Wash U 2019 Essay Prompt

Wash U Admission, Admission to Wash U, WUSTL Admission

Ivy Coach salutes Wash U for now offering an additional essay prompt to applicants.

For quite some time, Washington University in St. Louis has been an exception to a rule in highly selective college admissions. The school, ranked #18 in the latest “US News & World Report” ranking of best national universities, has not asked applicants to answer any supplemental essay prompts. That will change in the fall of 2019. First-year applicants to Wash U will soon be required to answer an essay prompt. As the school states on its website, “Beginning with the fall 2019 application cycle, we are implementing a supplemental essay in addition to the Common Application or Coalition Application essay. This will allow students to further express their interest in their academic area of choice. At the same time, this essay will serve as the merit scholarship essay for scholarships awarded by our undergraduate divisions.”

The 2018-2019 Wash U Essay Prompt

So what exactly will the Washington University in St. Louis admissions office be asking students in the supplemental essay prompt? Wonder no more. The prompt will read, “Tell us about something that really sparks your intellectual interest and curiosity and compels you to explore more. It could be an idea, book, project, cultural activity, work of art, start-up, music, movie, research, innovation, question, or other pursuit.” Students should respond in up to 500 words. And what do we tell our students about word counts? Use all of the available real estate to make your case. So a 500-word essay should be — that’s right — 500 words.

Demonstrated Interest Matters at Wash U

One of the likely reasons Wash U will be offering a supplemental essay after not offering such an option before is to better gauge an applicant’s interest in attending Wash U. After all, Wash U, like all highly selective colleges, seeks to admit students who will actually enroll. In the Regular Decision round, enrollment is of course not a given and highly selective colleges — in an effort to boost their all-important “US News & World Report” rankings and simply in an effort to matriculate the students they want most — will go to great lengths in order to improve their individual yields.

And while many highly selective colleges aren’t forthright about valuing a student’s Demonstrated Interest, Wash U tells it like it is. As the school states on an FAQ page of its admissions site, “Do you take demonstrated interest into consideration? Yes, demonstrated interest is a factor when we are considering applicants. We want to get to know you through the admissions process and for you to get to know us. ‘Demonstrated interest’ refers to ways that you can explore or research a college or university to learn more about us. One of the best ways to do this is through a campus visit (if feasible) to experience our community first hand. If this is not possible, perhaps you can attend a local information session or college fair, or visit with admissions officers when they visit your high school. You can also demonstrate interest through meaningful interactions via phone or email. Please know that we don’t expect you to all these things, and demonstrating interest in more than one way is not necessarily better.”

Ivy Coach salutes Wash U today for 1.) telling it like it is with respect to Demonstrated Interest when other schools choose not to and 2.) adding a supplemental essay prompt to their first-year application so students will have the opportunity to prove to Wash U that they’ve written a 500-word essay just for them…because they love the school that much. Way to go, WUSTL!


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  • Alberta says:

    I heard WashU is now requiring first quarter grades for ED1 applicants as well; is that true or are you able to circumvent it?

  • Ben says:

    The lack of effort put into this is unfortunate. Here is a quote direct from Washington University:

    How long should the WashU supplemental essay be? We require 250 words. The word allowance on the Common Application and Coalition Application forms is 500 words. This is to give you flexibility and to ensure your essay is not cut off. We are not telegraphing that we actually want a longer essay. We do not expect a 500-word essay and you will not receive “extra credit” for writing a long essay. Say what you would like us to know in around 250 words, use a few more or a few less as you wish. Let your story be the length it is.

    Do some research instead of just writing that a 500 word essay should be a 500 word essay.

    • Ivy Coach says:


      Colleges say lots of things. Many, for instance, say they’re need-blind. If they were truly need-blind, then why on the vast majority of application supplements do colleges ask if applicants need financial aid?

      If you write only 250 words in your Wash U essay, you’ll be doing your candidacy no favor. If a college says an essay is optional, it’s not really optional — they want to see that essay. Applicants should always use all of the real estate they are given to make their case in each and every college admissions essay, including for Wash U.

      But we encourage you to not heed our advice — and to see what happens since you’re so sure of yourself. Please do share your results with us in March.

      • David says:

        Direct quote from Wash U – “While we don’t want to limit you from fully expressing your ideas and responding to our supplemental essay question, we recommend that you keep your response to around 250 words.” It seems like writing 250 words WILL do your candidacy favor; going significantly overboard means that you are going against their recommendation.

        • Ivy Coach says:

          Hi David,

          Many colleges also tell you they’re need-blind. If they were need-blind, then why do so many highly selective colleges ask if students need financial aid on their supplements — which admissions officers are privy to? We are well aware of Wash U’s direct quote and while we thank you for sharing it, our position remains the same. That which colleges say and that which is actually the case can be two very different things. If you submitted a 250-word essay, you did your candidacy no favor.

          • David says:

            Unfortunately, that analogy doesn’t work – it truly is possible that colleges are not need blind as they say they are, but they don’t recommend not asking for financial aid. They simply just ask the question: do you plan on applying for financial aid? The same thing can be said with your other analogy – true, an “optional” essay really should be done regardless, because it could strengthen your application, but the college doesn’t RECOMMEND against doing it, so the situation is different and not applicable to this one. The difference here is, Wash U is literally RECOMMENDING a 250-word essay. There’s no trick involved, and the fact that you are so sure of “not doing my candidacy any favor” by submitting a 250-word essay has literally no evidence.

          • Ivy Coach says:

            Hi David,

            Brown University suggests you need not submit SAT Subject Test scores if you submit an ACT. Should ACT test-takers applying to Brown submit SAT Subject Tests? Of course. That which colleges say and that which is actually the case are often contradictory. It’s a shame you didn’t realize this before applying to colleges this cycle. Many highly selective universities implore deferred and waitlisted students not to send a letter to them after their deferral or waitlisting. Should these students submit letters? Of course! How do we know? Because so many students over the years who have first come to us after being deferred or waitlisted have earned admission after submitting the letters we work on together.

            We have over a quarter century’s worth of evidence that suggests you should use all of the available real estate in all admissions essays to make your case. It’s how long our students — who always use all of the real estate available to them to tell their stories — have been earning admission to their dream schools. But please do share your admission results as well as your essays at the conclusion of your admissions cycle. We have a feeling that too will serve as evidence against your theory. We’ll be happy to host a live debate with you via Skype once you’re in receipt of your results. Do let us know.

  • Jeff says:

    I’ve been waiting for months to hear back from the snarky and know it all, Ben and David!!! Where did they go?!?! Thanks, Ivy Coach, for providing sound advice! We appreciate your track record and years of experience trying to figure out this college admissions process!

    • Ivy Coach says:

      We hope you’re not holding your breath, Jeff! Thank you for reading.

      • Mat says:

        Hey guys,

        I know that the application process for the 2019-20 applicants is different, but I just wanted to say that I got into WashU with an essay that was only around 270 words.
        It seems they really did want an essay that was around 250 words as the limit on the CommonApp was 300 words.

        • Ivy Coach says:

          You’ve made a crucial mistake in your reasoning. You make the assumption you got into Wash U because you wrote a 270 word essay. You may well have gotten into Wash U in spite of the fact that you wrote a 270 word essay. Or the word count of this one particular essay didn’t prove a key determinant of your admission.

          • Mat says:

            Well, this was the ONLY supplement they require for washu for this year’s admissions cycle.
            It was the exact same question as last year’s, and you could not physically write more than 300 words in the text box that was provided in the Common App

  • Kate says:

    Hello! just wanted to share something from the 2019-2020 applicants: The Common App response is now limited to just 300 words maximum for this WashU supplement. They also no longer specify a recommendation for just 250 words.

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