How to Write the Villanova University Supplemental Essays: Examples + Guide 2021/2022

Let’s take those one at a time.

1. St. Augustine states that well-being is “not concerned with myself alone, but with my neighbor’s good as well.”  How have you advocated for equity and justice in your communities?

Villanova expects its students to demonstrate its Augustinian values of Veritas, Unitas, Caritas (Truth, Unity, Love) through both their work toward the common good and their support for one another. This prompt offers you the opportunity to show just how well you walk the walk and talk the talk (and, well, write the essay). How? In four easy(ish) steps:

Step 1: Find your “what” and “why.” Don’t feel like this activism had to have been big. Maybe you organized a Black Lives Matter event in your small conservative town that resulted in a mindset shift among local leaders and law enforcement. But maybe you simply volunteered to register 18-year-olds to vote in front of Town Hall. No less important or impactful. More important than the size of the event is how passionate you are about your topic. So think: What is it that really matters to you? What topic engages your inner problem-solver? Is it gun violence in school? Dress code equality? Vaccine mandates? 

Step 2: Now identify your “who.” You can take a similar small-to-large approach when considering the community you’ve advocated for. Remember: You belong to a number of communities. Family, school, work, teams and clubs, neighborhood, state, global. And you serve unique roles in each. To help you brainstorm this part, here’s a guide that can help you think through the different communities you’re a part of. 

Step 3: It’s time to outline your “how.” What specific actions have you taken—not just to raise awareness about this societal issue, but to also take concrete action toward creating that equity and justice? It could be as simple as a conversation or as big as a foundation you’ve started (or bigger). Villanova wants to see those concrete steps that have transformed you from “thoughtful idealist” to “action-oriented changemaker.”

Step 4: When you go to write, heavy up the details. While the devil may be in the details, the details will help you show your commitment to equity and justice in one or all of the communities you belong to. Tell that richly detailed story about your efforts. Let the admission officer see you’re more than a thinker. You’re someone who takes action—and Villanova is the place to do it. 

2. What is the truest thing that you know?

We don’t know about you, but the first thing that came to our minds when reading this prompt was, “Whoaaaaa. That’s deep.” It’s definitely a prompt that gets you thinking. What is “true”? Is anything really true? And what’s the truest thing?

But don’t let your brain go into overdrive. It’s easy to overthink this prompt. Don’t.

There’s no right (or wrong) answer here. Instead, this prompt is just another opportunity for Villanova to learn what gets your curiosity running and your imagination spinning—and what topic you’re so pumped about that you’ve learned some truths from it. Are you a science-based astronomy aficionado who knows—just knows—the universe is limitless? Or a singer-songwriter who lives and breathes by the I-V-vi-IV chord progression? This is your chance to expound (within 250 words, of course) on it.

Now, while there’s no right or wrong answer to what you believe is true, we caution you to think about your declaration before you commit to your application. Statements like “X is the best/worst religion” or “Tom Brady is/isn’t a cheater” are ill-advised. Not only because you don’t know your audience (and don’t want to offend them), but also because you also don’t want to shift the focus onto another person. Also, don’t pick a topic just to be controversial or to appear more philosophical than you are. You do you. It’s the best person to be.

Remember, this isn’t a research paper that you have to bolster with cold, hard facts. Instead, share the experiences that have led you to know, understand, and believe your truth. Share the stories of you, and let your personality shine through.

3. One of the themes in St. Augustine’s book, Confessions, is the idea of redemption. Tell us your story of being given a second chance.

We all make mistakes. It’s true. But the great thing about making mistakes is that they tend to make for learning opportunities. And redemption, if we’re going by the dictionary’s definition, is “to make up for” or “to make amends for.”

So this prompt is your chance to admit, “Yeah, I messed up. But I fixed it, and I’m a better person for having gone through the experience.” Then, take the opportunity to reflect on that experience and demonstrate the positive changes you’ve made.

In the example below, the student recalled one memorable time in their life when they did wrong. But in telling what they did to come back from that mistake, they show they’re forever changed (for the better) by the lesson they learned.

Example:

Everyone’s redemption story is a never-ending process of reflection and improvement. For me, my pursuit of redemption revolves around my growth as a student, friend, athlete, son, brother, and, most specifically, a leader. 

During my junior year as the new captain of my varsity water polo team, my leadership philosophy mirrored the previous captain’s: strong leaders keep their teammates accountable through rigor and forceful direction. During practice, I thought I was improving my teammates’ dedication and skill by challenging them in games and critiquing their mistakes. I believed I was encouraging them to work harder. However, my actions made them feel less motivated and more frustrated. I had failed them as a leader.

The following season I had the opportunity to redeem myself. Instead of defending my previous leadership style, I decided to make a change. I realized that I led everyone the same way. I considered my teammates’ personalities and how I could motivate each player by example, helpful conversations, and constructive feedback. I created additional practices, team bonding events, and fostered team spirit by raising funds to buy athletic gear. 

Second chances do not always come again. It is a privilege, not a right, to lead. My redemption story as the water polo team captain is one I reflect upon in other relationships. As a son, friend, and classmate, I strive to be adaptable, empathetic, and inclusive. I continue to work towards and apply my new leadership philosophy: leadership depends on who you are leading. (247 words)

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Take responsibility. We understand that it can be hard for you to admit when you’ve done wrong. But being able to admit where you’ve fallen down or let others down is an important stop in the journey toward adulthood. Accepting responsibility instead of blaming others is a huge mark of personal growth, and detailing those positive steps in your essays is just *chef’s kiss*. This student realizes that with great leadership opportunities come great responsibilities, and they demonstrate how seriously they took those responsibilities.

  2. Focus on the right, not the wrong. Obviously, a big part of your story is your “oops” moment. Without it, you’d have no story to tell. But it shouldn’t be the only part—and it also shouldn’t be the biggest part. The mistake isn’t nearly as important as what you did about it, what you learned from it, and what you’ll do differently in the future. This student clearly outlines the new approach they took in their second season of leadership and the lessons they’ll take with them going forward.

  3. But don’t make your wrong too wrong. While everyone makes mistakes, some mistakes are more essay-worthy than others. For example, cheating on your Algebra II test or hacking into the customer database at work might have left you feeling terribly remorseful, and you’re eager to show how you dramatically turned around and worked to redeem yourself. But topics that fall into the grey area of morality (and legality) might not be the ones you want to put front and center with an admission officer, no matter how impressive the lesson learned. This student’s failure—being an ineffective leader of the water polo team—was relatable, profoundly impactful, and led to an insightful transformation.

4. In the Villanova community, we believe that we all learn from one another. What is a lesson in life that you have learned that you would want to share with others?

General tips for addressing this prompt:

  1. Get school-specific. Villanova is showing you the way here. Because school officials explicitly reference the Villanova community, make sure you’ve done your research and cite resources you might like to engage with given the communities you are, or want to be, part of. Check out our “Why us?” guide for more help on connecting your experiences to what you’ll bring to Villanova. 

  2. Keep it simple. You might be super jazzed about your topic. That’s great! You definitely want that enthusiasm to shine through. That said, the prompt asks specifically for you to elaborate on a lesson you’ve learned. When you explain what you’ve learned, try to be as succinct as possible. You want your reader to walk away knowing your answer to the question. That will also make it easier for you to think of specific examples to illustrate how you’ve grown from the lesson you’ve learned.

  3. Use active verbs so readers get a clear sense of what you’ve done. This just makes things more engaging and dynamic overall. Check out our epic list of verbs on this blog post for more inspiration.

Here’s an example we love.

Example:

I ran into a pole in first grade, so my elementary school painted all of their poles bright yellow. I like to think that I made an impact on that school just as much as that pole made an impact on me. Early on, I learned that people’s small actions can be catalysts for significant change that is often larger than themselves.  

By high school, I was more aware of my surroundings and interested in making a different kind of impact. I leapt at the opportunity to spearhead a new Bedford Academy Opportunity trip to Cambodia: Changing the Way the World Views Girls—I was determined to travel with a purpose. Our agenda was packed: we taught English in remote villages, witnessed the effects of sex trafficking, and heard from twelve-year-old abuse survivors. I was not expecting this trip to alter my own perspective on women’s equality as much as it did; I was shocked to realize the extent to which women are discriminated against everywhere. 

I have never forgotten that I have the ability to be a part of the solution, which is why through the Speak Up For the Poor organization, I created a branch to Cambodia advocating for the education of girls in impoverished communities. I would bring the lessons from this work to the Villanova community by connecting with student organizations, such as TedxVillanovaU and Villanova Feminism Society, to provoke discussion on uplifting women through education. 

I truly believe that one person has the capability to make a difference. I want to share my story to encourage others to find something that they are passionate about in order to inspire change. In this way, I can ensure that my impact on Villanova will last longer than yellow paint.

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Don’t discount the small moments. At its core, this question is about demonstrating growth. You don’t have to have had a huge revelation in an epic movie-worthy moment to have learned an important lesson. In this student’s case, he ran into a pole. At first glance, not super impressive. However, the way he describes it humorously and succinctly helps readers see how this small moment of clumsiness drastically impacted his way of approaching the world. Big lessons can come from seemingly insignificant actions, events, or thoughts. Showing that you can find meaning in these moments is impressive and essay-worthy.

  2. Connect to communities. Remember that “community” is the key word here. After his brief introduction about walking into a pole, the author uses his next two paragraphs to elaborate on two specific organizations he’s part of that relate to the lesson he learned from the pole incident. Remember, even though the focus of the question seems to be on the lesson, it’s actually more interested in how the lesson prepared you to do something impactful afterwards. You walked into a pole and learned this abstract lesson about how small actions can catalyze big change … so what? The bulk of your essay should be spent answering the implicit “so what” of this prompt. 

  3. Transition to Villanova. Although a lot of your essay may feature the you of high school, remember that Villanova wants to know how you might use the lesson you’ve learned to contribute to its student body. This student does an excellent job of quickly tying the “small actions, big consequences” lesson to his interest in clubs at Villanova, like TedX and the Feminist Society. Make sure to include at least 2-3 sentences about Villanova-specific resources toward the end of your essay.

  4. Circle back to the catalyzing moment or action. You don’t want your reader to forget what lesson you learned, even if this essay is really more about the “so what.” The lesson is the common thread that structures your answer. It serves as an organizational tool to connect disparate communities you’re part of. Because of that, you want to briefly bring it up again in the conclusion of your essay. In this case, the author does this by circling back to the pole-walking incident and using it as an analogy for the impact he hopes to have as a student at Villanova. You don’t have to do exactly the same thing as he does, but you should be thinking about how you can reaffirm the relevance of the lesson you learned at the end of your piece.

5. Augustine’s “Miracles are not contrary to nature but only contrary to what we know about nature.” Tell us about a societal issue that you believe the wonder of technology is well-poised to help solve.

While this prompt might initially sound intimidating to the not-so-tech-savvy, you don’t need to be a computer whiz to answer it—and answer it well. As part of a generation who’s been surrounded by technology since birth, you’ve undoubtedly got some insight to share. Villanova is looking for those creative, out-of-the-box thinkers who are going to make a splash both on campus and in the world. Here’s a chance for you to show the kind of change-maker you are (we told you “change” is a recurring theme here)  and exactly how you’re going to get ‘er done. But as you do so, be sure you don’t get so deep in the nuts and bolts of the technology that you forget to show Villanova who you are and what you value.

Because this is a new prompt, we don’t have a Villanova-specific sample to share. We do, however, have this Georgia Tech essay written for a similar prompt to get you started, and we include some tips and tricks below to help you plan your draft.

Example:

Since seventh grade, I have been volunteering for Breathe California of the Bay Area (BCBA), a non-profit that provides people with breathing issues the devices they need, at affordable costs. There, I interacted with recipients, helped with presentations, and handled equipment. BCBA was the first time I ever came face to face with the cold truth of medical care: that sometimes, life-saving medical treatment simply isn’t available to those who can’t afford it. 

In my freshman year of high school, I joined my school’s robotics team. One of the very first things we did was attend an open house at a company called Intuitive Surgical, in order to understand the role robotics plays in the world. While I was there, they showed us their major product: the da Vinci Surgical System, a minimally-invasive robot that was developed to make surgeries safer and more efficient–they even let us drive it! Their device, and, more importantly, the noble goals they had in making it, left a deep impression on me. I was struck by the idea that perhaps I could elevate my simple interest in engineering into a method of helping people like those I met at BCBA. 

Attending Georgia Tech will enable me to study engineering more in depth, while obtaining significant experience in the field. With the skills I learn, I can make devices that are affordable and efficient, like Intuitive does; I can help those who cannot help themselves due to factors they cannot control, like BCBA; and I can improve the general affordability of healthcare for people everywhere. (260 words)

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Tips + Analysis

  1. Show your intellectual curiosity. While the societal problem you imagine may be well out of your scope of expertise (at least, right now), Villanova is interested in hearing how you problem-solve societal issues and inequalities with technology—a force that’s often the great equalizer. Where’s the problem (and solution) now, and how do you see it evolving with technology? This student does a great job at exploring current robotic technology and questioning how it could be improved upon to serve an in-need population.

  2. Tie it in with your experience. Sure, you might be convinced that ridding the Galveston Bay of microplastics could result in dramatically improved fishing opportunities as well as increased tourism. But if you can’t back this idea up in your essay with relevant, personal experience, the essay isn’t likely to make waves with admission officers. It simply won’t show enough about you. One of the reasons this student’s essay works so well is that they support their societal issue with specific experience—in both the technology that might solve the issue and their work with the community most impacted by it. 

  3. Show your values. In the end, this prompt—like all others—is designed to show something about you that admission officers don’t already know. Your chosen societal issue automatically says something about who you are. But you can and should also use this space to show your values (check out our Values Exercise if you’re not sure what yours are) and how the problem and the solution tie in with what’s important to you. This student touches on their values, but they could’ve explored why, besides medical equality, engineering is a great fit for them.

  4. Connect with Villanova’s offerings. We know you’re packing a lot into this essay, but we’ll ask you to make like a Double Stuff Oreo and add one more thing to the body of your essay: insight on how Villanova could help you achieve your goals. While this isn’t a “Why us?” essay, you still might connect a school-specific course, club, or another opportunity if it would be instrumental in helping you solve this issue. While this student mentions Georgia Tech, if they were writing for this prompt, we’d suggest they get a little more specific about how this school, above all others, will help them in their pursuit of a better world.

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