written by
Katie Chiou

University of Rochester Essay Guide 2020-2021

Essay Guides 5 min read
Image courtesy of University of Rochester Instagram @urochester

University of Rochester is a well-ranked, mid-sized private research institution located in Rochester, New York. The undergraduate class of University of Rochester includes approximately 6500 students each year. In 2020, the acceptance rate was 29%. In this University of Rochester essay guide, we will give tips for applicants to best express themselves in their personal statements. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

Life as a University of Rochester Undergrad

The University of Rochester offers a well-rounded curriculum in liberal arts and sciences, with particularly strong departments in health sciences, optics, and music. The Rochester Curriculum does not consist of the typical general education curriculum that you might find at other schools. Instead, Rochester requires students to take “clusters” - sets of three courses united by one theme. In addition to several available themes, students are allowed to create their own, from medicine and inequality, to physics and philosophy. Undergraduate students are required to take classes in two areas, forming their cluster, and complete a writing requirement.

The undergraduate community at University of Rochester is tight-knit, with most activities happening on campus or in the nearby town. Students can be seen taking runs along the picturesque river on campus, or attending one of the many concerts or exhibits at Rochester’s own Memorial Art Gallery. One classic Rochester tradition is the Boar Head’s Dinner, where students line up in a procession, dressed in medieval clothing.

University of Rochester offers students a rich educational experience in the liberal arts and sciences. Its curriculum offers great flexibility for students to pursue their own passions and interests. The admissions officers at University of Rochester are selective, looking for candidates who are open-minded, interested in social activism, and intellectually curious. The supplementary essays provide an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you possess these qualities.

Prompt #1: The University of Rochester benefactor, entrepreneur, photography pioneer and philanthropist George Eastman said, “The progress of the world depends almost entirely upon education.” With that statement in mind, how will you use your University of Rochester experience to foster positive change in order to make the world, your community and those around you “ever better?”

You may answer one of three ways:

1. Essay Response: Write an analytical or creative response of 250 words or less.

2. Upload up to three works of your own art (e.g. pictures, video, performances, literary) and use the space below to provide a brief explanation as to how the art is tied to making the world, your community and those around you “ever better.”

3. Upload an abstract describing your own related research and use the space below to provide a brief explanation as to how the research is tied to making the world, your community and those around you “ever better.”

The Admissions Office asks this question because they want to know that your intellectual curiosity and passions align with the learning goals and mission of University of Rochester. Offering three different ways to respond, this prompt is a unique take on the typical “Why School” essay. Your response should reveal that you are truly passionate about attending University of Rochester, and how you would contribute to the student community.

It is worth thinking carefully about which type of response you will choose for this prompt. What experiences in your application have not yet been elaborated on? Which type of answer would add the most to your application? If you’re considering multiple prompts, it might be worth drafting out several possibilities for each, and from there, deciding which one highlights your passions the most.

This may be self-evident, but the research and art questions, respectively, are geared towards students with those particular passions. Ultimately, connecting your passions back to the phrase “even better” is essential - you should explicitly relate your personal work and/or experiences to community engagement and the ways in which you are addressing issues in the world.

I decided to answer the research prompt. The wording of this prompt has changed slightly since my application cycle, but is ultimately very similar in style. My abstract was from a research program that I participated in the summer after my junior year, in the field of bioengineering with a focus on specialized forms of microscopy.

Editing the abstract so that a lay person would be able to understand your work, and the purpose of your work, is of utmost importance. In my abstract, I began with a description of the project I had been assigned to - imaging of a very particular molecule in our bodies. When you introduce the research, be sure to convey your passion and how you believe your work can impact or contribute to the field.

After doing more research, I found that this molecule, in its own way, had direct connections to certain spinal diseases that were chronic and often degenerative, slowly leading to a loss of movement in one’s limbs. In my essay, I then elaborated more on the details of the project, such as the skills I learned along the way in utilizing the cryo-electron microscope and preparing specimens, as well as learning to use imaging software.

Finally, finding a way to connect your research and its goals to University of Rochester is essential. Aim for detail and specificity — before you write your essay, visit the University of Rochester’s website to learn more about faculty members, academics, and even campus life. Make a list of the aspects, classes, or people that draw you to University of Rochester, and try to incorporate these into your essay.

I indicated that although I did not wish to pursue imaging specifically, I was able to name a specific professor that I was interested in learning from and working with, using the skills I’ve learned and the passion I gained for research. A direct connection from your past research experience to how you would contribute as a student researcher at University of Rochester in the future will help you best answer the “Why School” portion of the prompt.


This essay guide was written by Katie Chiou, Brown University ‘21. If you want to get help writing your University of Rochester application essays from Katie or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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