A Wonderful WashU Essay Example from an Accepted Student
Washington University in St. Louis is perhaps best known for its superb medical school and corresponding intense pre-med track. However, the school also has a wide range of other academic offerings, in addition to community-building traditions and strong DIII sports teams, which make it an attractive option even to students who don’t dream of one day donning a white coat.
Since you’ll be competing against other strong applicants, it’s important that your essays help your application stand out. In this post, we’ll share an essay that helped a real student gain acceptance to WashU, and outline its strengths and areas for improvement.
(Names and identifying information have been changed, but all other details are preserved).
Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges is beneficial to get inspiration for your essays, but you should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarize.
Read our WashU essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.
Example 1 – Why Major?
I am one to psychoanalyze; whenever a difficult decision is made, I ponder what lived experiences and perspectives caused that choice. In working with youth through camp counseling, tutoring, and umpiring, I became fascinated with sensing and processing emotions; this obsession flowered into a lofty mission: to accommodate my emotions and those of my peers at all times. However, except for an engaging AP Psychology self-study, I acknowledge my lack of experience and knowledge of psychological processes to actualize my goal. I would love to expand upon this goal and passion in the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department at WashU, learning with an emphasis on cognitive, developmental, and social psychology.
High school has been incredibly formative in discovering and embracing my racial identity. After exploring Black literature through CPS English classes, I hoped to learn more about how Black Americans have subverted dominant narratives. Through my Black Society and Culture class, I learned about the impact of prominent Black figures and how the broader community has pursued cultural connections throughout the African Diaspora. I aspire to continue exploring the breadth of my culture through African and African-American Studies, and I would discover a specific field of study with WashU’s department advising.
What the Essay Did Well
One of the most popular essay prompts is “Why This Major?”. Colleges use this prompt to determine whether an applicant is genuinely passionate about their academic interests, or whether they are motivated solely by grades.
The key to showing that you are the first kind of student is to describe how your academic interests developed, outline your goals, and explain how those goals connect to the school — all things that this student does! Additionally, they do a great job of backing up their points with specific examples, which helps readers understand their interest in psychology on a deeper level.
For example, their first sentence, “I am one to psychoanalyze; whenever a difficult decision is made, I ponder what lived experiences and perspectives caused that choice,” immediately tips us off that this essay is going to be about something related to the brain, while maintaining enough intrigue that we want to keep reading. Then, they connect their psychoanalyzing to their experience “camp counseling, tutoring, and umpiring,” which gives us a clearer sense of how their interest in psychology has grown organically over time.
The student uses this same general structure, of introducing a compelling topic, then connecting it to a specific past experience, throughout the essay. For another example, in their final paragraph they start off by telling us that they have learned a lot about their racial identity in high school, then give an example of a class that helped them do so.
This last paragraph also addresses the third and final purpose of a “Why Major?” essay listed above–connecting your potential major to the school–by citing a specific department at WashU they hope to study in. That shows admissions officers this student has already spent time thinking about how they would fit into the WashU community, which suggests they would be ready to hit the ground running after arriving on campus.
What Could Be Improved
There are a few moments in this essay where the student’s writing feels muddled due to their long sentences. While writing is not a science, the essay would flow better if its sentences were trimmed into more manageable bites. For example, the sentence:
“However, except for an engaging AP Psychology self-study, I acknowledge my lack of experience and knowledge of psychological processes to actualize my goal” could become “Apart from the things I learned through AP Psychology self-study, I had no idea how to actualize my goal.”
Similarly, “I would love to expand upon this goal and passion in the Psychological and Brain Sciences Department at WashU, learning with an emphasis on cognitive, developmental, and social psychology” can become “The Psychological and Brain Sciences Department at WashU is where I can achieve my goals. I’ll learn everything there is to know about cognitive, developmental, and social psychology.”
While there’s no one rule for how you should structure your sentences in your college essays, remember that one of the strange realities of these essays is that, while you spend many hours writing and revising them, admissions officers have no choice but to read them extremely quickly, because they have so many to get through. That means you want to make your points as easy to understand as possible, and generally speaking, shorter sentences allow ideas to come across more clearly, as your reader doesn’t have to figure out how a bunch of different things are supposed to connect.
Secondly, while this student does tell us about their racial identity, their tone could be more personal. They do not reflect on their racial discoveries, address their emotions, or tell us any stories. One simple fix would be for the student to tell us about a specific book they read in class and how it was formative in their academic development, or a specific experience they had connected to their racial identity that their class helped them understand.
Lastly, and most importantly, the student needs to connect their two academic interests, or at the very least, connect their two paragraphs. Without a designated transition sentence, the shift of subject is jarring and disturbs the essay’s flow.
One way to connect the paragraphs would through a personal reflection like:
“I firmly believe that individual psychology is affected by group psychology, culture, and life experiences. I have spent four years discovering and embracing my racial identity, and my psychology has shifted substantially in the process.”
Alternatively, a connection could be facilitated by:
- Psychoanalyzing a character in a book or a character in history
- Referencing a historical figure who was interested in Black culture and psychology (Franz Fanon, Aimé Césaire, W.E.B Du Bois)
- Recognizing that the student’s interest in the human experience comes from an interest in both research and humanistic inquiry
Where to Get Feedback on Your Essay
Want feedback on your WashU essay before you submit? That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!