How to Write the University of Washington Essays 2019-2020

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The University of Washington is the state of Washington’s flagship university and its premier public university. U.S. News ranked it as 59th on the 2019 National Universities List.


UW has a 49% acceptance rate, and of the admitted students, the middle 50% achieved  3.71-3.95 GPAs, 27-32 on the ACT, and 1250-1430 on the SAT. UW is a member of the Coalition for College, so prospective students apply through the Coalition application. 


There are two required essays, one being the first Coalition Application prompt, and the other a standard prompt on diversity and community. There is also an optional space to address any unusual circumstances, as well as two Interdisciplinary Honors Program prompts. For a detailed breakdown of each prompt, read on. Want to know your chances at the University of Washington? Calculate your chances for free right now.


For All Applicants

Required: Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it. (500 words)

This prompt is the first of the five options on the Coalition Application and is purposefully phrased nebulously to allow for a wide range of responses. You can relay any experience that reflects or shaped who you are. 


To start, examine your many identities, and choose one that you want to highlight. All experiences are valid, whether they are traditional or unconventional. Focus on the things that make you different from others, and reflect on how they shaped you as a person. Remember that this is your main college essay, so be sure to pick an experience that was integral to your growth throughout high school. 


This is a good chance to tell the story behind any major extracurriculars on your activity list. For example, you might write “debate team captain” as an extracurricular, but this essay is where you can recount the grit and dedication it took for you to reach that position, as you once were extremely shy. You can also use this space to explore identities that don’t appear elsewhere on your application, such as your role within your family. For example, you can write about how you tutor your younger brother in math, and how watching his face light up after understanding a new concept sparked your love of teaching. 


A common theme across all college essays is “show, don’t tell.” This phrase is thrown around frequently, but is easier said than done. A few things to keep in mind when showing rather than telling are vividness and authenticity, which can be created by invoking imagery and specific details. For example, rather than saying “I like tennis and the game has always fascinated me,” try conjuring an image in the reader’s mind such as “At the start of my first official match, I gripped my trusted red racquet tightly, swaying ever so slightly from foot to foot in the ‘ready’ stance that I had practiced for years.” While the first response may be true, it is generic and can apply to any tennis aficionado. The latter response better authenticates your experiences than the former, and demonstrates your sincerity to readers. 


Required: 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 UW. (300 words)

This question serves two purposes: it gives UW an opportunity to learn more about how you developed your values, and it allows them to consider how you might interact with others on campus. It is easy to get mired in focusing on describing your community, but remember, UW wants to learn about you through seeing how your community impacted you. Use a description of your community to frame your essay, but always remind yourself to connect the story back to how it changed you. Once you have framed the essay with a description of who you have become as a result of your community’s impact, be sure to extend this thread to your potential future influence on UW.


There are several ways to interpret community. You could interpret it in the literal sense by explaining how your hometown and family have guided your ambitions. For example, maybe growing up on your family’s farm inspired your appreciation for agriculture and working with your hands. You hope to share this appreciation with other students by working on the UW farm and organizing workshops where students can learn how to plant their own flowers or herbs.


Or, perhaps the community you want to highlight is less conventional, such as the coffeeshop you work at. You could discuss how your coworkers are from all walks of life, and how you’ve befriended a retired older couple that picks up weekend shifts. They offer you advice based on their many life experiences, showing you the importance of having an older mentor. This makes you want to join the Big Brothers Big Sisters chapter at UW.


Regardless of what your community is, be sure to highlight how you’ll contribute to UW’s diversity, whether that’s through your perspective, actions, ideas, cultural traditions, etc.


Optional: You are not required to write anything in this section, but you may include additional information if something has particular significance to you. For example, you may use this space if:

  • You have experienced personal hardships in attaining your education

  • Your activities have been limited because of work or family obligations

  • You have experienced unusual limitations or opportunities unique to the schools you attended. (200 words)

This portion of the application is optional, and while we recommend that you fill out most “optional” essays, this space is truly optional. If you don’t have any unusual circumstances, you can leave it blank without penalty. If feel that the parameters apply to you, you should fill this section out. This is your chance to explain anything that hasn’t been addressed in other parts of your application. Since the maximum is 200 words and the prompt is straightforward, you can (and should) also be totally straightforward in your response, rather than painting a picture with vivid imagery. 


For the first prompt, an example of a response could be:

“In the sophomore year of high school, my dad was diagnosed with cancer, and it profoundly affected multiple areas of my life, including my academic performance. For that reason, there is a significant dip in my grades in the spring semester of that year.”


For the second:

“Because my parents own a small restaurant, it is often my responsibility to watch my younger siblings while they are working, and even help out by doing the dishes or bussing tables in my free time. For that reason, I was unable to join as many extracurriculars as my after school time went towards helping ensure the family restaurant was running smoothly.” 


For the last prompt, you can briefly state school-related limitations or opportunities, like if your school did not have an AP or IB program, or if it did have a special internship program that you participated in. Keep in mind that some universities designate admissions officers to research your region and know what programs your school has or doesn’t have – this might be something you want to look into before filling out this section. However, you might want to fill out this section if the school you’re applying to does not have regional admissions officers.


If there is a specific school program or opportunity that you wish to mention, we recommend doing so via your activity list or one of your essays, rather than in this short, 200-word window. If you find that you don’t have space in the rest of your application, then this section is fine.

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UW Interdisciplinary Honors Program

Required: What is your understanding of the UW Interdisciplinary Honors Program and why do you want to be a part of it? (300 words)

This prompt is specific to those applying to the honors program, and as such, it should contain a level of interest one notch above a typical admissions essay. Prospective students should research the honors program online to discover its different offerings. Take some time to reflect on which aspects of the honors program appeal the most to you, and how you would realistically take advantage of those opportunities. 


The more specific you are, the better. If there is a certain conference you want to participate in, or class you want to take, mention it! Getting granular demonstrates the research you have done and underscores your interest in both the university and the honors program. Just one caveat: you can mention specific professors, but only do so if you’re truly familiar with their research; otherwise, it will seem like disingenuous name-dropping.


Here’s an example of something to avoid:

Bad: I want to learn more about the way conservation-related engineering affects disadvantaged communities, and the Interdisciplinary Honors Program’s rigorous classes will help me do that. 


Here’s a good example:

Good: I look forward to crafting experiential learning activities via the Interdisciplinary Honors Program. I plan to conduct a community service project centered through an interdisciplinary course such as Science and Engineering for Social Justice. I want to design an architectural structure, such as a public water fountain that filters carcinogens, or a smart streetlight initiative that improves quality of life without negatively disrupting existing community dynamics. Through the Interdisciplinary Honors program, I can combine my different passions by engaging in community projects such as these. 


The bad example mentions “rigorous classes,” which are available at almost every university. The good one lays out the student’s goals and cites resources specific to UW that would allow her to achieve those goals: the interdisciplinary course on Science and Engineering for Social Justice, as well as the community service initiative.


Required: As you approach college, what are you most curious about and why? (300 words)

This is a very open-ended prompt. You can choose to go the academic route and relay your passion for a particular subject or research question, or choose a curiosity in any aspect of your life, such as travel or food. Whatever you choose, make sure that you are invested enough in it to give a specific and detailed account of your curiosity. 


Perhaps you are curious about whether we can one day make air travel carbon neutral, as you love to travel but understand the environmental consequences. This would be a good point to mention any specific programs or clubs, such as Re-Think, which aims to educate the student population on humans’ impact on the environment.


However, your topic does not need to be specific to the honors college, or even include specifics pertaining to the University of Washington at all. Your topic could be less academic-focused and more about the college experience. The following topics might come to mind – how you’re curious about living away from home for the first time, exploring the college town, your love of adventure, or even how you will attain a proper work-life balance. These are good starting points, but chances are, many prospective students will share them. 


Dig deeper and take your general curiosity in one of these topics (or another one altogether!) and focus it onto something unique to you. For example, maybe your biggest curiosity is whether you can run a full marathon. You can discuss how you have wanted to tackle longer distances than you did on your high school cross country team, and connect pushing your physical limits to other types of limits you plan to exceed for yourself in college. 


Or, your topic can be more lighthearted, such as whether the pasta in the dining hall will be as good as your grandmother’s. You can use anecdotes about cooking your grandmother’s pasta with her to illuminate your close relationship to her, and her status as one of your role models. 


The more personal and specific your response is, the more college admissions officers will be able to see your genuine interest and personality shine through. This is your chance to make admissions officers smile or even laugh, as no topic is too silly. Exercise your creativity and write about what naturally comes to mind when you think about college.


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