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How to Write the George Washington University Supplemental Essays

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The George Washington University, located in the United States’ capital, is a private university well known for its political science, international affairs, and journalism programs.

The highly politically minded students of GWU make up the 40% of applicants who were accepted to this prestigious university. 

To be one of the few to be accepted, you need a great application. On top of transcripts, teacher recommendations, and the like, you need to craft an essay that can show George Washington University exactly what you have to offer.

George Washington University expects applicants to submit their application through the Common App. On top of the Common App essay, you are expected to write a 250-word essay supplement.

If you intend to major at the School of Media and Public Affairs, you will need to submit an additional writing supplement (also covered in this post). 

For this essay, we will guide you through the essay prompts and offer some ideas on how to approach it.

General Guidelines for the GWU Essay

Since 2015, GWU has made standardized test scores optional to submit for many students. In that way, they have deemphasized the importance of test scores and instead focused their admission policy on academic rigor in the classroom and your essay.

  • Keep in mind that your essay is now a more significant part of your application process. 

You only have one essay prompt to choose from, so you need to know how you want to write your response. It also means that a lot of students are probably going to write very similar essays. Try to find something creative and unique in your life experiences, or approach something mundane from an unexpected angle.

  • Remember that you don’t have to be particularly extraordinary to be considered for admission – just show that you are passionate about learning and taking your skills to the George Washington University.
  • To be clear, you don’t need to plan on being president or serving as a diplomat to create a great essay. 

You also have 250 words, so you need to choose your words wisely and write detailed, specific, and concise content. This prompt is best suited for anecdotal prose.

  • So, rather than just telling the admissions officers what you’ve done or learned, turn it into a story, like you’re retelling an experience to a friend.
  • Make sure to focus on the impact of whatever you write about, and bring it back to GWU.

The essay prompt that GWU offers is an opportunity to show the university how you learn without the guidance of an official classroom. Use that to show GWU your initiative in taking learning into your own hands.

Most of all, be authentic. Write in your own voice and demonstrate to them why you’d like to extend your academic career another four years.

GWU Essay Prompt 1

At the George Washington University, our students frequently interact with policymakers and world leaders. These experiences and those of our alumni can shape the future of global affairs. If you had the power to change the course of history in your community or the world, what would you do and why?

As a college with prestigious programs for future politicians, journalists, and lawyers, GWU wants to cultivate an environment in which students learn in the real world and apply it to the issues that they are trying to solve.

After all, almost half of their students study abroad during their time at the university, so many of their students don’t always learn in a traditional setting.

  • So, in order to write a great essay, you need to prove to GWU that you’re an independent learner and thinker. Remember that they want to know how their hands-on learning will help you transform your community or the world.

Focus especially on actionable change; action through nontraditional tasks outside the classroom and based in practicality are your best bets, whether that is experienced through advocacy or more in-depth pursuit of the topic.

You have a few options when creating your narrative for this essay, but we recommend the following approach. 

  • Overall, tell a story about the problem you want to solve.
  • Don’t get caught up in describing the history of the problem. GW doesn’t care too much about whether you’re knowledgeable or well-read since there are plenty of students like that out there.
  • Instead, think about a specific historical moment and what problem or situation it created.
  • Briefly explain why it’s so important to you.
  • Important: Now, spend the rest of the essay discussing the actions you’d take to change the course of history. This essay, as is the case with most of your college essays, should be action-oriented. Show the actions you’d take to change history. 
  • You should spend over 60% of the essay relating the problem back to you – why are you so passionate about it, and what would you do to change the course of history. Do not spend too much time discussing history.

Here are some examples:

  • Perhaps you volunteered on a Native American reservation and later read about the history of early American settlement. What would you do to change the way settlers treated Native Americans?
  • Did your community elect a corrupt official who did nothing to solve a problem? How would you make sure this person learned about the disastrous results of their decisions?
  • Did a relative of yours flee an overseas conflict to which the international community turned a blind eye? What would you do to ensure the United Nations took action?

Note: You don’t need to worry about choosing between writing about the history of the world or your community. It’s the execution that’s important.

You don’t get extra points for writing about a massive or complex issue. What counts is the degree to which this essay speaks to your character and goals.

Need help with the George Washington essays and other applications? Our College Application Boot Camp will help you! Your first session is free.

GWU Essay Prompt 2

Before beginning this prompt, please make sure the “meaningful dialogue” in which you engaged others shows you in a positive, respectful light. The last thing you want GW to think is that you’re overly aggressive and immature when talking about sensitive subjects.

This essay presents fewer options, but that can be a good thing. Here’s how we recommend you structure this essay. You don’t need to follow these guidelines, but consider including these elements:

  1. Briefly describe the situation and your role in it. (25 words)
  2. Why was the issue important to you? (50 words)
  3. Explain how the exchange created, altered, or deepened your relationships. How did you change and grow from this encounter? How did you use these lessons to transform yourself into a better citizen? (175 words)
  4. Feel free to include moments of realization. You’re a growing student, so demonstrate how you’re constantly improving yourself.

SMPA Political Communication Essay

Political Communication major: If you could be any one person who has been active in politics, who would you choose to be and why?

You don’t need to pick a contemporary or world-famous political figure for this essay. Be sure this person was active in politics or a related tangent and wasn’t a malicious entity (you should only choose a controversial person if you want to go back and change their actions).

You can include someone who falls into or outside one of the following categories:

  • Local or national politician
  • Community organizer
  • Protestor
  • Lawyer
  • Public speaker
  • Martyr
  • Revolutionary
  • Intellectual
  • Journalist
  • Soldier

Now, here’s an important note: You shouldn’t write an essay on the person and his or her accomplishments.

This figure’s accomplishments and character are important, but you also need to explain either why this person is important to you or what decisions this person made you would change.

In sum, what would you have done in this person’s shoes? Why is this person important to your worldview? What actions would you take?

You can write this essay using the following strategies:

Tell a story of how you’re connected to this person in history.

  • Perhaps you’re of Indian descent and would want to influence Gandhi or become the man himself.
  • Are you involved in mentoring minority youth? Would you want to go back to April 1968 to warn Martin Luther King Jr. of the assassination attempt?
  • Did your family free Europe in the first half of the 20th century? Do you want to become Archduke Franz Ferdinand and take additional protections to stop the chain events that sparked World War I and World War II?

If you’re interested in the actions someone took, explain how you’d affirm or change them.

  • Would you become Vice President Dick Cheney and dissuade President Bush from going to war in Iraq?
  • Do you want to become Henry Paulson and warn the world of the impending economic crisis?

Regardless of the person you choose, make sure to details the choices you’d make. Don’t make this a passive essay. Show active voice.

SMPA Journalism & Mass Communication Essay

Journalism and Mass Communication major: Write a profile of yourself in news or news feature style, as if you had interviewed yourself.

Before writing this essay, research how a good journalist writes in news feature style. This piece on Elon Musk is a good example.

When writing this piece, we recommend discussing a specific topic in your life. If someone had interviewed you on one of the following topics, what would you say?

  • High school
  • Community accomplishment
  • Long-time friendship with someone
  • An arduous ordeal you went through
  • Volunteer experience
  • Time when you had to be a leader
  • Moment you had to confront your fears

You can write about anything. We recommend writing about your experience with one topic because a central premise will keep the reader interested. You don’t want to write an essay on many things, which would create a messy narrative and confuse the reader.

Below are some brainstorming themes that will help you pick pertinent topics. Remember, always think about what the topic says in relation to your character and goals. 

Service

Think about your volunteer service or your participation in groups like the Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts of America. What have you learned, and how can you apply that to GWU?

  • For instance, maybe you volunteered for Habitat for Humanity and you learned how to build houses. You could take that essay into two different directions.

One, you could focus on the physical aspect of learning how to build a house, and how that may have influenced you.

  • Maybe in the future, you’d like to design the tools to make house building even easier in GWU’s engineering program.
  • Or, maybe you caught a glimpse of how low-income families in poor living conditions experience life, and you have begun advocating for more affordable housing and working with state and federal government to develop safe housing for poor families.
  • Perhaps you tutor elementary kids during after-school services. If so, you could talk about learning how to break down concepts and educate another person based on their personality and learning strengths.
  • Maybe you want to do that in a classroom yourself, or even pursue journalism to break down legalese to the common American so that they can understand the bills, executive orders, and court rulings that affect them.

You may have also worked as an editor for your school’s newspaper, or even wrote a little for a community paper or website.

If that sparked some passion for journalism, you could write how about your experience researching and investigating the story, either to write or fact check it, inspired your decision to pursue journalism.

Remember that service doesn’t necessarily have to be as a member of an organization or as part of a club.

  • Maybe you volunteer for your library.
  • You could then write about the different books and resources you noticed the patrons checking out and using, and what that tells you about the community around you.
  • Just make sure to write about something you learned, whether through practice or observation, and apply it to what GWU expects in its students.

Research

While you may think that research is confined to the sciences, remember that it is a method of discovery that can be applied to just about any field of study, from history to literature to political science.

  • If you participated in summer research programs that your local colleges may have offered, that can be a great topic to write about.

If you didn’t join any formal research programs and instead reached out to professionals whose research interests run in line with yours, that can show your initiative in taking your education into your own hands.

You can also focus on any kind of independent research or study as well.

  • For instance, you might be learning a language not offered in your high school through online resources.
  • You could then write about finding a pen pal who speaks that language and learning about a different culture through them.

While it would be best to write about a research opportunity that fits your interests and vocational aspirations if you were a part of a research program that you didn’t find interesting enough to pursue in college, find a transferable skill you learned.

So, maybe you shouldn’t write about learning how to use a centrifuge to collect bacteria if you have no interest in biology or medicine. However, you may be able to write about your experience in the lab, following the scientific method to test out or confirm various theories.

Being able to follow a tried and true method for collecting and analyzing information can be a useful skill in many different professions.

Internship

If you’ve done a summer internship or interned at a company or organization as part of a high school class, this could be a great topic to write about.

  • If you were a part of a software company and learned how to code basic software, you could write how you want to use it to use that skill to create new software to better everyone’s lives.
  • It can be the same kind of essay if you write about interning for a hospital or under a specific doctor, or at a local newspaper, or at your government representative’s office.

You can also take it a different way, especially if you didn’t intern in the field you are applying for at George Washington University.

  • With the software company example, maybe you don’t want to write software for a living.
  • However, you can write about the analytical and critical thinking skills you developed while learning how to code.

Being able to take a process and break it down into small, actionable instructions to get the results that you want can be applied to a large swath of fields.

Learning how to troubleshoot broken or buggy code to fix it can also be a great way to develop methodical thinking. Just focus on a skill that you can take to the particular major you want to pursue in college.

Studying Abroad

If you had the opportunity to study abroad, this can be a great opportunity to explore that in your application. Try not to just talk about your trip abroad. Remember that you need to focus your essay on a learnable opportunity that you took.

  • For instance, maybe you went to Italy and you were able to visit famous places and speak to the locals there.
  • The local residents may be able to tell you a different or more in-depth history of famous places like the Coliseum that your traditional tourist guides could not.
  • You could focus on learning about a different culture from the people who are a part of that very culture.

Or, maybe you could write about learning a different language, and your struggles and triumphs in communication. This might be a great topic for those who want to pursue international affairs or do journalism abroad, as you need to be able to work past possible language barriers and communicate with others.

However you approach the essay, try to choose a particular aspect of your study abroad that you couldn’t experience in your own hometown.

Other Learning Opportunities

Sometimes you learn outside of boxed categories such as these.

  • Maybe you took music lessons, or you created your own small business.
  • Perhaps you have created an online community or blog for your hobby, and you regularly share tips and advice as well as organize events for that hobby.

Whatever the case, reflect on what that experience has taught you.

  • Maybe you learned how to improvise while playing jazz music and now you can keep on your toes in other situations.
  • Perhaps you’ve learned how to market yourself and create physical products.
  • Or, maybe you’ve learned how to plan events and educate others.

Take these learning lessons and apply it to your future at GWU.

Conclusion: Writing the GWU Essay

George Washington University’s lack of options forces you to write on a topic that all other applicants are writing. You need to try for a unique spin on your experiences and show what you have learned from outside of the classroom.  

Remember the prompt: how did it change your worldview, and how can your new perspective prepare you for GWU?

You also only have 250 words to express these thoughts. Try to keep to the point in your essay, and avoid cliche phrases and generalities. These only take up valuable space you could have used to show your personality, accomplishments, and ambitions to GWU.