How to Write the Washington University in St. Louis Essays 2020-2021

Washington University in St. Louis (WashU or WUSTL) is a private research university with around 7,600 undergraduate students. In the US News 2020 National University Rankings, WashU ranked #19. The university is especially known for its strong pre-medical programs. 

 

Admission into WashU is very competitive, and for their class of 2024, only 13% of applicants were accepted. After stepping foot onto WashU’s beautiful, gothic campus, students can choose from over 90 different fields of study, 350 campus organizations, 11 fraternities, 9 sororities. Notable alumni include actor Peter Sarsgaard, playwright Tennessee Williams, and astronaut Bob Behnken.

 

In this guide, we’ll help you think through the WashU supplemental essays, which are a crucial part of your college application. Want to know your chances at WashU? Calculate your chances for free right now.

 

Want to learn what WashU will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering WashU needs to know.

 

WashU Supplemental Essay Prompts

All Applicants

 

In about 250 words, tell us about something that really sparks your intellectual interest and curiosity, and compels you to explore more in the program/area of study that you indicated. It could be an idea, book, project, cultural activity, work of art, start-up, music, movie, research, innovation, question, or other pursuit. 

 

Beyond Boundaries Program

 

Many of our students broadly explore the connections across WashU’s five undergraduate divisions and three graduate schools and engage with the community before declaring a major. The Beyond Boundaries Program equips students with a set of tools to critically understand and make a difference in a complicated world where challenges do not come pre-packaged as territory of a single discipline.

 

In about 250 words, tell us what great challenge you might want to understand and tackle by leveraging two or more of WashU’s schools and how you would pursue an interdisciplinary path of study that explores that challenge or an aspect of that challenge in a unique and innovative way.

 

Danforth Scholars Program

 

Prompt 1: The Danforth Scholars program is looking for students with a strong commitment to community, and demonstrated initiative in leadership and service. Please share an example of your personal experience as a leader that would clarify why you would be a good fit for this community of scholars. (250 words)

 

Prompt 2: What matters to you? (250-500 words)

 

Entrepreneurial Scholars Program

 

Submit a detailed description of one project completed during high school that reflects creativity, energy, and an entrepreneurial spirit. (no word count given) 

All Applicants

In about 250 words, tell us about something that really sparks your intellectual interest and curiosity, and compels you to explore more in the program/area of study that you indicated. It could be an idea, book, project, cultural activity, work of art, start-up, music, movie, research, innovation, question, or other pursuit. 

This prompt does a great job of suggesting possible avenues for you to explore, but the real key is to tie it into your intended field of study. The “something” that sparks your interest should dovetail into a larger passion for a particular academic field, preferably with some related experiences to back up your passions.

 

Towards the end, but only briefly, you can bring in how you envision your course of study at WashU to be. Research your intended field on WashU’s department websites, point out any particular courses or resources that support your interest. Looking up WashU’s course catalog also only takes a few clicks, and you can search courses by department. 

 

Because WashU only requires one supplemental essay, you want to make sure that you’re portraying the best aspects of yourself to the admissions committee. As a result, you want to make sure that thing that sparks your intellectual interest is something you’ve already spent time pursuing, demonstrating commitment and passion, in addition to abstract interest. 

 

Here’s a few examples which take an area of study, and then narrow it down to a particular aspect of interest:

 

  • Computer Science: the most natural suggestion to take would be the “start-up” option, but there’s so many other avenues you could take. Maybe you’re interested in the financial side of technology, how online payment has both connected the world, but also caused problems. If so, you could take the “innovation” or “idea” route. Maybe you’re interested in political biases on social media, and have worked on developing algorithms that prevent political polarization. 

 

  • Pre-med: the easiest transition here would be to talk about research you yourself have done, maybe in a lab or for a science fair, and then transition it to how you want to continue this line of study in college, but perhaps there are more unconventional links you can brainstorm. Maybe you can pick a book on medical anthropology, and how it opened your eyes to sociocultural factors that impact health outcomes in communities, and how it influenced the research you have done, and the research you’d like to continue to do. Maybe it’s a question that you’re interested in, such as the role of doctors in the age of artificial intelligence. 

 

  • Humanities: given the options the prompt presents you with, there are plenty of ways in which you can transition a book, cultural activity, work of art, or film into a desire to study the medium as a whole. The key here is to be as focused and as specific as possible. If you want to study history, maybe it’s a particular country’s history you’re interested in. Maybe you have ties to that country, but want to get to know it better, or you’ve already worked to study that country’s language and culture, and want to take it to the next level during college. If you want to study art, maybe you could begin with one work of art that has always struck you. You could use that one piece to segue into your own practice, and how you’ve embraced the artists you admire, or have carved out your own path. 

 

Beyond Boundaries Program Applicants

Many of our students broadly explore the connections across WashU’s five undergraduate divisions and three graduate schools and engage with the community before declaring a major. The Beyond Boundaries Program equips students with a set of tools to critically understand and make a difference in a complicated world where challenges do not come pre-packaged as territory of a single discipline.

 

In about 250 words, tell us what great challenge you might want to understand and tackle by leveraging two or more of WashU’s schools and how you would pursue an interdisciplinary path of study that explores that challenge or an aspect of that challenge in a unique and innovative way.

 

The Beyond Boundaries program is primarily looking for students who are malleable in their interests, students who are looking to tackle big, complex questions after graduation. It’s important to look into the research and program offerings of the Beyond Boundaries program before you begin writing this essay: are you interested in two or more disparate disciplines, and want to collaborate with other like minded students? 

 

There are two parts to answering this essay. First, you want to write about a major societal issue that you could see yourself devoting your career to. Then, you want to chart out a possible college roadmap that allows you to build the tools to begin to answer this question. Bringing in related Beyond Boundaries seminars, like The Business of Elections or The Earth’s Future, could also help in this endeavor. Here are a few other examples to think about:

 

  • Maybe your interests lie in visual art and computer science. The big challenge you’d want to tackle could be something like the role of artificial intelligence in creating art. Maybe you’re interested in how new forms of technology can be used in art, and can help traditional artists evolve and develop their craft. Accordingly, you would take programming classes in the School of Arts and Sciences, and arts classes in the Sam Fox School, specifically focusing on visualization technologies. 

 

  • Maybe you want to pursue, but are also highly curious about the intersection between law and religious free speech. The big challenge you could address could be something related to how much of a role religious institutions should play in America’s future. You could mention a Beyond Boundaries specific course, Religious Freedom in America, and could look up different classes on the history of American Evangelicalism in the School of Arts and Sciences, and first amendment classes offered by the law school. 

 

Danforth Scholars Program—Prompt 1

The Danforth Scholars program is looking for students with a strong commitment to community, and demonstrated initiative in leadership and service. Please share an example of your personal experience as a leader that would clarify why you would be a good fit for this community of scholars. (250 words)

 

This prompt is pretty straightforward, and gets at the heart of what the Danforth Scholarship is looking for: community engagement combined with individual leadership. Preferably, you’d want to pick a leadership experience that has been one of your major commitments throughout high school, which would demonstrate your long term commitment to bettering the world around you. 

 

If you don’t have an activity that fits explicitly as both a community service and a leadership role, you could even try to think more abstractly, and think about how a past experience has demonstrated leadership-like qualities, like role modeling, going the extra mile, or taking charge when necessary. You could also think about community service-like qualities, such as altruism, humility, and partnering with the people around you. This essay is pretty short, so make sure to stick to one example, with a couple anecdotes buoying it. 

 

Because the last part of this prompt is “clarify why you would be a good fit for this community of scholars,” you could even bring in some specific aspects of the Danforth program, like the weekly seminars, the service trip, and more. You should be wary of falling into cliches, such as portraying yourself as a savior of sorts, or expounding on a weeklong trip to a developing country, or attending a few community service activities in your town. Here’s a few different examples that can you help you think through this prompt: 

 

  • If you were a leader of a community service organization at your school, maybe you had a particularly hard time rousing interest from students, and had to overcome that. Or maybe the problem you tackled was with your local community, finding ways to alleviate different social and economic problems through the limited means you had as a high school student. 

 

  • Maybe you were the debate captain of your team, and you not only spent countless hours helping the younger members of the team with their particular competitions, but you also started a club at the neighboring middle school, because you want to expand access to other students.

 

  • Maybe your main activity in high school was lab research. You could talk about how although you weren’t directly involved with your community, you nevertheless pursued research because you wanted to play a role in creating a better drug, or making a cheaper satellite, or saving an endangered species. You took charge as the youngest student in your lab, and demonstrated leadership qualities even when no one expected you to do so. 

 

Danforth Scholars Program—Prompt 2

What matters to you? (250-500 words)

In this prompt, you’d preferably want to dive into something important to you that is also relevant to the scholarship’s core values: leadership and commitment to community. However, you also want to make sure that you tackle a different topic than the first prompt. Possible answers to this topic could range from academic to extracurricular to sociocultural interests, as long as you can weave in service and leadership values into it throughout. 

 

If what matters to you is family, talk about your parents’ own story, and how they instilled within you specific values that are continuing to push you forward. If what matters to you is your ethnic or cultural identity, you could talk about how you’d want to give back to your community through political or economic means. If what matters to you is an abstract concept, like poverty or wealth inequality, it’d be great if you could bring in some firsthand or secondhand experience dealing with said issues, and how it has impacted the way you want to live out your life. 

 

The key here, with any example, is a compelling anecdote and personal growth that can fuel the narrative journey you are taking the reader on! 

 

Entrepreneurial Scholars Program Applicants

Submit a detailed description of one project completed during high school that reflects creativity, energy, and an entrepreneurial spirit. (no word count given) 

 

If you are applying for the Entrepreneurial Scholars Program, you want to preferably convey a project related to entrepreneurship in some way, whether that’s a nonprofit you helped create, an item you’ve sold on the market, or a school project which you believed to have some kind of entrepreneurial potential. You want to be straightforward, and simply detail the project in this essay, which ideally would include some kind of anecdote and narrative journey. 

 

If you don’t have an explicitly “entrepreneurial” project, don’t worry! Maybe you could think more abstractly, and write about a project that exuded creativity and passion. Examples could range from a robotics competition, in which you showcased a complex machine you designed, a Science Olympiad event, in which you had to create a trebuchet in a set amount of time, or a coding project. If you’re not particularly STEM inclined, you could even go into research papers you’ve done in fields like economics or government, which tend toward a business oriented solution for problems. There are plenty of ways to go about this essay!

 

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