How to Write the George Washington University Essays 2018 – 2019
Ranked 63rd among National Universities by the 2019 U.S. News & World Report, George Washington University (GWU) is a private research university with a total undergraduate enrollment of 11,504. GWU was chartered by the U.S. Congress in 1821 in accordance with the wishes of U.S. President George Washington, who advocated for the establishment of a national university within the nation’s capital. GWU has three campuses in the Washington, D.C. metro area: Foggy Bottom, Mount Vernon, and GW Virginia Science & Technology Campus in Ashburn, VA.
GWU is best known for its programs in international affairs, government, and public policy. Many prominent politicians, such as Colin Powell, Tammy Duckworth, John Foster Dulles, and J. Edgar Hoover, are GWU alumni. There are over 475 student groups within the university, offering a range of political, social, cultural, and athletic activities. Undergraduates have over 70 majors to choose from with, social sciences being the most popular choice among the student body.
In order to apply to GWU, you will need to chose one of two supplemental essays to complete; applicants to the Honors Program will need to complete additional prompts. Check out this CollegeVine guide to make your essay-writing process as smooth as possible.
Here are the prompts for the 2018-19 application cycle:
At first glance, this prompt appears to be eliciting your perspective and critical analysis on historical events or current affairs; however, it is deeper than that. Remember, admissions essays are parts of a puzzle that when pieced together, would ideally show the admissions committee (adcoms) as comprehensive a picture of you as possible. Thus, this question is also seeking to understand what sociopolitical, economic, or environmental issues are important to you personally, and why.
Given the phrasing of the question, this prompt would be essential for applicants planning to major in international affairs or the social sciences.
Here are two interpretations of the prompt:
- If you could go back in time, what critical local, national, or global historical event would you change? How would you inflict such a change? Why?
- Currently, what is a problem plaguing our society that you would work to resolve if you had all the power necessary to do so? What actions would you take, why, and how would those actions alter our future?
Given the deliberate ambiguity of the question, you can choose either interpretation as your springboard. Just be sure to formulate your opening paragraph in a way that makes it clear how you chose to interpret the question.
Regardless of which route you decide on, the objective of your response is to suggest a solution to the problem you deem most critical. You are limited to a mere 250 words, so make sure to establish the context of your chosen issue with brevity and precision in a manner that will frame your solution. Then, get straight to the point: identify the problem or past event that affected the course of human history and suggest a more promising course of action.
A few tips and words of caution:
Don’t pick a topic or a problem that is too broad. If you are considering present-day issues in your response, don’t discuss something vague like “global poverty” or “illiteracy in developing nations.” No one individual is able to provide a concrete and feasible plan of action to such major problems of international significance, let alone a high school student with 250 words at his/her disposal. The strategy is to pick a sub-issue of a larger problem that affects a specific population.
For example, instead of addressing illiteracy in the developing world, you can delineate a proposal to increase literacy in rural schools with understaffed faculty, and connect it to your own background of growing up in a community where access to higher education and associated economic opportunities was inadequate. Or, you can suggest a measure to combat food insecurity for low-income students in Native-American reservations and relate that to your experience of witnessing hunger in your school cafeteria. Make your choice of issue specific, and your response to it personal.
Don’t bring up a historical cliché. If you are taking the historical route, avoid silly or overused instances. For example, don’t write about going back to the 1930s and killing Hitler in order to prevent WWII. Such responses would show the adcom that you are not serious or, worse yet, that your critical analysis is insufficient to provide a more nuanced reflection.
Try to think of historical events that were impactful to your personal or family background, and are under-reported in the media. If you grew up in a community of interracial children raised by single parents, you may want to draw attention to the unique experiences and challenges this demographic faces in trying to grapple with their whole identity while heavily influenced only by one particular side.
Be specific. Give clear examples of actions you would take or policies you would implement in order to affect meaningful change. Don’t write broadly about educating more girls; instead, outline steps the government could take to narrow the gender literacy gap by allocating more funds to local schools or dedicating a certain portion of research grants to under-represented women.
Instead of declaring that you would go back to 18th century United States and eliminate slavery, discuss the logical arguments and personal leverage you would use in lobbying influential generals and statesmen of the time to back a more egalitarian Constitution.
Ultimately, the prompt aims to gauge your personal values and determine your ability to think critically, to focus on worthwhile problems, and to propose realistic solutions. The adcom is looking to admit students who are passionate about examining pressing issues, quick to identify key stakeholders, and able to imagine plausible alternatives.
At its core, this prompt determines your ability to thrive in an intellectual environment punctuated by a diversity of opinions, and your capability to enact meaningful change in your community. At a time of increasing politicization, the adcom wants to attract students who are able to listen to each other and who can use their powers of persuasion to promote their point of view.
You don’t need a dramatic example to highlight your abilities to listen and persuade others. Here are some ideas of the kinds of moments in your life that will highlight the qualities necessary for the completion of this prompt.
If you are an active member or leader of a club, you can invoke a situation in which you and other fellow members disagreed on the action the club should take. For example, you can write about the time you convinced your classmates to donate a significant sum to a local soup kitchen instead of retaining it as club budget by appealing to their emotional side with photos of the people the kitchen is helping, and the statistics of the demographic it would reach.
You can also share a story in which you convinced another student of the validity of your point in a classroom debate, formal or informal. For example, write about the time when you used a compelling example that involved someone your debate opponent related to as you advocated for legalizing gay marriage in your U.S. history class, thus convincing her of LGBTQ individuals’ right to marriage.
Alternatively, discuss the challenges of convincing the Board of Education to support your initiative to start a new club. For example, if you tried to start a Girls in STEM club and were rebuffed by the administration on the grounds that the school already sponsored a Science Club, you could outline the arguments you used and the awareness campaign you launched in order to ultimately secure the necessary funding.
No matter what kind of example you choose, don’t forget that the prompt wants you to demonstrate that both you and the other party gained something from the experience. It is not enough to tell the adcom about a fight you had with a classmate who didn’t believe in abortion on religious grounds. You need to demonstrate your ability to persuade others, even those with radically different opinions, so dig deep and pick a success story as the example.
Anyone can argue, but not everyone can express their ideas and exchange perspectives in a respectful and productive way. Perhaps you engaged a fellow classmate in a class debate that led you to form a life-long friendship, despite your political differences. Perhaps you were able to develop a project that others initially opposed and convinced them of its value. Make sure that your response highlights a lesson learned or an impact made.
In essence, this prompt is asking you why you chose to apply to the Honors program. Prior to responding to this prompt, make sure that you have done your research, perused the Honors Program website, and really understand the opportunities it offers. Show the adcom what it is that the Honors Program offers you that you would not be able to find as a regular GWU undergraduate.
Here are some unique aspects of the Honors Program you can invoke:
Talk about the option of living within an Honors Program residential community. Tell the adcom that this option would allow you the opportunity to interact with fellow participants outside of the classroom and to continue exchanging ideas by attending cultural programs and engaging in late-night common room discussions.
Study the course offerings only available to Honors Program students and explain why taking a particular course would be an essential part of your undergraduate education. For example, if you are planning to study gender and politics, you could discuss “Gender and Subversion in Ancient Imagination,” a course available to Honors students that would allow you to gain a deeper understanding of ancient philosophy and draw parallels to our own society and the justifications we use to keep women out of the public sphere. Be sure to also emphasize that you learn better in a small, seminar-style environment provided by the Honors Program that you would not otherwise experience in larger, first-year courses.
Don’t forget to mention the co-curricular programming, which allows you to spend time with distinguished faculty outside the classroom, attend field trips to museums, exhibits, film screenings, and theater performances and engage with the material you learned in real time. The Honors Program would afford you unprecedented access to GWU professors and allow you to benefit from their expertise in all aspects of college living. Discuss your commitment to taking advantage of this opportunity by actively engaging in some aspect of the Honors Program you find particularly engaging – for example, monthly dinners with the Honors faculty.
As an Honors Program applicant, the adcom expects you to be well-versed in the unique opportunities the program provides and to be committed to taking full advantage of them. It is insufficient to invoke the program’s prestige as your main reason for applying. Make sure that your response demonstrates how the Honors Program would provide you with an experience unattainable elsewhere in GWU by listing specific offerings that you are eager to take advantage of upon acceptance.
This prompt is intentionally vague and allows you to choose the direction in which to take your response. It is important to first think about what the terms “intellectual growth” and “education” mean to you and to provide clear definitions in the opening lines of your response.
It is not a good idea to stick to the narrow definitions, which refer to attending your classes and learning about the required subject matters. Instead, think of intellectual growth and education more broadly: for example, you may define them as taking steps to holistically improve yourself and your understanding of the world around by taking initiative in how and when you learn. Think of your response as an opportunity to show the adcom how you have taken the initiative to further your education beyond the classroom.
The second step in responding to this prompt is to select an example that will demonstrate how you grew and improved as an individual as a result of the experience. This means that you should not use this prompt as an opportunity to discuss how you overloaded on AP classes your junior year, especially if your AP scores reflect the negative impact of that decision. Instead, think of an experience that was intellectually stimulating and challenging and that helped you learn something new about yourself and the world around you.
Here are a few topics you may want to consider discussing in your response:
If you have ever taken extra steps to enroll in a community college course because your school did not offer a class you wanted to take, you can focus your response on having taken active initiative to further your education beyond the available opportunities.
For example, if you have been studying a foreign language intensively for three years, took the AP exam, and realized that your school does not offer a higher level of the language for you to take senior year, write about your efforts to persuade your school to allow to take a for-credit college-level course at a local college.
If you have ever taken online courses or taught yourself a set new skills not offered at your school, this is a chance for you to highlight your motivation and perseverance. Imagine that you are an aspiring web developer, who wanted to learn the skills needed to design your first website. However, your school has no course offerings in web development or graphic design.
So to advance your intellectual goals, you research and find an online program that allows you to attain a web developer certification after 300 hours of registered coursework. If programming does not strike your fancy, perhaps you taught yourself a new language and achieved intermediate written and oral fluency within one summer.
If you ever shadowed a professional or taken on an internship to learn more about a career path that interests you, you can use this as an example of really taking ownership of your learning experience. For example, you may be interested in real estate law and planning to enroll in law school after getting your Bachelor’s degree. You may have found a local real estate firm by drawing on your network of human capital, and convinced the attorney to allow you to shadow him after school every day. Write about the valuable insight that you gained about the profession of your choice and the skills you would acquired that you would not otherwise have obtained until graduate school.
The two key characteristics you want to highlight about yourself in your response are willingness to take initiative in your learning experience and intellectual curiosity. As long as your essay and the examples you use exemplify those qualities, you will be able to make a strong case for your admittance to the Honors Program.
This prompt option may appear uncomplicated at first glance, but don’t be deceived by this seemingly light-hearted question. This is an opportunity for you to think outside the box and showcase your creativity, not write a boring literary analysis you would submit to your AP Literature teacher.
Don’t pick this prompt unless you are absolutely certain that you have an appropriate idea for a book and enough to say about it. Your critique should offer an interesting take on whichever book you select and not regurgitate the criticisms you find on SparkNotes.
Here you will find some general guidelines for selecting an appropriate type of book to discuss and advice for what not to do when responding to this prompt.
Don’t pick a classical work of literature. Chances are, many American students have read “To Kill a Mockingbird” as part of their school English curricula. You want your response to be creative and refreshing. Everything that can be said about a work of classical literature has already been said by many reputable authors, teachers, and students. There is likely nothing you can add to that conversation in the span of 250-500 words that will wow the adcom.
Don’t pick any book you had to read in school. Even if you are thinking of a less commonly taught novel that a quirky English teacher assigned in your Modern Literature elective course, try to find a book that you read outside of school instead. This will show the committee that you are someone who reads outside of school, who is able to think critically about a book they dislike without the goading motivation of having to know its content for a test. In short, it will make you seem more impressive. And if you are someone who doesn’t enjoy reading unless required to, you should reconsider choosing this prompt as part of your application.
Your only criticism of the book should not be, “It’s boring.” There are many books that you will read in your lifetime that you simply will not like because of its style or because the subject matter just doesn’t appeal to you. However, that’s not a good reason to write a letter to its author and inform them that what they deem important does not matter to you.
Offer constructive criticism. If you completely disagree with the author’s point of view or think that they are generally a terrible person, don’t write to that author. A crucial part of academic discourse in college is the ability to understand divergent opinions, to listen to those who subscribe to different ideologies than you do, and to be able to talk your disagreements respectfully. This prompt is an opportunity to demonstrate all those qualities by engaging in productive discussion with the author about specific points in his/her book that you disagree with or don’t understand — of course, you will never receive a real response to this letter, but you should still seek to open a conversation.
The biggest mistake you can make with this prompt is to select it solely because it seems easier to write about than the other option. Prompts can appear deceivingly simple, but will necessitate careful examination and critical thinking if you hope to produce a strong response. Of course, if you feel strongly about a particular book and feel confident that you can pen a compelling letter without slipping into the clichés outlined above, don’t be afraid to go for it!
The most important thing you can do to prepare for this prompt is to spend some time reading newspaper articles. Look for feature articles that provide in-depth interviews with individuals — movie stars, politicians, or entrepreneurs — on reputable news sites such as the New York Times, Time Magazine, or The Washington Post. Get to know the style used by professional journalists when profiling subjects.
It is important to focus your “interview” on a particular event or achievement in your life. Although the prompt is quite vague in regards to the content of the profile, you don’t want to waste this space by rambling on about a list of your achievements.
Instead, think of one particular interest that really defines and shapes you, then come up with “interview questions” that would allow you to speak to that aspect of your personality. This prompt also gives you an opportunity to highlight an aspect of your profile that the rest of your more conventional application does not showcase.
Here are some suggestions for potential topics:
If you have a unique skill that you have cultivated outside of your academic and extracurricular life, this prompt is a perfect opportunity to mention it. For example, if you are an expert juggler who practices new tricks every weekend and can captivate an audience of middle-school children, your profile is a chance to sell the adcom on this particular quirk, and the innate passion for the activity that nurtured this skill.
If you have an intense interest or passion, however unconventional, you can use this prompt to demonstrate how it contributes to your skills and personality. For instance, if you have collected every film produced by your favorite movie director, are capable of reciting obscure trivia about his cinematic achievements, and never miss a chance to learn more about the genre of cinema in which he specializes, talk about it in your profile. This way, you can show the adcom that you are intellectually curious and motivated to learn new things about the subjects that inspire you.
If you have had a particular experience that served as a defining moment in your life, the newspaper profile is a great place to reflect on it. For example, if you had spent many months preparing for a half-marathon, working hard to build the stamina and discipline necessary keep running, you can use this response as a place to reflect on the challenges you faced and the things you learned about yourself along the way.
One way to help you develop a strong response to the prompt is to ask a friend or family member to interview you. They may be able to come up with interesting questions that you would not otherwise have thought of, the responses to which you can incorporate in your profile.
Below are some practical tips for crafting a response in the style of a news piece:
Refer to yourself in third person. It may feel strange at first, but it is important to remember that the prompt wants you to write a feature as though you interviewed yourself. Pretend you are a reporter who is writing a story about a famous individual and refer to yourself the way you would to your subject.
Don’t include the questions in your response. You only have 250 words, and you want to include as much interesting and useful information about yourself as possible, so don’t waste the space listing the questions you will be answering.
Stylistically, journalistic writing differs from academic papers you would typically write in high school. Try to keep both your sentences and paragraphs short and to the point. Each sentence and paragraph should communicate one main idea and include only the information necessary to convey it. Don’t include complicated clauses or overly long, flowery sentences. The purpose of a news article is to convey information effectively and concisely. This prompt seeks to determine whether you are capable of adopting the kind of style necessary to succeed at the School of Media and Public Affairs.
When responding to any of the above prompts, it is crucial to really reflect on what the question is asking you before launching into writing. In addition, it is always a good idea to have another person look over your responses when you’re done in order to avoid any careless errors and make sure that you are getting your main points across in a clear and engaging manner.
Want help on your GWU application or essays? Learn about our College Apps Program.
Want us to quickly edit your college essay? Submit it to our Rapid Review program, and we’ll get it back to you quickly with comments from our expert team.
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.