How to Write the College of William & Mary Essay 2019-2020
The College of William & Mary, located in the eastern-most part of Virginia, is the second oldest institution of higher education in the country, after Harvard. As such, the school has educated some of the earliest and most influential names in American history, including Thomas Jefferson, John Marshall, Henry Clay, and George Washington. It has since been designated a Public Ivy, one of only eight U.S. institutions to receive this title.
Last year, the College of William & Mary saw over 14,500 applicants, ultimately admitting just 37%, a number down from previous years.
If you’re set on taking part in a chapter of William & Mary’s long history, the first step is going to be perfecting your essays. We’re here to help you break down the prompts and make your responses be the best they can. Want to know your chances at Willaiam & Mary? Calculate your chances for free right now.
For All Applicants
* The prompt mentions a 500-word maximum, but the box on the Common App for this essay allows up to 650 words*
Let’s shorten this wordy prompt to just the bones: “What makes you unique? Inspire us, impress us, or make us laugh.” The great thing about this prompt is: anything goes. There are hardly any restrictions. The tough thing about this prompt is…anything goes. It can be hard to focus in on an appropriate response.
While this essay is optional, we highly recommend completing any “optional” essays, as this further demonstrates your interest in the school. Another thing to remember is to choose a topic that hasn’t been covered in other parts of your application. If you already wrote about your love of magic tricks in another essay, try to cover something else in this one!
Before you even start writing, brainstorm as many ideas as possible. Think of the qualities, or experiences, that make you different from everyone else and write these down. It can be a unique story, hobby, project, passion, or whatever else you can think of, with the caveat being that you want to tie it into a bigger picture about yourself. Let’s dive into some example essay subjects to give you a sense of how to do this:
- After learning origami, you decided to fold 1000 paper cranes in a year. One thing you can do here is actually talk about how your life changed over the course of this undertaking, which is a great opportunity to introduce a personal story. Maybe you started the process in your childhood town and halfway through, your family moved to a new town—you can talk about this experience and how it impacted you, using the cranes as the anchor to your story. The bigger picture here is possessing the tenacity to reach 1000 cranes, but in the process, the reader will learn about you and your life.
- Perhaps you turned a wall of your bedroom into a chalkboard and have everyone who visits your house write or draw something on the wall, never erasing any of it. Talk about your motivations for wanting everyone to leave their mark there. The bigger picture here might be your passion for art. Or it might be your interest in preserving and sharing people’s voices. This example could go a lot of different ways, depending on the motivation of the writer.
Obviously, these examples aren’t going to apply to you. This is simply meant to give you an idea of potential topics. Something as simple as a chalkboard can be turned into an essay if you feel it speaks to who you are as a person. The goal is to let the reader learn more about what makes you who you are, using a specific story or example as a vessel to do so.
Most importantly, have fun with this prompt. Get creative, get quirky, and don’t limit yourself.
For applicants to St. Andrews Joint Degree Program
This prompt is asking a few different things. First, it wants to know why you’re interested in the particular subject you’re applying to. Second, why the Joint Degree Program? And third, what experiences have you undertaken that prove you want to learn more about other cultures and institutions?
You can begin the essay by talking about your interest in, and experience with, the major you are applying to. If it’s film studies, for example, open with the story of when you first fell in love with film. Maybe watching Birdman, uniquely filmed in a never-ending shot, made you want to learn more about camera angles and the science of cinematography. This is a good way to lead into how you have pursued this interest (i.e. your experience in film studies). Prove that you have lasting passion for the academic area, rather than choosing it on a whim.
Next, you need to demonstrate that the Joint Degree Program is the best way for you to study this topic. That’s going to require specificity, and in order to get there, you need to extensively research the program at both W & M, as well as St. Andrews. As you research, take notes on what makes both institutions unique in this area of study.
Continuing with the example of film studies, here’s an example of some things to note at both schools:
At William & Mary:
- WMTV is a student-run television show at W & M
- Students can submit their films or volunteer at the W & M Global Film Festival
At St. Andrews:
- Film studies boardroom has unique virtual reality facilities
- Byre conference room has 3D projection
- St. Andrews’ library has one of the best cinema collections in the world, with over 9300 AV materials
You’ll want to note specific characteristics at each school, but you have to make it clear that simply attending one of the institution’s programs is not sufficient to help you reach your goals. For help with this, be sure to check out the corresponding page on the subject’s Joint Degree Program.
As an example, the film studies JDP has students work on an independent research project. Perhaps you are fascinated by the influence of national identity on mainstream media and hope to research this by using W & M and St. Andrews as contrasting case studies. Whatever your story may be, make it clear why the JDP program is a fit for your interests and goals and show that you have done research on the program.
Finally, the third part of the prompt asks you to validate your interest in learning about other cultures and institutions. Perhaps, in the case of film studies, you created a short film in which you interviewed first-generation immigrants in order to study global perspectives and the impact it has on living and working in America. Show your interest in acquiring a global perspective.
If you haven’t had the opportunity to explore this interest concretely, discuss a way in which you hope to study it in the future. Conclude your essay by tying this back to your aspirations for the future and to how the JDP will help you achieve them.
Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
Want more college essay tips?
We'll send them straight to your inbox.