How to Write the George Washington University Essays 2020-2021
George Washington University (GW) is a historic private research university that was chartered by the US Congress in 1821. Hosting students from all 50 states, Washington DC, and 130 countries, GW is able to immerse undergraduate students in diverse perspectives, a practical learning environment, and rich experiences. GW has three campuses in the Washington DC metro area: Foggy Bottom, Mount Vernon, and the GW Virginia Science & Technology Campus in Ashburn, VA.
Currently GW sits in the 70th position on the US News and World Report’s Best National University list. Best known for its programs in international affairs, government, public policy, and journalism, students are able to take advantage of learning hands-on in our nation’s capital.
Nevertheless, undergraduates have over 70 majors to choose from with social science being the most popular choice among the student body. Many prominent politicians, such as Colin Powell, Tammy Duckworth, John Foster Dulles, and J. Edgar Hoover, are GW alumni.
This year, GW only accepted 38.7% of applicants, which is the most selective incoming class since 2013. So, applicants need to focus on standing out in their choice of GW’s two supplemental essay options. In addition, applicants to the Honors Program will need to complete additional prompts to be considered. Check out this CollegeVine guide to make your essay-writing process as smooth as possible. Want to know your chances at GW? Calculate your chances for free right now.
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GW Supplemental Essay Prompts
While the supplement for all applicants is optional, we recommend completing the essay, as this will further demonstrate your interest in GW, and give you a chance to share more of your story.
At first glance, this prompt appears to be eliciting your perspective on and critical analysis of historical events or current affairs. However, the goal of this essay is deeper than that. Remember, admissions essays are pieces of the puzzle that when pieced together, ideally show the admissions committee a comprehensive picture of you. Thus, this question is also seeking to understand what sociopolitical, economic, or environmental issues are important to you, 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 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 admissions committee 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, as well as your capability to enact meaningful change in your community. At a time of increasing politicization, the admissions committee 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 part of the 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 admissions committee 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. Or, maybe 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.
This prompt should immediately stand out to you if you love to read or discuss literature. Simply put, admissions officers will be able to see through an essay response that rewrites the plot of a book or spits out standard interpretations of the text. However, if you can think of a book you truly love, and if you hold a unique perspective on that book, then you should definitely take this opportunity to share your thoughts.
Do not fall into the trap of picking a book you are not actually passionate about. The admissions committee is not looking for hundreds of essay responses about the radical nature of Pride and Prejudice or the scathing insights into the human psyche in Art of War. Realistically, most high school students will not have picked up these novels unless prompted by educators, so admissions officers will be expecting (not always with excitement) these basic responses.
Try to pick a book that you read for pleasure outside of the classroom, this way it is clear that you aren’t just recycling analysis from an English class or using an old paper you wrote about the book. Instead, you are applying your own thoughts and perspective to what you read.
You can also think of a book that has shaped your outlook on life or changed your personal goals.
For instance, if you are a politics major and happen to love the young adult novel Divergent, you could write a letter to the author, Veronica Roth, discussing how her take of modern dystopian literature has enabled you to identify some concerning trends in current geopolitical strategy.
Try to avoid wildly popular books like Harry Potter, unless they had a significant personal impact. Many applicants will rave about these kinds of books, so picking the same one won’t help you stand out.
Note that this prompt is telling you to write a “letter”. It is advised that you employ appropriate letter formatting, by starting off your writing with “Dear [insert author name here]” and concluding the letter with “Sincerely/Best/With much respect/etc.”.
Do not feel forced to connect the book you loved back to your intended major or pre-professional track. While this connection could offer you the opportunity to talk about resources at GW, do not forge an inorganic connection. Writing about a book you truly love should feel natural and allow your voice and personality to shine through your application.
Finally, offer an opinion and your personal thoughts on the novel. This essay is not meant to be a literary analysis, like you would write for an AP or other English class in high school. Instead, talk about how the book made you feel, your reactions to certain scenes, and speak directly to the author (while employing the respect they deserve as a creator of literary art).
The biggest mistake you can make with this prompt is to select it solely because it seems easier to write than the other option. Prompts can appear deceivingly simple, but will require careful examination and critical thinking if you hope to produce a strong response. Of course, if you feel strongly about a certain book and feel confident that you can pen a compelling letter without slipping into clichés, don’t be afraid to go for it!
This prompt intentionally gives you the opportunity to choose the direction in which you take your response. It is best to approach this essay backwards, by first brainstorming what pops into your head when you think about the terms “change”, “attitudes”, and “goals”. Once you have brainstormed a few different events, people, or experiences, see which one you would be able to elaborate on for 300 words.
Note that the prompt clearly states to only choose one event, person, or experience. Choosing more than one will not make you appear impressive, if anything, it will hinder your own ability to effectively demonstrate the “impact” part of your response.
Don’t feel pressured to pick the most sad or challenging experience you have overcome. Conversely, don’t pick something that every student goes through such as the change that comes with transitioning into high school—unless you have a unique twist to the story that makes it engaging and demonstrates great impact to your character.
If you pick a topic like the first time you clashed with your parents about political beliefs or how winning a debate in your government class inspired you to become a politics major, you need to go beyond the literal and express how it made you feel.
Keep in mind, this prompt is asking you to share your inner thoughts. You need to reflect on the event, person, or experience you choose in order to demonstrate the deeper impact it had on you.
No matter the topic you choose, the admissions committee needs to see that you can identify self-growth. Being aware of changes in your own perspective shows that you are not only self-aware, but also open to learning and growing from new or different events, people, and experiences. So, don’t spend too much time recounting facts about your topic, instead briefly mention it and then intertwine the story with periods of reflection.
While this prompt may not appear to be extremely complex, applicants often struggle with getting their point across when discussing past experiences. Reflection is difficult to put into writing, however, when done right, it is extremely effective in presenting an applicant as original and honest in their application.
Take your time with this prompt (if you choose it) and do it justice! Don’t be afraid to brainstorm for a bit before you find the right event, person, or experience to capture moments of self-growth.
For this prompt, you first need to do your research about the UHP. As you do your research, make a list of all the features of UHP that appeal to you. While the title of being in an honors program will be appealing to a lot of applicants, the program components may not be a perfect fit for everyone. Therefore, you need to demonstrate that you belong in this program for more than just your grades in high school, but rather your educational ambitions for your undergrad experience.
Here are some tips about what to include in your essay response:
Make sure to address how this program will complement or supplement your major studies. The UHP could supplement your major studies if you are a humanities major because the program tends to lean towards the analytical/expressive side of social sciences. Meanwhile, the UHP could complement your studies as an STEM major because the program sets out to attract students who are “intellectual omnivores who know that they [you] can’t be interested in one thing without being interested in all things.”
Talk about your educational ambitions and how the resources in the UHP could help guide them. Admissions officers are looking for students who have a greater sense of what they want to do in the next four years. This does not mean that undecided students will not be accepted into the UHP, but the admissions committee may have a harder time seeing how UHP is a right “fit” for their goals.
- For example, if you have an idea of potential research topics you want to explore, then talk about the UHP’s Sigelman Undergraduate Research Enhancement (SURE) award and how you would use that money to make an impact.
Maybe you could address the learning style and classroom format of the UHP. Many of the classes in the UHP are taught using the socratic method and are more laid back during class time because students are expected to be more mature and self-motivated in their pursuit of knowledge. Furthermore, class sizes tend to be smaller allowing for more engaged participants in UHP classes. If you tend to thrive in more intimate classroom settings, or just love discussion-based classes, then make sure to communicate that in your essay response.
Talk about the honors housing and some of the faculty-in-residence. You could take this opportunity to describe why the quieter, more traditional college setting of GW’s Mount Vernon campus would be a good fit for your personal comfort. Note that when talking about specific faculty or their courses, do not just name-drop and move-on. You need to be specific and show how a chosen professor and course could directly connect to your major studies or lead to potential research opportunities.
Overall, be as specific as possible in this essay response. Make sure to elaborate on all of your points, even if it means you have to limit how many things you bring up.
Don’t waste a lot of time with filler words or fluff. This essay is meant to show your “fit”, so the more space you use to give details, the more likely you will effectively demonstrate why the UHP is a perfect fit for you.
To prepare for this prompt, it is a good idea 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 admissions committee on this particular quirk, and your innate passion for the activity that nurtured your skill.
If you have an intense interest or passion, however unconventional, you can also 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 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 to keep running, you can use this response as a place to reflect on the challenges you faced and what 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.
- 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 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.
This prompt is meant to separate applicants who have a genuine interest in the world of political communications from those who only have surface-level interest. In order to answer this prompt effectively, you need to be able to pinpoint issues you are passionate about, identify a person active in politics who inspires you, and explain WHY you chose a particular person.
Don’t pick a person whose policies you do not know well. While names like “AOC”, “Bernie Sanders”, “Donald Trump”, “Angela Merkel”, “Modi” and more are in mainstream media, many people only know the sparknotes version of their policies. The admissions committee wants to see that your specific interest—that could have been shown in your extracurriculars or class choices—is also valued by the person you chose.
For instance, if you have worked at a food bank through your high school career, you could choose to be Congressman Dwight Evans (PA) who spearheaded the “Healthy Food Access for All Americans Act”.
Or, if you want to choose a person who is in mainstream media, try to pick a policy-agenda of theirs that is less-known and connect it back to some of your interests.
For example, if you participated in clubs for mental health awareness in young adults, you could choose to become Elizabeth Warren who co-sponsored a bill to address mental health issues for youth, specifically youth of color.
This major has an additional prompt because the admissions committee wants to choose people who are determined to pursue this educational track. Take time to carefully assess how you can tie your interests from outside of school or extracurriculars to the person you choose to become.
The WHY portion of this prompt is the most important part. Anyone could choose President Obama as the person they wish to become and state a simple reason like: “because he was the first African-American President of the United States and that was an inspiration to me.” However, a more effective answer would elaborate on what impact President Obama had on you beyond serving as an inspiration.
For instance, did Obama signing the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act inspire you as a female applicant to fight against the wage gap?
Or, did Obama lifting a 22-year old ban that restricted people with HIV/AIDS from entering the US impact your decision to write a blog about public health in America?
Making specific connections between the actions or accomplishments of the person you choose and your own accomplishments and goals will make your essay response unique and memorable.
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