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How to Write the University of Washington Application Essays 2017-2018

Located just north of the center of Seattle, the University of Washington is an urban public university that boasts highly ranked STEM and business programs, ranks consistently in the top 20 public schools in the nation, and offers 180 majors to undergraduates.


UW uses a quarter system for their academic calendar, meaning that classes are fast-paced, exciting, and consistently intellectually stimulating. And with a class population of 31,418, the undergraduate community is vibrant and diverse.


The average SAT score of admitted students ranges from 1210-1420, with an ACT Composite of 26-32; the average GPA of admitted students ranges from 3.68-3.94; and the admission rate is at about 45%.


Since the University of Washington does not use the Common Application, the admissions process can seem particularly daunting. But don’t worry — we here at CollegeVine are ready to help you put your best foot forward when it comes to the UW essays.

University of Washington Application Essay Prompts

Part A: Main Essay (500 word limit)

At the University of Washington, we consider the college essay as our opportunity to see the person behind the transcripts and the numbers. Some of the best statements are written as personal stories. In general, concise, straightforward writing is best, and good essays are often 300 to 400 words in length. (Maximum length: 500 words)

The main essay is the biggest, and usually most important, component of the University of Washington’s application. But before you begin to consider how to tackle the specific prompt on which you choose to write the main essay, it’s important to consider how to approach this essay in general, regardless of the prompt.


It’s important to note that since you don’t apply to UW through the Common Application, it’s helpful to consider the main essay as, essentially, a Common Application essay. With that in mind, it’s important to remember that this essay should accomplish the same things as a typical Common Application essay — that is, after reading it, the reader should feel like they just became friends with you and know you in a authentic, genuine way.


So, for example, if you are a prospective engineering major, this essay is not the place for you to list off all of the extracurriculars you’ve done that would make you a perfect fit for the engineering school. But it is an excellent time to talk about your intellectual curiosity and your knack for coming up with innovative solutions to problems.


To brainstorm ideas for this essay, you should follow the exact same strategy you would use to brainstorm for a Common Application essay. Make sure that when choosing the prompt you’re going to write about for the main essay, you select one that allows you to highlight the things about your story that you feel are most important.


If you are a very analytical thinker, choose the prompt that asks about a time that your opinion has changed, or if you’re very involved in your community, choose the prompt that asks you to discuss the meaningful contributions you’ve made. The only difference is that since this essay is slightly shorter than a regular Common Application essay (500 words instead of 650), the organization of this essay should be more compact.


Refrain from overly long introductions and conclusions, make your sentences concise and to the point, and make sure that your story flows coherently from paragraph to paragraph.

Main Essay Options: Specific Strategies for Each Prompt

Main Essay Prompt #1

Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.

This prompt is a great opportunity to clue your reader in to your fundamental values. At the heart of it, it’s a prompt that is asking about who you are. What are the things that motivate you? Where are times in your life where people have seen the ‘true you?’


Something to keep in mind while you’re writing this essay is that the story you choose has to be dynamic. It should be a story in which a change occurs — either a change within yourself that helped shape your character, or a change that you enacted that demonstrates your character. For example, a good story for this prompt would be a story of the time you started a food drive after noticing a problem in your local community, or changed your lifestyle to incorporate more recycling and composting into your life after listening to a speech by a climate change expert.


By the end of the essay, the reader should have a clear idea of what your fundamental character and values are, based on how you conducted yourself within whatever situation you choose to tell.


In terms of writing technique, this prompt lends itself well to a more narrative style of writing. Instead of writing this essay like a regular English class essay, you could get inventive and write it more in the style of a novel or, if you’re daring, even a play. Above all, remember to show, not tell.


For example, if you’re writing about a time when you were waiting for results from a doctor, rather than just saying, “I was nervous because I didn’t know what my doctor was going to tell me,” you could say this: “The air was filled with electricity. My heart pounded in my chest, barely giving me room to breathe. What was my doctor going to tell me?”


Every opportunity you get, make an effort to immerse the reader in the story that you’re telling. This gives them more space to empathize and connect with you and your personal story and gives the essay more impact.

Main Essay Prompt #2

Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.

On its surface, this is a great prompt for people who are very involved in community service and volunteer work. But even if you don’t fly halfway across the world every summer to dig wells in foreign countries, this can still be a great prompt for you.


What’s important to remember is that here, the reader is not necessarily looking for you to list off all the volunteer hours that you’ve ever done — that’s what your extracurriculars section is for. This essay is about how those contributions have impacted you, and your view of the world. For this essay to stand out, you should discuss why making the contribution was important to you, and how you grew and learned from the experience.


This prompt is also implicitly asking you what you think the greater good actually is. This is something to be conscious of as you’re writing. Ask yourself: Why was this a meaningful contribution? Why do I believe that what I did was a good thing? How exactly did I make the world a better place, and for whom? Implicitly answering these questions in your essay will give it more depth, no matter how seemingly trivial the contribution you made was.


For example, if you baked your friend cookies after she had a bad day, you can discuss in your essay that afterwards, you came to the realization that making and maintaining kind and loving human connection is fundamentally important, both on an individual and a global scale.


Even if the contribution is small, if it is meaningful to you, there’s a good chance that it will be a meaningful and powerful essay to the reader as well.

Main Essay Prompt #3

Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?

This prompt is a great opportunity to talk not only about what your beliefs are, but why you believe what you believe. The reader wants to know that your ideas are a product of careful consideration, not just blindly following the crowd. This essay gives you a chance to show that.


At its core, this question is asking you about your critical thinking skills. The reader wants to understand how you work through problems in your head. What is your thought process when someone challenges you? How do you interact with ideas that are diametrically opposed to your own?


It’s important to understand that there are two different possible outcomes for this essay — either you changed what you believed, or you didn’t. If it was the former, you have to walk the reader through the steps that led you to change your mind. If it was the latter, explain why you didn’t change your mind.


In either case, make sure to walk the reader through your thought processes in an engaging way, adding in specifics to keep them hooked. So rather than saying, “I researched the question and realized I was wrong,” try saying something like this: “The combined force of the statistics published by UC Berkeley and the lengthy economic research paper from Harvard School of Economics convinced me that my beliefs on the San Francisco housing crisis were misinformed. Ultimately, I realized that my opinion had mostly come from the prevailing biases in my school and larger community.”


By the end of the essay, the reader should have a firm grasp on how you handle intellectual conflict and what you believe about the world as a result of the challenges your beliefs have encountered.

Main Essay Prompt #4

What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give younger siblings or friends (assuming they would listen to you)?

This prompt is interesting because it asks you to draw not only on your personal experience, but also implicitly asks you to draw on your historical knowledge. You have to compare teenagers now to teenagers in some historical era — it could be as recent as the 2000s, or as far back as the 1400s. If you have a strong passion for history, it could be interesting to draw that out in this essay — demonstrate your strong knowledge about teens in the 1600s by crafting an essay that is an extended compare-and-contrast type of essay.


Whichever time period you choose to compare your own experience to, you should make sure that your essay doesn’t just turn into you listing off good and bad things about being a teenager. While that might be a good brainstorming technique when you start writing the essay, tie the hard parts and the best parts of being a teenager to either one or two concrete stories in your life that demonstrate these parts, instead of just telling the reader what they are. This is much more engaging and will create a more powerful essay.


The second part of the question is the most essential part to answer because it’s the part of the essay where you show how you’ve grown and matured. Without answering the second part of the question, your essay just turns into an exposition about all the good and bad things in your life.


If you say that the hardest part of being a teenager is learning how to navigate the structures of school and home without losing your independence, you should also talk about how you and your teacher devised a way for you to self-study history so you could also take orchestra, or how you compromised with your parents so you could stay late after school for robotics and still get home in time to do your chores.  


The advice that you give shows that you are not a passive participant in your own life — you’ve taken the good and bad things in your life and learned meaningful lessons from them. This essay is an amazing way for your reader to see all the growing up you did in high school take place over the course of 500 words.  


An important thing to keep in mind when writing this prompt is that you should remember your audience. You don’t have to try and come up with adult-sounding problems that you don’t have — it will come off as disingenuous — but at the same time, now is not the place to talk about high school parties or your awful ex-boyfriend or ex-girlfriend. Be yourself, and talk about the highs and lows of your life that are genuine and meaningful to you, but don’t feel compelled to overshare.

Main Essay Prompt #5

Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.

If you are applying to a lot of other schools on the Common Application and are looking to save some time, you might consider taking your Common Application essay and cutting it down to 500 words to fit this prompt. This is a good strategy, especially if your Common Application essay is already answering some other question because it means that the essay you’re submitting here is still targeted and on point.


The biggest pitfall of this prompt is that because it’s so general, you can get lost in your own essay and end up addressing too many things, rather than pinpointing one or two aspects and going in depth with them. To avoid this, a good strategy is to tie your essay to a concrete story in your life, and then build it off of that.


With that being said, this prompt can also produce some of the most amazing essays. Because you aren’t constrained by a question, you can literally write about anything that interests you. This is especially good for people with strong or unique writing skills. You could write an essay about how a specific book changed your view of the world in the same style that book was written, or tell a story about a specific extracurricular that drastically changed who you are throughout the course of high school.


The most important thing to remember when it comes to this essay is that depth is almost always better than breadth. Again, don’t just list out all of your accomplishments. Instead, choose something specific and dive deep into it, writing an essay that shows the reader who you are.

Part B: Community and Diversity Essay

Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the University of Washington. (Word Limit: 300 words)

Tip: Keep in mind that the University of Washington strives to create a community of students richly diverse in cultural backgrounds, experiences, values, and viewpoints.

The first essay prompt was about how you influence the world around you. This short response is about how the world has influenced you. As you write, consider: How have the people and the social structures around me influenced the way that I interact with the world? How does this mixture of influences make me unique?


Many students are scared by this question because they’re not from a background that people would consider conventionally “diverse.” But, as the tip for the prompt says, diversity is not limited to race or ethnicity. It encompasses ideas and life experience.


Keep in mind that no matter who you are or where you’re from, there are inevitably things about you and your experience in the world that make you unique from all of the other applicants. You could write an essay about how much your extended family gatherings at Christmas mean to you, and how they’ve influenced the way that you’ve grown up. Or you could talk about how your co-workers at your summer job taught you about the importance of teamwork and optimism.


It’s fine to write about community in a literal sense, and discuss your neighborhood or your city, but don’t let the textbook definition of the word confine you. Talking about your community can mean talking about your group of friends at school who all come from disparate backgrounds, and how you relate to them. Or it could mean talking about the people that you play video games with online, and what they taught you about how to interact with the larger world.


At its crux, this question wants to know one thing: What unique experience will you bring to the UW campus? Answering that question is the key to writing an impactful short response.

Part C: Additional Information

You are not required to write anything in this section, but you may include additional information if something has particular significance to you. For example, you may use this space if:

  • You are hoping to be placed in a specific major soon

  • A personal or professional goal is particularly important to you

  • You have experienced personal hardships in attaining your education

  • Your activities have been limited because of work or family obligations

  • You have experienced unusual limitations or opportunities unique to the schools you attended (Word Limit: 200)

While this part of the application is not required, it’s probably in your best interest to submit something here, particularly if you want to get directly admitted into a specific major at UW. There are a few majors at the university — particularly Computer Science and most of the Engineering disciplines — that are extremely hard to get into after you’re on campus; most of the people majoring in these were directly admitted from high school.


With that being said, this is a great place to discuss why you are specifically suited to be in that major. For example, if you are applying directly to the Computer Science major, now is the time to bring up the app or website that you built for fun. Make sure to provide concrete connections between what you are doing in high school and what you want to do in college; also include a reason why you think UW would be the best place to further that interest.


If you’re not applying for a direct admission anywhere, this can still be a good place to highlight things that may not have come through in the rest of your application. If you were super involved in Model UN but didn’t get the chance to talk about it in any of your other essays, this is a good place to briefly explain what you did and why it was so important to you. Or if you did something interesting, but not immediately quantifiable, over the summer (like, for example, reading two books a week, or teaching yourself how to code using library books), this prompt would be an appropriate place to discuss that.


Another reason to use this prompt would be to address extenuating circumstances. An appropriate thing to mention would be a sickness that occurred — either to you or to someone in your family — that might explain why your grades slightly slipped during that semester, or that you have to drive your little sibling home from school every day, so you couldn’t do a particular extracurricular as much as you might have liked to.


All of these reasons are good reasons to use the space; however, remember that you don’t have to write anything here. Don’t repeat things that you’ve already gone over in your application. This will only frustrate the reader.

Part D: Further Explanation (if necessary)

You may use this space if you need to further explain or clarify answers you have given elsewhere in this application, or if you wish to share information that may assist the Office of Admissions. If appropriate, include the application question number to which your comment(s) refer.

This space is mostly for clarifying anything you said earlier in your application that might be confusing — for example, if you went to a school with a strange grading system, or if you studied abroad for a year and so your school transcripts are confusing.


This section can also be used to expand upon other parts of your application: For example, if you said earlier that you did Speech and Debate, you could use this part of your application to list off some of the most prominent awards that you received in that sport. There is no clear word limit here, but don’t take that as an invitation to submit a 1,000 word essay. It’s just a place for you to clearly and concisely clear up any lingering questions that the reader might have after going through your application.


Now, you know everything you need to feel confident and fully prepared to tackle the University of Washington essays!


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Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.