Student studying in ACES Library.

College Essay Example: How to Answer the “Major” Prompt

Why are college essays so tricky? It’s partly because it’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t on an application.

Why are college essays so tricky? It’s partly because it’s hard to know what works and what doesn’t on an application. To give you a better sense of what colleges are looking for, we thought we’d write one ourselves.


Grainger Engineering Library.

Of course, everyone has a different story, and different colleges have different prompts. In our college essay example, our imaginary student is applying for an imaginary major, Listening to Music, at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. For your reference, the UIUC essay prompt is as follows:

Explain your interest in the major you selected and describe how you have recently explored or developed this interest inside and/or outside the classroom. You may also explain how this major relates to your future career goals. If you’re applying to the Division of General Studies, explain your academic interests and strengths or your future career goals. You may include any majors or areas of study you’re currently considering. Limit your response to 300 to 400 words.


College Essay Example

I was going to be sick if I didn’t calm down. My head was screaming, but my feet steered me closer to the room. Three doors away. I was about to fail my first-ever chemistry test. Those notes Eddie gave me—he didn’t call it a cheat sheet, but that’s what it was—were at the bottom of my backpack. Two doors away. I knew junior grades were important for college applications. One door away. If the notes were in my pocket, I could access them during the exam.

My classroom was in front of me, but I pulled off to the side and fished through my bag until I found what I needed: my headphones. With Cat Stevens’s “Sitting,” my world was cool again.

For six years, I’ve lowered my stress by listening to music. Taunts from middle-school bullies were swept away by Aretha Franklin and Arcade Fire. Mika was my bout of acne, Cake my driver’s ed test, and A Tribe Called Quest my parents’ divorce.

My high school didn’t offer any Listening to Music classes, so I formed a club sophomore year, Hear Their Everywhere. Serving as its president since that time, I have grown the group to 50 members and counting. With my teacher’s permission, I also put on playlists during art class. It’s a small way of incorporating music into the classroom, but it makes a big difference.

Though music seems to exist in another dimension, it clarifies my real world. It encourages me when I feel like surrendering. It articulates my pain when I don’t know myself. And it inspires me to do the right thing when I’m tempted not to.

With Cat’s calming influence in my ears, I was on my way that day and could make it through the test. I walked into the classroom with confidence—not in my chemistry abilities, but in my integrity. When I ended up passing with a low C, nothing could have made me prouder.

I’m still on my way now, hoping to become a Music Listener after college. One of my life-long ambitions is to not only listen to music full time, but also impart this passion to others. An engaging and rigorous educational program could broaden my horizons and further these goals. I’m confident that Listening to Music at UIUC is that program, and I’d love the chance to become part of it.


Group of students studying in the south lounge of the Illini Union.

Essays are important, but remember, they are only one part of the review process. When colleges read your application, we understand you extend well beyond the bounds of any word count we give you.

If you’re still unsure of how to begin drafting your best work, we also offer tips and guidance specifically for the UIUC essay. With that said, good luck and happy writing!

Illinois Admissions

Illinois Admissions

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