How to Write the Williams College Essays 2021-2022
Note: Williams’ essay prompts historically do not change very much, if at all. These prompts aren’t yet confirmed for the 2021-2022 cycle, but we expect them to stay the same. Check back in August for any updates!
Found in rustic, western Massachusetts, Williams College is a small liberal arts college known for its stellar undergraduate education. With a tight knit community of 2,000 students, Williams boasts a 7:1 student to faculty ratio and offers 36 different majors. Williams was founded in 1793, and through its 227 year history, it has accrued deep traditions, such as a school-wide Mountain Day, in which students hike up nearby Mount Greylock.
Williams College has consistently been ranked by US News as the number one liberal arts college in America. The college is also highly selective, and for the class of 2025, only 14.6% of applicants were accepted (most recent official stats). Williams alumni are also diverse, ranging from President James Garfield to composer Stephen Sondheim to photographer Walker Evans.
A key aspect of the Williams application lies in the strength of your supplemental essay, which gives the admissions committee a more personal look at your profile, and we’ve broken down each essay prompt below! Want to know your chances at Williams? Calculate your chances for free right now.
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How to Write the Williams College Supplemental Essays
This is an opportunity for you to present another writing sample. It’s entirely optional, and you can either respond to one of the prompts below in an essay of no more than 300 words, or you can upload an academic paper (preferably in the humanities or social sciences) completed in the last academic year.
Option 1: The first-year Entry—a thoughtfully constructed residential microcosm of the student community that’s a defining part of the Williams experience—brings together students from around the world with different perspectives, interests and backgrounds. Imagine having a late-night conversation with your Entrymates about a community that you value. Describe that community and why it’s important to you.
Option 2: All-Campus Entertainment (ACE), a student organization, hosts a weekly event called “Stressbusters”—an opportunity for students to focus on self-care by stepping away from their typical routine and enjoying some unscheduled time—and snacks!—with friends. Weekly Stressbuster activities might include a concert, playing with a therapy dog, painting pumpkins, building with Legos, etc. What’s your version of a “stressbuster,” and how does it help you rejuvenate in the midst of a hectic week?
Option 3: At Williams, we believe that bringing together students and professors in small groups produces extraordinary academic outcomes. Our distinctive Oxford-style tutorial classes—in which two students are guided by a professor in deep exploration of a single topic—are a prime example. Each week the students take turns developing independent work—an essay, a problem set, a piece of art—and critiquing their partner’s work. Focused on close reading, writing and oral defense of ideas, more than 60 pre-determined tutorials a year are offered across the curriculum. Imagine yourself in a tutorial at Williams. What topic would you be most excited to study in that setting and why?
Option 4: I would like to upload my own essay (from a humanities or social science course and ideally 3-5 pages in length).
The first-year Entry—a thoughtfully constructed residential microcosm of the student community that’s a defining part of the Williams experience—brings together students from around the world with different perspectives, interests and backgrounds. Imagine having a late-night conversation with your Entrymates about a community that you value. Describe that community and why it’s important to you. (300 words)
In this essay, you want to first brainstorm the communities that have been valuable to you growing up, any community that has been formative for you as a person. This can be a cultural or ethnic community, a family, a sports team, a musical ensemble, a neighborhood, an online community, or a workplace. The key simply is to bring this community alive in your essay, illustrate how much it means to you, and show how you’ve given back to it.
You want to show the admissions committee passion and commitment to groups and organizations that you’re invested in, just as you would in a freshman residential community. Then, you could look toward the future, toward your time at Williams, and talk about wanting to meet people outside of your own bubbles, and have intimate conversations with people from all over the world.
Williams College consistently admits students from the vast majority of states in America, as well as from over 30 countries worldwide, so their commitment to diversity is deep. As a result, you want to think about what perspective you would uniquely bring to the Williams Entry, what kinds of conversations you could contribute to foster a diverse community. There’s enough space to also think critically about the communities you’ve been a part of, and think through the different problems that you had to undergo while being a part of them.
Here are a few different examples for you to think about:
- Maybe you have been committed to your Indian Bhangra team for the past four years. You could talk about the technical aspects of your work, such as choreographing dances, organizing practices, and putting on performances. However, you could also dive into the most difficult parts of your commitment, such as the time a dance wasn’t coming together leading up to the concert, or dealing with a sudden drop out in your group, or having communication issues within the team. Through these experiences, you could talk about drawing closer to your team, as well as feeling closer to your own Indian heritage through dance and performance.
- Maybe you’ve been shaped by your environmental surroundings, being from Idaho. You could talk about how you never grew up in a city or a large community, but spent most of your time with your family and friends hiking mountains and going camping. You could talk about how as an Idahoan, you have come to value land conservation, indigenous rights, and an overall respect for the places you inhabit. You could illustrate for the reader the beautiful scenery that surrounded you growing up, the thrill of looking out from a mountaintop, and the difficulties of living outdoors.
- Maybe you’re not American, and grew up in Brazil. You could talk about your own local customs and culture, how it differs from the stereotypes of Americans you have grown up hearing. Maybe your interest is primarily in politics, and so you envision having long conversations that compare the Brazilian government to the American government, and how race relations operate in both countries.
All-Campus Entertainment (ACE), a student organization, hosts a weekly event called “Stressbusters”—an opportunity for students to focus on self-care by stepping away from their typical routine and enjoying some unscheduled time—and snacks!—with friends. Weekly Stressbuster activities might include a concert, playing with a therapy dog, painting pumpkins, building with Legos, etc. What’s your version of a “stressbuster,” and how does it help you rejuvenate in the midst of a hectic week? (300 words)
There’s many different ways in which you can approach this essay, and it’s certainly a bit more left field than prompts one and three, but if done right, this essay can shine an equal amount of light on your character, personality, and passions. However, this essay is a bit tricky, because you want to answer the prompt and talk about the ways in which you relieve stress, but you also want to show the admissions committee a deeper picture of yourself as a person. Therefore, you should try to avoid a simplistic response, like “I binge Netflix,” without a bit more depth into your own struggles and passions as a person.
You can be as open as you want to be, talking about stress relief side by side with your daily stresses, flipping back and forth between the difficulties and the pleasures of your daily life. Ideally, your stressbuster could also be a hobby or activity you love to do, but just don’t have enough time to pursue. Or maybe your stressbuster is an extracurricular activity, and you’ve been struggling over the difficulty in enjoying it, while being pushed to excel in it. It’s critical that you drive the essay towards not what you do, but who you are.
Here are a few examples for you to think about:
- Maybe your stress reliever is playing the cello, but you have a particularly complicated relationship with that because playing the cello also brings you stress. You want to both excel in the instrument, winning competitions and helping your school orchestra, but also want to keep it as a hobby that brings you joy. You can talk about the times it’s been a relief, maybe when you play a certain song you love, but also dive into the times when it’s caused stress and pain in your life.
- Maybe your destresser is watching food channels on YouTube, which not only makes you more hungry, but has also instilled within you a curiosity about the different food cultures across the world. Maybe there’s a few particular YouTubers you follow closely, which has inspired you to create your own YouTube channel, and spread joy through cooking videos of your own. Making the videos turned out to be hard work, but you found joy through seeing other people respond positively to your content.
- Maybe your hobby is building model airplanes, which you’ve been doing with your father since you were a child. You could talk about how despite everything else changing in your life, school getting much more difficult, and witnessing different familial troubles, you’ve never stopped working on model airplanes with your dad, and it’s been a soothing and reliable activity for you.
At Williams, we believe that bringing together students and professors in small groups produces extraordinary academic outcomes. Our distinctive Oxford-style tutorial classes—in which two students are guided by a professor in deep exploration of a single topic—are a prime example. Each week the students take turns developing independent work—an essay, a problem set, a piece of art—and critiquing their partner’s work. Focused on close reading, writing and oral defense of ideas, more than 60 pre-determined tutorials a year are offered across the curriculum. Imagine yourself in a tutorial at Williams. What topic would you be most excited to study in that setting and why? (300 words)
First, you want to brainstorm the kinds of academic fields you’re interested in, and it’ll be even better if you have past experiences studying the topic. Then, you want to choose a specific sub-topic in the particular field you chose: if you want to study English, you could choose a particular author, or literary movement, or genre of writing. If you want to study chemistry, you could choose anything from thermal dynamics to quantum mechanics to inorganic chemistry.
The key here is to be able to both talk about a specific topic, as well as shed light into your own character, passions, and desires for your future education. You want to show the readers what you’d bring to the table in an academic discussion, and how you would engage with difficult academic questions.
You should also do some digging into all the different tutorials Williams offers, just to get a sense of the kinds of classes taught at Williams. The topics truly span the entire range of academic disciplines, with titles ranging from “Fictions of African American History” to “Analytic Number Theory” to “Advanced Planetary Geology.”
Next, you want to think about why you’re excited to study the subject, and here, past anecdotes are great. If you want to do a computer science tutorial, you could talk about your own experience learning how to code and working on your side projects, but then go into how Williams takes it up to the next level, with their “Machine Learning” tutorial. You could talk about how you’re excited to work with similarly passionate people, and not only get better at the technical aspect of coding, but also dive into the ethical and societal questions suitable in a tutorial-esque setting.
Maybe you want to study history, and the topic you’d be most excited to study is the Vietnamese War, because of your own history of being the child of Vietnamese refugees. You want to get to know more about your own history and culture, as well as be able to understand your parents’ own socio-political contexts better.
While imagining your ideal tutorial, it wouldn’t hurt to brainstorm what the class itself would look like. What kinds of materials and mediums would you be engaging with in class? What primary sources excite you? What kinds of problems would you want to solve each week? Even if you don’t include all of this in the essay, it’ll help bring the tutorial to life in your head.
I would like to upload my own essay (from a humanities or social science course and ideally 3-5 pages in length).
If you feel like a high school essay captures better the essence of who you are, rather than the aforementioned prompt options, you should go for this option. Or, you could pursue this option if you’re completely crunched for time. However, we would recommend that you pursue one of the first three options, because they are all excellent avenues for you to illustrate your personality and character, but also show to Williams that you’re committed to writing about their school.
Ideally, if you do end up choosing this option, the essay should be grammatically tidy and free of any syntactical errors. A well argued analytic essay should do the job, but it would be even better if you had a personal essay you could use, because the main point of the supplemental essays is for the admissions committee to get to know you on a personal level.
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