How to Write the Washington University in St. Louis Essays 2021-2022

The Washington University in St. Louis (better known as WashU) has one required supplemental prompt for all applicants. However, if you choose to apply to one of the many programs WashU offers, you will have to write either one or two additional essays.

 

Because of how many applicants WashU gets each year with comparable GPAs and test scores, essays are the chief way admissions officers differentiate between applicants and ultimately decide which student they want at their university. In this post, we’ll cover how you can write a great essay worthy of admission to a competitive school like WashU.

 

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WashU Supplemental Prompts

All Applicants

 

Please tell us what you are interested in studying at WashU and why. (200 words)

 

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. Tell us what great challenge you might want to understand and tackle 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. (200 words)

 

Joint Program in Business and Computer Science 

 

Students in the Joint Program in Business and Computer Science will be equipped with the fundamental knowledge and perspectives of computer science and business and will have unique opportunities to converge these two disciplines.

 

This is a distinctive degree program that captures the intersection of business and computer science and the growing demand for people with this special and sought-after skill set. Graduates of the program will be able to pursue careers in technology, data analytics, finance, consulting and business development, to name a few.

 

Tell us how you would use this combined degree to explore the intersection of these two disciplines? (200 words)

 

The 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. (150 words)

 

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

 

The Ervin Scholars Program 

 

Prompt 1: Describe a high school or community activity in which you have taken initiative. What were the challenges and outcomes? What did you learn? (150 words)

 

Prompt 2: Review the biography of Dr. John B. Ervin and the four Program Pillars. How have you demonstrated your commitment to the ideals of the Program? Please provide 1-2 specific examples. (250 words)

 

The Rodriguez Scholars Program 

 

Prompt 1: Describe a high school or community activity in which you have taken initiative. What were the challenges and outcomes? What did you learn? (150 words)

 

Prompt 2: Consider the biography of Annika Rodriguez and reflect upon your commitment to bringing diverse groups together and/or celebrating the cultures of diverse peoples. How do you demonstrate this commitment? How do your service activities demonstrate your dedication to the ideals embraced by the Rodriguez Scholars Program? (250 words)

 

All Applicants 

Please tell us what you are interested in studying at WashU and why. (200 words)

This is a classic example of the “Why This Major?” essay question. The goal of this prompt is to understand your interest in your selected major and how your background supports that major. You only have 200 words, so it’s important to keep your answer succinct and informative. Likely the major you choose will relate to one of your biggest interests or passions, which makes this a great opportunity to showcase your personality to admissions officers. 

 

A good essay would introduce the major, articulate the core reason(s) why you are interested in this major, give specific examples from both inside and outside the classroom of your positive experiences with the subject, and what you hope to achieve with that major. To effectively answer this prompt you need to show the admissions officers why you enjoy this topic, rather than telling them. An essay that tells why you are interested in their major might look like this:

 

“I want to study architecture at WashU because I want to build houses one day. I love looking at buildings and seeing all the different designs and structures. I have always enjoyed building from a young age. When I was five years old I got my first set of legos and I have built countless houses, skyscrapers, and landmarks since then. I also enjoyed my wood-working class sophomore year of high school where I tried to build scale models of buildings I had seen while travelling. An architecture major would be perfect for me, since I would be able to continue building different structures. I’m also interested in studying abroad to experience different types of architecture in different countries. I think WashU’s architecture program would be perfect for me to build on my current interests and learn new skills.”

 

While this student does include everything they are supposed to, they tell the reader everything by saying what they enjoy or think. The same student could write an essay that shows their interest in architecture if they wrote this:

 

“My feet were aching after walking through the streets of Paris all day and I was begging my mom to go back to the hotel so I could relax. Three more blocks. Eagerly picking up the pace, I rounded the corner and my little brother knocked into my frozen body. Marble pillars glistened in the sunlight, intricate carvings graced every side, and a giant green dome crowned the top of the Paris Opera House. All the pain dissipated as my feet carried me closer to the most breathtaking feat of architecture I had ever laid eyes on. Fascinated by the glamor and opulence of the opera house, I took in every detail from the giant arches to the tiny inscriptions. The next fall, when my wood-working teacher announced our independent projects, there wasn’t a moment of hesitation in my mind when I decided to construct a replica of the Paris Opera House. At WashU, I will take classes like Architectural History: Antiquity to Baroque and participate in the Sam Fox Florence Architecture study abroad program to continue learning about European architecture. With the skills and knowledge I will gain at WashU, I will be able to combine the splendor of old architecture with the practicality of modern architecture.”

 

This second response is engaging, descriptive, and conveys the student’s passion for architecture without them once having to say “I like architecture”. This student is also able to talk about their passion both inside and outside of the classroom, demonstrating their true passion for the subject. The other thing this essay does well is connect their interest to WashU by mentioning specific classes and programs that appeal to them. This is much more effective to show genuine interest to admissions officers than making vague statements about enjoying architecture as the student does in the first response. 

 

With this in mind, you are equipped to write a stellar response to WashU’s supplement prompt. Good luck! If you’re applying to any special programs, stick around for a breakdown of those prompts. 

 

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. Tell us what great challenge you might want to understand and tackle 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. (200 words)

 

The Beyond Boundaries program is primarily looking for students who are malleable in their interests, and 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. 

 

 

Joint Program in Business and Computer Science

Students in the Joint Program in Business and Computer Science will be equipped with the fundamental knowledge and perspectives of computer science and business and will have unique opportunities to converge these two disciplines.

 

This is a distinctive degree program that captures the intersection of business and computer science and the growing demand for people with this special and sought-after skillset. Graduates of the program will be able to pursue careers in technology, data analytics, finance, consulting and business development, to name a few.

 

Tell us how you would use this combined degree to explore the intersection of these two disciplines? (200 words)

 

For this prompt, you want to convey how you plan to synthesize two different topics into one passion that you possess. The prompt itself lists possible careers and specifically asks “how you would use this combined degree” so this essay should focus on your future plans and possible careers you are considering. 

 

Since you only have 200 words, don’t spend half the essay discussing your interest in business and the other half discussing your interest in computer science. In fact, the majority of this essay should be about the fusion of the two subjects. To successfully write this essay you should include what drew you to the intersection of business and technology, what is your career plan post-graduation and why, and what resources or offerings in the program would be helpful to you. We will now run through what should and should not be included in each part of the essay.

 

What drew you to these topics? While this should not be the majority of your essay, it is important you address this question to demonstrate your passion for this unique combination of disciplines. A brief anecdote would be good to include at the beginning of your essay. For example, a student who was fascinated by trends in the stock market and generated detailed charts and graphs could discuss how she organized data and analyzed graphs she made. Or a student who coded her own app so customers of the bakery she worked for could order ahead might describe the challenges she overcame to make the app.

 

What do you plan to do? Answering this question should be the bulk of your essay as admissions officers want to know what creative aspirations you have that other applicants don’t. For this section, you might want to expand on an experience or project you worked on in the past that you want to delve deeper into. If you don’t already have much experience in these two fields, you can go into detail about your aspirations. For instance, if you want to start your own technology company you should discuss your inspiration, how you plan to overcome challenges with knowledge and skills you acquired at WashU, and why these two disciplines are essential to your future goals. The key is to be specific and exciting. WashU is looking to admit students who will be impressive alumni, so show them how you plan to make an impact.

 

What resources will you use? Finally you should mention how the goals you want to accomplish will only be possible if you attain an education from WashU. You could talk about specific classes that pique your interest, professors you want to research with, and extracurricular opportunities that fit your niche. It’s important you intertwine the program’s resources with your future plans and interests to actually demonstrate your passion for these topics and how the school will provide you with a fulfilling education. You do not want to simply name-drop random professors or classes without establishing a connection though. Additionally, the resources you discuss should be unique to this specific program at WashU and not available elsewhere.

 

The 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. (150 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 being an informal mentor, 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 or the service trip. 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 just a few one-time community service activities in your town. Here are 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 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. 

 

The Danforth Scholars Program – Prompt 2

What matters to you? (250 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 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 sharing with the reader! 

 

The Ervin Scholars Program – Prompt 1

Describe a high school or community activity in which you have taken initiative. What were the challenges and outcomes? What did you learn? (150 words)

 

When approaching this essay it is important to understand its purpose. This prompt is meant for you to express your leadership qualities and resilience — it’s not just a continuation of your resume.

 

Before you start writing, you need to choose the right activity to talk about in your essay. Don’t pick an activity that “sounds” impressive but isn’t meaningful to you or one that you have already used for another essay. It might be helpful to ask yourself some questions like these:

 

  • What activity contributed the most to your personal development? 
  • What activity did you struggle with or have to work hard? 
  • What goes through your mind when you participate in this activity? 
  • How does this activity affect other aspects of your life? (social life, academics, other activities, etc.)

 

Once you have an activity in mind, you should include certain elements to properly answer this question. A strong essay will cover your emotions and state of mind when you participate in this activity and how this activity has helped you develop both new skills and personality traits. For example, a student who was editor of her school newspaper might start her essay by including the frustration and sense of doubt she felt when she was up against a deadline to publish the paper. Then, she would describe how she learned to organize a team and delegate responsibilities in order to publish on time.

 

The Ervin Scholars Program – Prompt 2

Review the biography of Dr. John B. Ervin and the four Program Pillars. How have you demonstrated your commitment to the ideals of the Program? Please provide 1-2 specific examples. (250 words)

 

For this prompt it is important you understand the values of the Ervin Scholars program. Dr. Ervin overcame discrimination to bring together his communities, like WashU and St. Louis, so he could educate everyone. The four pillars of this program are academic excellence, leadership, community service, and diversity. If you are applying for this program you should do more outside research to strengthen your essay and show admissions officers you understand the history of the scholarship. 

 

Since the four pillars are broad topics and you only have a limited amount of space, you shouldn’t try to demonstrate how each pillar fits into your life. Instead, focus on one or two pillars that best fit you and your personality. You want to make sure you portray the best aspects of yourself, so avoid picking a specific pillar because you think it “sounds” more impressive. 

 

  • A student who chooses academic excellence could talk about how he was a top student all his life until he took a hard science class. He would describe what steps he took to persevere and get his grades up. Then he would reflect on his growth from this experience and how it has taught him what academic excellence actually means to him. In order to tie it back to the program, this student could describe how he plans to apply the same skills and mindset to his classes at WashU and help others struggling with the same challenge.

 

  • A student who chooses leadership could focus her essay on her experience as president of the robotics club. She would define what leadership means to her and how the responsibilities she had as a leader shaped that definition. She would also include specific examples of her leadership qualities, for instance she communicated with other members of the club and listened to their suggestions to design a robot that included everyone’s input. The essay would also discuss what she took away from this experience as a leader and how she hopes to be a leader like Dr. Ervin on WashU’s campus.

 

  • A student who chooses community service might want to talk about how volunteering at the walk-in clinic every weekend was the most meaningful part of his high school experience. He would write about why this community was important to him, the positive outcomes (both for the community and himself) that came from his involvement, and how the values he learned from this experience will shape his life in the future. To further strengthen the essay he could include how he plans to continue volunteering at clinics in St. Louis to contribute to that community, like Dr. Ervin.

 

  • A student who chooses diversity will talk about a specific community they belong to or background that is a crucial part of their identity and development. They might write about their race, ethnicity, sexual identity, socioeconomic status, perspectives and values, disabilities, or interests and hobbies. Any topic they choose makes them a diverse and unique applicant — there is no “correct” topic. This student will spend 25% of their essay summarizing their background and the remaining 75% discussing how they have been impacted by this element of diversity. They might choose to relate their experiences to Dr. Ervin, or they could mention how their diversity will be an advantage to WashU’s campus.

 

Regardless of what topic you choose, be sure you don’t come across as braggy. When writing about academic excellence, you don’t want to list all the classes you got As in or how you breezed through school. For a leadership essay, you shouldn’t call yourself a leader and act like you saved the day without providing clear examples to your leadership. Avoid sounding privileged or like a savior for a community service essay. If you choose to talk about diversity, you shouldn’t solely focus on negative experiences if you can’t connect them to positive outcomes or lessons.

 

The Rodriguez Scholars Program – Prompt 1

Describe a high school or community activity in which you have taken initiative. What were the challenges and outcomes? What did you learn? (150 words)

 

This prompt is meant for you to express your leadership qualities and resilience — remember, it’s not just a continuation of your resume. This is the same prompt as the first prompt for the Ervin Scholar program. See the tips above for writing this essay. 

 

The Rodriguez Scholars Program – Prompt 2

Consider the biography of Annika Rodriguez and reflect upon your commitment to bringing diverse groups together and/or celebrating the cultures of diverse peoples. How do you demonstrate this commitment? How do your service activities demonstrate your dedication to the ideals embraced by the Rodriguez Scholars Program? (250 words)

 

This prompt is asking three things of you. First, reflect upon your involvement in diverse communities. Second, describe how your community service connects to embracing diversity. Finally, connect your actions to those of Annika Rodriguez and the values of this program.

 

To begin, you should pick a community you are passionately involved in. Diversity does not necessarily refer to race or ethnicity; your interests and hobbies can be communities that have impacted you and exposed you to new perspectives. Once you have a community in mind, ask yourself a few questions to get a better idea of why your involvement in this community is meaningful. What is the strongest emotion you feel? Is there a skill or talent you developed from being a part of this community? Was there a particular formative or impactful experience you had as a result of being in this community?

 

When you are writing about your involvement in a diverse community, be sure to include what makes it diverse as a whole, or just to you. A large focus should be on personal reflection. You will want to discuss your emotions and actions, how they have evolved over time, and what you have learned.

 

The Rodriguez Scholars Program also places a large emphasis on community service, so that should be another focal point of your essay. You should be more descriptive about how you embrace the diverse community you mentioned above through your acts of service. This is a good place to include anecdotes that exemplify your passion for the community you are part of. If your community service activities don’t directly relate to your involvement in a diverse community, you can describe how you hope to expand on your service by engaging with diverse communities like ones you’ve previously been a part of, or new ones on WashU’s campus.

 

The last thing you want to be sure to include in your response is a tie back to Annika Rodriguez and the program. You can compare your involvement to the work of Annika, explain qualities in her that you admire and want to bring to your community service, or describe what opportunities you hope to expand upon as a student in the program. This will show admissions officers that you are genuinely interested in the program and have put in extra time to research aspects of the program and Annika Rodriguez.

 

Where to Get Your WashU Essays Edited for Free

 

Do you want feedback on your WashU essay? After reading your essays over and over, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. Since they don’t know you personally, they can be a more objective judge of whether your personality shines through, and whether you’ve fully answered the prompt. 

 

You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. We highly recommend giving this tool a try!


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