Show us your brilliant brain. Talk about that weird true-crime podcast that inspired your love of criminology or that obscure painting that got you interested in analyzing Cold War propaganda. Let your inner nerd out, and don’t hold back.

Here’s a great sample essay, followed by some advice:

Washington University in St. Louis Supplemental Essay Example 1:

Biofortification is nature’s CRISPR. We can now use conventional breeding or biotechnology to cultivate superproduce with allosteric inhibitors to slow down the enzymatic release of ethylene, the main cause of food spoilage. Using this technology for the benefit of Mother Nature and not Human Nature, society can repair the food system and end food waste.

Unfortunately, consumers exploit technology, and perhaps biofortification will be no different. Technology has caused extreme alterations to America’s current food system, so would it really be smart to introduce more of it in an industry where 98% of the population lack an understanding of its processes? Honestly, I’m not so sure. With climate change and unpredictable growing seasons, the environment poses a high risk to cause minimal yields of the superproduce, causing farmers to drown in even more poverty than they already are.

However, current solutions to reduce the 1.3 billion tons of food wasted per year haven’t been working.

I want to immerse myself in WashU’s Agriculture and Food Studies Program and the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship, where I plan to create a startup company focusing on using blockchain technology to discover the source of food waste in both developed and underdeveloped countries and use an algorithm to minimize the waste based on that source.

The United States set a goal to eliminate waste by 2030. With a proper use of technology, that goal is now feasible.

And I want to be a leader in this movement.

— — — 

Tips + Analysis

  1. Consider identifying a problem. This student begins by identifying food spoilage/food waste as the problem he’s interested in solving. He later identifies other problems: the exploitation of biotechnology and the possibility that climate change will affect our agricultural system even more down the line. By starting with a problem, the author a) shows us that he’s done his homework, b) tells us why his interest/idea is important, and c) allows himself to pose big questions. You can do the same. After deciding on your interest, consider what social problems might exist in that area. This student decided to identify a national problem, but identifying problems in your city, community, or family can work too.

  2. Connect it to specific opportunities available at Washington University. By talking about his interests through the problems facing society, he’s set himself up to say how he’s going to work toward solving them … at WashU. Ultimately, the admissions officers are looking to see that you’ve done your research and are excited about how the  university’s offerings will support your particular interests. This student clearly states his intended major and how he’ll use the entrepreneurship center to work on the issues of global food waste. Check out my “Why this College” guide for more advice on this. 

  3. Specify the interest. This author could have just said he enjoys biotech. But that’s pretty general. Instead, he explains the potential problems facing food biotechnology, and how he’s interested in solving them. The more details you can give (within the short word count), the better your chances of setting yourself apart from other applicants with similar interests.

  4. Nerd out. Biofortification. CRISPR. The use of this specific jargon and terminology shows that the author knows what he’s talking about and conveys a deep-seated excitement for the topic he’s chosen. We may not know what allosteric inhibitors are, but the way he writes this essay helps us understand their importance. Even if you aren’t a biotech wiz, explore what you are fascinated by and, if you’re familiar with it, use the language of your field. 

  5. Emphasize values. When you write your essay, you should be able to go back through it and pinpoint specific values in your answer. In this essay, the author shows quite a few. We know he’s curious because he can describe complex biological phenomena. We know he has global awareness through his mention of food insecurity. Those values come through in both what he’s writing about and how he’s writing about them.

Here’s another essay that is particularly well-written:

WashU Essay Example 2:

Winter is coming. That’s all I heard from my friends, throughout the hallways, and even from some of my teachers. Game of Thrones was becoming a widespread obsession. One weekend, I decided I would give the show a try. After watching several episodes, I noticed myself feeling uncomfortable and frustrated from the constant sexual objectification of women and the horrifying displays of sexual violence. I wondered whether I was the only person who felt this way, so I decided to research Game of Thrones for my 11th Grade Junior Research Project.

In my research, I came across hundreds of scholarly articles discussing the sexual subjugation of women in Game of Thrones. My research project on Game of Thrones elicited my interest in studying how representations of gender in media and pop culture influence our society. 

At WashU, I hope to major in Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies to continue exploring how the media impacts social views and attitudes, but also study how the media can be used to create a positive social impact. Through courses like Girl’s Media and Popular Culture I intend to deeply study how the media over time has impacted the construction of women in society and the formation of women’s identities. I also hope to be a part of the student organization She’s The First Wash U. As president of the She’s the First chapter at my school, I am already familiar with the club and its mission to fight gender inequality through education. 

— — —

Tips + Analysis

  1. Identify the inciting incident. Although it’s not 100% necessary for you to explain when and where your interests began, it can be a great way to launch into describing what you’re curious about. This student gives us a catchy and short introduction (“Winter is coming”) and then brings us into the story of how researching Game of Thrones inspired a research project that ultimately helped her discover her major. 

  2. Don’t be afraid to state the lesson clearly. At the end of this essay, the author sums up the take-away: “My research project on Game of Thrones elicited my interest in studying how representations of gender in media and pop culture influence our society.” This is basically her thesis, and note that it happens in the middle of her essay. So it basically goes: Hook, Thesis, Why WashU. (Note that a thesis can work at the beginning, middle, or end of a “Why Major” essay, if you end up describing your intended major. We discuss this in more detail in the “Why this major” guide.)

  3. Connect it to WashU. Much like the first essay, this one does an excellent job of saying specifically how the author will pursue her interests at WashU. She mentions her major, taking Girl’s Media and Popular Culture, and joining She’s The First. Outside of majors, courses, and student organizations, you might also consider professors to potentially do research under or even outside organizations in the St. Louis area that you’d like to join. Do your research and choose what you feel authentically connected to. If you don’t have a major in mind, you can use this essay to explore what’s available at the university that might help you decide.

  4. Again, demonstrate values. Through her research project and interests at the university, we can see that this student is self-driven, curious, questioning, and willing to look at the deeper meaning behind things. All of these are great qualities to bring to a university. As you write your own essay, check back and make sure your values are coming through as well.  

With these tips and examples in your mind, you’re ready to challenge cinematic clichés and nerd out in the first draft of your WashU supplements.

Special thanks to Luci Jones for her contributions to this post.