WashU Supplemental Essays 2023-24 Prompts and Tips

September 12, 2023

washu supplemental essays

For the Class of 2027, the WashU acceptance rate remained low at just 12%. As Washington University in St. Louis appears to be marching toward the single-digit admit rate club, it’s critical that prospective applicants realize the need to make a uniquely compelling case for admission, even if they already possess elite academic credentials. After all, the average SAT for an incoming freshman is well above a 1500 and 88% placed in the top 10% of their high school class–incredibly, such credentials are necessary but not sufficient in this hypercompetitive environment. This brings us to the topic of the moment – the WashU supplemental essays.

(Want to learn more about How to Get Into WashU? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into Washington University in St. Louis: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

Given this high level of competition, WashU’s supplemental section offers applicants a critical opportunity to showcase their writing ability by generating detail-rich essays that will stand out to an admissions officer.

2023-2024 WashU Supplemental Essays

Prompt #1

Please tell us what you are interested in studying at college and why. (200 words)

Undecided about your academic interest(s)? Don’t worry—tell us what excites you about the academic division you selected. Remember that all of our first-year students enter officially “undeclared” and work closely with their team of academic advisors to discover their academic passions. You can explore all of our majors and programs on our website.

Washington University in St. Louis wants to know about the academic discipline(s) in which you are most interested (or current leanings, if you’re undecided). They also want to know why you desire to pursue your studies at their institution. Answering both components of this question in less than 200 words is no easy task. This one is going to require a fair amount of school-specific research and a good deal of editing in order to tighten up your essay enough to stay under the word count.

For a deeper dive, let’s examine a list of characteristics of a winning WashU “Why Us?” essay:

WashU Supplemental Essays (Continued)

As you enter the prewriting stage, you’ll want to avoid some common pitfalls that we observe applicants fall into when attacking the WashU “Why Us?” essay. We don’t want to label these as “mistakes” (there is nothing inherently wrong with them); they just don’t add any needle-moving value, which is the only goal here!

Common components of a generic “Why WashU?” essay.

  • According to US News, Washington University in St. Louis is a top-15 school.
  • Too much attention to the prestige/reputation of the Olin School of Business or McKelvey School of Engineering.
  • Recycled statements from your other “Why Us?” essays that come across as stale, impersonal, or worst of all–irrelevant/inaccurate.
  • An itinerary of all the things you plan to do in St. Louis.
  • Statements about how WUSTL feels like home, you know it’s the right place for you, or you’ve wanted to attend since kindergarten; show this through specifics instead.

Big-picture thoughts on the “Why Us” essay

In any “Why Us?” composition, you need to show that you’ve done your homework on a given school, but you don’t want it read like a rote list of items that you Googled an hour prior to writing the essay (even if the timing of the Google search is roughly accurate).

In addition to the pure research element, a lot of the time and skill required in creating a stellar WashU essay will involve connecting the classes, professors, opportunities, etc. of interest that you have uncovered to your distinct values, talents, aims, proficiencies, and future goals.

WashU Supplemental Essays (Continued)

Prompt #2

This optional question allows you to add another dimension to your application – something that the admissions committee might not learn by reading your transcript or your personal statement.

If you prefer, you may focus your optional 90-second video submitted through the WashU Pathway on addressing one of these three questions. (Students who choose to submit a written response to one of these questions may still opt in to sharing an optional video).

WashU is a place that values diversity of perspectives. We believe those perspectives come from a variety of experiences and identities. Respond to one of the following prompts to help us understand “Who are you?” (250 words)

  • Discuss a fresh perspective or opinion you brought to a collaborative setting or project.
  • Describe a community you are a part of and your place within it.
  • Tell us how your identity has impacted the way you view or interact with your community.

While this essay is technically “optional,” we advise every single applicant to WashU to opt in. Remember, WashU is one of those rare schools that rejects students with near-perfect (or even perfect) academic credentials. It is essential that you showcase the characteristics and skills that make you one-of-a-kind.

Keep scrolling for a breakdown of each prompt:

Discuss a fresh perspective or opinion you brought to a collaborative setting or project.

The U.S. presently finds itself in an extreme state of polarization. There seems to be little agreement even as to what constitutes “truth” or “facts.” Within this divided world, it can be hard for individuals with competing viewpoints to engage in civil and productive dialogue. Here, WashU is giving you the chance to show that you are an open-minded, intellectually curious, and collaborative young person. Illustrate how you are willing to engage in conversations and voice opinions to others, whether it was your lab partner or a ten-person team at your summer internship.

Furthermore, note the wording here: fresh perspective. This means that your perspective or opinion was different from that of the others in your group. As such, how did you present your opinion? How did others react? How did you handle their reaction? What was the ultimate outcome? What did you learn from the entire experience? One key thing to remember when addressing this prompt is that you don’t have to be the hero of the anecdote. In fact, you may be one who learned to expand their thinking.

WashU Supplemental Essays (Continued)

Describe a community you are a part of and your place within it.

“Community” can be defined in myriad ways: it could be large-scale, like an ethnic, religious, or neighborhood community, or small-scale, like a group of individuals who gather for a club, sport, or service project.

Most applicants to WashU are involved in at least one “community.” You may be the captain of a team, the editor-in-chief of your school paper, a member of your town’s trail clean-up team… but don’t just rest on those laurels—instead, bring your involvement to life. Use your writing ability to show what type of community member you are rather than merely telling. What is your role within your chosen community? Within that role, how do you lead, guide, or interact with others? What have you learned and how have you grown? Strive for personal detail here rather than re-hashing your resume.

Finally, draw on past evidence of your commitment to being a positive force in your community and speculate how that is likely to manifest on WashU’s campus. It’s a great idea to research and cite WashU student-run organizations and/or local nonprofit groups.

WashU Supplemental Essays (Continued)

Tell us how your identity has impacted the way you view or interact with your community.

Take note of the wide-open nature of this prompt. You are essentially invited to talk about any of the following topics:

  1. A perspective you hold
  2. An experience you had
  3. A community you belong to
  4. Your cultural background
  5. Your family background

Although this prompt’s open floor plan may feel daunting, a good tactic is to first consider what has already been communicated within your Common App personal statement, activities list, and “Why Us?” WashU essay. What important aspects of yourself have not been shared (or sufficiently discussed)? The admissions officer reading your essay is hoping to connect with you through your written words, so—within your essay’s reflection—be open, humble, thoughtful, inquisitive, emotionally honest, mature, and/or insightful about what you learned and how it has impacted the ways in which you communicate or interact with others. No matter what type of story you tell, the goal is to have the reader come away saying, “I can definitely see this applicant as a contributing member of our talented and engaged student community.”

How important are the WashU supplemental essays?

WashU designated 8 factors as “very important” to their applicant evaluation process. These are: essays, recommendations, talent/ability, character/personal qualities, GPA, test scores, class rank, and the rigor of one’s curriculum. Clearly, the essays are among the most important factors in this holistic process.

Want personalized assistance with your WashU supplemental essays?

If you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your WashU supplemental essay, we encourage you to get a quote today.