Think about how many college-entry essays are read each year by admissions counselors. Imagine how their eyes must glaze over after they’ve read a few dozen essays. You don’t want yours to sound like everyone else’s.
The people reviewing the essays are looking for a better understanding of you than they can get from your GPA, your SAT scores or other information on your application. A good essay can raise a so-so application higher, and a poor essay can diminish an otherwise stellar application.
These pointers will help you make your essay stand out from the crowd.
- Tell a story. Make your point by telling a story about something that has happened to you or that made an impression on you. A vivid telling of an important moment in your life is far better than listing all your accomplishments (which will be in the rest of the application, anyway).
- Capture the reader’s attention. Pay particular attention to the beginning of your essay. Hints of something dramatic or unusual to come later in the essay will help keep your reader’s interest.
- Be yourself. Don’t try to sound like a college student. Sound like yourself. No one expects you to be perfect or brilliant. The university is interested in who you are and how you think.
- Set the tone. Your essay should be friendly, but not too casual. Use complete sentences, and don’t resort to slang. Clear out all the clichés. A clever turn-of-phrase or metaphor is appreciated by the committee members. But don’t over-do the comedy; a little humor goes a long way.
- Be concise. Write in as few words as possible. Take out words and phrases that don’t add anything to a thought. Be on the lookout for too many adjectives.
- Use active voice. Search through your essay for variations of the verb “to be.” Change these passive verbs to active verbs. Moving the subject to the beginning of the sentence also helps to eliminate passive voice.
- Be specific. Rather than this: “I want to help people.” Try this: “I want to be like my mom, who is the first person you think of when you’re hurt, feeling down or in trouble.”
- Don’t try to impress. Long sentences and big words do not enhance your essay — especially if you use a word incorrectly. Stick to words you’re sure of; it never hurts to look them up to make sure they mean what you think they mean.
- Take “I” out. If you write “I” more than a few times, go back and rewrite to eliminate most of them. It’s difficult, since you are writing a personal essay, but too many “I’s” are a sign of a poor writer.
- Proofread and revise. Ask your parents, teachers and friends to read your essay and tell you frankly what they think. They may have specific grammar or spelling corrections, or suggestions about the direction of your story. Or they may be able to point out anything that’s not clear. You don’t have to take everyone’s advice, of course, but if a criticism rings true, pay attention.
- Let it simmer. After you’ve finished your essay, set it aside for a few days, and then read it again. Coming back to it after an absence will allow you to read it fresh, just the way the admissions committee will. You’d be surprised how often a paragraph that seemed perfect last week will seem muddled or overly dramatic this week.
A. Essay (Required)
At the University of Washington, we consider the college essay as our opportunity to see the person behind the transcripts and the numbers. Some of the best statements are written as personal stories. In general, concise, straightforward writing is best, and that good essays are often 300 to 400 words in length.
Maximum length: 500 words
The UW will accept any of the five Coalition prompts.
Choose from the options listed below.
- Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it.
- Describe a time when you made a meaningful contribution to others in which the greater good was your focus. Discuss the challenges and rewards of making your contribution.
- Has there been a time when you’ve had a long-cherished or accepted belief challenged? How did you respond? How did the challenge affect your beliefs?
- What is the hardest part of being a teenager now? What’s the best part? What advice would you give younger siblings or friends (assuming they would listen to you)?
- Submit an essay on a topic of your choice.
B. Short Response (Required)
Maximum length: 300 words
Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the University of Washington.
Keep in mind that the University of Washington strives to create a community of students richly diverse in cultural backgrounds, experiences, values, and viewpoints.
C. Additional Information About Yourself or Your Circumstances (Optional)
Maximum length: 200 words
You are not required to write anything in this section, but you may include additional information if something has particular significance to you. For example, you may use this space if:
- You are hoping to be placed in a specific major soon
- A personal or professional goal is particularly important to you
- You have experienced personal hardships in attaining your education
- Your activities have been limited because of work or family obligations
- You have experienced unusual limitations or opportunities unique to the schools you attended
D. Additional Space (Optional)
You may use this space if you need to further explain or clarify answers you have given elsewhere in this application, or if you wish to share information that may assist the Office of Admissions. If appropriate, include the application question number to which your comment(s) refer.
Format for the essays
- Content is important, but spelling, grammar, and punctuation are also considered.
- We recommend composing in advance, then copy and paste into the application. Double-spacing, italics, and other formatting will be lost, but this will not affect the evaluation of your application.
- We’ve observed that most students write a polished formal essay yet submit a more casual Short Response. Give every part of the writing responses your very best effort, presenting yourself in standard, formal English.
- Proofread, proofread, proofread!
- Write like it matters, not like you’re texting. This is an application for college, not a message to your BFF. Writing i instead of I, cant for cannot, u r for you are: not so kewl.