech requires SAT or ACT scores. But while they want to see the scores from all of your administrations, they will "use the highest scores and even combine your highest test scores from multiple test dates when evaluating your application."
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December test scores will still be viable for admission at VT, so it may be in your best interest to a) re-take one of the exams, or b) try the other test type (if you've taken the SAT, try the ACT, or vice versa). Remember, numbers drive the process here, and picking up a few extra points, even in just one of the sub-scores could really make a different.
What about the optional personal statements?
When a college makes essays optional (and has no required essay at all), it's a subtle way of saying that an essay won't usually carry the same importance in admissions as grades and test scores will.
So you have two options–you could blow them off, or you could be one of the students who not only does the optional statements, but also one of the rare students who submits great responses, someone who really sits down and works hard on these essays just for Virginia Tech. If you do that, you’ll know you’ve done everything you possibly could to put out a compelling application. Bottom line–if you really want to be a Hokie, do the personal statements.
Here are the directions:
On an attached sheet, you may respond to up to three of the personal statements below (choose one, two, three, or none) as you feel they support your individual application. Please limit your statement(s) to no more than 250 words in length (each).
So, how many essays should you do?
Think of it this way–if you were going to be set up on a blind date and the person asked you to send one, two or three pictures of yourself, how many would you send? That's a simple answer. It depends. You'd find the very best pictures of yourself, the ones where the lighting and the angles and the magic of photography somehow captured you looking much better than you do in every other photo (we’ve all got those). If you had just one photo like that, you’d send just one photo. If you had two of those photos, you’d send two. If you had…ok…the point’s been made.
So read the prompts. For which one(s) do you believe you've really got something to say, something that you're actually semi-excited about sharing and to which you feel you could give a great response? Those are the prompts you should focus on.
Here are some tips for the specific prompts.
• What are the top five reasons you want to attend Virginia Tech?
Droning on about the academic reputation and pretty campus and the football team won't do a thing to separate you from the other applicants who came up with exactly the same answer. The key to answering questions like this is to avoid reciting facts and statistics about the school, to think honestly about why you'd be excited to attend VT if you were accepted, and to provide some evidence of thoughtful consideration about what you'd like your college career to be like. The answer should be as much (or more) about you as it is about Virginia Tech.
• If there is something you think would be beneficial for the Admissions Committee to know as we review your academic history, please take this opportunity to explain.
Some students have faced particularly difficult circumstances in high school that affected their academics. If that's the case for you, here is your opportunity to describe it. But this is not a place to make excuses for things that were your fault. Colleges read a lot of "My grades went down because I was so overwhelmed with all my activities" essays. That may be true, but it's still your fault. And it's not the job of the admissions committee to excuse it.
I don't want to take on the role of deciding whose circumstances were legitimate and whose weren't. But as you consider this question, think about how much this circumstance really impacted you. If it did, you should talk about here. "I took a part time job working 35 hours a week during my junior year because my father lost his job," or "I have a 65% hearing loss that requires me to sit in the front row of every class so I can read the teacher's lips," or, "When I was sixteen, I lived in a shelter with my mother for six weeks when she decided to leave my abusive father"–those are the kinds of things that absolutely affect a student and should be shared in question like this.
• What do you consider the greatest benefit(s) of a diverse educational community?
Keep the focus on you here.
Are you excited to meet and learn from people who are different from you? What life experiences have you had that make you want VT's diverse environment for your college experience?
Students who have the strongest responses here will likely have a personal and/or emotional reason for seeking out a diverse college environment like that at Virginia Tech.
"Diversity is important because we can learn from people who are different from us," is not a personal or emotional reason. But…
"Every single person in my neighborhood is white. So is every student in my senior class. There's nothing wrong with us. We're good people and we come from good families who work hard and care about each other. But I know this about myself–the world I have been living in for the last eighteen years is not the world I want to live in as an adult. And it's not a world I want live in where I go to college."
That's a personal, emotional reason.
• Describe five unique or interesting things about yourself.
First of all, it wouldn't be a bad idea to look up the word "unique" before you write this. Seriously. A lot of people misuse the word unique and it's a grammatical error that I think should be punishable in the court of law. But that's just me.
Unique means "one of a kind.” And "interesting" means, well, interesting. "I have done over 20 hours of community service" isn't either of those things. Neither is "I am a huge Hokie football fan" or "I was a National Merit semi-finalist."
What kinds of things are interesting and/or unique?
"I once entered a local rodeo competition and road a 1200 pound bull for 7 seconds. Then he threw me off and I broke my pelvis."
"I set a goal for myself three years ago to learn every single one of The Beatles' songs on the guitar. I've got about 20 left to go."
"I've read all of Shakespeare's plays. And I'm not just talking about the famous ones. Shakespeare wrote 37 plays, and I've read them all."
"I will not only be the first person to attend college in my family, but I will also be the first to graduate from high school."
"I am the only person knows how to make my grandmother's meatballs. She taught me before she died and told me to share the recipe only with my own daughter one day."
"I am a black belt in karate and can break bricks with my forearm."
"I teach Greek dancing to little kids, and I compete in dancing competitions at local Greek festivals."
"I can throw a softball 70 miles an hour."
"I worked part-time as a magician for the last two summers."
"I was in a car accident when I was 15 and severed tendons in my fingers. My doctors told me I wouldn't be able to play the piano anymore, so that's how I discovered singing."
What's the common theme here? Every one of these things is interesting, and a few of them are technically unique. Those are the kinds of examples that will get a reader's attention.
• Free response —writing sample.
This response should probably be reserved for true writers. What's a true writer? Writing is difficult skill not unlike music, dancing or art. And true writers spend as much time practicing their skill as musicians, dancers and artists spend practicing theirs.
I would not suggest, however, writing complicated poetry, prose or haiku. Remember, the person reading this might have been a math, physics, music or forestry major. Don't write something that won't be accessible to most readers.
• Which of your current or previous teachers do you admire most, and why?
When you've been fortunate enough to cross paths with a person that you truly come to admire, you change a little bit (and sometimes a lot). That's why the best responses to this prompt will show how you are different today as a result of this teacher's influence. Describe the teacher and why you admire him or her, but don't forget to explain how your actions, perceptions or goals changed as a result of the example this person set for you.
• Describe how a world event has helped to shape the person you are today.
Again, you want to focus on something that fundamentally changed the way you think, behave or act. Or you could write about something that had it not happened, your life would be very different today. If your parents fled a war-torn country before you were born, or you first began volunteering for a political party during the last election, or you decided to stop going to church because the members supported legislation you disagreed with, those are events that really did shape who you are.
Virginia Tech's admissions process may not be as personal as that at other colleges, but they're still asking the questions (a lot of public universities their size don't). And questions like these are one of the few parts of the application process that you still control at this late date. Why not surprise them by treating your responses as though they were the most important part of the application?
Note: Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides
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Filed Under: Advice for specific colleges
The Requirements: 1-3 essays of roughly 250 words each
Supplemental Essay Type(s):Why, Community, Additional Info
Virginia Tech 2017-18 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide
Virginia Tech certainly lives up to its name. Its independent application requires students to execute perhaps the trickiest calculation of their lives. You can write “up to three” essays? No official word limit? This level of autonomy could kill you. How do you decide what and how many essays to write? How long is too long? How short is too short?
Okay, before you have an existential meltdown, we have some advice. Although we usually urge you to take any and every opportunity to speak to admissions in your own voice, in this case, we advise you to proceed with caution. If you don’t think writing is your forte, you might be better served pouring all of your energy into one tight, memorable essay than dividing your attention among three meh essays. If you feel blocked or you’re only drawn to one prompt, maybe you should consider writing something longer than the recommended 250 words. You don’t need to write a novel, but 300-500 words gives you more space to add detail and character to your story. Aim for quality over quantity, but keep in mind that if you want to stand out, you will want to paint a complete picture of yourself. Can you do that in just one essay?
Essay Prompts (Strongly Recommended)
You may respond to up to three of the essay prompts below (choose one, two, or three) as you feel they support your individual application. In general, concise, straightforward writing is often the best for college essays, and good essays are often approximately 250 words in length.
1. What are the top five reasons you want to be a Hokie?
If you only write one essay, this is the one you should pick. This “why essay” is the most common variety out there… and the reason should be pretty obvious. It provides admissions with a direct barometer of your commitment to the school. Prove you’re a good fit by demonstrating a deep knowledge of the institution and offering personal reflections on what appeals to you. Luckily, this question has a twist. Once you’re done with your research, you can have a little fun. Five good reasons can span a few different areas of student life, so play around with the structure. Pick things connected to some central theme: maybe you’re a prospective linguistics major who hopes to expand her knowledge of languages by singing them in chamber choir and studying abroad in Prague. Or guide admissions through a little tour of your brain: as a skater who is obsessed with calculus, you see curves everywhere, from the chalkboard to the best potential ramps on campus.
This prompt doesn’t ask you about any particular aspect of the school, which gives you the freedom to pick and choose as you like. You can talk about academics, majors, classes, professors, top of the line labs and technology or you can discuss clubs, events, communities, societies, dining halls, and football games. Just make sure you’re relating what you have done to what you plan to do. If you decide to list the clubs as one of the reasons you want to be a Hokie, write about how you were involved in High School and how that helped you grow. They want to see you reflect.
2. If there is something you think would be beneficial for the Admissions Committee to know as we review your academic history, please take this opportunity to explain.
This is an opportunity for students with blips on their transcripts to address and explain these shortcomings. Usually, schools offer this sort of prompt as an optional “additional info” essay, and we think that’s the right perspective to take on the Virginia Tech application as well. In theory, you could submit a response to just this prompt and none of the others, but do you really want your one and only essay to be a dissection of your shortcomings? The whole point of an essay like this is to show that a few bad grades don’t define you. So, applicants who write this essay, should definitely submit at least one other.
Should you choose to tackle this prompt, your story should be one of success and overcoming hardship. Even if you’re sure your chemistry teacher was out to get you, placing blame won’t do you any good because it says nothing about your ability to grow and change. Were you sick and missed two months of school? Talk about what you did to catch up. Was there a death in the family that took you out of class? Describe the process of overcoming your grief. Did you have a learning difference that you weren’t receiving special help for? Tell the story of your evolving relationship with this aspect of who you are.
3. Our motto is Ut Prosim (That I May Serve). How is service to others important in your life?
Chances are, you’ve done some community service at some point in your life, and this prompt asks you to reflect on that experience. If you were a perfunctory participant in a school-mandated volunteer program, this might not be the essay for you. Since Virginia Tech has given you options, we recommend this prompt only for applicants who honestly believe community service has been a meaningful part of their lives. Without a deep personal connection to the service you do, you risk writing a list of America’s top 10 clichés and platitudes.
Virginia Tech wants to know how service is “important in your life,” so go beyond what you have gained from community service. Why do you care so deeply about a particular cause or community? Why does service matter? What change do you hope to see in the world? Remember that, fundamentally, community service is not about personal glory or achievement. Did you volunteer at a hospital over the summer? Describe how this affected your beliefs about what doctors owe their patients and vice versa. Have you been fundraising for girls’ education in developing countries? Reflect on what drew you to this cause. For bonus points, talk about how you’d like to continue your service on Virginia Tech’s campus.
4. We believe strongly in the Virginia Tech Principles of Community and the value of human diversity affirmed therein. Share a perspective or experience related to your culture, age, color, disability, gender, gender identity, gender expression, national origin, political affiliation, race, religion, sexual orientation, or veteran status that might explain how you will enrich the climate of mutual respect and understanding here.
Diversity can be defined in many ways, but Virginia Tech has highlighted a list of specific options. So, do any of these feel like they apply to you? Have you ever been told that you were too young or too old to do something? Does your experience with something like race or gender say a lot about who you are? Has it impacted who you are today? If yes, pick this prompt.
Virginia Tech wants to know that you will add a new layer to their campus. They want to hear about your culture, traditions, diverse experiences, and ultimately, what makes you, you! Diverse perspectives allow for learning, understanding, and broader minds. You don’t have to focus on explaining why the perspective or experience you choose will enrich the climate of respect and understanding on campus, admissions should be able to put two and two together if you communicate your point effectively. Instead, zero in on a moment or anecdote about a time when you realized you were different. How has this affected the way you see the world? Has it impacted what you eat, who you read, or the way you dress? What do you do when you encounter people who are different from you? This is your place to show VT that you stand out, and also demonstrate your personal approach to difference and change.
5. Virginia Tech is one of six senior military institutions in the country. How will this setting contribute to your college experience?
Virginia Tech is an interesting and rare school and they want to make sure you know it too! When approaching this prompt, prepare yourself by researching VT and other military institutions. Find out how they differ from other schools, read student’s opinions, learn about the positives and the negatives, and imagine yourself in this atmosphere. Do you think this setting will offer you a stronger academic edge or protect you from the lurking dangers that other colleges struggle with? Even if this aspect of VT’s culture didn’t factor into your decision to apply, it will affect your experience of the school, so it’s a worthwhile prompt for everyone to consider. That said, this essay risks being redundant with the initial “why” question since it’s another way to demonstrate your fit. Distinguish the two essays if you choose to write both, and at the end of the day make sure Admissions knows that it’s military background is a plus for you.
6. Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
This prompt is tough because it is so vague and you only have around 300 words to tell an incredibly detailed and revealing story about yourself that will have Virginia Tech clamoring to have you on their campus!! Luckily, it’s also incredibly similar to the first Common App prompt and Virginia Tech isn’t on the Common App! If you happened to write your Common App personal statement on prompt #1, whip out your scissors and cut it down to size.
If you aren’t clairvoyant and don’t have an essay to recycle, all is not lost! As you brainstorm how to answer this, think of pivotal moments in your life when you made a decision to pursue a career or life path. If this prompt is giving you trouble, think about yourself from someone else’s perspective. Why does your grandma think you’re the best thing since sliced bread? Which stories does she recount every Christmas? Don’t talk about a formative person in your life, that’s not what this prompt is asking you to do. Focus on one moment, one experience, one story and make sure you are the protagonist. Your grandma is a rockstar, we don’t doubt it, but she’s not applying to Virginia Tech, you are!
7. Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
SURPRISE! The very presence of this open-ended prompt reveals that you have almost no excuse not to submit at least two essays: the why essay and some other essay of your choosing. Literally any other essay. Pick your favorite essay from another supplement and dress it up for Virginia Tech. Or recycle your Common App personal statement here. If you’re applying to literally any other school, you probably have something that you can recycle that will shed new light on who you are and how you think.
On the other hand, if you’re feeling motivated (and really want to show off), you could start from scratch.
If you have something you want Admissions to know that you don’t think any of the other prompts allow you to say, then this prompt is right up your alley. Maybe you wish there was a “What’s your favorite quote?” prompt so you could talk about how Yoda’s “Do or do not, there is no try” changed your perspective on life. Perhaps you were hoping there would be a “Who is your favorite character on television?” prompt so you could explain how Archie from Riverdale’s drive to follow his dream inspired you to do the same. If you go this route, have fun with it! Show admissions how your quirky brain works.