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How to Write the Washington University in St. Louis Essays 2022-2023

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.

 

Want to know your chances at WashU? Calculate your chances for free right now!

 

WashU Supplemental Prompts

All Applicants

 

Please tell us what you are interested in studying at WashU and why. Undecided about your academic interest(s)? Don’t worry—tell us what excites you about the academic division you selected. Remember that all of our first-year students enter officially “undeclared” and work closely with their team of academic advisors to discover their academic passions. You can explore all of our majors and programs on our website.  (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: Consider the legacy of Chancellor Danforth 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)

 

Prompt 2: What matters to you? (200 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? (200 words)

 

Prompt 2: Dr. John B. Ervin was a nationally renowned black educator and the first African American Dean at Washington University. The Ervin Scholars Program was founded on and continues to live out his legacy through scholars’ dedication to the Program Pillars. 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? (200 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 college and why.

Undecided about your academic interest(s)? Don’t worry—tell us what excites you about the academic division you selected. Remember that all of our first-year students enter officially “undeclared” and work closely with their team of academic advisors to discover their academic passions. You can explore all of our majors and programs on our website. (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. If you’re undecided, that’s totally fine (as the prompt even says!), but you’ll still need to explain your interest in the potential major you selected on your application.

 

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

Consider the legacy of Chancellor Danforth 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)

 

Make sure you read up on the Danforth Scholars Program so you have a good sense of Chancellor Danforth’s legacy and the four Program Pillars. Chancellor Danforth was a physician, professor, and philanthropist, and he is credited for making WashU the renowned institution it is today. He raised hundreds of millions of dollars for the university, tripled the amount of scholarships granted, and increased minority recruitment, among many other accomplishments. He also took the time to walk campus grounds and chat with students, who affectionately referred to him as “Uncle Bill” or “Chan Dan.”

 

The Danforth Scholars Program is named after Chancellor Danforth in recognition of his contributions to WashU. This scholarship program seeks students who will enhance WashU’s community through their commitment to the four Program Pillars. The four Program Pillars include: 

 

  • Leadership in service
  • Intellectual and creative acuity
  • Diversity
  • Kindness

 

You’re basically being asked to write a standard Community Service Essay, but with special attention to these specific attributes. 

 

First, you’ll need to brainstorm the 1-2 specific examples to include. If you can hit all four of these pillars with one example, then that will allow you to go more in-depth with your anecdote. 

 

Keep in mind that leadership can come in many forms, and it doesn’t need to be formal. You can show leadership by action; for example, say you volunteered to create a training program for new Mock Trial members, putting together the materials and running the sessions. While you may not have been president, you still demonstrated leadership (along with kindness, as well as intellectual and creative acuity).

 

Here are some other example topics that would work well for this prompt:

 

  • An athlete may have volunteered through a program that provides free soccer coaching to low-income elementary school students. Some of the students were extremely shy, so she had to brainstorm group activities to not only teach soccer skills, but also help them open up. The students began not only bonding with each other, but also coming to her for life advice. 

 

  • A student who is passionate about sustainability may have led efforts to reduce single-use plastic waste from the school cafeteria. He made sure to hold a town hall discussion for input from the community, where disabled students voiced concerns about getting rid of plastic straws, which can be necessary for people with mobility issues. Wanting the initiative to be inclusive, he focused its attention on switching the styrofoam trays to compostable ones, implementing a compost system, and also setting up a “free pantry” for students to drop unopened, non-perishable foods for students who needed it.

 

  • An avid reader may have worked with their English teacher to develop a more diverse set of books for students to pick from as their “choice novel” project. They took the initiative to approach their teacher after noticing that most of the options were classics written by American and British men, and they wanted to see more women authors and authors of color represented.

 

Since you only have 250 words for 1-2 examples, there likely won’t be much space for too much of a narrative format, though you should still start your essay with a hook or anecdote. (Avoid being too straightforward and starting with “I demonstrate the four Program Pillars by…”). For example, the student who coached soccer might start their essay like: 

 

My heart broke when one of the elementary school soccer players I coached told me she couldn’t play anymore. She held back tears as she told me that she loved playing on the team, but her dad just couldn’t afford the gas to send her to practice. I gave her a hug and told her not to worry about it—we would figure something out. And we did, holding a community fundraiser so that all the kids on the team would have their costs covered…

 

From there, the student could describe how they came to coach this team for low-income students and how she got them to open up. 

 

For each example, make sure you clearly explain your role and quantify your accomplishments when possible. Take the example of the student who suggested more diverse authors to their teacher. Their response is much stronger if they say they “polled the sophomore class to expand the choice book list, adding 12 women authors and 17 authors of color to the existing list of 20 authors” rather than “added diverse authors to the choice book list.”

 

You should also include the impact of your actions. Continuing the book list example, did students of color feel more included in the curriculum? Were other students exposed to more diverse perspectives? What feedback did you or your teacher receive?

 

If you have the space, you can wrap up with a line or two of how you hope to bring these ideals to WashU and the Danforth Scholars Program. Perhaps you hope to become a doctor serving disadvantaged communities, or you want to continue coaching young students in the community. The Danforth Scholars Program is looking for those committed to service and leadership, and looking ahead shows them that these ideals will remain an important part of your life.

 

The Danforth Scholars Program – Prompt 2

What matters to you? (200 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? (200 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

Dr. John B. Ervin was a nationally renowned black educator and the first African American Dean at Washington University. The Ervin Scholars Program was founded on and continues to live out his legacy through scholars’ dedication to the Program Pillars. 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)

Dr. Ervin was the first African-American dean of the School of Continuing Education at WashU and was nationally-renowned as an intellectual. He was also known in the St. Louis community, holding leadership positions in many local organizations. The Ervin Scholars Program page states that he “is best remembered for his commitment to excellence, his engagement with the community, and his efforts to bring diverse people together to heal divisions among them.”

 

This prompt is extremely similar to the first Danforth Scholars Program prompt, so we recommend that you scroll up for our advice there. In fact, the four Program Pillars are academic excellence, leadership, community service, and diversity, which are also extremely similar to the Danforth Scholars Program Pillars.

 

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? (200 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

 

Do you want feedback on your WashU 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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