Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) Supplemental Essays Guide: 2021-2022

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Not sure how to approach the WashU supplemental essay? CollegeAdvisor.com’s guide will show you exactly how to write an engaging WashU supplemental essay to stand out in the admissions process.

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Washington University in St. Louis (WashU) Essay Guide Quick Facts:

  • Washington University in St. Louis has an acceptance rate of 16% — U.S. News ranks WashU as a most selective school.
  • We recommend answering the WashU supplemental essay comprehensively and thoughtfully to maximize your chances of admission.

What is WashU in St. Louis known for?

Washington University in St. Louis is a community-driven institution boasting 77 diversity-related student groups on campus. With a 7:1 student-to-teacher ratio, its motto Per Veritatem Vis (Strength through Truth) has produced 4 Pulitzer Prize winners, 10 National Medal of Science honorees, and is associated with 25 Nobel laureates.

Additionally, WashU's location makes it particularly attractive to applicants. After all, who wouldn't want to attend an elite school in bustling St. Louis?

Interested in attending WashU? This guide to the WashU supplemental essay will give you the tools you need to write a strong WashU essay that will stand out among the WashU supplemental essays submitted by other applicants. Keep reading to learn more about this year’s WashU supplemental essay and WashU scholarship essays.

Does Washington University in St. Louis Have Supplemental Essays?

Yes. Instead of completing multiple WashU essays, all applicants will complete one WashU supplemental essay.  All students interested in applying will submit WashU supplemental essays in addition to the Common App and Coalition App essays.

Need some help writing your Common App essay? Get some great tips from our Common app essay guide.

Additionally, students interested in a scholarship at WashU should review the Signature Scholarships page, as well as the general scholarships section of the website. With general WashU scholarships, there is no need to complete additional WashU scholarship essays — your Common App personal statement is also your application for the scholarship. However, if you are applying for one or more of the Signature Scholarships, then you’ll need to complete additional WashU scholarship essays in addition to the main WashU supplemental essay.

Don’t worry about missing out on applying for the Signature Scholarships. While completing the Common App and uploading your WashU supplemental essay, you’ll be prompted to select any additional scholarships you’ll be applying for. Once you’ve selected a particular scholarship, the additional WashU scholarship essays will appear on the page. Though we won’t be covering these WashU essay prompts in this WashU supplemental essay guide, you can use our WashU supplemental essay tips to help you write your additional WashU essay prompts.

How Many Essays Are Required for WashU?

As stated above, there is only one WashU supplemental essay. This doesn’t mean, however, that you shouldn’t take the WashU essay seriously. In fact, with applications like WashU where there is a single supplemental essay, you’ll want to make sure that your answer is as strong as possible to give the best impression to admissions officers. Unlike other applications where there may be room for a weak prompt response, your WashU supplemental essay should be well-edited and fit within your application’s personal narrative.

Unsure of how to craft a personal narrative in your applications? Our expert’s deep dive into the personal narrative will help you create a compelling story to leave a lasting impression in the admissions process.

Also, remember that in addition to the required WashU supplemental essay prompt, if you are applying for the WashU Signature Scholar Programs, you will be prompted to complete additional WashU scholarship essays for the program. Again, the prompts for the additional WashU scholarship essays are on the WashU website, but those WashU essay prompts will not be covered in this guide.

How to write the Washington University in St. Louis Supplemental Essay (Required):

Please tell us what you are interested in studying at WashU and why. (200 word max.)

Outside of the WashU essay prompts required for the WashU Signature Scholarships, there is only one WashU supplemental essay. In the absence of multiple WashU essays, you want to answer the WashU essay prompt clearly and concisely. Why? For example, if there were multiple WashU essays, you may be able to bolster a weaker prompt response with other stronger answers. However, since there aren’t multiple WashU essays, your single WashU supplemental essay response stands front and center for admissions officers.

Another reason to give this WashU supplemental essay the focus it deserves: demonstrated interest. Demonstrated interest is how you show a school that you are knowledgeable about what they offer potential students, that you are interested in attending, and that the school figures prominently in your goals. In other words, this WashU supplemental essay is asking “Why WashU?”

What is the prompt asking?

Let’s review exactly what this WashU essay is asking. Successful WashU supplemental essays will include the following:

  1. What a student is interested in studying.
  2. Why the student wants to study this particular topic.
  3. Why the student wants to study this topic at WashU.

In other words, it’s not enough to write an essay explaining that a service trip to Ecuador in 2019 led to a burning desire to pursue environmental studies. You also need to explain that your desire to work with students at Tyson Research Center’s summer program is a part of your larger goal to eventually bring environmental studies to the next generation. In this brief WashU essay topic example, you can see that the student clearly identifies what they want to study (environmental studies) and they also have a clear “why” for pursuing the program (service trip to Ecuador). Finally, we touch on the “Why WashU?” question by mentioning an aspect of the environmental studies program that is unique to WashU (the Tyson Research Center).

Let’s break this WashU supplemental essay down further to help you start your draft.

Choosing an area of interest

First, you need to identify an area of study at WashU that interests you. At this point, you may not be sure of your major in college, and that’s okay! This WashU supplemental essay gives you a great opportunity to explore your interests and consider what you’re interested in studying. Picking a major can feel like a daunting task, but it can also be a lot of fun and a great way to begin thinking about what you hope to experience at WashU. Also, it’s helpful to remember, the major or interest you discuss in your WashU supplemental essay is not necessarily what you have to study once you’ve been admitted.

Need help choosing a college major? Check out CollegeAdvisor’s articles on choosing a college major and the most popular majors for Gen Z students.

Before you begin drafting the response for this WashU essay, you should explore their offerings. As you are exploring, make note of the programs that pique your interest. This WashU essay asks you to elaborate on your interest, so make sure that there is a significant reason for your wanting to pursue a certain major or course of study.

Explaining your interest

As explained previously, successful WashU supplemental essays will answer the following: a) why you are interested in studying the major that you’ve named, and b) why you want to study this major/topic at WashU. The first portion of your WashU essay response is an opportunity for your personality to shine. Can you demonstrate intellectual curiosity here? Can you make a personal connection to your interest in your program of study? Does your interest in this area of study connect to your career plans? Dig deep and avoid superficial responses when crafting your WashU supplemental essay.

Managing word count

With a 200-word limit on this WashU supplemental essay, every word counts. Avoid overly descriptive text, filler words, and tangents. Save your words for writing about what interested you in WashU — instead of cramming SAT vocabulary words into your response.

When you’re writing your WashU supplemental essay draft, however, do not concern yourself with the word count. While this feels counterintuitive, an essay prompt’s word limit may cause anxiety and prevent a natural flow of ideas.  To avoid this, allow your ideas to spill out onto the page before you begin shaping your response. Approaching your WashU supplemental essay in this manner may be helpful if you struggle with writer’s block. Also, you may find that your draft takes an interesting turn and your topic/interests may shift if you give yourself the space to create a messy first draft.

Telling a story

As opposed to starting with “I am interested…” consider telling a story that leads to your connection for that area of interest. Is there a brief anecdote you can share that will show interest to your reader?

Let’s look at the following examples:

Ex 1. I am very interested in the law program in order to change immigration law in the US.

Or:

Ex2. It was a sweltering 118 degrees in Tucson that day.  I wondered if the plastic gallon bottles that I placed on the desert floor would even survive the heat. Could plastic sweat? Would these help the coyotes lead migrants to safety? I did what I could, and I knew that the Border Action Network’s activism was saving lives. Immigration laws need to change in the US. So, it became clear — my activist journey could not end with water bottles. Instead, I want to study immigration law with the WashU Department of Political Science.

Now you can continue your story of legal interest and how WashU provides the education that you are looking for regarding your personal passion.

Answering “Why WashU?”

Finally, the WashU supplemental essay is asking you to explain why you want to study at Washington University in St. Louis.

Consider the values that Washington University in St. Louis expresses — do they resonate with you? What about the surrounding area does the setting of the school and its location in St. Louis have any bearing on why you want to attend? Part of your reasoning may be practical — perhaps Washington University in St. Louis is your nearest in-state university. However, you don’t want proximity to home to be the focal point of your WashU supplemental essay. Instead, try to answer the following question: how will WashU set me up for success, both academically and in my future career? The answer to that question can help you craft your response for the WashU supplemental essay.

Let’s look at the following example:

Ex. My experience last year volunteering for a local alderman awakened a desire to learn more about the political ideas, ideologies, and perspectives that shape this nation. Washington University in St. Louis’s 77 diverse student groups and strong emphasis on community values make this institution the perfect place to study political science.  What better place to learn more about multiple experiences and viewpoints than an environment that celebrates so many different identities?

In this example, there is a clear connection between the student’s volunteering experience to their choice to study political science. The final piece is the connection between the major and the school. Successful WashU supplemental essays will be specific like the example above.

Editing your WashU Essay response

Once you’ve finished your draft, you’ll want to edit your WashU essay carefully. Successful WashU essay prompts will not only answer the question, but also use dynamic language that is concise and grammatically correct. Check your word count. Make sure you haven’t exceeded the 200-word limit for your WashU essay. While it’s okay to be few words under your limit, be wary of a shorter-than-average essay. If your essay is only 125 words, you’re leaving 75 words on the table. These can be used to add more description to your WashU essay.

Next, evaluate your sentences.  This WashU essay is a short response, however, you have an opportunity to demonstrate both your style and voice.  Are you varying sentence structure? Do your sentences sound repetitive? Often, it can be helpful to read your essay aloud. Hearing your words can help you find weaker points in your WashU essay response that your eyes have ignored.

WashU Supplemental Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your response identify a specific Washington University in St. Louis area of study or program?
  • Does your response explain your interest in this program?
  • Does your response explain your interest in studying that program specifically at Washington University in St. Louis?

How Important is the Washington University in St. Louis Supplemental Essay?

The WashU essay is extremely important. Since this is the only opportunity that you have to demonstrate your specific interest in WashU, you must make it count—in 200 words or less. While your academics may meet the requirements for admissions, high grades alone will not guarantee admission into WashU.

In an effort to create equity in their admissions process, WashU is not allowing campus visits, connections with alumni, connections with faculty, or other similar factors as considerations in admissions. A brief, yet powerful response to the WashU essay is the best way to show admissions officers that WashU is the right place for you.

Remember, WashU is a competitive school — with an average of 30,000 annual applicants and only 1,800 students enrolling in the fall — opportunities to introduce yourself to (and impress) admissions officers should not be wasted.

Finally, if you applying to the Signature Scholarship program, extend that same level of focus to the additional WashU essays that you’ll complete. The WashU supplemental essays required for the scholarship applications are your chance to help remove a portion of the financial burden that families juggle when they send their children to college. Do your research on the donating bodies behind each of the scholarships and use the WashU essay prompts to demonstrate your passion and enthusiasm for what you plan to study.

Additional Washington University in St. Louis Supplemental Essay Tips

The WashU essay should be well-edited. Consider the fact that thousands of WashU supplemental essays will cross the desks of admission officers. Poorly thought out and executed WashU essays communicate to your reader that you couldn’t be bothered to edit your piece or didn’t have the writing skills to do so. To maximize the impact of your WashU essays, you'll want to ask someone else to help you edit. This is also true for the WashU scholarship essays.  After all, once you’ve written the drafts for your WashU essays, you may be unable to see where edits are needed. If you want additional help editing your WashU scholarship essays, CollegeAdvisor.com can help!

Another tip: write your WashU essays in short sittings. Draft your initial ideas for each WashU essay in one sitting. This may be a bulleted list or a free-write. Let your WashU supplemental essays sit for a day or two. Then, evaluate the ideas you’ve generated for your Washu essay prompts.  Be honest — does your initial idea suit whichever WashU supplemental essay you’re writing about? If not, back to the freewriting/idea generation stage. However, once your ideas align with your passion and what each of the WashU essay prompts is asking, then you should move on to producing your drafts.

WashU Supplemental Essays: Final Thoughts

The WashU essay prompts—including the WashU scholarship essay prompts—may seem overwhelming. However, don't let that discourage you! The WashU supplemental essay and the optional WashU scholarship essays are an opportunity for you to both introduce yourself to the admission team at WashU, and a chance to win a scholarship that will lessen your family’s financial burden when you attend school. With these tips, you can write engaging WashU essays sure to stand out in admissions.


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This 2021-2022 essay guide on Washington University in St. Louis was written by Sasha Litzenberger. If you need help crafting your WashU supplemental essays or WashU scholarship essays, visit app.collegeadvisor.com to create your free account or schedule a no-cost advising consultation by calling (844) 343-6272.

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