University Of Washington Supplemental Essays + Examples

College student writing the University of Washington supplementary essays
December 5, 2023
9 min read
Expert Reviewed


Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 12/5/23

The University of Washington supplemental essays play a crucial role in the admission selection process. To learn more about how to write these essays, read on. 

The University of Washington uses essays to see the student behind the transcripts and numbers. With a mission to admit the most diverse, accomplished, and well-rounded students, UW urges all prospective students to consider their essays to ensure they reflect their unique stories.

However, supplemental essays don’t come easy to most students, especially open-ended prompts. You may have no idea where to start, struggle to articulate your thoughts or wonder if your story is worth sharing.

Rest assured, all of these concerns and more will be answered in this guide! By the end, you can write the most compelling supplemental essays.

The University of Washington Supplemental Essay Prompts 2023-2024

Before getting into how to write the University of Washington essays, let’s go over the prompts themselves! 

UW Essay Prompt #1

“Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it. (650-word limit)”

UW Essay Prompt #2

“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 UW. (300-word limit)”

UW Essay Prompt #3

“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 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 (200-word limit)”

How to Write Each Essay Prompt for the University of Washington 

If you’re still unsure of how to write a good college essay, let’s break down each of these prompts! This way, you’ll have a better understanding of what kind of answers the admissions team is looking for! 

How to Write UW’s #1 Essay Prompt: Analysis and Tips

Analysis of prompt #1: This first prompt is very similar to a personal statement. It gives you the opportunity to share any story that has made a significant impact on your life. UW wants to know more about what makes you, you. They want to know what makes you tick. 

Start by deciding which traits you want to highlight about yourself, your values, and your unique traits. Brainstorm several stories that you think are worth sharing and use the process of elimination to choose one. 

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To make this process easier, consider creating a list of questions to ask yourself about each story so you can eliminate options that do not meet your criteria! Here are the questions we suggest you use: 

  • Does this story reflect who I am and/or who I want to be?
  • Does this story show development?
  • Can I turn this story into a narrative?
  • Is this story unique, or does it involve a common experience?
  • Does this story share my most important identities?
  • Does this story involve my best characteristics?
  • Am I the protagonist in this story?
  • Do I feel connected to this story, or do I just think it’ll impress the judges?
  • Do I think about this story often, other than for applications? Has it truly had an impact on my life?

Here are some other tips to help you tackle this essay prompt: 

  • Tip #1: Choose a Significant Story: You should write about something that is truly significant to you and has real meaning. Choose a topic that’s unique to you and your identity, and make sure that the story you choose is focused on yourself and your personal growth! 
  • Tip #2: Write Narratively: Tell a story! Start with an intriguing hook, such as the climax of your story or an interesting part of it. Spend the rest of the essay explaining the rest of the story and its impact on you. Use sensory details to show your reader what you experienced; don’t just tell them. 
  • Tip #3: Don’t Overwrite: Do not feel obligated to write 650 words if you can tell your story in fewer words. In fact, UW states the most successful essays are typically around 400 words! The admissions committee would rather read a short story that packs a punch than a dragged-out story with little meaning.
female student writing in notebook

How to Write UW’s #2 Essay Prompt: Analysis and Tips

Analysis of prompt #2: This next University of Washington supplemental essay has a word limit that is almost half of the first prompt. It does not need to be written as a narrative, although it can be if you believe it’s the best way to convey your feelings. 

The main purpose of this prompt is for the University of Washington to learn what your values are and how well you’ll fit into their community. Here are some helpful tips on how to answer this prompt well: 

  • Tip #1: Choose a Meaningful Community: As a student, you’ll be part of many communities: your residential area, your group of friends and family, your workplace, your school, and more. Choose one that resonates with you and has had the most impact on your life.
  • Tip #2: Express Your Values: Explain how your community has shaped you into the person you are today and how it will continue to impact you at UW. Prove your community has instilled valuable traits in you that will help you become a more productive student at UW.
  • Tip #3: Get Specific: Little details can add a lot of power to your essay. Be specific about significant moments that have shaped you in your community. 

UW has also expressed that the tone for this short-answer prompt should be just as formal and polished as your first, longer essay. Make sure to keep your writing professional!

blank notebook

How to Write UW’s #3 Essay Prompt: Analysis and Tips

Analysis of prompt #3: The final prompt is not required. However, if you have extenuating circumstances that have affected some aspect of your application, this is your chance to explain yourself. This could include a low GPA, a lack of extracurriculars, or other related situations. 

If you choose to write this response, keep the following tips in mind:

  • Tip #1: Stick to the Facts: This answer should be straightforward. Unlike your first response, you should not paint a picture using narrative techniques or descriptive or emotional language. Stick to the facts and be honest
  • Tip #2: No Pity Parties: It’s important you do not throw a pity party for yourself or try to make the admissions committee feel bad for you. The committee does not admit students out of pity, so don’t waste your time trying. 
  • Tip #3: Only Answer If Necessary: This prompt should only be answered if students have experiences they’d like to share with the committee that have not already been discussed in their other responses. This is not an opportunity for students to expand on their responses to the other prompts.

Examples of UW Supplemental Essays That Worked

male student throwing papers in air

If you feel overwhelmed and unsure of where to start, don’t worry. Take a look and get inspired by these UW supplemental essay examples written by successful applicants to the University of Washington! 

Sample Essay #1

Prompt: “Tell a story from your life, describing an experience that either demonstrates your character or helped to shape it. (650-word limit)”

Here’s a sample response to this question that can inspire you:

“It was the fourteenth rabbit that had come in with bloodshot eyes, curling nails, and patches of discolored fur that resembled my overwatered lawn. He had the same mistrusting gaze that darted from me to the zookeeper. I could see his heart trying to escape his sunken body as I got whiffs of a faint medicinal smell coming from his fur.

In my sophomore year, I joined my school’s animal rights club out of curiosity and passion. I’ve always considered myself to be an avid animal lover, but was unconvinced I could actually make a difference in their wellbeing as a fifteen-year-old teenager—an assumption that could not have been further from the truth, as I was about to learn. 

Our group decided to attend a volunteer brigade in Peru for three weeks in June. I picked up extra shifts at my part-time job at McDonald’s and saved up enough to attend the brigade.

We were stationed with a Peruvian family in a tiny house that seemed to never sleep. The endless creaks and thin walls made it difficult to sleep the first few nights, but it was the experiences I had after settling in that were far more deafening. 

We volunteered at a local animal sanctuary that took in animals that were abandoned or abused by their caretakers. There were old circus bears that slumped in the same position for hours, turtles without shells, monkeys missing digits, and dozens of discarded lab rabbits. 

It was a paradoxical mixture of chaos and tranquility. Among the cries of frightened baby monkeys who were ripped away from their real mothers to be raised as pets were the soothing words and lulls of zookeepers and volunteers trying to undo all the damage these animals went through.

Some of these zookeepers lived in tiny rooms at the zoo with no running water or AC, to provide these animals with around-the-clock care and comfort. 

The majority of them made less than $600 US dollars a month, but still greeted me every morning with warm smiles and unrelenting enthusiasm to love the flock of new animals that would be brought in that day.

I was only in Peru for a few weeks, but over those weeks I saw the immense changes I made in these animals' lives, even as a fifteen-year-old girl. 

Most memorably, I noticed the curiosity of an abused fawn flourish as she remembered what trust felt like. She went from cowering behind fence posts to following me around the zoo, nudging my hands for pets any chance she got.

These transformations stuck with me even when I was miles away in my silent suburban home with overwatered grass. They inspired me to pursue a career in veterinary medicine, specifically with exotic animals. 

With a newfound commitment to animal welfare, I recognized all it took for me to better the lives of so many animals in Peru was an unwavering love for animals. I cannot wait to see what a profound impact I have on animals in the future when I combine this passion with advanced veterinarian training.” 

two wild rabbits in grass

Why Essay #1 Worked

This essay works because it shares a unique story that the student has a deep connection to. It uses descriptive language so that the readers can feel like they’re part of the narrative. They can hear the sounds of the animals, imagine how the lab rabbit looked, and imagine the joy the student felt.

This student’s passion for animals also clearly shines through. It ties into the student’s career aspirations and demonstrates clear drive and intent, two traits that are important for college students to have as they enter challenging programs.

Sample Essay #2

Prompt: “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 UW. (300-word limit)”

Consider this response from a student who has an unconventional view of community:

“Growing up in a South-Asian household, the importance of family was instilled in me from the moment I learned the word. I was told my family always came first and they were my community. 

So, I morphed myself to fit my family’s rigid ideals. I remained silent in the face of familial confrontation, gave my respect to older cousins that constantly picked on me for my weight, and remained complacent as my parents planned my entire future for me. 

I completed the majority of my education dreading my future. My parents decided I would become a doctor to continue the long line of successful physicians I come from. There was always a looming sense of anticipation for me because of this. I was always waiting for a future that I knew wasn’t mine. 

That was until I joined my school’s theater club. There, I learned what community really means. I was part of a group that still had a deep respect for one another, but held each other accountable. 

We disagreed with each other sometimes but always encouraged open conversation nonetheless. Often, my group acted as a sounding board for me. I would tell them my true aspirations of becoming a drama teacher, and they would provide me with solutions to achieve my dream without upsetting my parents. 

We taught each other about new perspectives, traditions, and cultures, but what I appreciated most about my community was that we challenged each other. We all came from different backgrounds, had different identities and stories, but pushed each other to do our best in and outside of the classroom.

Through my wonderful club mates, I understood that true community involves the celebration of differences, open intellectual conversation and debate, the embracement of diverse identities, mutual respect, equal collaboration, and sometimes even vulnerability. 

With an understanding of what true community looks and feels like, I hope to join The University of Washington's body of diverse individuals united by the shared collective of bettering themselves and the world, the same value that united my theater community.”

actors rehearsing on stage

Why Essay #2 Worked

It’s clear this student put a lot of thought into their response. While they could have gone the traditional route by talking about the type of community values their family instilled in them, they take a unique approach by claiming they found a truer community outside of their expected one. 

This unexpected ending makes this response more memorable. Additionally, the response clearly defines community based on this student’s values. It does not use overused or generic definitions of the term. Near the end, this student also ties in UW and affirms they will be a productive member of their community.

Sample Essay #3

Prompt: “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 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 (200-word limit)”

Here’s a great example of how to answer this optional essay:  

“During the pandemic, my father, the sole provider in my family, was laid off from his full-time position as an assistant manager. The business he worked for had to close its doors because of the pandemic, and he had a hard time finding a new job. 

To keep my family of four afloat as my father looked for a job, I began working at a local restaurant as soon as restrictions were lifted.

I was working 30–40 hours a week for the majority of my junior and senior year, which limited the time I had to pursue extracurriculars. Due to the demands of AP courses, I was able to only take three of these advanced courses in my final two years of high school.

During the first semester of my junior year, in particular, I struggled with my academics as I learned to juggle multiple commitments at once. Fortunately, I was able to manage my time better and adapted to my circumstances quickly. I improved my marks significantly in the remainder of my high school career.”

female student working on laptop

Why Essay #3 Worked

This essay works because the student sticks to the facts. They explain the situation, give relevant background information, and explain how they tried to resolve the issue. 

This student mentions the measures they took to accomplish their goals despite the obstacles they faced, which demonstrates their resiliency, perseverance, and adaptability.

These University of Washington essay examples will give you a better idea of what to write for your essays. Ensure you put in effort and craft a personalized essay when applying to the University of Washington. 

Get More Sample Essays Here!

If you found these sample essays helpful, great news! You can read many more examples of successful college essays with our essay database down below. 

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For any remaining questions, read on to find your answers.

1. How Many Essays Are Required For the University of Washington?

Students are required to write two essays to apply to the University of Washington. There is an optional third section where students can share more about other life experiences or circumstances that they weren’t able to share elsewhere on their application.

2. How Do I Write An Essay For the University of Washington?

Your personal story and voice should be evident in all of your supplemental essays, so there isn’t a perfect formula or list of topics you can choose from to ace these essays. Choose experiences that had meaningful impacts on your life, show, don’t tell where appropriate, and use language within your abilities.

Avoid overused topics or falsifying stories just to impress the admissions committee. You don’t have to write about tragic or life-changing experiences to have a compelling essay! Address the statement at hand, and don’t forget to proofread your responses several times before submitting them.

3. How Important Are the University of Washington Essays?

While your essays aren’t the most important part of your application, they serve a unique and critical function. These essays are used to learn more about what applicants do outside of the classroom, what their identities are outside of being students, and what their overall principles and values are. 

The admissions committee will evaluate all of these factors to decide whether you’d fit in at UW and your potential to contribute to it. 

4. Are There Any Topics I Should Avoid In My Supplemental Essays?

There are endless topics students can write about in their supplemental essays, but only a few topics they should avoid. If your chosen topic reveals information about you that only your therapist knows, you may want to brainstorm some less personal ideas. You don’t want to make the admissions committee feel uncomfortable.

Similarly, if your topic discusses illegal or unethical conduct, you’ll absolutely want to go back to the drawing board. Even if you’re a changed person now, sharing this information can make the admissions committee hesitant to admit you, especially if the misconduct is not on your record. 

5. How Can I Improve My UW Supplemental Essays?

If you’ve written your essays and feel they are lackluster or fail to share a unique story, there are several ways to improve them:

  • Write freely at first: Let your ideas flow for your first draft. Cut down on your essays once you’ve written all of your ideas down so you can choose the best ones
  • Add some color: Include sensory details and imagery to engage your readers
  • Narrow your scope: Focus on one main experience for each response so you can develop it to its fullest
  • Maintain your voice: As people edit your work, their input can weaken your voice! Avoid this by accepting grammar, punctuation, and structural edits instead of content or language suggestions.

If all of these suggestions fail, you may have to start all over again using a different approach! While it’ll be time-consuming, you shouldn’t submit your essays until you feel confident they reflect your most important traits, skills, and experiences in an interesting and insightful way.

This is why it’s important you begin your essays early! Give yourself ample time to create several rough drafts and revise them until you’re satisfied.

Final Thoughts

For students who still doubt their abilities to craft extraordinary essays, we leave you with some inspiring words by the renowned author Sylvia Plath: “Everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” 

We believe in you, and you should, too!

Access 190+ sample college essays here

Access 190+ sample college essays here


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