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How to Write the University of Washington Essays 2021-2022

The University of Washington, a large public university with campuses in Seattle, Tacoma, and Bothell, received over 43,000 applications for their freshman class in 2020. The number of admitted students rose by nearly 1,000 this year, and the university’s acceptance rate continues to be selective at 56%. For out-of-state students applying directly to the university’s engineering program, the acceptance rate was 40%, and the acceptance rate for computer science admits was 9%. 


When acceptance rates are low, it is important that you find ways to stand out in your application. Admissions officers look at essays to learn more about your personality and whether you would be a good fit at their university. Essays may also be used by admissions to reject otherwise qualified applicants and determine whether the student’s interest and motivation for attending the school is authentic. 


Since essays are extremely important for admission, we’ll be discussing the essay prompts for the University of Washington and tips to help your essays stand out.


Read these University of Washington essay examples to inspire your writing. 


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For All Applicants

Required: Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it. (650 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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Your GPA and SAT don’t tell the full admissions story


Our chancing engine factors in extracurricular activities, demographics, and other holistic details. We’ll let you know what your chances are at your dream schools — and how to improve your chances!

Calculate your acceptance chances

UW Interdisciplinary Honors Program

Required: Please reflect and respond to the following question, and in doing so explain your interest in the UW Interdisciplinary Honors Program. What is interdisciplinary learning and why is it important to you? (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. 


While doing your research, be sure to delve into the interdisciplinary aspect of the honors program. This prompt asks you to define interdisciplinary learning, however admissions officers are not looking for a dictionary definition, rather they are looking for what interdisciplinary learning means to you and why it is important to your college experience. For instance, if you’re passionate about both math and creative writing, for you, interdisciplinary learning might mean the opportunity to combine your interests to discover the creative elements of math and the more analytical aspects of writing. This may be important to you because you’ve always wanted to intertwine your interests during you college education so that you could pursue both math and creative writing, without sacrificing one for the other. 


Additionally, the more specific you are when highlight opportunities offered by the honors program, 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:


Weak: 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 strong example:


Strong: 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 weak example mentions “rigorous classes,” which are available at almost every university. The strong 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: The Interdisciplinary Honors program pushes students to engage with their local, national, and global communities through a multidisciplinary lens. Consider a pressing societal concern that impacts and/or interests you. Please explain the issue, your relationship to it, and how you imagine engaging with or addressing this concern at UW? (300 words)

The question above is new for this year’s application to the University of Washington Honors College, but you may have seen it used as a prompt for other universities. Many universities use similar prompts that revolve around your interests, your community, and the challenges you’ve faced. These various prompts can be grouped into different categories called “prompt archetypes.” The goal of this prompt in particular is to have you think critically about local and global issues and see if you’re an engaged citizen who is actively thinking about problems and solutions for them. We’ll go into the steps of how you can write this essay, from brainstorming to actual writing.


Understanding the Prompt


Before you start thinking about ideas for your essay, you’ll want to define “community.” What does community mean to you, and how have you engaged through a “multi-disciplinary” lens? You will want to do some research on what a “multi-disciplinary lens” might mean. Remember, you’ll want to connect the societal concern of your choice back to UW, so start thinking about what topics may be feasible. 




For this essay, you’ll first want to brainstorm some societal concerns that you’re passionate about. In many ways, the brainstorming part can be the hardest. Below are some questions to get you thinking as well as common mistakes to avoid. 


  • What are some issues in your community or family? Have you been personally affected by them?


  • Did you ever learn about a current event that shaped your perspective on an issue? What was it?


  • If you could change one thing about the world, what would it be?


  • Have you ever been part of a community service project that you resonated with? Why?


  • How would you want your college experience to better serve the world?


As you brainstorm the topic, you’ll want to pick something that is personally relevant to you, this way, you’ll be able to speak about it in a more informed and meaningful way. You should also avoid issues that are too broad (ex. solving worldwide poverty or homelessness) or issues that are cliché or not relevant enough. Instead, find something that interests you and that you could address if you attended the University of Washington. 


You’ll also want to consider how your values align with the goals and mission of the university. The University of Washington tends to lean more liberal, so you may want to consider this as you write your essay. For example, an essay about helping eliminate pollution in metropolitan areas may resonate more with admissions officers compared to a more religious, conservative essay. While this certainly should not discourage you from certain topics, it is just something that you may want to keep in mind as you write your essay.


Writing the Essay


Now that you’ve done some brainstorming, you are ready to start writing. First, you’ll want to present the issue and your connection to the issue, and how an education at the University of Washington can help support or solve the issue. To do this, you’ll want to do research on UW to see what types of resources they have to help solve the issue. Since the essay is a maximum of 300 words, you should have enough room to thoroughly address all of these points in a cohesive and organized essay. 


Common Mistakes to Avoid


As you write, these are some common mistakes you’ll want to avoid.


  • Picking a topic that is too broad or takes too long to explain
    • Pick something that is relevant to you personally and is easy to explain so you can get into the “meat” of the essay quicker.


  • Not organizing your essay based on the prompt
    • Start by discussing your topic and then talk about how UW can help you achieve your goal. Don’t do this the other way around.


  • Spending too much time on the topic itself
    • Remember, you should not spend too much time in your essay discussing the issue and your connection to it. UW admissions officers want to know how it is relevant to you, and what you’ll do as a student to help the issue. This should be the main focus of your essay


An example of a good response for this question may be a student who worked with marine life in high school, and realized the devastating effects of pollution on the environment. Through an education at UW, the student would want to pursue research in the “Changing Oceans” Core Research Area of the Marine Biology department. 


An example of a response that may need work would be a student who volunteered once at a food bank and wants to help alleviate poverty in Washington. This student should narrow this example (just focus on people facing hunger issues), make sure there is a more personal connection to the topic, and then connect this back to community service or social work programs at UW.


Where to Get Your University of Washington Essay Edited for Free 


It can be really difficult to assess your own writing. That’s why we created the Peer Review Tool, where you can get one of your peers applying to college to review and critique your essay for free. It can be really helpful to have an objective reader give you feedback on your essay, and you also have the option to read other student’s essays yourself. You should give this cool feature a try! 

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