The Ultimate Guide to Applying to Washington University in St. Louis
Do you know how to improve your profile for college applications?
See how your profile ranks among thousands of other students using CollegeVine. Calculate your chances at your dream schools and learn what areas you need to improve right now — it only takes 3 minutes and it's 100% free.
Often referred to as WashU, or sometimes even as WUSTL (from its initials), Washington University in St. Louis is a large, private research university with a very competitive admissions process and high marks for academic quality. In the words of its mission statement, it seeks “to provide an exemplary, respectful and responsive environment for living, teaching, learning and working for present and future generations.”
In service to this mission, WashU has assembled a collection of some of the brightest students and most innovative projects they can find, creating a unique community for learning that seeks to encourage academic and personal development and be appreciative of diversity. There’s support on campus both for students who know exactly what they’d like to be doing from the beginning, and students who feel the need to explore new paths and change their minds.
Does WUSTL sound like it might be right for you? Read on for an overview of what makes the university special, what it takes to be a student at WashU, and how to navigate the application process.
Introducing Washington University in St. Louis
WUSTL was originally founded in 1853, and like many institutions and locations in the United States, it was named after George Washington. In 1976, the phrase “in St. Louis” was added to the official name of the university in order to avoid confusion with other schools with the same namesake, such as the University of Washington, Washington State University, and George Washington University.
Predictably enough, WashU is located in and around St. Louis, Missouri. The university is comprised of four distinct campuses, of which the Danforth Campus is presently considered the main campus, as well as a biological research station outside of the city. In total, these properties cover around 2,300 acres.
In the past, WUSTL’s reputation was built on its status as a leading regional university in the southeastern United States. However, the university grew substantially throughout the later 20th century and into the 21st century, both in terms of its endowment and in terms of its prestige, and it has become a well-regarded research university on the national playing field.
Today’s WashU is an institution dedicated to pursuing academic excellence, and it shows; the university is currently ranked 19th in the National Universities category by the U.S. News and World Report ranking system, and is highly ranked by a number of other organizations and publications for everything from its undergraduate business program to its dorms. Among its many other claims to fame, the university has been the site of more presidential and vice-presidential debates than any other university in the U.S.
Currently, 14,688 students attend WUSTL, of whom 7,504 are undergraduates. The university is divided into seven individual schools, of which five offer undergraduate degree programs. Prospective undergraduate students can choose from the College of Arts and Sciences; the Olin Business School; the College of Architecture (within the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts); the College of Art (also within the Sam Fox School); and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Among the five schools that accept undergraduates, students at WashU can find programs in more than 90 different fields of study available as academic majors and/or minors. The most popular majors fall within the fields of engineering, social sciences, and pre-medical studies. Students are also permitted to design their own majors.
Outside the classroom, undergraduates participate in an unusually large number of student groups and activities. There are more than 350 options in total, including eleven fraternities and nine sororities, cultural and religious communities, performing and visual art groups, community service organizations, and groups based on shared academic interests.
Intramural sports, whether single-sex or coed, are especially popular on the campus, with a surprising 75% of undergraduates participating in at least one intramural team. For more serious athletes, WUSTL is home to 19 varsity sports teams. Any applicant is sure to find something of interest to occupy their free time, and of course, they’ll also have the city of St. Louis to explore.
WashU Admissions Information
Admission to Washington University in St. Louis is very competitive. For the class of 2020, the university received a total of 29,197 applications for first-year admission. 4,729 applicants were accepted, making the acceptance rate about 16.2%. 1,780 of these accepted students ended up enrolling at WashU in the fall of 2016. However, since applicants must apply specifically to one of the five undergraduate programs, it’s a bit more complicated to determine the actual chance of acceptance for any given applicant.
WUSTL doesn’t release acceptance rates broken down by each of its individual undergraduate programs, but you can find data for the number of applicants to each school and the number of accepted students who eventually enrolled in each school in 2015 on the WashU website. What that data boils down to is that for all five undergraduate programs, a large number of applicants are competing for a relatively small number of spots in the first-year class.
Admissions practices vary slightly among the different schools that make up the undergraduate program, and applicants will be evaluated based in part on how well their high school background has prepared them for the subject they would like to study. For instance, if you hope to attend the School of Engineering and Applied Science, you should have a strong foundation in math, chemistry, and physics that’s evident on your application.
However, the majority of the application evaluation process is the same for all undergraduate applicants to WUSTL, regardless of major, in that many of the same qualities are considered important for all prospective students at such a high-achieving school.
Speaking academically, WashU requires that applicants have strong high school backgrounds up to and including their senior year, and have fully taken advantage of the educational opportunities offered to them. These educational achievements, as expressed by grades, test scores, and course choices, among other factors, are extremely important to all the undergraduate programs at the university.
Community and extracurricular involvement, work and leadership experience, and recommendations should “complement” the applicant’s academic achievements. On a more personal level, the admissions office is interested in finding out what applicants are passionate about. With such a large, highly qualified applicant pool to compete with, applicants will need to focus on what makes them stand out from their peers.
Paying for WUSTL
The cost of attending WashU for the 2016-2017 school year has been estimated by the university at $65,366, with tuition accounting for $48,950 of that sum. Room and board estimates are included in this figure, but may be somewhat different based on which housing and dining options students select. This figure does not include the cost of books and supplies, personal expenses, or travel to and from St. Louis, all of which will vary for individual students.
If you’re interested in attending the university, but you know that you’ll require financial assistance to attend, the first thing you should be aware of is that admissions decisions for all applicants, domestic and international, are made on a need-aware basis. This means that your amount of financial need may be taken into account when the admissions office decides whether or not to admit you.
However, this certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t apply to WUSTL if you have financial need. The school does offer need-based financial aid to admitted students. In fact, if you are admitted to WashU, the university commits to providing you with need-based aid that meets 100% of your financial need, whether you’re a domestic or an international student. Students whose family income is less than $75,000 per year are additionally not required to take out any loans as part of their financial aid package.
The bottom line is that Washington University in St. Louis provides need-based financial aid, but will only admit as many students with financial need as it can fit into its existing financial aid budget.
In order to apply for need-based financial aid, all applicants to WUSTL will need to submit either the CSS Profile or the school’s own financial aid form, the Family Financial Profile (FFP). Domestic applicants will also submit the FAFSA. For Early Decision applicants, the financial aid application must be submitted by November 15th; for Regular Decision applicants, the due date is February 1st.
In addition to need-based financial aid, WashU offers a number of named merit-based scholarships and fellowships, ranging in amount from $3,000 per year to the full cost of tuition. (In general, on the university’s website, need-based aid is referred to as “financial aid” and merit-based aid is referred to as “scholarships.”) Some of these scholarship programs are open to students in any major; others are restricted to students within a particular program.
Applicants can apply for merit-based scholarships and fellowships in combination with need-based financial aid. If you’re interested in these merit-based programs, you can find a list of the different scholarships and fellowships, along with more information about the application procedure for each scholarship, on the WUSTL website. Applications for these scholarships and fellowships are due on January 15th for all applicants, whether Early Decision or Regular Decision.
Need-based financial aid and merit-based scholarships are available to transfer students, but the availability of aid is very limited, especially for international transfers. Transfer students do have the option of applying for two merit-based scholarships that are only open to transfers. You can find more information about those scholarships on the university’s website. If you’re applying as a transfer, you’ll need to turn in your need-based financial-aid forms by March 15th.
The WashU Application
There are two different application options: the Common Application and the Coalition Application. The admissions office views both application forms equally, so you’re welcome to choose whichever application works best for you. Both applications will ask for a lot of the same information, but they differ in the exact questions they ask, and each application has different essay options.
In addition to these two application options, WUSTL gives you a choice of two different application timelines: Early Decision (ED) and Regular Decision (RD). You can apply using either application form on either application timeline.
ED applicants submit their applications by November 15th in order to hear back about their admissions decisions by December 15th. In exchange for this early notification, they’ll apply early only to WashU, and they’ll sign an agreement that obligates them to attend the school if they’re admitted. This application timeline may be appropriate for you if you’re absolutely sure that WUSTL is your first choice.
RD applicants, who make up most of the applications submitted to the university, will submit their admissions applications by January 15th, and will hear back about whether they have been accepted by April 1st.
If you’re considering applying to WashU, you may wonder how the school will know which undergraduate program you’re applying to. It’s important to note that the different undergraduate schools do not have separate admissions processes — everyone will apply through the same application form, regardless of what you plan on studying.
When you fill out your application, you’ll be asked to specify which undergraduate program you’re applying under. This is important to the admissions evaluation process and later to the academic advising process, but it’s not binding, and you’ll have opportunities to study other subjects and/or change your major later on.
You’ll notice when you fill out the Common App or Coalition App that, unlike many other schools, WUSTL does not require all applicants to respond to a university-specific essay prompt. (As we mentioned above, some essays are required to apply for the Academic Fellowship and Scholarship programs.) However, you will be asked to answer some WashU-specific questions on the application, most of which are simple multiple-choice questions.
If you’re a transfer applicant, you’ll also need to fill out either the Common App or the Coalition App, and will need to specify which undergraduate program you’re applying to. You’ll need to get your admissions materials in by March 15th, and you can expect to hear back about your admissions decision by mid-May.
Below, we’ll go over the school-specific questions that WUSTL has included on its application, and offer some advice on how to approach these questions.
If you’re applying to WashU and you choose to use the Common App, you’ll need to first create a Common App profile, fill out the basic questions that the Common App asks of all applicants, and add the university to your My Colleges list. For some help navigating the Common App, you can refer to the CollegeVine User’s Guide to the Common Application, as well as our targeted posts regarding how to fill out the sections on your demographics, citizenship, academics, activities, awards, and more.
In addition to the basic questions asked by the Common App, you’ll be required to answer some questions that are specific to WUSTL. To get to this part of the application, navigate to your My Colleges tab and click on “WashU” on the left side. As you can see from our sample applicant’s account, this will lead you to the screen below:
On the left side, under WashU’s tab and the heading that says “Application,” click on the word “Questions.” You’ll see this screen:
These supplemental questions are grouped into five sections: General, Academics, Activities, Contacts, and Family. Click on the section headers to access the questions in each section, or click “Continue” to move on to the next section.
For the General section, you’ll answer the following questions:
- Preferred start term: Choose Fall 2017 from the drop-down menu.
- Preferred admission plan: Choose Early Decision or Regular Decision from the drop-down menu.
- Do you intend to use one of these school-specific fee waivers?: If you have received a fee waiver because you participated in a certain program, select the appropriate option. You’ll know if this applies to you. If you have not received a waiver in this way, select “I have not received a WashU Fee Waiver.”
- Do you intend to pursue need-based financial aid? (Select yes if you will need financial assistance to attend Washington University. We will share this information with our office of Student Financial Services so they can send you helpful tips about applying for financial assistance and remind you of key deadlines. We meet 100 percent of need for admitted students, so be sure to apply for aid by the deadline.): Choose “Yes” if you’re applying for need-based financial aid, or “No” if you’re not. This question refers only to need-based aid, not merit-based scholarships. Remember, WUSTL’s admissions policy is need-aware for all applicants.
- Do you intend to pursue merit-based scholarships?: Choose “Yes” if you’re applying for merit scholarships from WashU, or “No” if you’re not. Again, this question refers only to merit-based scholarships, not need-based aid.
- Do you intend to submit a portfolio? Note: A portfolio is required for applicants to the College of Art and optional for applicants to the College of Architecture (required for Architecture applicants who wish to apply for the Fitzgibbon Scholarship): Choose “Yes” or “No.” If you’re applying to the College of Art, you must submit a portfolio, and if you’re applying to the College of Architecture, it’s recommended that you submit a portfolio. If you’re applying to WashU in another field besides these two, before answering “Yes” or “No” to this question, check out our CollegeVine blog post on whether you should submit an arts supplement. If you would like to submit a portfolio and you select “Yes,” an additional “Portfolio” option will appear for you on the left side when you view WashU in your My Colleges list.
For the Academics section, you’ll answer the following questions:
- Academic Division: Select the undergraduate program to which you’re specifically applying. As we mentioned above, it’s possible to change your program later and to take classes outside of your program, but you do have to apply to a specific program, and your prospective program is taken into account when admissions decisions are made. If you need help deciding which major or college you should apply to, you can find out more about WUSTL’s lengthy list of majors and fields of study, or you can take a look at the CollegeVine blog for additional advice on choosing an undergraduate program.
- Pre-Professional Interest (if any): If you’re interested in one of the pre-professional paths listed in the drop-down menu, you can choose which one here. If you’re not interested in any of these programs, simply choose “None.”
For the Activities section, you’ll respond to the following prompts:
- If you wish to submit your resume, you may upload it here: Answering this question is optional; WashU doesn’t require you to submit a resume. However, it’s generally a good idea to submit a professional and proofread resume, as that will give you more space and flexibility to detail your activities and accomplishments. For more resume submission advice, check out our CollegeVine blog post on why you should send a resume to colleges.
- Bring your application to life. Paste your ZeeMee link here. Don’t have ZeeMee? Get it now for free at www.zeemee.com: ZeeMee is an app that allows applicants to create a multimedia profile to present to colleges. Submitting a ZeeMee link is totally optional, but if you use this service, you’re welcome to include your link here.
For the Contacts section, you’ll answer the following question:
- Have you previously applied to Washington University in St. Louis?: Select “Yes” or “No.” If you select “Yes,” you’ll be prompted to provide the month and year you previously applied to WUSTL.
For the Family section, you’ll answer the following questions:
- Are any siblings also applying for undergraduate admission to Washington University in St. Louis this year?: Select “Yes” if you have one or more siblings who are applying this year; otherwise, select “No.” If you select “Yes,” you’ll be prompted to provide their names and relationships to you.
- Have any relatives ever attended Washington University in St. Louis?: Select “Yes” if you have any relatives who have attended WashU; otherwise, select “No.” If you answer “Yes” for this question, you’ll be prompted to enter additional information about these relatives.
- Have any relatives ever worked for Washington University in St. Louis?: Select “Yes” if you have any relatives who have been employed by the university; otherwise, select “No.” If you answer “Yes,” you will be prompted to enter additional information about these relatives.
That’s it for WUSTL’s Common App supplement; as we noted above, the university doesn’t require applicants in general to submit any school-specific essays along with their admissions applications.
If you haven’t heard of the Coalition Application, don’t worry; it’s a newcomer to the admissions world, and it’s available for the very first time during the 2016-2017 application season. This application form was created by the Coalition for Access, Affordability, and Success, an organization of which WashU and 51 other colleges and universities are members.
Like the Common App, the Coalition App is a system that allows you to fill out most of your basic application information only once and transfer that information to each Coalition member school you’re applying to, streamlining the process of applying to multiple schools.
The Coalition App asks for a great deal of the same information as the Common App, though it differs in some places in terms of how it goes about asking for this information, and it has its own set of essay prompts. For advice on how to respond to these prompts, check out the CollegeVine blog post How to Write the Coalition Application Essays 2016-17.
As with the Common App, you’ll begin your Coalition App by creating an online account. Once you create that account, you can fill out your profile, add WUSTL and other colleges to your list, and begin the work of putting together your application.
If you’re applying to WashU and/or to other Coalition App member schools, it’s worth taking a look at the Coalition App website to determine whether the Coalition’s approach to gathering applicant information suits you better. Though you’ll still need to enter all the basics, from your grades to your extracurriculars to your contact information, the Coalition App has a few tricks up its sleeve that might allow you to create an application that feels more true to you.
Interviewing at WUSTL
It matters to the admissions office that you’ve shown substantial interest in attending the university; after all, the school wants to admit students who really want to be there. Interviewing and visiting the WashU campus are ways in which you can demonstrate your interest to the people who will eventually review your application. However, if it’s not possible for you to arrange a visit or interview, don’t worry — your application will still be given full and fair consideration.
Applicants have two interview options: on-campus interviews and off-campus interviews. There are different procedures to obtain an interview for each interview type, and you can find instructions on how and when to request either type of interview on this FAQ page. Each applicant may have only one interview overall.
If you are able to visit WUSTL, you can schedule an on-campus interview when you officially register for your visit using this calendar. At the same time, you can sign up for other activities, such as information sessions and tours, or for a portfolio review if you’re applying to the art or architecture programs. As we mentioned, the school prefers applicants who have shown a demonstrated interest in the college, and making an official visit is one way to make sure your interest is officially noted.
Off-campus interviews are conducted by members of the Alumni and Parent Admission Program, or APAP, across the United States and in certain other countries. Since the availability of APAP interviewers is limited, it’s not guaranteed that you’ll be able to obtain an interview this way, and applicants are advised to schedule an interview early.
ED applicants should call or email APAP to request an off-campus interview by September 30th, and don’t need to have already submitted their applications before requesting the interview. RD applicants who submit their applications by December 9th will be contacted by APAP to arrange an interview if an interviewer is available, but can also call or email APAP with any questions.
For more information on what to expect from your college interview and how to prepare, check out the CollegeVine blog. We can tell you a little about what to do and what not to do, what questions to ask, and what questions to avoid.
Additional Application Requirements
Applicants to WashU are required to submit the following along with their Common App or Coalition App and its school-specific application questions:
- Application fee of $75, or application fee waiver.
- School report and official transcript, completed by your guidance counselor.
- Official scores for the TOEFL or the IELTS. (This is only required of international students whose first language is not English.)
- Portfolio submission. (This is required for applicants to the College of Art, and recommended for applicants to the College of Architecture.)
- Optional: any additional non-required test scores (AP, SAT II, IB, etc.) that you believe will strengthen your application.
If you’re applying for need-based financial aid or for merit-based scholarships, you’ll need to submit your applications for those by the correct dates as well.
Hearing Back from Washington University in St. Louis
If you apply to WUSTL using the ED timeline, you can expect to hear back about your admissions decision around December 15th. Since the ED program is binding, if you’re accepted at this point, you will be expected to enroll. Accepted students will have until two weeks after the notification date to confirm their attendance for the upcoming year.
If you’re not accepted in the ED round, you may either be rejected or deferred. Rejected applicants are not permitted to reapply in the RD round, but may be able to apply as transfers at a later date. Deferred applicants will have their admissions decisions postponed to the RD timeline, and may be admitted in April. We’ll cover what deferral means for you below.
RD applicants and deferred ED applicants will receive their admissions decisions around April 1st. If you’re accepted in the RD round, you’ll have until May 1st to hear back from other schools, consider your options, and inform WashU of your final decision on whether to attend.
If you’re rejected at this point, you’ll need to move on and make other college plans. However, there’s a third option: you may be waitlisted, in which case your application may be reconsidered later if spaces open up in the matriculating class. We’ll go over more details of the waitlist process below.
All students who are accepted by WUSTL must submit a $200 non-refundable enrollment deposit as well as a $250 housing application fee in order to claim their place in the matriculating class.
Deferrals and the Waitlist at WashU
If you’re applying WashU using the ED timeline,you need to take into account the possibility that you may be deferred. Deferred applicants are neither accepted nor rejected in December, but will have their applications reconsidered during the RD round with the rest of that applicant pool. Once you are deferred, your ED commitment ends, so if you’re accepted after being deferred, you are no longer contractually obligated to attend the university.
However, chances are that you’re still interested in WUSTL even if they’ve deferred you. If so, you’ll need to move forward with your other college applications, but you can also put some work into improving your chances at the school.
At this point, you’re welcome to contact the admissions office and explain that you still want to attend. You can also update your application with new information that may strengthen your case, such as higher test scores, higher grades, or new awards you’ve won. As long as you’re not too pushy, the admissions office will want to know that you’re still interested and still working on making yourself a better fit for WashU.
If you’re waitlisted under the RD timeline, you have a choice as to whether or not to remain on the waitlist and be considered for future openings. It’s up to you to decide whether you want to hold out hope for admission or just move on to another of your college options.
You should know that the university typically has a very large waitlist consisting of thousands of students — the school does not release exact numbers — so competition for any available spots in the matriculating class is incredibly fierce. The number of openings eventually made available also varies greatly from year to year; for instance, in 2011, 150 applicants were admitted from the waitlist, but in four out of the past ten admissions cycles, zero applicants were admitted from the waitlist.
If you do choose to remain on the waitlist, you’ll need to inform the admissions office by May 1st. Within a few weeks of the May 1st reply date, WUSTL begins considering whether there are still openings in the incoming first-year class, and may extend offers to some waitlisted applicants. The waitlist is not ranked, but your intended major matters at this point, as there might be spots available only in particular programs. Typically, the waitlist admissions process is over by June 30th.
As with other schools, if you’re waitlisted, you’ll definitely need to make plans to attend another college, including submitting a non-refundable deposit if this is required. As we mentioned, waitlist admissions rates at WashU are low to nonexistent. However, you can still write to the admissions office to reiterate your interest, and it’s still a good idea to send along any new information that improves your application, just in case your application is in fact reconsidered.
Planning to apply to Washington Universtiy in St. Louis? Check out the university’s website for more information on the many fields of study available to undergraduates so that you can make an informed choice about which school to apply to. At the same time, though, don’t stress out too much about that decision; remember that WashU has the flexibility and resources to support you in whatever path you decide to take.
Curious about your chances of acceptance to your dream school? Our free chancing engine takes into account your GPA, test scores, extracurriculars, and other data to predict your odds of acceptance at over 500 colleges across the U.S. We’ll also let you know how you stack up against other applicants and how you can improve your profile. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account today to get started!
Want more college admissions tips?
We'll send you information to help you throughout the college admissions process.