How to Write the Washington and Lee Essays 2016-2017
Named after George Washington and Robert E. Lee, Washington and Lee University was established in 1749 in Lexington, Virginia. The institution is split into two undergraduate divisions: the College and the Williams School of Commerce, Economics, and Politics. Special aspects of Washington and Lee include the student-run honor system where undergraduates schedule their own final examinations (that are taken unsupervised) and a classy annual ball.
Going back to the political roots on which it was founded, W&L has another tradition in the mock convention, held the winter term of every presidential election year where the entire student body comes to together and chooses a presidential candidate from the party not in power in the White House.
Staying true to the fathers who founded the institution, Washington and Lee University has produced a myriad of prominent politicians including three Supreme Court justices, 27 Senators, 67 US. representatives, and 31 State Governors.
Washington and Lee Application Essay Prompts
All items on Washington and Lee’s writing supplement are optional. However, applicants who wish to be considered for W&L’s merit-based aid must submit a Johnson Scholarship Application essay. Even though the writing supplements (if you are not applying for a Johnson scholarship) are optional, writing answers to these questions can only benefit you, as admissions officers will see your dedication to the school.
OPTIONAL QUESTION 1
Please elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or meaningful life experiences. (250 words maximum)
There are two main purposes of this essay. The first is to give you a chance to elaborate on an activity you wrote about briefly in the extracurricular section of the Common App. If there is an activity you are particularly passionate about, but did not have the chance to write about it in your regular Common app essay, this is a chance to further elaborate the extent of your role and the impact the activity had on your high school experience.
If you were the president of an a cappella group, go into detail about what you did for the group and how being president of that particular group shaped you — for example, perhaps it taught you how to resolve conflicts among group members or how to accept failure gracefully. To highlight personal passion or growth, choose an activity that has a particularly deep significance to you, such as volunteering at the local hospital after going through treatment there.
To highlight your capacity in a certain field, you can also choose to discuss research or internship experiences. As long as you focus on how you grew as a person and learned more about a field, these can set you apart from applicants who have not had a chance to work in a professional context.
However, always tie the internship or research job with work you would like to do at Washington and Lee (for example, working with a specific professor on a project that is related to one you did at the lab at which you interned). It would be to your advantage to do some research on W&L’s specific academic departments if you plan to follow this route; don’t be afraid to name drop lab projects that you’ve researched to show your interest in this particular school.
Another purpose of this essay is to give students who held a part-time job an opportunity to provide more details about their situation. Sometimes students write off work experiences as different from and not as “credible” as typical extracurricular activities, like clubs or academic teams, but they can actually set you apart from other applicants, particularly if your work experience offered you a chance to try something new, provided you with some sort of obstacle that you were able to overcome, or shaped the way you think about the world.
For example, if you had a math-tutoring job and found you greatly enjoyed explaining abstract concepts to kids, you may now have a budding interest in studying both education and math. In turn, this could have inspired you to want to create an interdisciplinary math and education major, which you could do with Washington and Lee’s flexible curriculum.
You can also take this opportunity to briefly explain the circumstances that caused you to take a part-time job (such as if money was tight at home, you are saved up for a medical mission trip, etc.), and then paint that circumstance in a light that will reflect positive character traits.
For example, if you took a job to save money so that you could go on a medical mission trip over the summer, you can talk about what led you to make that decision, and how the dedication and patience you developed in the process might affect how you want to spend your undergraduate career at Washington and Lee University. Oftentimes, holding a job and being a student at the same time is complicated, and whatever characteristics you developed through the experience (selflessness, humility, maturity) can be highlighted in your essay.
You can also take this opportunity to highlight aspects of yourself that you feel were not mentioned in your Common App. If it is clear in your application that you enjoy music and theater, but there is not much about your love for robotics, write about the time you made your first robot or entered your first robotics competition.
OPTIONAL QUESTION 2
Please elaborate on how you have familiarized yourself with Washington and Lee University and what led to your decision to apply. (250 words maximum)
This is a standard “Why X School?” prompt, and although it is not given as much weight as other essays or different parts of your application, an extremely well-written response (or one that is obviously not your best piece of writing) may be what determines your admission status to Washington and Lee.
The key to this type of essay is to avoid generic statements such as “the campus is beautiful,” or the “students have a tight knit community,” that apply to literally hundreds of schools around the country. Admission officers want to see that you want to attend Washington and Lee University because it has appealing aspects other than the fact that it is a top-notch institution.
Accordingly in your essay, you want to refer to factors that are specific and unique to Washington and Lee. Consultants at CollegeVine have provided a brief list of unique characteristics of W&L, but strongly suggest you personally research the school to come up with more personal and tailored reasons for wanting to attend the university.
- The front campus was designated a National Historic Landmark by the Department of the Interior in 1972 (one of three college campuses to be so designated), highlighting the historical importance of the University.
- Within a two-hour drive from campus is access to over four million acres of national and state forests, including Shenandoah National Park and the Appalachian Trial.
- W&L’s campus dining facilities offer fresh products including pizza that’s made from scratch and hand stretched, entrée meats that are roasted in-house, hand-cut French fries using local potatoes, and plentiful vegan/vegetarian options.
- Washington and Lee houses several secret societies including the Mongolian Minks, the Cadaver Society and the Sigma Society.
- Students in the Williams Investment Society manage one million dollars of the University’s endowment, primarily in equity securities.
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Best of luck in getting to Lexington!