How to Write the University of Washington Application Essays 2016-2017
University of Washington, located in Seattle, is a stellar public university with a strong commitment to affordable education. Despite its high rankings and impressive financial aid packages (almost a third of students are eligible for free tuition), UW is only moderately selective; over half of all applicants receive offers of admission.
Although the University of Washington has a reputation as a research university, it caters to far more than just STEM students. The university’s three most popular majors are social science, biology, and business, so whatever your area of interest, you’re sure to find like-minded students there.
UW doesn’t use the Common App, although its application is structured similarly. More surprisingly, it refuses to consider letters of recommendation in its admissions process; your essays are the only way for admissions staff to get a sense of your personality.
University of Washington Application Essay Prompts
You can think of this essay as a slightly shorter Common App essay — the goal is for the reader to get a broad overview of who you are as a person. Depending on which prompt you choose, your response may wind up being very similar to your Common App essay. However, pay close attention to how the prompts differ, and make adjustments as necessary.
Choose one topic from the list below (max 550 words)
Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
If you’ve already responded to Common App prompts 1, 2, or 5, you may be able to use the same story here (check whether your original essay discusses your character). If not, this is a great prompt to let your creative side shine; UW actually encourages applicants to write stories rather than essays.
When choosing an experience to write about, try to pick something that ultimately casts you in a positive light. If you want to demonstrate your character, think about times you acted in a way you’re particularly proud of. Putting forth your best effort in a game against a much stronger opponent, persuading your class to give its senior trip money to classmates in need, and staying calm in an extremely stressful situation are all examples of great topics.
If you decide to write about a character-shaping experience, it’s fine to talk about a time you acted in a less-than-admirable fashion — just make sure that the second half of your essay discusses what you learned and how you’ve changed. For example, if you write about refusing to share a toy in kindergarten, make sure you explain how your friend’s disappointment taught you the importance of generosity, and give examples of how you currently apply that lesson in daily life.
While you can write about observing someone else’s good or bad deed, remember that this essay is supposed to be about you, and devote most of your space to your own thoughts, revelations, and subsequent actions.
Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
This is a great option for a service-oriented student, although there are a few other situations that might fit this prompt (for example, voluntarily allowing your understudy to take your spot in the final performance of a play due to a sore throat). When choosing what to write about, make sure the topic addresses both “a meaningful contribution to others,” and “the greater good was your focus.”
In the context of this prompt, “challenges” can refer either to difficulties in accomplishing your contribution, or personal hardship you endured as a result of your actions. Either approach is valid, although, due to space limitations, you should address only one type of challenge. It is better to discuss one or two experiences in depth than it is to mention every challenge you faced in little detail.
While it might be tempting to say “their gratitude was its own reward” or something similar, you should instead go into more detail about what you personally gained from your experience. Did you feel the entire atmosphere of the nursing home improve? Did you watch one of the students you helped go on to replicate your program at another school? Have you become more comfortable reaching out to strangers?
Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
At first glance, this sounds almost identical to the third Common App essay option. However, there’s an important difference: this prompt is about something external challenging your own belief, rather than you challenging someone else’s belief. As a result, it will likely be challenging to adapt the Common App response to this prompt; writing an entirely new essay is probably the better choice.
If you have experienced a significant challenge to a core belief, this prompt should be easy to answer. For example, perhaps you’d always thought that good grades were just a function of effort until you tutored a classmate with dyslexia. Just make sure to address all three of the questions presented, and avoid describing situations that make you sound intolerant or close-minded. If you’re having trouble coming up with a situation that fits this prompt, you should choose a different question instead.
What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give younger siblings or friends (assuming they would listen to you)?
This prompt is similar to the fifth Common App question, although you’ll need to significantly condense your Common App essay to make room for the advice portion of your response.
In responding to this prompt, avoid inappropriate topics; even though your advice is meant to be geared towards pre-teens, you should feel comfortable with an adult reading your essay. Similarly, try not to come across as whiny or entitled. This topic is rife with potential pitfalls, so make sure to carefully plan your essay if you choose this prompt. Examples of safe responses include the frustration of not being able to vote in such a heated election year and the freedom of receiving your driver’s license.
Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
This is a great option for students who have already written a fantastic essay, but on a topic that doesn’t fit any of the other choices. Don’t submit an unaltered Common App essay, as that signals a lack of interest in UW. If you pick this prompt, remember that your essay should still showcase your personality and interests.
Even if you don’t have a pre-written essay, this prompt might still be a good match for you. If you’re not enthusiastic about any of the other options, think about a topic you are eager to write about. Are you extremely passionate about organ donation? Did a particularly engaging class project inspire your interest in cultural studies? You can also read through other universities’ applications for topic ideas.
Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the University of Washington. (max 400 words)
If you’re a minority or first-generation immigrant student, your topic will be relatively straightforward; just make sure not to caricaturize or stereotype your family or community. When describing how you’ll contribute to the UW’s diversity, keep in mind that simply having a different heritage isn’t a contribution on its own — the way you share and communicate that heritage is key.
If you don’t consider yourself culturally or ethnically diverse, try to think of other ways you might be unique. For example, perhaps your sports team has a tradition of never outscoring your opponents by more than a certain margin to avoid humiliating them, or perhaps you’re one of ten siblings. Then, think about how your experience or background might enrich the lives of peers who aren’t familiar with that environment.
Whichever approach you take to this essay, try to spend about a third of your space describing your world, a third describing the aspects of your character that are a result of that world, and the final third explaining on how your presence would impact your University of Washington peers. From the team at CollegeVine, we wish you good luck!
If you still aren’t sure how to best turn your personal experiences into compelling essays, consider working with a CollegeVine admissions specialist to write an essay that will set your application apart.
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