How to Write the Best William & Mary Supplemental Essay 2020-2021: A Complete Guide

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William and Mary has an acceptance rate of 36% — higher for in-state applicants and lower for out-of-state applicants. It is the second oldest college in the United States, dating back to 1693.

A public school, located in Williamsburg, Virginia, William and Mary is a relatively small university with just over 6000 undergraduate students. It sells itself to prospective students by proclaiming, “We’re smart. We’re fun. We’re diverse.”

W&M is one of the eight “Public Ivies.” Both Forbes and US News and World Report place it among the top ten public schools in the country. With 81% of the Class of 2021 ranking in the top 10% of their high school peers, it is important to make yourself stand out when applying.

Like many colleges and universities across the country, W&M uses the Common App and, starting in the fall of 2018, will begin accepting the Coalition App.

But, like many selective schools, it also offers students the opportunity to make their application stand out by writing a supplemental essay.

Always write the W&M supplemental essay.

So, here’s our guide to help you write the best William and Mary supplemental essay.

William and Mary’s supplemental prompt is:

Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful? We know nobody fits neatly into 500 words or less, but you can provide us with some suggestion of the type of person you are. Anything goes! Inspire us, impress us, or just make us laugh. Think of this optional opportunity as show and tell by proxy and with an attitude.

There are no other restrictions on what the “essay” can be.

For example, it can be a standard essay, poem, haiku, crossword puzzle, secret code, or decorated social media profile. Make sure that you do not focus too much on being creative in your presentation and forget to focus on what makes you unique and original.

If your “essay” is creative but the admissions committee learns nothing about you in the process, it will come across as all show and no substance.

Here is some advice from the William and Mary admissions office:

  • The essay is limited to 500 words so stay focused on what you are trying to communicate.
  • Try to avoid topics that are commonplace for 17- and 18-year-old high school students like sports injuries, service trips, divorce of parents, or a death in the family.
  • Avoid overkill. Unique is good but outlandish is not better unless you are providing genuine insight into your personality or achievements.
  • Review your application and try to find aspects of your life or personality that are not illustrated elsewhere in the application. Do you have a hobby or talent or quality that is not listed anywhere else on the application but is an important part of your life or self-image?
  • Make sure you proofread your essay. William and Mary uses this essay as an opportunity to assess your writing abilities, so make sure that you pay attention to grammar, punctuation, spelling, and usage.
  • Don’t pander to the admissions committee by writing what you think that they want to hear. It is best to keep sordid details to yourself, but if your essay is too intent on demonstrating how you are the “ideal” (in your mind) William and Mary student, you are not really helping the admissions committee get to know you as much as you are showing them that you have made some effort to get to know them. They already know about their school. They want to know about you.

Choosing the Best Topic

You have probably been told a hundred times to “think outside the box,” and this prompt certainly encourages you to do that. But what does that mean?

Try to come up with something that nobody else could or would write about. Hone in on anecdotes or personal qualities or experiences that nobody else you know seems to share.

Brainstorm by asking yourself questions and evaluating your experiences. Think about your values, personal themes, challenges, and hobbies.

For example:

  • Do you have a fear of mashed potatoes? Speculate as to why you do and discuss how this phobia has impacted your life.
  • You could write about the time you made pizza and put the cheese on the crust before the sauce and didn’t realize your mistake until after you had baked it.

Other essay examples include:

  • Have you done unique service work? William and Mary emphasizes community service.
  • If you have done some service work that demonstrates your commitment to service but it is not something that other students have done, this might be a good avenue to pursue.
  • Was there a time when you stood up for someone who was being bullied or treated poorly by others and ended up getting picked on as a result?
  • Why did you do it? How did it affect you?

Another similar choice might be focusing on an experience that involved risk. For example:

  • You auditioned for the high school musical although you had no previous acting, singing, or dancing experience.
  • Whether or not you made it, there is probably something entertaining and potentially uplifting about your story.
  • What lessons did you learn from taking this risk?
  • You volunteered for a school project that nobody else wanted to do. What was it?
  • Why did you do it when nobody else would?

You can discuss your interests and passions that were not mentioned on the Common App. Examples include:

  • Do you enjoy inventing and designing physical products? Why?
  • What have you invented?
  • What do you want to invent and bring to the world?

If you have already mentioned the Engineering Club on your application, go further:

  • How else do you act on your engineering passions? Do you build things?
  • Think of what drives your interest in engineering. What else does this motivation push you toward?
  • Remember, this interest does not have to be academic.

Is there something you do at home that you did not include on your college application? For example:

  • Do you enjoy gardening or botany? Why?
  • What sensations do you gain from growing things?
  • Is there a memory with botany that stands out?
  • What do your parents think of your botany?
  • What plants do you love growing? Why?

Discuss a side hustle that demonstrates your curiosity and drive. For example:

  • Do you enjoy coding or making websites on the side?
  • Have you designed any websites?
  • Are there plug-ins that spark your curiosity?
  • What about learning coding languages appeals to you?
  • Why do you code?
  • How do you learn from online tutorials?

Discuss activities that give you joy or invoke a certain feeling of pride within you. For example:

  • Do you love martial arts?
  • What about competition or art inspires you?
  • When do you feel silence?
  • Is there a thread of philosophy that you follow or strive to learn more about?

Stories that are fun or funny are usually good choices. People instinctively warm to those who are self-deprecating. For example:

  • Perhaps you’re not good with cars. Maybe you once had your car towed out of your driveway to the repair shop, only to find out that it was out of gas.
  • Stories like this give you the opportunity to demonstrate your sense of humor, talk about lessons you have learned from your mistakes, and stand out from other applicants.
  • Can you think of other incidents in which you made a decision that you felt was a good one, only to have it blow up in your face?
  • What did you learn from this experience?

William and Mary’s admissions motto highlights its commitment to diversity. Most people instinctively think of racial, ethnic, or religious diversity.

Some think in terms of gender or sexual orientation.

But diversity can come in a variety of forms. Can you think of any ways in which you have stood out from others?

  • This might be the result of decisions that you have made or skills you have acquired.
  • Perhaps you are the only one of your peers who has specialized in fencing or rowing or playing the oboe.
  • Maybe you have stood out for characteristics that you have no control over but have shaped or affected the way that you have interacted with others.
  • Has your family adopted children from overseas?
  • Have you been affected by being atypically large or small or have some other distinguishing characteristic which has led to you being noticed?
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Major Tips for the W&M Supplemental Essay

  • Don’t be afraid to be funny. Don’t necessarily try to be funny, but let your writing speak for itself.
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously. Of course, you are trying to impress the admissions committee, but you are also trying to make yourself stand out and most of the 15,000 other applicants will have impressive credentials as well. If you want to get noticed, don’t be a robot. Be a person.
  • Be personal. The admissions committee wants to know about you. Don’t be afraid to express your thoughts about you and your experiences.
  • You might be nervous about this because maybe you have not expressed these thoughts to many people, including friends and family.
  • You might feel unsure about them, but the thoughts that you have about yourself that you don’t often express to others are probably the ones that make you most interesting. For this essay, appearing out of the ordinary is beneficial.

William and Mary Supplemental Essay Examples

W&M Supplemental Essay example 1:

The rite of passage for any adolescent boy is to find a girlfriend. In my freshman year, as my friends were slowly falling in love and eating lunch with their significant others, I realized that I HAD to act fast. I devised a plan to find a girlfriend of my own. My only problem was that I was a nerd, Pokémon aficionado, and politics buff who had never spoken to a girl outside of asking for the next day’s homework assignment. Rather than buying flowers or chocolates like any rational person would do, I decided to do something so impressive that the girl I had a crush on would fall in love with me. As the girl I liked happened to be Chinese, I decided that mastering the world’s most difficult language, Mandarin, would be the ticket to her heart. Although my motives were misdirected, this prompted me on a journey that not only exposed me to a new culture, but also challenged and inspired me to take future chances.

Schedule change in hand, I marched into 4th period Chinese ready to master the language. I was unaware that 95% of the class already spoke Chinese at home so this was merely a review class for the ‘easy A’. I was surprised to learn that people of Chinese descent often have one name in their native tongue and an alternate Americanized name that is easily pronounced. During the first session, our teacher asked all of us for our Chinese names to be used throughout the school year. Because I couldn’t understand what was going on, I asked the classmate behind me to suggest a Chinese name. I should have known that this was a disaster waiting to happen. I bellowed out my new name when called on, and to my embarrassment, the whole class howled in laughter. Confused, I turned around to see the person who gave me my name giggling uncontrollably. Unintentionally, I named myself “Sum Ting Wong” which would stick with me for the rest of the year. It was only after I said my name out loud that I finally understood the joke. At that moment, I realized I had lost my chance of impressing my crush.    

My Chinese name turned out to be a metaphor for my classroom struggles. Each time I would learn a new character, I would forget it by the next week. I unintentionally learned dozens of new Chinese curse words because depending on how you pronounce it, each word can have five different meanings. My class project videos on YouTube went viral throughout the school for their impeccable acting and obviously unsuccessful attempts at mastering the world’s most difficult language. 

As it turns out, instead of conquering the language in a few months like I had expected, I was, and still am, awful at all things related to the Chinese language. Initially I would beat myself up for every mistake, dreading my name being called. However, as I learned to laugh at myself each time “Sum Ting Wong” was cold-called in class, I began to not fear being ridiculed. As high school progressed, I went from being the only Indian student in my Mandarin class to becoming the first guy to take gender studies and the only person who didn’t know how to sing in Choir. Socially, I went from only interacting with virtual Pokémon to twerking onstage in front of a thousand delegates as I campaigned for the California Boys State Supreme Court.  I learned to embrace the “odd man out” persona and my idiosyncrasies rather than shy away from them.

While I started my quest of learning Chinese in the hopes of getting a girlfriend (spoiler alert: I didn’t), I gained something so much more powerful. I learned to believe in myself and not let the stereotypes of my mind hold me back from trying new things.   

W&M Supplemental Essay example 2:

I was just trying to buy a Sprite and pay my hundred rupees. The cashier was starting to look as hassled as I felt, speaking urgently in a language I couldn’t understand. We were both frustrated and the cashier stormed off to another counter and grabbed a plastic plate from under it. At this point, I’m thinking “Why would I need a plate for my Sprite?” Normally at shops, the employees know enough English and I can understand the gist of the Tamil words with my own Telugu background. This time, however, we were both extremely confused. Eventually, after a lot of non-verbal communication and pointing, I realized she was supposed to offer me a free plate with my Sprite because of a deal written on the packaging. 

Most people are surprised to learn that moving to India when I was thirteen was a huge adjustment for me even though I’m Indian. Yet, considering I was moving to a country I never lived in, a state whose language I didn’t speak, and a culture I wasn’t fully a part of, it was a definite challenge. From the language barrier to the culture change, and even the conservative manners and customs, I had to adapt to a new way of living. All of that and living in a country that is different culturally and socially from the United States has given me a new perspective of viewing my place in the world. 

Back in elementary and middle school, I remember hiding the fact that I ate curry. As if it was something to be embarrassed of, something that would make me less American. I remember trying to distance myself from my Indian heritage and fit in so I could be, in a way, more white. It didn’t change much when I first moved to India. I was still working to seem American because I never really embraced my native culture. The heritage was always there in festivals, poojas, parties, and the language I spoke at home, but tellingly when someone asked me, “Hey, where are you from?” I’d always respond, “I’m from the USA but I live in India.”

Because of this struggle, the most meaningful aspect of my experience of living in India has been accepting and embracing my cultural background. While I have always celebrated religious occasions, holidays, festivals, and other aspects of being Indian, living in India taught me to be proud of who I am as a global citizen. I am a multicultural student who has spent their time living abroad and entrenching themselves in their native culture. I am just as much Indian as I am American, and I’m proud to be able to bring a diverse background and perspective to the table at William & Mary.

Conclusion: Writing the William and Mary Supplement

Relax and have fun. Your best ideas and your best work will come when you are enjoying yourself, not when you are going through the motions to get something done.

Be enthusiastic. While you want the admissions officers to like you, it is your own personality and experiences that form your individuality. Don’t be afraid to be authentic.

Proofread, proofread, share with someone else to proofread, and proofread again.

Take risks while you are choosing your topic and writing your essay, but make sure you have done the necessary work to ensure that your essay is written well.

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