Washington University in St. Louis (often referred to as WashU or WUSTL) is a mouthful to say, but the name of this private research university founded in 1853 comes out the mouths of more top students every year when naming their top-choice institution. Yet, this wasn’t always the case. Back in the 1970s, the school, then called Washington University, voted to stick “St. Louis” at the end of their name, simply because they were tired of explaining that they were not located in either Seattle or the nation’s capital.

While the number of applications have risen in recent years (particularly those applying ED), acceptance rates have been low for a very long time. A decade ago, 22% of applicants were accepted; last year, 16% received invitations to join the Class of 2024. Given their impressive U.S. News ranking and the highly-selective nature of WUSTL, applicants need to be well-informed and understand the true level of competition at this university. Toward that aim, this article will give you:

1) A full grasp of the challenge of gaining acceptance into WUSTL.

2) Data to help you more accurately assess your chances of admission.

3) How the WUSTL admissions committee evaluates applicants and tips on how to create a winning application.

To accomplish these goals we will touch on the following topics:

  • WashU’s Class of 2024 acceptance rate
  • WashU’s ED acceptance rate
  • SAT, ACT, and class rank of accepted WashU applicants
  • Admissions trends from the Class of 2024
  • The demographics of current WashU undergraduates
  • WashU’s yield rate
  • How WashU’s admissions officers evaluate candidates
  • Tips for applying to WashU
  • How to assess whether applying to WashU is even worth the $75 application fee (for you)

Let’s begin with an examination of the most recent admissions data.

WUSTL’s: Overall Acceptance Rate – Class of 2024

Out of 27,949 applicants, just under 4,500 were offered admission for the 2020-21 academic year. This acceptance rate of 16% represents a tiny increase from the previous admissions cycle when only 15% were accepted.

WUSTL’s Early Decision Acceptance Rate

This university offers an Early Decision deadline of November 1, 2020 and an Early Decision 2 deadline of January 2, 2021. The school heavily favors students who commit via ED as they accepted 42% of the freshman class through the two early rounds and just 13% of regular round applicants.

WUSTL Admissions – SAT, ACT, and Class Rank

Those enrolled in the Class of 2024 sported middle-50% standardized test scores of 1420-1560 on the SAT and 33-35 on the ACT. An incredible 88% of 2020-21 freshmen hailed from the top 10% of their high school class.

Admissions Trends & Notes

  • Early decision applications to WashU increased by an astounding 70% in 2019.
  • The middle-50% of ACT scores of attending students rose a touch from 32-35 to 33-35.
  • 287 members of the Class of 2024 (15%) are Pell Grant Eligible.
  • 10% of the Class of 2024 are first-generation students.
  • Among those admitted to the Class of 2023 were a professional esports athlete, a professional, Scrabble player, and a nationally ranked debater.

Who Actually Gets Into WashU?

Let’s now look at the demographics of the WashU Class of 2024.

The regions producing the greatest number of 2020-21 freshmen were the:

  • Midwest: 30%
  • Middle States: 20%
  • West: 17%
  • South: 12%
  • Southwest: 8%
  • New England: 6%

As at any highly-selective university, competition is toughest among those hailing from states with endless streams of qualified applicants (the entire Midwest and both coasts). If you hail from a less populated state like Alaska, North Dakota, or Montana, your location is more likely to provide a boost to your admissions chances. Unusual for any college, WashU does not have a substantial percentage of students from its host state of Missouri (typically around 10%).

Overall, students come from all 50 states, 100+ countries, and 65% come from more than 500 miles away.

The countries from which the highest percentage of international students hail from are:

  • China: 54%
  • South Korea: 16%
  • India: 6%
  • Canada: 3%
  • Taiwan: 2%
  • United Kingdom: 2%

Looking at ethnic identity, the breakdown of members of the Class of 2024 was as follows:

  • Asian American: 26%
  • Hispanic: 11%
  • African American: 9%
  • International: 6%
  • White: 46%
  • Total Underrepresented Students of Color: 21%

The breakdown by gender of the overall undergraduate student body notably favors women:

  • Male: 47%
  • Female: 53%

The number of current undergraduates enrolled in each school during the 2020-21 school year are:

  • College of Architecture: 191
  • Olin Business School: 863
  • College of Art: 297
  • College of Arts & Sciences:4,400
  • McKelvey School of Engineering: 1,384

Yield Rate

Washington University in St. Louis’ yield rate—the percentage of accepted students who elect to enroll, divided by the total number of students who are admitted was 42% for the Class of 2024. For comparison, many other top private universities have superior yield rates such as Northwestern (56%), Duke (55%), and Georgetown University (49%).

How WashU Rates Applicants

There are 12 factors that WashU ranks as being “very important” to their admissions process: rigor of secondary school record, GPA, class rank standardized test scores (test-optional for Class of 2021 only), the essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities, talent/ability, and character/personal characteristics, volunteer work, paid work, and demonstrated interest.

In the words of the admissions office: “Washington University is looking for students with a high school diploma or equivalent who took a challenging college-preparatory curriculum in high school complemented by extracurricular activities, community service, and work experience. Your senior-year transcript should show that you continue to take demanding courses. Most applicants take advantage of honors, advanced placement, and International Baccalaureate courses, if offered by their high schools.”

Applicants to the various undergraduate schools will need to bring unique, discipline-specific attributes with them. “Students applying to Olin Business School should have completed coursework in math at least through the pre-calculus level with calculus highly recommended. Students applying to McKelvey School of Engineering and/or students who are interested in pre-med should have completed coursework in physics and chemistry, as well as coursework in math at least through the pre-calculus level with calculus highly recommended. Students interested in studying architecture or art should demonstrate interest, skill, or background in art and design by highlighting relevant course work or extracurricular activity. A portfolio is required for applicants to the College of Art and encouraged for applicants to the College of Architecture.”

Tips for Applying to WashU

If you plan on joining the roughly 30,000 WUSTL hopefuls for the next admissions cycle, you should know the following:

  • WUSTL expects to see evidence of advanced coursework in high school. Taking multiple advanced classes, particularly within your area of academic interest is a must. A minimum of 7-8 AP courses is a good target to aim for.
  • You must list your “Academic Division” on the Common App as well as a “Primary Academic Interest.” You have the option of also listing a “Secondary Academic Interest” or a “Pre-Professional Interest.”
  • WUSTL does allow optional admissions interviews, including virtual options via Zoom. There are also a limited number of alumni interviews available.
  • WUSTL weighs “demonstrated interest” as heavily as any other school in the country in the admissions process. Thus, it will be noted whether or not you made a campus visit (in non-pandemic times), contacted an admissions officer, etc. The school especially likes those who demonstrate interest in the most devoted way—through submitting a binding ED application.
  • Make sure to dedicate sufficient time and effort to the supplemental essay required by WUSTL. In the 2020-21 cycle the prompt is as follows:

In about 250 words, tell us about something that really sparks your intellectual interest and curiosity, and compels you to explore more in the program/area of study that you indicated. It could be an idea, book, project, cultural activity, work of art, start-up, music, movie, research, innovation, question, or other pursuit.

This is a perfect opportunity to share something about yourself that is not included elsewhere in your application. Speak to your absolute truest passions in life here, not just what you think an admissions officer would want to hear. It’s not a contest to see whose tastes most mirror that of a middle-aged adult or who is the most eclectic. Your answers can be 100% honest here. If you find Taylor Swift more entertaining than Jonathan Swift, that’s really okay! In short—just explain what genuinely makes you tick.

Should I Apply to WashU?

With acceptance rates of 16% or less in recent years, Washington University in St. Louis is a school that is looking for students who sit among the very top of their high school class and have posted SAT/ACT scores in at least the 95th percentile.

With such a competitive admissions process, all students need to make sure that they, in conjunction with a counselor, formulate an appropriate college list, containing a complement of “target” and “safety” schools. Hopefully your dream of attending WUSTL becomes a reality, but, in the event that things don’t unfold as hoped, you’ll still end up an institution with comparable attributes and opportunities.