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How to Write the Washington and Lee University Essays 2022-2023


Washington and Lee University was established in 1749 in Lexington, Virginia. The institution is split into two undergraduate divisions: the College and the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics. Staying true to the fathers who founded the institution, Washington and Lee University has produced a myriad of prominent politicians including three Supreme Court justices, 27 Senators, 67 U.S. representatives, and 31 State Governors.  


Students applying to Washington and Lee must submit a personal essay through the Common App, along with additional supplemental prompts. Responding to these prompts can only benefit you, as admissions officers will see your dedication to the school. Here, we will walk through the most effective ways to respond to these supplemental prompts.


Washington and Lee Application Essay Prompts


Prompt 1: Please describe how you have familiarized yourself with Washington and Lee University and what aspects of W&L’s community are most exciting to you. (250 words, optional)


Prompt 2: Please describe an aspect of your life outside of school that is important to you, such as an extracurricular activity, a job or a family responsibility. How does your involvement impact you and those around you? (250 words, optional)

Prompt 1

Please describe an aspect of your life outside of school that is important to you, such as an extracurricular activity, a job or a family responsibility. How does your involvement impact you and those around you? (250 words, optional)

There are three main approaches here—as the prompt mentions, you can write about an extracurricular activity, a job, or a family responsibility. No matter which approach you choose, you will need to 1) describe the activity 2) detail your involvement in the activity and 3) explain the impact of the activity on you and those around you. Washington and Lee wants to see that you make valuable use of your time.


The Extracurricular Essay


If there is an activity you are particularly passionate about, but did not have the chance to write about it in your Common App personal essay, this is your chance to elaborate on your role in the activity or organization and the impact the activity had on your high school experience. 


If no activity stands out to you, you might want to think about what you feel your application is missing, then you can use your extracurricular as an avenue to explore that part of you. Here are some different approaches:


  • To highlight personal passion or growth, choose an activity that has a particularly deep significance to you, such as volunteering at the local hospital after going through treatment there.


  • To highlight your ability to learn from adversity, choose an activity that you initially struggled at or that presented you with a major obstacle.


  • To highlight your leadership skills, choose an activity where you had to be a leader in a difficult situation.


  • To highlight your capacity in a certain field, discuss research or internship experiences (this essay could set you apart from applicants who have not had a chance to work in a professional context, especially if you are going into a technical field).


Make sure you outline both your role in the organization and its impact. Some examples:


  • If you were the president of an a cappella group, go into detail about your specific roles in the group. Then, describe how being president of that particular group shaped you (perhaps it taught you how to resolve conflicts among group members or how to accept failure gracefully). 


  • If you were on the rowing team, write about your role in the team’s attitude. Write about how you were the peacekeeper between the bow pair and the lower seats. Describe how you made the team better through that role, but also learned how to be more assertive in unhealthy situations.


  • If you were the captain of your school’s mock trial team, you could describe how your faculty sponsor wanted to treat the students like adults, which put a lot of financial and logistical responsibility on you. Then, write about what you did with that responsibility (maybe you increased fundraising so that students from lower-income families could have equal access to participating or you took the team to its first out-of-state tournament).


The Part-Time Job Essay


Another purpose of this prompt is to give students who held a part-time job an opportunity to provide more details about their situation. Sometimes students write off work experiences as different from and not as “credible” as typical extracurricular activities, like clubs or academic teams. However, they can actually set you apart from other applicants, particularly if your work experience offered you a chance to try something new, provided you with some sort of obstacle that you were able to overcome, or shaped the way you think about the world.


For example, if you had a math-tutoring job and greatly enjoyed explaining abstract concepts to kids, you may now have a budding interest in studying both education and math. In turn, this could have inspired you to want to create an interdisciplinary math and education major, which you could do with Washington and Lee’s flexible curriculum.


You can also take this opportunity to briefly explain the circumstances that caused you to take a part-time job (such as if money was tight at home, you are saving up for a medical mission trip, etc.), and then paint that circumstance in a light that will reflect positive character traits.


For example, if you took a job to save money so that you could go on a medical mission trip over the summer, you can talk about what led you to make that decision, and how the dedication and patience you developed in the process might affect how you want to spend your undergraduate career at Washington and Lee University. Oftentimes, holding a job and being a student at the same time is complicated, and whatever characteristics you developed through the experience (selflessness, humility, maturity) can be highlighted in your essay.


The Family Responsibility Essay


At times, the family responsibility essay will overlap with the part-time job essay as students take on jobs to support their families. That being said, family responsibility could also include taking care of younger siblings, taking care of older family members, or handling mature situations.


You should write about a family responsibility if it impacted your high school experience in a way that prohibited you from participating in extracurricular activities or if it is fundamental to who you are and you want admissions officers to know about it. 

As you write this essay, avoid a “justifying” mindset where you simply explain your lack of extracurriculars. Instead, describe your family responsibility as an opportunity for growth that helped you identify and develop your values. Colleges want to know that, for you, every experience is a learning experience!


Prompt 2

Please describe how you have familiarized yourself with Washington and Lee University and what aspects of W&L’s community are most exciting to you. (250 words, optional)

This is a standard “Why This College” prompt, where you have the opportunity to expand on the reasons that you are applying to Washington and Lee. 


The key to this type of essay is to avoid generic statements like “the campus is beautiful,” or “the students have a tight-knit community,” that apply to hundreds of schools across the country. Your answer should not be able to be copied, pasted, and used for any other school. Here is an example of a generic response and a specific response that a student might write when emphasizing Washington and Lee’s commitment to history:



As someone with a strong interest in history, Washington and Lee’s commitment to studying the past stands out to me. Even with its name, which honors the patriots who came before us, Washington and Lee highlights the value of seeing history as an avenue for improvement.



Ever since I was a child, I’ve enjoyed history museums. Being surrounded by strangers who also see the immense value of studying the past—what could be better? When I get to Washington and Lee, I will be surrounded by like-minded strangers every day. But it doesn’t stop there. At Washington and Lee, I will take my interest in history to the next level by participating in the Internship in History program. Working at an institution will give me a new perspective on the past, as I curate others’ experiences instead of experiencing myself.


You may be wondering how you can build such a specific response:


Step One


Take a minute and think about why you are applying to Washington and Lee. What is appealing about the school? Will their programs help you achieve your goals? Do you think you will feel at home in the community? Do the school’s programs align with your interests? Just think!


Step Two


It’s research time! Your reasons for attending Washington and Lee should be genuine, but you probably are not completely aware of all of the resources the school has to offer. That’s perfectly normal—just look on the school’s website to find programs, courses, professors, community events, traditions, campus organizations, and more that are appealing to you.


Step Three


Get writing. The key is to connect the specific and unique features of Washington and Lee to your specific and unique interests, goals, and values. Here are some examples of how this could play out:


  • A student who grew up in poverty, but has worked hard to overcome the system writing about their interest in the Shepherd Program. Washington and Lee is clearly committed to helping others, which has always been this student’s top priority.


  • A student who was obsessed with insects as a child writing about the importance of passion when learning. They are interested in the Spring Term Immersion program because faculty are encouraged to teach their “dream class”—whatever they are obsessed with! Though it probably won’t be bugs, this student is ready to learn about their professor’s passion for rocks, primates, botany, or whatever else.


  • A student who will be studying Political Science writing about the Roger Mudd Center for Ethics. They have always been the friend who brings up the train dilemma at parties but have never found a place where these conversations are accepted. To further their career goals, they need an open space for casual theoretical conversation and the Mudd Center will be just that.


As you research, keep your goals, interests, and values in mind and ideas will start popping out at you. Then, write your essay in a clear and engaging way that focuses both on Washington and Lee as a university and you as an individual applicant.


Where to Get Your Washington and Lee Essays Edited


Do you want feedback on your Washington and Lee essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 


If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.