You’ve got a TOEFL score of 100, an SAT score of 1400, an SAT essay score of 16, and your GPA is 3.75. First, congratulations! You show perseverance, a strong work ethic, and dedication to achieving a great academic record. These are impressive stats that fall within the range of scores for students who were accepted to the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 2020. They will more than likely get you through a first round of admissions cut-offs at UIUC, but test scores and a high GPA are only two factors that UIUC uses to make admissions decisions.
They are not enough to make you stand out from the thousands of other applicants. What will make you stand out is who you are outside of the classroom--UIUC wants leaders, creative individuals, people who serve their communities, and those who show intellectual curiosity.
The Importance of Having More Than Good Grades
Your personal background, experience, and character are equally important to your grades. This may be hard to imagine, but read this, direct from UIUC’s admissions page:
“We’re looking for students who have the personal qualities to succeed on and contribute to our campus. In addition to strong academic success, you should be able to demonstrate some impact or level of accomplishment in your school, your community, your state, or nationally. Activities should indicate your strengths and skills, such as leadership ability, perseverance, creativity, generosity, determination, motivation, concern, and intellectual curiosity.”
I cannot emphasize this enough: your application is more than just grades and test scores. Your personal background, experience, and character are equally important to your grades.
Admissions into U.S. universities is different from most other countries. Having worked with numerous international clients throughout the years, I’ve found three common mistakes or misunderstandings:
- Being more concerned with grades and test scores than experience and character
- Not allowing enough time to prepare strong applications
- Writing in elegant or sparse styles instead of direct and specific writing
Over the past 11 years, I’ve helped hundreds of clients tackle these challenges and turn in fabulous applications, with 100 percent of my clients earning admission into their target institutions. Having an expert in your corner (like me), working with you every step of the way will guarantee your application is strong. I specialize in helping students just like you meet deadlines; write unique, memorable essays; and turn in their best applications.
If you start working with me early in your academics (I work with clients starting from as early as 8th grade), we’ll do early profile development so you can discover your unique qualities, skills, and values and build on them in the years before applying to a U.S. university. If we start working together later in the game, say just months before your application is due, then I’ll help extract information from you that exemplifies the qualities, skills, and values that UIUC wants to see in a compelling application, and I’ll guide you on highlighting these things throughout your application.
The More Information You Have the Better
But I want to be as helpful as possible, even if we don’t work together, so as promised, I’ll share some tips on UIUC’s admissions process. I’ll walk you through UIUC’s required application materials and admissions criteria, and I’ll focus a lot on essay writing tips since this will be the best place for you to differentiate yourself from the rest of the competition. Essay writing is a very weak area for a lot of students, so the more information you have about it the better off you’ll be. I’ll give you some general advice on everything, and by the end you’ll have a good idea of what to expect.
For more general advice on how to differentiate yourself from the competition, check out my free workshop titled The World Awaits Strategy: How to Beat the Competition and Attend one of the Best Universities in the United States.
Required UIUC Application Materials
- Application and fee, including essay
- Along with standard contact information, you’ll list your high school courses/grades and test scores; choose your major and an alternative program; and list your extracurricular activities, honors, and awards.
- You can complete an application by setting up a myillini account, through the Common Application, or through the Coalition Application.
- The fee is $50 for domestic students and $75 for international students.
- Test Scores
- International Student Requirements
- Program Specific Requirements
My general advice:
I recommend you create calendar reminders, talk with UIUC admissions advisors, and research as much as you can about the application process. UIUC’s admissions page is very comprehensive and provides very good insight into their process. Or, sign up for one of my packages and I’ll make sure you’ve got an application packet complete to the highest quality.
UIUC-specific Admissions Criteria
Before you write your essay and submit your application, let’s go over the minimum admissions criteria for UIUC and my general advice on each category.
- English: 4 years required
- Math: 3 or 3.5 years required, 4 years recommended
- Social sciences: 2 years required, 4 years recommended
- Lab sciences: 2 years required, 4 years recommended
- Language other than English: 2 years required, 4 years recommended
- Flexible academic units: 2 years required, 4+ years recommended
The above is the bare minimum you need to be considered for admissions to UIUC. To increase your chances, I recommend taking advanced courses in any or all of the above areas. Being successful in rigorous courses shows that you can handle challenging coursework and that you are serious about your academics. UIUC academics are challenging. If you can prove ahead of time that you can be successful in tough classes, then you’ll show UIUC that you can handle their classes as well.
UIUC accepts the ACT or SAT and doesn’t give a preference for either one. They use the scores for your course placement, academic advising, scholarship, and financial aid decisions. These are the scores for students who were admitted in 2020 (more current stats are unreliable due to Covid):
- ACT Score: 27-33
- SAT Score (no writing): 1280-1490
- GPA*: 3.45-3.92
- TOEFL: 103-110 (or IELTS: 7.5 to 8, with a score of at least 6 on all 4 modules)
*GPA is based on academic courses only using an unweighted 4.0 scale.
Of course, you’ll want to do as well as you can, but test scores are not the end-all-be-all for admissions. They can weed you out in the first round, but even if you don’t have scores in the ranges listed above, we can work together to make sure the rest of your application is strong, highlighting your other skills and qualities and elevating you above the competition.
UIUC wants to see that you do more than study, as they want students who are involved in their communities. Extracurricular activities are a great way to show that you are more than your academics. They demonstrate what’s important to you, your interests, and dedication to your chosen field of study.
Get involved in something for the long-term so you can develop your leadership skills and deep knowledge in that area. The depth of your experiences is more important than the amount of activities. Find activities where you can grow your leadership and teamwork skills and where you can show your passion for the things you enjoy.
These are things that you can do that are related to your chosen field of study but may not be as structured as something you’d do as an extracurricular. Completing other experiences and opportunities shows that you have thought about your major and that you have a good feel for what it actually is all about.
I work with students from the 8th grade and onward. It’s never too early to get involved in anything related to your major. Find a role model or mentor to work with, take classes that are related but not directly tied to your major, or go on a trip/ complete an experience. Do whatever you can to show your motivation and passion for your major and career choice.
This is perhaps the most important piece of your application, so you will need to invest a lot of time and effort into your essays. For example, you may be certain that UIUC is your dream school, and you’re confident computer science will be your major, but can you articulate what interests you in the degree, what you’ve done to understand the field, and what you plan to do after graduation? And, more importantly, do you know how to make your story unique? UIUC admissions officers read hundreds of essays every admissions cycle, so it’s tough to make your story stand out, but I can help you with this.
Regardless of the portal you use, you must respond to two or three short-answer prompts. The 2021-2022 essay topics are:
If You're Applying to a Major:
In the past 3 to 4 years, what experience(s) have you had (inside or outside of the classroom) related to your selected first-choice major or academic interest?
How does your selected first-choice major relate to your future career goals?
If You're Applying to the Undeclared Program:
What are your academic interests and strengths? You may also include any majors you are considering.
What are your future academic or career goals?
If You've Selected a Second-Choice Major (Including Undeclared):
Explain your interest in your second-choice major or your overall academic or career goals.
Your job is to use your essay to answer the following:
- Why you are interested in your field of study,
- What you’ve done to deepen your knowledge in your field, and
- How you will go on to do amazing things after graduation.
This may sound easy enough, but admissions officers have read it all and some stories are a dime-a-dozen. While your experience travelling in Africa may have broadened your worldview, or the time you bounced back after a terrible test score may have taught you resilience, these stories are not unique. Over more than a decade working with students, I’ve developed a method to help you make your story unique and attention-grabbing. First, I’ll give you some general advice on each of the questions you can answer and then I’ll explain my method:
UIUC Essay Advice
- UIUC wants to know who you are and get a glimpse into your world. Using specific examples, focused stories, and details will bring your essay to life. Begin your essay by answering the question with an interesting one- to two-sentence anecdote that will grab the reader’s attention. Make it personal and honest so the admissions officers get to know who you are. Or begin with something you’ve learned about yourself from your experiences in your chosen field of study. Let’s say you’ve chosen computer engineering as your major. A lot of students might start with something like, “I have always been passionate about computers…” Boring! Instead, try something like, “The first time I successfully assembled a computer, I learned an important life lesson: everything works together for a greater good.” Then weave this theme throughout your essay. Explain why your chosen major is important to you and how it can expand on that first lesson you learned. Explain why you love it and why it is significant to you. Be detailed and specific.
- Next, UIUC wants to know what you’ve done to gain an understanding of your major. It’s not enough to have tinkered with computers, but if you’ve gotten involved in engineering clubs, have taught others how to assemble computers, or have participated in amateur engineering competitions, it shows that you’re motivated to learn about the industry and share your experiences with others. Describe what you’ve done in and out of school to expand your knowledge and experiences in your major. Answer why you chose the activities you did and how they have enhanced your knowledge, personality, and understanding of your chosen major. UIUC’s goal is to develop leaders who will have a global impact, so it will be a major plus to your application if you’ve held any leadership roles or have done things that have affected others in a positive way. Use as many specific and personal examples as you can. As the saying goes - the devil is in the details.
- Finally, the admissions department wants to see that you’ve given your future some thought. Explain how you plan to use your degree from UIUC after graduation, what job or industry you want to pursue, and how you plan to use your degree for the greater good. UIUC values students who will use their degree for innovating new ideas or to make an impact in their community, state, or country. Describe how you will use your degree to make a positive impact in the world or explain how you could use your new knowledge to solve a problem that you see in the world today.
My Method to Writing a Memorable Essay
The challenge with writing the UIUC essays is that you have just 300 words to get all of these points across. It’s not an easy feat, but I can help you hone your writing to convey everything it needs to make you a memorable candidate. The essay portion is the most important part of your application—you will tell UIUC who you are, why you are unique, and why a degree from UIUC will help you become a leader and make a positive impact in the world. Often, this requires some self-discovery, as the WHY is the key to any successful essay.
Here’s the process I follow with every one of my clients:
- Determine the applicant’s top personal qualities and values - Qualities and values define a person’s sense of self and guide their decision making. Showing (not telling) these in the application essay is the best way to show AOs your “why”, which connects all the parts of your essay. I have guided worksheets to help applicants determine their personal qualities and values; please contact me if they will help you.
- Brainstorm essay topic ideas
- Make connections between personal qualities, values and essay topic ideas (who you are) as well as future goals (how you will be a positive addition to the campus / your future career)
- Pick an essay structure
- Write the first draft
- Revise, revise, revise
- Revise some more
General Essay Advice
You will also be required to include one additional essay with your application, which will depend on the portal you apply through. Check out these articles for more essay-specific advice.
- How to Answer the Common Application Prompts So You Stand Out
- How to Answer the New Common Application Prompt
- Reverse Outlines: An Advanced Editing Technique to Improve your Application Essays
- Personal Statement Writing Secrets: 8 Ways to Hook the Reader
Pulling it All Together
As you can see, there is much more to a successful application to UIUC than just meeting the minimum admissions criteria, and that’s exactly why you need an expert like me to walk you through the entire process. I’ll create a personalized plan that encompasses things like interest strategizing, essay writing guidance and proofreading, and interview prep. Check out my packages, sign up for a free 20 minute consultation, or connect with me directly so we can talk more. I look forward to working with you!