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How to Write the Williams College Supplement Essays 2017-2018

Williams College is a private liberal arts school located in Williamstown, Massachusetts. Known for its excellence in undergraduate education, Williams is often found at the top of college rankings, holding first place in U.S. News and World Report’s liberal arts colleges list from 2002 to 2016.


Located in the rural Berkshire mountains, Williams is a close community with around 2,100 students and has produced a number of well-known alumni, from Steven Sondheim to James A. Garfield. The college has only two graduate programs (History of Art and Development Economics), so the school almost exclusively focuses on undergraduate education, boasting a student to faculty ratio of 7:1.


Williams is considered “most selective,” with an average acceptance rate of 18 percent. The college has both early decision and regular decision application options, with the early decision deadline on November 15 and regular decision on January 1st. While none of the supplemental essays are mandatory, it will be a considerable benefit to your application to respond to them. Although you might be tempted to answer just one or none, we recommend putting in the time to answer all of them to showcase your full profile.


Here is CollegeVine’s guide to tackling the Williams College supplemental essays.

How to Write the Williams College Essays

Prompt 1


Imagine yourself in a tutorial at Williams. Of anyone in the world, whom would you choose to be your partner in the class, and why?

As you might have heard countless times, the purpose of the supplemental essays is for colleges to understand not only who you are as a student but as a person. All of the supplemental essays for Williams are an attempt by the admissions officers to see whether you’ll be a good fit for the tight-knit community of the college. So don’t stress. Be as genuine as you can. The idea is not to impress with another listing of test scores or activities, but to show your personality and your thought process.


The point of this prompt is not necessarily for admissions officers to understand who you chose to be your partner but rather why you chose that individual. Why is it exciting for you to have a chance to work with this person? Why do you think that you’d grow the most in having a tutorial with them specifically? Focus on the reasoning behind your choice, and how your choice reflects back onto you as a person.

Here is a general strategy for the essay:


  • 1. Introduce the person, with relevant background information, especially if they are not particularly well-known. If they are well-known, consider adding in some detail that is not a common fact about them that is relevant to the prompt.
  • Example: If I had to pick anyone, anytime, anywhere in the world to engage in a Williams tutorial, I would immediately pick Steven Spielberg, not only known for being one of the most famous and ground-breaking directors in cinema, but for casting his cocker spaniel Elmer in three of his movies.


  • 2. Explain the personal significance of the individual you chose.
  • Example: When I was 9 or 10, my family would have movie night, when we would often watch a Spielberg film. Man-eating dinosaurs, vengeful puppet sharks, and Indiana Jones’ ridiculous ability to escape anything formed my Friday afternoons, teaching me about bravery, the importance of collaboration, and the danger of swimming by myself, especially at night.


  • 3. Elaborate on why you want to specifically take a tutorial with this person; what would you like to discuss with them? It is beneficial for you to choose a specific tutorial offered at Williams as well, to show you’ve done a bit of research and give you more flexibility with the prompt.
  • Example: By taking a tutorial with Spielberg, I’d have the opportunity to ask him all of the most pressing questions I have: Why did he agree to produce the live Transformers? In Story, Self, and Society with Professor Simko, I could discuss with him the way he approaches directing and world-building, and ask him how he managed to create some of the most enduring films of all time, changing the story of cinema.

Keep in mind: The idea of the prompt is to elaborate on the impact that meeting this person and working with them in a two-person setting would have on you.


For instance, if a student chose Astrid Lindgren, celebrated Swedish author of children’s novels, the student might write about how her parents would read Pippi Longstocking to her at bedtime, which not only inspired her to dress up as Pippi on Halloween, but also taught her that females can be strong and have agency in the world from a young age. The female student might write that she’d want to discuss with Lindgren how the author was able to create such an enduring and strong female character in the political climate of the 1940s when the book was released.


When choosing which subject to write about, feel free to choose an individual from a different historical period. The modern era is not a limitation on the prompt. However, try to steer away from choosing figures that could make the essay trite (e.g., Abraham Lincoln, George Washington, etc.) or figures that are too politically charged, thereby making the essay simply uncomfortable for the admissions officers to read (e.g., most world dictators, especially those during World War II). Remember, the most important thing is not who you chose, but why you chose them.

Prompt 2

What story would you share? What lessons have you drawn from that story, and how would those lessons inform your time at Williams?

With all of these prompts, Williams is looking for insightful, thoughtful self-commentary and self-analysis, an understanding of why a part of your life can change your ideas, leading to more rich communication with others. Keep that in mind when picking a story: Admissions officers do not care to see another breakdown of an extracurricular activity. They want to see if you can reflect on parts of your life, whether humorous or heart-breaking, and grow from those events.


There are multiple ways to approach choosing a story: It can be a really life-changing event, in a negative or positive way, or it can be simply a moment from your life that maybe is not something that one would point to as a game-changer, but a moment that you can draw an idea from.

Examples of moments:


  • A really good story you have from your life.
  • Example: Tripping on stage in front of classmates, finding a cat on the street who became your family pet, your little cousin sassing you, etc.


  • Family tradition
  • Example: Speaking about how you and your parents once went fishing together.


  • Moment symbolic of a relationship
  • Example: Your best friend once brought you your favorite tea, which taught you about compassion.


  • A great day that you once had
  • Example: Going to a friend’s birthday, buying a kitten, etc.


  • Activity important to you
  • Example: Eating cookies, going on a hike, exploring a bookstore, etc. Choose a specific instance of doing an activity, and describe it in depth.


  • Simple action
  • Example: Stirring milk into your tea and watching it slowly turn the tea pale, etc.

As long as you can find a way to relate what you are writing about to a general idea that you will take with you to Williams, anything really works. Make sure to have that take-away lesson, because that is what the admissions officer will see you bringing to the college.


Even simply writing about how a parent or grandparent prepared food for you can be a topic of the prompt, as it portrayed how much others love and care about you, which can be expanded into the idea that at Williams you will try to create an environment of compassion because it was so vital to you growing up. Or how you once had the perfect chocolate chip cookie, and it taught you how absolutely beautiful life can be, and how you will strive in studying at Williams to create that symbolically perfect chocolate chip cookie in whichever interest you are pursuing.


Don’t be afraid to be quirky or go out on a limb: The story and lesson learned do not necessarily have to be deep — writing about once discovering your passion for making paper is perfectly acceptable as well, as long as you can draw an overarching idea from it (i.e., that you will try to teach as many of your new classmates the elegant artform of making paper).


Williams is a quirky school that does not shy away from humor. However, don’t feel pressured to come up with the most hilarious, most engaging, and most interesting story. While that is definitely a plus, as with the previous prompt, the most significant part of the prompt is what lessons you learned and how you will apply them at Williams: the self-analysis.

Prompt 3

What might differentiate you from the 19 other first-year students in an entry? What perspective(s) would you add to the conversation with your peers?

Entries are groups that first-years are sorted into by the college (not randomly). They’re basically floors that will do organized activities together, talk together, and spend all of Freshman year together. Williams always emphasizes embracing a diversity in opinions, background, ideas, and personality traits. Ask around and see how others would describe you, or what they think is most interesting about you. That can provide a good starting point for brainstorming some ideas.


Culture, interests, and unique talents are all different perspectives with which you can approach the prompt. This supplement is often the most difficult for students because it can come out sounding self-centered to the applicant. If you have that issue, steering away from writing about personality and achievements by following one of the above listed ways — it can mitigate the feeling that you are bragging, and make the essay simpler to write.


The cultural way of approaching the prompt is choosing an aspect of your culture and then portraying how that affected you, and why that brings a new idea or perspective to a group conversation. No matter what its ancestral background is, each family has a specific, idiosyncratic culture and traditions that separate it from the rest. Maybe your dad takes you horseback riding, or you and your mom love to go candle shopping, or all of the siblings in your family have to cook at least one meal a week together.


Each of these traditions can be utilized to explain a certain characteristic of you that is unique. For instance, in the candle-shopping scenario, the meticulous attention to color and form that you and your mom paid to each candle made you become much more attentive to detail, causing you to try to deeply and fully understand another’s arguments or background when conversing with them.


Interests and unique talents can be approached in a similar way to the cultural approach: Choose an uncommon or interesting passion that you have (everyone has at least one, from knowing how to make origami trees to being a connoisseur of different brands of pencils), and elaborate on why that makes you who you are, and why that affects your perspective in discussion. Discuss why your interest/talent shapes your worldview, and why that gives a unique perspective to the conversation.

In general, a possible framework for writing the essay is as follows:


  • 1. Start out with an anecdote or by describing yourself doing something.
  • Example: Looking through the stuffed store shelves, I suddenly catch a gleam of gold in the back. I have finally found it — the perfect gold-foil candle.


  • 2. Explain previous story.
  • Example: My mom and I always go candle shopping. The waxy pastels and unburned wicks have become a constant in our lives.


  • 3. Explain how the anecdote/activity has shaped you.
  • Example: After spending approximately 50,000,000 hours choosing candles (not an overestimate), I can now tell a Voluspa from an Archipelago candle from three feet away. The attention to detail that candle-picking has caused me to endure, has now affected me in my daily life. While my friends are content to gloss over a Wikipedia article, I always attempt to not only read the whole article, but find unknown facts about the subject as well.


  • 4. Elaborate on why that relates to having a conversation with others.
  • Example: Although finding details can often be exhausting, I have noticed that now, when debating an issue with a friend, I try to find out more about their position, and understand it as well as my own, to have a full picture of the subject. Their argument is like another unfamiliar candle that I need to study and respect just as much as my own collection.

When writing your Williams essays, constantly keep in mind that all admissions want to know is who you are: what your thoughts are, some interesting ideas about you that your Common App and resume did not cover, what your life outside of being a student is like.


The purpose is not to impress; it is to disclose your personality, which is what really separates you from other applicants. Remember, Williams’ mascot is a purple cow named Ephelia. You don’t need to maintain a professional, rigid image. Have fun with the prompts — go out on a limb and maybe take the risk of being slightly more open and genuine than in other essays. Admissions officers will be able to tell.


We hope you found this guide useful in writing your Williams College essays!


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