How to Write the George Washington University Essays 2016-2017
Due to its location in the heart of the United States’ capital, it’s no surprise that George Washington University has provided the educational foundation for thousands of government employees. The school prides itself on its high internship placement record in D.C. and if you have any interest in government, international relations, or politics, GWU could be your future home.
By no means, though, should you discredit the university’s academic offerings in other areas, as their eight undergraduate schools are all highly ranked in their ability to prepare students for future careers. Their supplemental essays, in turn, offer you plenty of ways to express your interest in as well as your passion for the school.
Starting in the 2015 application cycle, GWU implemented a test-optional policy to demonstrate their dedication to the holistic admissions process (there are a few exceptions though, so be sure to reference the requirements on their website).
Median percentiles for accepted applicant test scores fall between 590 and 690 on the SAT Critical Reading and 27 to 31 on the ACT. If your personal scores fall near or above this range, there is no harm in submitting them, and we definitely recommend you take advantage of the opportunity to add one more credential to your application. If, however, you feel your scores are not reflective of your academic potential or thirst for learning, you will not be faulted for your decision to omit them.
As a result of their test-optional policy, anticipate a heavier emphasis on course load and respective grades in addition to your extracurricular accomplishments. “Holistic” does not mean that no weight is given to scores or GPA; it simply aims to form a more well-rounded version of the candidate for admissions officers to consider since everyone has different strengths, interests, and abilities.
George Washington University Application Essay Prompts
Please respond to one of the following essay questions in 250 words or fewer.
Question 1: Research shows that an ability to learn from experiences outside the classroom correlates with success in college. What was your greatest learning experience over the past 4 years that took place outside of the traditional classroom?
Despite the emphasis on standardized testing and GPAs in high school, admissions officers understand that students are more than just a number, and real-world problem solving and experiential learning are far better indicators of academic success outside the confined walls of your 12th grade English class. As such, they want to give you an opportunity to hone in on those experiences that aren’t otherwise represented in your academic history or extracurricular list.
In terms of potential topics, travel will likely come to mind, so let’s discuss a few do’s and don’ts when writing about vacations or service trips:
- Don’t detail every hour of your family’s vacation to Costa Rica in an attempt to explain your appreciation of different cultures.
- On the same train of thought, don’t list every country, city, or state you’ve visited in your last four years of high school. Not only could this come off as bragging, but you’re only afforded 250 words, and there is definitely not enough room for deep introspection.
- Due to the holistic admissions process, many families (who have the means) are sending their children on lengthy overseas-service trips in an attempt to make their life experiences more ‘palatable’ for a college admissions office. Unfortunately, these do little more than show that you have the money to spend your summer traveling across southeast Asia, and we would advise against a service trip essay. Often dubbed “voluntourism,” we’re sure it is no doubt both eye-opening and inspiring, but because so many students try to impress their readers with service-related topics, it is hard to stand out with this theme. Spending your summer days scooping ice cream at a local café or working as a busboy at a popular restaurant can be equally as (if not more) powerful than lessons you learned while backpacking through South America. So simply keep this in mind if you’re contemplating writing about a service trip!
It is not the experience you choose to discuss that is important so much as how you describe what you learned from it. For example, waiting tables at a restaurant could lend itself well to an essay on the economics behind tipping or how it inspired you to learn more about capitalism through the lens of a small business. The open-endedness of the prompt affords you almost unlimited freedom.
Question 2: Historians write that Martha Washington was George Washington’s sounding board and closest confidant. Reflect on a significant challenge you have encountered during your high school career. Tell us about the person (mentor, family member, friend, coach, teacher, etc.) who provides support, advice, and wisdom to you in times of difficulty.
The hardest part of this supplement is first determining what a “significant challenge” is and then deciding whether or not you have persevered through one. Chances are, if an incident doesn’t immediately come to mind, you should question its true significance in your life and probably move on to another prompt.
This in no way means that you need to have overcome a mind-boggling struggle that has forever changed your outlook on life to choose this prompt, but writing about one bad test score or your difficulty while studying for AP World History probably isn’t noteworthy enough to devote an entire essay to.
With that being said, another common mistake when writing about mentor-based questions is that students tend to focus more time praising their role model and detailing his or her life than they do the impact that individual had on their own upbringing. Your Aunt Sue is not applying to GWU; you are! So spend the majority of your word limit on how those words of “support, advice, and wisdom” inspired in you the tenacity to keep going.
While a few sentences here or there about your mentor are obviously necessary for context, be weary of where the main focus of your essay lies.
Question 3: We imagine you have spent a great deal of time researching different colleges and universities. Describe how GWU offers a strong fit with your interest, talents, and goals.
As perhaps the simplest and most straightforward prompt, be aware of the fact that if you choose to write the typical “Why GWU?” essay, a creative approach or especially unique reasoning may be required to make your essay stand out. You may be tempted to pick Question 3 if you’re short on time and are hoping to recycle ideas from similar supplements at other schools, but we highly recommend against that.
If you can replace the name George Washington with another school and the majority of the paper still makes sense, suffice to say, an admissions officer will not be impressed. Disclaimer aside, if you do have a unique reason, specific program/class/professor/etc. that you feel accurately conveys your passion for the school, then by all means, write about it!
A fair warning though to those planning on writing about their affinity for politics and GWU’s obvious ability to cater to that interest — you will fall within the majority of applicant responses to this question.
Although this is by no means bad reasoning, the goal of supplemental essays is to differentiate yourself from the masses, and you could be, for lack of a better term, shooting yourself in the foot by starting off with a topic you know thousands of other students will employ. Be very, very cautious in using politics (and politics alone) as the deciding reason for attending George Washington University, unless you are confident that you can present your reasoning in a distinctly unique way.
A more memorable way to reference your interest in government would be to intertwine it with a unique personal story or experience that further demonstrates your connection with the university. Maybe you interned with a local Congress member over the summer and spent the majority of your time in the office pouring over a bill or certain state policy. Now, while you could spend this essay focusing on that position within state government, consider honing in on what that bill was about.
Were you impassioned by the subject material? Is there a way you could further your knowledge on that issue at GWU? Get specific! Sentences like, “I never discovered my passion for the political process until I was sitting in Senator ___’s office on a rainy Tuesday afternoon. My routine tasks involved ___, ___, and ___, but it was the love of government that kept me coming back,” are going to run rampant across application essays.
However, a more focused approach will be far less common: “Scouring through Amendment ___ for a routine task in Senator ___’s office might have afforded me a few additional proofreading skills, but I never expected to develop such a fervor for learning about the environmental impact of factory farms.”
Aside from political motivations for attending GWU, remember to only use school-specific reasons that show you have done adequate research. Specific grants, research opportunities, or even professors are great ways to show your passion for their programs.
Before embarking on the writing process, just a few quick reminders about college essays in general. The time you spend on each supplement is not only evident to admissions officers but (in their minds) a direct reflection of your interest in the school. So this is not an aspect of the application you can rush through! Give yourself adequate time in the college admissions process to research, write, and revise.
In your essays specifically, don’t just explain what you admire about George Washington University, but elaborate on how you can contribute to the campus community. Don’t simply mention its reputation for academic excellence when you could delve into classes you hope to take and the impact those could potentially have on your future.
Let these considerations guide your writing, because admissions officers want to see another side of your personality alongside a discussion of their school. And lastly, be deliberate with the ideas and life stories you choose to include. Ignore the tempting cliché topics and stand out!