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The College of William and Mary in Virginia is the second oldest university in the country, and it's consistently ranked in the top colleges in the nation. Their acceptance rate reflects that: every year, only 36% of students who apply are admitted.

That means that if you're interested in applying to William and Mary, you'll want your application to shine. Simply having good grades and test scores isn't enough on its own—in fact, 75% of accepted William and Mary students were in the top 10% of their high school class .

This is where the optional William and Mary essay comes in. This is your chance to make your application stand out ! So what is this optional essay, and how optional is it ? This article will tell you everything you need to know about the William and Mary supplement essay, including:

  • Explaining the William and Mary supplemental essay prompt
  • Walking you through how to answer the prompt
  • Going over what admissions counselors are looking for in an excellent supplemental essay

We have a lot to cover, so let's get started!

What Is the William and Mary Supplemental Essay?

The William and Mary supplemental essay is an optional essay that you can choose to submit as part of your overall admissions packet . The goal of the essay is to help admissions counselors get to know you a little better...and to showcase your writing skills one last time. Since this essay is optional, you don't have to write it in order to submit your application. (We'll talk about whether you should write it a little later, though!)

So where can you find the optional essay? Within the online application itself, there is a separate drop down box labelled "Optional W&M Essay." If you expand this box, you'll see the prompt. If you choose to submit the supplemental essay, you'll have to turn it in as part of your overall application packet. In other words, you can't go back later and submit the supplemental essay—once you turn in your application,

The text box itself allows for 650 characters, but you'll notice the prompt states that they're looking for 500 words or less . They're allowing you a little leeway so you won't get cut off in the middle of a sentence, but you should follow the instructions and try to limit yourself to under 500 words.


6 Steps to Writing the Perfect William and Mary Supplemental Essay

Now that you've been introduced to the William and Mary essay, it's time to talk about how to write one that makes admissions counselors sit up and take notice.

Here are six simple steps that will help you develop your essay into the exact thing the admission committee might be looking for.

Step 1: Read the Prompt

To help you get a handle on what the prompt is asking for, let's take a closer look at it:

"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."

At its core, this prompt is all about you. Admissions counselors want to learn about what makes you unique and different from everyone else around you. In other words, admissions counselors are going to use this essay to get to know you better!

More importantly, this prompt specifically asks you to "show and tell," which is a sneaky way of saying that admissions counselors want you to tell them a story. Instead of providing a laundry list of your best qualities, pick one thing that makes you unique and then write a story around it. We recommend that you choose a specific event from your life that showcases your unique personality, then use that as a springboard for the rest of your essay.

Keep in mind that you're still writing an essay for a college application— just because the prompt asks you to inspire, impress, or amuse the admissions committee doesn't mean you shouldn't take the assignment seriously . More importantly, your job is to show admissions counselors that you're a great fit for William and Mary.

Step 2: Choose Your Unique Attribute

You've probably realized that 500 words is not a lot of room to write an essay. It turns out that 500 words is about one typed, single-spaced page of text. So even though there are hundreds of things about you that make you unique, if you tried to write about them all, you'd run out of room!

In order to write a great essay, you'll have to choose one or two attributes that make you unique. That way, you'll be able to tell a story that captures your readers' attention while still showcasing the special person that you are!

But how do you pick the unique quality you want to write about? We recommend that you start your writing process by brainstorming about twenty or thirty things that make you unique. Once you have that list, choose the one that you feel is both A) individual enough that you wouldn't expect someone else to choose it, and B) important enough to you that you could easily convey a lot of passion about it.

If you're having trouble picking a quality to write about, try talking to your parents, teachers, and best friends. Show them your list and ask them which traits stand out. They may even suggest some attributes of their own! Sometimes an outside perspective can help you narrow down your choices.


Keeping your focus narrow helps you write a more compelling essay.

Step 3: Narrow Your Focus and Choose a Story

Once you've chosen your most unique qualities, you'll need to figure out how to talk about them. Like we said earlier, we recommend that you use a story to help readers understand you better. A good story is specific and allows you to include unique and interesting details. If your story is too long or too broad, you'll need to summarize the events or aspects, which will make them unexciting and bland.

Here's what we mean: let's say Bryan has decided that his most unique attribute is that he's the first male soprano in his school's history. He decides he wants to tell the story of how he tried out for choir and discovered he could sing high notes. If Bryan tried to tell the story from the first moment he learned he could sing soprano, then he'd need thousands of words to write his essay! By narrowing his focus down to the actual audition, he can share more details...which will help the admissions committee get to know him even bette r.

Once you've narrowed your focus to one specific moment, it's time to craft your story. Good stories help readers feel like they're watching a movie. As you write, include sensory details , including sounds, sights, smells, etc. so that your essay is as vivid to the reader as the memory is to you!

Step 4: Remember Your Audience

Even though the William and Mary supplement essay is an informal prompt meant mostly to help the admission committee determine what type of person you are, keep in mind that it is still a college application. That means there are certain values about yourself that you want to emphasize. You want the people reading this essay to think of you as an intellectually curious, genuine, and thoughtful potential student.

While you may have an entertaining story that involves illicit or illegal behavior, this isn't the place to share it. Additionally, make sure you're not using off-color, racially charged, or potentially offensive language. At the end of the day, you want to show admissions counselors that you're a good fit for William and Mary's values !

Also, remember that your audience is reading over 14,000 of these essays between January and March every year, and many of them have been doing it for several years. Don't lie in your William and Mary application essay! We guarantee that admissions counselors will be able to tell. Trust us: with a little effort, you'll be able to tell a story that is both truthful and compelling.


You're unique! Letting that shine through in your essay is a good way to catch the admission committee's attention.

Step 5: Explain Why You're a Good Fit for William and Mary

While this definitely isn't a "why this school" essay , you still want to tie your William and Mary application essay into the rest of your application.

To do this, use the last two sentences of your essay to explain how your unique qualities will help you fit into the William and Mary campus . Even better, you can tell admissions counselors how you plan to use your unique personality to help support William and Mary's mission!

Take Bryan's topic that we talked about before. He knows what it's like to feel different, and he's learned how to be comfortable in his own skin. That means he can't wait to join William and Mary's choir , where he hopes to both share his talent and support others as they share theirs, too. Ending the essay like this shows admissions counselors that Bryan is ready to become a central part of William and Mary's vibrant campus community.

Step 6: Revise, Revise, and Revise

After you've chosen your topic and have written your essay, y ou need to reread it . If you have enough time, wait a few days before starting the revision process so that you can bring a fresh perspective to your essay. You'll likely find that there are places where you can add more detail, clarity, or explanation

Once you've finished your revisions, choose one or two people whose opinions you trust to read the essay and offer their criticism . Don't choose someone who loves everything you do and already thinks you're brilliant—that's not going to help you make your essay better. Choose someone who you think will offer you honest feedback on how you might improve your essay. If you have a good relationship with your English teacher or high school counselor, you should definitely ask them to read your essay and offer feedback!

If this sounds like a lot of work...well, it is. Creating a great essay takes time and effort. That means you'll need to plan ahead . We recommend starting your essay more than a month in advance so you have plenty of time to write and revise.


What Are William and Mary Looking for When They Read These Essays?

What do William and Mary essays that worked include? Usually, you just have to guess at what the admissions committee wants. Not this time! Brad Harlan, the Assistant Dean of Admission at William and Mary, wrote a helpful blog post about what William and Mary's admissions counselors look for in a good optional essay. Harlan explains:

"How does this individual articulate themselves? What is this individual genuinely passionate about? What motivates this individual. These, and countless other questions, can be answered by your essays. They provide us with meaningful insight into your personality, and give you a chance to "speak" directly to the admission committee. We see essays that cover a wide array of topics and which employ many different tones and styles. Some are funny, some are serious, some are quirky, and all of them provide for engaging and enjoyable reads as we review our many impressive applicants…

"No matter what approach you take, just be sure that your essay covers something that excites you, and that it adds a new dimension to your application. If you write genuinely, enthusiastically and carefully, no matter what the subject, then I can pretty much guarantee that we will very much enjoy reading your work."

Note that the word "genuine" is used twice in two paragraphs. That tells you that admissions counselors are looking for you to express yourself honestly and sincerely. They're not looking for a formal answer that you think they want to hear; instead, admissions counselors want to read an essay that lets them see why you would be a good choice to add to their student body .

Another William and Mary Admissions blog post gives more tips for tackling the optional essay. Wendy Livingston, the Senior Assistant Dean of Admission, writes:

There is something about you that isn't commonplace. Find that thing and write about it. If it's something big like growing up in a foreign country, write about it. If it's something small like you always wear socks with stripes for a particular reason, write about it. If it's something in between like your life-long hobby of collecting McDonalds Happy Meal toys, write about it. The key is to find a topic that few others can write about. There are most definitely fairly generic college essay topics: death of a relative, parents' divorce, traveling abroad, a service/mission trip, a sports injury, your epic love of Harry Potter books (that one has come on strong in recent years). It's not that these experiences/interests aren't salient or important; they are. But they are also fairly commonplace for 17-year olds and the ways in which you write about them will be incredibly similar.

In other words, make sure you're writing about something that is truly unique !

If you're one of ten siblings, practice oil painting in your free time, or spend your weekends playing guitar in your family's 90s cover band...write about it! While it's certainly not bad to like popular things or share common experiences, those don't always give readers true insight into your character.

Instead, choose a topic or quality that might take the admissions committee a bit by surprise (in a good way). That will help you show readers how your unique personality makes you a great addition to William and Mary's student body.


Should You Submit the William and Mary Supplement Essay?

After reading through the steps you'll need to take to create a killer supplement essay, you're probably wondering whether you really need to write it. Couldn't you skip it and save yourself a bunch of time and effort?

If you're serious about getting into William and Mary, then you absolutely need to write the William and Mary supplement essay. Put yourself in the admission committee's place. Imagine a scenario in which you have room for one more student and you're choosing between two candidates. They each have similar GPAs and test scores. However, one of them has a remarkable optional essay and the other didn't even fill in the box. Which student you choose to admit? Probably the one who went the extra mile!

Here's a different scenario. Imagine a candidate who has a pretty average GPA and an unexciting SAT score, but that candidate has a breathtaking optional essay that allows the admissions committee to see that the mediocre grades and SAT scores aren't a fair reflection of the candidate's potential. If you were in the admissions committee's place, wouldn't you be tempted to give the candidate a chance to show what they can do as a student?

As you can see, the essay may be labeled "optional," but it's actually a key piece of your application packet if you really want to get in. The William and Mary application essay is an opportunity to differentiate yourself from thousands of other applicants and make yourself more attractive to the admissions committee.

Granted, if you wrote a very poor essay it may harm your chances a little, but have no fear—after reading this article, you will have the tools you need to write an excellent William and Mary essay!


Analyzing an essay that helped a real student get admitted to William and Mary can help you figure out how to make your supplemental essay even more compelling. ( Ken Lund /Flickr)

Analysis of a Real William and Mary Supplement Essay Sample

Reading other people's successful William and Mary essays can help you write your own. He's an actual William and Mary supplement essay posted to an online forum :

"I've read this prompt seventy-six times. The number is actually much higher, but I only started counting recently. My backspace key is almost worn out from my attempts to conquer this essay. I've tried everything from Poe quotes to inspirational sport tales, but none of them seem to fit. Why is that? I think it's because for the first time, I am not writing to fit some sort of outline. From 7th grade through 9th grade I had the same English teacher. While comical, she did not teach me how to write very well. To her, good writing involved two things: MLA format and the hated five paragraph essay. As a middle schooler, the five paragraph essay seemed like God's gift to sub-par English students. Was I naive or what? Fast forward to 11th grade, and my AP History teacher is having a breakdown from reading so many of these manufactured abominations. She put me on the right track. Unfortunately, now instead of five paragraph papers, I write class response essays, that must contain three examples and a thesis statement. You see the pattern?

Paper after paper, and none of them written under the pretense that I can run wild with it. I no longer associate free expression with writing. They all fit some format and come with a set of rules that would make the creators of Monopoly jealous. Which is why, this essay means more than just acceptance to college. It took me enough attempts to realize it, but for the first time, the rule book has been thrown. I can write about whatever I want in whatever way I want. I don't have to turn this in for a grade. Long words no longer carry points or increased chances at success. I could talk about soccer, Stop Hunger Now or even my acting stint (in the role of Tupac). There are no longer cords that are holding me back from showing who I am. This must be what revolutionaries feel like. As I said before, I've tried quotes and anecdotes. However, all of them were intentionally generic. For once, I want to use one that is not restrained and, to be completely honest, really cool. It's from the book Fight Club:

"One minute was enough," Tyler said. "A person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection."

After almost fourteen years of writing, I have yet to write one thing that I would consider close to perfect. This paper is different. Whether it's perfect or not, this essay is my moment, and all I needed was for the rule book to be thrown out to reach it."

Let's break this down and see why this supplemental essay helped the writer get into William and Mary.

What Makes This a Strong Example Essay?

The student who wrote this was accepted into William and Mary , so we can consider this a successful essay. The choice of topic is a bit unusual: the student writes about their experience writing the William and Mary supplemental essay.

The topic is fairly narrow, but it doesn't exactly recount an episode from the author's life. Rather, the author places the audience in the experience of writing the essay in real time. They give vivid descriptions, like wearing out their backspace key, which makes readers feel like they're writing the essay, too.

The strength of this essay is its voice , meaning the way the choice of words and the pace of the events helps to develop the character who is speaking. It helps readers experience the writer's frustrations and triumphs, and it also tells readers a lot about the person writing the essay. We learn this writer is a creative person who wants to push boundaries. They're also dedicated—it takes a lot of time to read the prompt over sixty times! Finally, it's clear this person is persistent. Setbacks and frustrations aren't enough to keep them from reaching their goals.

This essay uses a very unique approach to address the prompt, and it succeeds in helping the admissions committee get to know the writer better. Mission accomplished...and student admitted!


3 Key Tips for Writing the William and Mary Supplemental Essay

Now that you know what admissions committees expect from your William and Mary essay, here are our top tips to help you succeed.

Tip 1: Write Passionately

It's easier to write passionately when you're writing about a topic that you care about. Luckily, this William and Mary supplement essay prompt asks you to do just that! Find the topic that most excites you , and use language that conveys your passion to your audience. Allow your excitement about your topic to come out, and readers will be blown away!

Tip 2: Be Yourself

The point of the William and Mary essay is to show the admissions committee that you're a strong, well-rounded candidate. That can be intimidating to lots of students. But don't worry: you're unique and special just because you're you . Don't try to exaggerate to make yourself seem like the type of person the admissions committee is looking for. Remember: the admissions committee is trained to sniff out falsified essay. Just be genuine and authentic, and you'll set yourself up for success.

Tip 3: Have Fun!

The William and Mary essay is unique because it's open ended. You have free reign to express yourself however you see fit! Take the opportunity to stretch yourself and to grow as a writer. (Just make sure you're not being vulgar or offensive!)

Ultimately, the admissions committee wants to see your potential and your personality . If you use this prompt as a way of allowing your creativity to flow, the selection committee will see your willingness to challenge yourself. If you're having fun, then there's a good chance that will come across in your essay. And guess what? Fun essays stand out from the crowd, too!


What's Next?

Like we mentioned earlier, William and Mary is a selective college . Make sure you get all the details about the school, its admissions criteria, and application information before you start writing your supplemental essay.

Most students who are admitted into William and Mary graduate in the top 10% of their high school class. Make sure you understand the class ranking system so that you can set yourself up for success. Heck, you may even decide you want to be your class valedictorian or salutatorian !

Finally, you'll need to knock your test scores out of the park if you want a shot at getting into William and Mary. Learn what it takes to get a 1600 on your SAT or a 36 on your ACT so you can study smarter and harder.

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Ashley Sufflé Robinson has a Ph.D. in 19th Century English Literature. As a content writer for PrepScholar, Ashley is passionate about giving college-bound students the in-depth information they need to get into the school of their dreams.

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William and Mary Supplemental Essays 2023-24

September 27, 2023

Founded in 1693, the College of William & Mary is the second oldest institution of higher learning in the entire United States. With an acceptance rate that was 32% for the Class of 2027, W&M is a very selective school. It is even more challenging to gain admission into for out-of-state students. With that in mind, it’s important to put maximum effort into every aspect of your application. Of course, this includes the William and Mary supplemental essays.

 (Want to learn more about How to Get Into W&M? Visit our blog entitled:  How to Get Into William & Mary  for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

When applying to an institution like the College of William & Mary that rejects roughly two-thirds of those who apply, you’ll need to put maximum effort into every area of the application, including the Common App and supplemental essays. Below are William and Mary’s optional essay prompts for the 2023-24 admissions cycle. Additionally, you find our advice for composing strong essays.

Should I answer an optional essay?

In such a  hypercompetitive college admissions environment , not filling out an essay would be a suboptimal decision for a prospective applicant. With such cutthroat competition at a highly selective school like William & Mary, it would be foolish not to avail yourself of every opportunity to make a strong case for admission. Applicants applying to a dozen or more schools may be exhausted after already plowing through countless other supplemental prompts. However, this is simply not the place to cut corners.

Unfortunately, skipping an optional essay of this nature could hurt your candidacy at William and Mary, as this institution only offers non-evaluative interviews with current W&M seniors. As such, there are limited ways to connect with an admissions officer, and the supplemental essay(s) will be one of your very best opportunities.

William and Mary Supplemental Essays – (Optional)

William and Mary gives applicants the option to choose one or two of the six available prompts. Additionally, you’ll have 300 words of space for each prompt.

1) Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful?

In W&M’s own words, “You are not a number when you apply to or attend William & Mary. You are a three dimensional person who has initiative, spirit and ideas.” Showing the admissions committee who you are at the core of your being is no easy task at this school. As such, here are some ideas of how you can most productively utilize these 300 words of space:

  • Talk about your deepest passions and the various ways in which you pursue knowledge in those areas.
  • Say more about your role in a particular community of which you are a member. This could be your family, your circle of friends, a religious organization, a job, a sports team, etc.
  • The college admissions process can feel very heavy and serious; telling a humorous story can help forge a personal connection, even via an otherwise dry application.
  • Be open about your idiosyncrasies and anything that makes you uniquely  you .
  • What ideas excite you? Where do you see limitless possibilities in the world?
  • Lastly, what moves your spirit? Discuss any art, movies, music, and books that you find deeply moving and personally important.

2) Are there any particular communities that are important to you, and how do you see yourself being a part of our community?

Keep in mind that William and Mary has already seen the President’s Volunteer Service Award and the impressive number of hours you volunteered at multiple nonprofit organizations. They know that you have been an active member of your high school/local community. The admissions committee now desires to understand precisely how you will contribute to  their  community of undergraduate students. Highlighting the link between your past efforts and future aims is critical here. For example, if you dedicated many hours to volunteering at your local animal shelter throughout high school, it will be more impactful when you now express your commitment to joining William and Mary’s Animal Rights Club.

The strongest William and Mary community essays show evidence of meaningful school-specific research. This research process will actually give you a better idea of how you would sincerely like to become engaged at each prospective school on your list. Admissions officers will appreciate a William and Mary-centric answer far more than a generic (often recycled from app to app) response.

3) How has your family, culture and/or background shaped your lived experience?

Take note of the wide-open nature of this prompt. You are essentially invited to talk about any of the following topics:

  • A perspective you hold
  • Your upbringing
  • Your cultural background
  • Your religious background
  • Your family background
  • Your race/ethnicity
  • Your sexual orientation or gender identity

William and Mary Supplemental Essay Prompts (Continued)

Although this prompt’s open floor plan may feel daunting, a good tactic is to first consider what has already been communicated within on other areas of your application. What important aspect(s) of yourself have not been shared (or sufficiently discussed)? The admissions officer reading your essay is hoping to connect with you through your written words, so—within your essay’s reflection—be open, humble, thoughtful, inquisitive, emotionally honest, mature, and/or insightful about what you learned and how you grew.

You’ll then need to discuss how family, culture, and/or background has influenced your life and perspective, and in what ways.

4) Share more about a personal academic interest or career goal.

Out of everything on this Earth, what makes you tick? What keeps you up at night? What subject makes you read books and online content until your eyes bleed? Immerse the reader in your intellectual journey of choice. Share what made you interested in the topic and how you’ve pursued knowledge. Finally, be sure to address what you’ve learned about yourself and how you hope to continue pursuing this interest in the future (tip: this is a great place to incorporate William and Mary specifics).

Alternatively, if you happen to have clear-cut career goals, such as becoming a physician, attending law school, or addressing coral bleaching, you can take this opportunity to tell the admissions committee more about it. How did this career goal develop, and what have you done to pursue it so far? Moreover, how do you intend to work toward your goal at William and Mary in particular?

5) Tell us about a challenge or adversity you’ve experienced and how that has impacted you as an individual.

Of course, some teens have faced more challenges than others, potentially related to an illness or medical emergency, frequent moving, socioeconomic situation, natural disaster, or learning disability, to name a few. However, you don’t have to have faced a significant challenge to write a compelling essay (and even if you have faced a significant challenge, you don’t have to write about it if you’re not comfortable doing so). Writing about a common topic like getting cut from a sports team, struggling in a particular advanced course, or facing an obstacle within a group project or extracurricular activity is perfectly fine.

Any story told in an emotionally compelling, honest, and connective manner can resonate with an admissions reader. The bottom line here is that there are no trite topics, only trite answers. The important thing to keep in mind is that the challenge/story itself is  less important  than what it reveals about your character and personality.

Given the 300-word limit, your essay needs to be extremely tight and polished. In all likelihood, getting this one precisely right will involve a round or two of revision, ideally with some insight/feedback from a trusted adult or peer in the process.

6) If we visited your town, what would you want to show us?

No matter where you live, local spots of interest abound, so take this opportunity to show admissions something you genuinely love or appreciate about where you’re from. Perhaps it’s your local farm stand, a museum, a restaurant, a public art installation, the beach that you run on in the mornings…regardless of your answer, the most important part of this response will be why. Why do you want to show this particular location to an admissions officer, and what do you hope they learn about you in the process?

How important are the William and Mary supplemental essays?

W&M lists 12 factors as being “very important” to the admissions committee: rigor of secondary school record, class rank, GPA, standardized test scores, essays, recommendations, extracurricular activities, talent/ability, character/personal qualities, state residency, volunteer work, and work experience.

So, we know that the  Common App essay  and the optional supplemental essays are among the top dozen factors in what is a genuinely holistic admissions process. It is fair to say that the essays will be read carefully. Further, they can be a separating factor between two comparable “on the cusp” applicants.

Want Personalized Essay Assistance?

In conclusion, if you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your main Common App essay and William & Mary supplemental essays, we encourage you to get a quote  today.

  • College Essay

Kelsea Conlin

Kelsea holds a BA in English with a concentration in Creative Writing from Tufts University, a graduate certificate in College Counseling from UCLA, and an MA in Teaching Writing from Johns Hopkins University. Her short fiction is forthcoming in Chautauqua .

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How to Respond to the 2023/2024 College of William and Mary Supplemental Essay Prompts

why william and mary essay

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How to Respond to the 2023/2024 College of William and Mary Supplemental Essay Prompts

The College of William and Mary is a public research university located in Williamsburg, Virginia. Founded in 1693, it is the second oldest institution of higher learning in the US. The graduation rate is 92% , so attending means you’re on a fast-track to success! Use this guide to figure out how to make your William and Mary supplemental essays stand out!

About the College of William and Mary

While responding to the College of William and Mary supplemental essay prompts is optional, your application would benefit from telling the admissions office who you are as an applicant. William and Mary is known as a “ public Ivy ” and is especially competitive for out-of-state students with a 31% acceptance rate . So, let’s get started on your essay! 

Before you start your essay

If you do choose to complete a supplemental essay, the College of William and Mary allows for you to respond to up to two of the following prompts. They are hoping to get to know you and your story through your supplemental essay, so don’t hold back.Two essays should give you ample opportunity to paint a picture of who you are and why you’re a good fit for their school.

Make your excitement about your topic palpable for your audience. Before you start writing, think about what gets you out of bed in the morning! William and Mary is eagerly awaiting your answer to their unique prompt! 

“Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful?” 

In this prompt, William and Mary is asking for their applicants to put their character on full display. Remember, when you were young, “show and tell” was your opportunity to present something cool about yourself to your peers. Approach writing this essay in the same way!

The admissions office isn’t looking for you to tell them what they want to hear; they’re looking for someone who will redefine what it means to apply to William and Mary. Try to incorporate your personality and spunk into the essay as much as possible as well as your passion for what you decide to write about. 

Questions to consider:

  • Why are you so interested in a particular activity?
  • What makes you an ideal William and Mary applicant?
  • How did you become the person you are today?

Also see: How to write an essay about yourself

“Are there any particular communities that are important to you, and how do you see yourself being a part of our community?” 

William and Mary knows that it takes a village, so they want to give you an opportunity to tell them about yours. We’re all part of one, whether that be a team, your family or an ethnic group. 

We all seek a place of belonging and that connection can mean a lot. While you’re explaining the impact of your particular community, find a way to incorporate what it would mean for you to be a part of the William and Mary community. 

  • What is an important community that you’re part of?
  • How has this community shaped your identity? 
  • What role do you play within this community?
“How has your family, culture and/or background shaped your lived experience?” 

You’re constantly surrounded by your culture and family, which means they play a big part in who you are and how you think. They can even be your driving force for going to college and getting a degree. Therefore, William and Mary is using this prompt to find out what the building blocks to your personality are. 

  • What are some experiences that you share with your family or cultural group? What are some that you don’t?
  • Are you a first generation college student?
  • What is your personal lived experience? How is it unique?
“Share more about a personal academic interest or career goal.” 

For this prompt, you should talk about your dreams for your future or your ambitions. Paint a picture of what you’ll study or what your ideal career will look like. Tell a story that won’t be forgotten. 

Be sure to include William and Mary into your essay by telling the admissions committee the impact going to their school will have on that particular interest or goal. Are there notable alumni in your desired career field? Does William and Mary offer a stellar curriculum for your major?

By doing this, it’ll be clear that you did your research and you’re invested in attending this school. Colleges like hearing that they’re your number one choice!

  • What role will this interest play in your future?
  • When you achieve this goal, what will happen?
  • How did you discover this interest?
“Tell us about a challenge or adversity you’ve experienced and how that has impacted you as an individual.” 

Challenges have a way of making us stronger, even in ways we might not expect. Unique obstacles that you’ve overcome demonstrate your tenacity and determination, which are qualities colleges look for. 

Translating this personal issue to a real world situation that you might face in the future can even show that you learn things from each problem you have and apply it moving forward. Talk about how those skills could be used on William and Mary’s campus and possibly improve it. 

  • How do you deal with hardships?
  • Who or what taught you how to solve problems?
  • What did you learn from this challenge?
“If we visited your town, what would you want to show us?” 

Each state has its own special thing, and who would know better than the locals? That’s exactly why William and Mary poses this question. They want to know where you come from because they might just know where you’re going, if you’re accepted, of course.

How you derive meaning from where you come from is up to you, but be sure to go beyond just describing your hometown. Mention the things that left their mark on you and why they’re significant.

  • What’s special about where you live?
  • What similarities and/or differences are there between your state and William and Mary’s campus? 
  • Are you especially proud of your hometown? Why or why not?

Next steps after applying to William and Mary

Congratulations on starting your application to college! We hope this guide has helped you through the William and Mary supplemental essays. Before you go, there are a couple more things you can do to prepare for this next step in your academic journey.

Get a taste of what college is like with a campus tour . William and Mary offer both in-person and virtual tours of the university and are eager to welcome you. These tours give you a chance to immerse yourself in campus culture and take a peek at places you might go to as a student. They also give you a chance to connect with other applicants.

Last but not least, keep doing what you’re doing! You’ve made it this far, and it’s important to keep up the good work. Don’t let senioritis overcome you, and be sure to maintain focus on your grades and continue to shine in your extracurricular activities. You’re almost at the finish line!

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Mastering the William and Mary Supplemental Essays 2023-2024

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When crafting your supplemental essays for the College of William and Mary, remember that they offer a valuable opportunity to provide a richer picture of who you are, beyond your grades and SAT scores. For the 2023-2024 admissions cycle, William and Mary have provided a couple of unique prompts that require thought, self-reflection, and a dash of creativity.

The first prompt asks you to explore a topic, idea, or concept that makes you lose track of time. How do you learn more about this thing that engages you so deeply? In essence, it wants to delve into your intellectual curiosity. As an institution known for its strong commitment to student-faculty interaction, William and Mary wants to see applicants who are passionate and curious.

When tackling this prompt, start by identifying a subject that you genuinely love. Discuss how you've explored this interest - it could be through books, projects, internships, or even heated discussions during dinner. Most importantly, demonstrate how this passion shapes your perspective and future ambitions.

Prompt 1: Explore a topic, idea, or concept that makes you lose track of time. How do you learn more about this thing that engages you so deeply? (500 words)

Ever since I first read "20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" by Jules Verne, the mysteries of the ocean depths have captivated me. Time disappears when I delve into the latest marine biology research, watch documentaries on underwater exploration, or explore tide pools during family trips to the coast.

My fascination extends beyond casual interest. I've sought out every opportunity to learn more. I've spent countless hours at the local aquarium volunteering and learning about marine life from experts. I enrolled in advanced biology classes in school, transforming my room into a study center strewn with textbooks, articles, and documentaries about ocean life.

This passion has shaped my worldview, making me an advocate for ocean conservation and climate change awareness. It has also charted my future path. I dream of studying Marine Biology in college, and my ultimate goal is to contribute to the scientific understanding of our oceans, perhaps discovering unknown species or innovating ways to protect our marine ecosystems.

The second prompt requires you to illustrate a community to which you belong. This prompt aims to understand your social context and your place within it. Here, William and Mary are looking for your ability to contribute positively to their diverse campus community.

While approaching this prompt, remember that "community" does not only refer to a geographic location or cultural group. It could also mean a group of people united by a shared interest or goal, like a sports team, a book club, or a volunteer group. Discuss your role within this community and the impact you've had on it.

Prompt 2: Describe a community to which you belong. How did you come to belong to this community? (500 words)

I belong to a unique community: a high school debate team called "Debaters for Change." Our mission extends beyond winning tournaments; we aim to raise awareness on social issues through informed discourse.

Joining was intimidating at first. I had no prior experience, and the team was filled with seasoned debaters. However, with their encouragement and mentorship, I slowly found my voice. I learned to craft logical arguments, challenge opposing views respectfully, and most importantly, listen.

Through the team, I've not only developed my public speaking and critical thinking skills but also found a group of passionate, driven individuals who share a commitment to make a difference. Our heated discussions often extend beyond practice, turning lunch hours into impromptu debates about everything from climate policy to educational reforms.

Being a part of this community has shaped me as an individual. It taught me the power of informed discourse and has ignited a desire to be part of solution-making processes on a larger scale. I hope to continue this journey in college, contributing to the vibrant intellectual community at William and Mary.

Additionally, there is an optional prompt which encourages you to discuss a time when you’ve built bridges between cultures. As an international university with students from diverse backgrounds, William and Mary values individuals who can foster an inclusive environment. If you choose this essay, highlight experiences that demonstrate your empathy, understanding, and ability to connect people from diverse backgrounds.

Optional Prompt: Describe a time when you’ve built bridges between cultures. (500 words)

During a summer exchange program in Spain, I lived with a host family whose customs, language, and daily life were very different from my own. Initially, the cultural differences were overwhelming, and communication was challenging due to my limited Spanish. However, I saw this as an opportunity to bridge the cultural gap.

I taught my host family how to prepare some classic American dishes, while they showed me how to make traditional Spanish cuisine. We exchanged stories about our home countries, breaking stereotypes and gaining a deeper understanding of each other's cultures.

When the annual 'Fiesta de la Ciudad' occurred, my host family encouraged me to participate. I donned a traditional Spanish dress and danced the flamenco with locals, feeling a deep sense of connection and acceptance.

This experience taught me the power of empathy and mutual respect in building bridges between cultures. It was a small-scale example of what I hope to do throughout my life, fostering understanding and acceptance among diverse groups of people. As a student at William and Mary, I hope to continue these cross-cultural interactions, enriching the campus with my experiences and learning from others.

Finally, remember to keep your writing concise and personal. Authenticity beats grandiosity every time. Ensure that your essays capture your unique voice and highlight experiences that have shaped you.

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The Admissions Strategist

How to write the best william & mary supplemental essay 2020-2021: a complete guide.

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 Forbe s 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 Supplemental Essay: How to Write It!

Click above for a video on how to write the 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?

Get personalized advice!

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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College of William & Mary 2022-23 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Early Decision: Nov 1

Regular Decision Deadline: Jan 2

You Have: 

College of William & Mary 2022-23 Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: 1 essay of 500 words or less

Supplemental Essay Type(s): Topic of your choice

Why hello, you lucky devils. William & Mary only has one supplemental essay! And it’s optional! Actually, the second part is kind of a lie. William & Mary may refer to this essay as an “optional opportunity,” but take a closer look. The prompt is all about the things that make you stand out — and there is no way a bare minimum application is going to stand out to admissions. So, buckle up. You’ve got one more 500-worder to go.

Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful? What aren’t we seeing elsewhere in your application? We know nobody fits neatly into approximately 500 words, but you can provide us with some suggestion of the type of person you are.  Think of this optional opportunity as show and tell by proxy.

In short, this prompt is asking you to do what we would have told you to do anyway: reveal something that doesn’t appear anywhere else on your application. Although it may seem totally open-ended, this prompt includes a few keywords that should help guide your thinking. The College of William & Mary doesn’t want to know just any random fact about you. They have specifically asked about what makes you unique and colorful, and they have invited you to have fun. So, get personal! What are your favorite funny stories about your life? You can talk about chess games with your grandma, lake trips with your friends, or the time you thought you could time travel. Pick a fun story or anecdote that says something concrete about your spirit, strengths, resilience, or character. 

If something hasn’t already sprung to mind, you should set aside about an hour for a solid brainstorm sesh. Use whichever technique feels most natural to you and see where it leads. You’d be surprised by the gems you can uncover when you take some of the pressure off and give your mind a little space to play.

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College of William & Mary | William & Mary’s 2023-24 Essay Prompts

St. andrews joint degree program essay.

As an applicant to the Joint Degree Programme, you are required to submit an essay outlining your interest in the particular academic area to which you are applying — Classical Studies, Economics, English, Film Studies, History or International Relations; and what particularly interests you about the JDP in your chosen major. Be as specific as you can. Demonstrating that you are familiar with the JDP website—its policies and curriculum—will be helpful to your application, as will examples of your ability to take on a particularly challenging, as well as rewarding, educational experience that demands adaptability, flexibility, and an appreciation for other cultures and institutional practices.

Select-A-Prompt Essay

William & Mary is a community that fosters deep human connection. We reflect on the lessons of history to meet the challenges of a rapidly changing world. We engage diverse perspectives and seek wisdom in bridging differences. Together, we are unceasing in our efforts to make a meaningful difference in our communities, the state, the nation, and the world.

To help us learn more about you, we invite you to share additional information by answering up to two of these optional short-answer prompts. Think of this optional opportunity as show and tell by proxy.

Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful?

Are there any particular communities that are important to you, and how do you see yourself being a part of our community?

How has your family, culture and/or background shaped your lived experience?

Share more about a personal academic interest or career goal.

Tell us about a challenge or adversity you’ve experienced and how that has impacted you as an individual.

If we visited your town, what would you want to show us?

Common App Personal Essay

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don‘t feel obligated to do so.

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you‘ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

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You will upload your essays to the online application and submit electronically. Essay should be in PDF (preferable) or Microsoft Word format.

Each essay is typically typically 500 words or less.

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How I Got Into William & Mary

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My first experience on the William & Mary (W&M) campus was during a tour. I noticed how the tour guide turned around to say hi to everyone who passed by, and I wanted to have that experience of knowing so many people. From that first moment, the campus felt like one big community, and this feeling was cemented when I bonded with my interviewer over Gilmore Girls during my admissions interview. I loved the feeling of everyone supporting one another. Now as a junior I can attest that my hopes were true. Students at W&M really do care about each other.

Application Context

I went to a public high school in Northern Virginia that participated in the IB program instead of AP. I started thinking about college around the beginning of my junior year, but I really had no idea what I wanted. I decided to see a third party admissions counselor for some guidance. They helped me narrow my list and brainstorm my essays. 

I decided to apply to W&M early decision. Of the other two colleges that I applied to, one had rolling admissions and the second I applied to early action. These early deadlines meant that I sent in all my applications by the beginning of December. 

To cover my demographics in one go: I’m an Indian American and a U.S. citizen. I’m not a legacy or a first-generation student, but legacy doesn’t really hold a lot of weight at W&M anyway. I did apply for financial aid, which is need-based and merit based here. I also submitted an arts supplement because I sing and play the violin. 

I didn’t receive a merit-based scholarship, but here are some links to help you apply! There are two main scholarships: the Monroe Scholarship and the 1693 Scholarship . The Monroe Scholarship gives research grants to students while the 1693 Scholarship is a full ride for in-state students and a partial ride for out-of-staters, in addition to research grants. 

Like I mentioned earlier, my high school didn’t offer AP classes; instead we had the IB program , which has a lot more components. On top of taking eight IB courses, we’re expected to do 50 hours each for the domains of creativity, activity, and service. My unweighted GPA at the time of applying was 3.71 and my weighted GPA was 4.25; the average (weighted) GPA at W&M is 4.28. My high school didn’t do class rankings, but the average W&M student was in the top 25% of their graduating class.

These are the advanced courses I took during high school:

Freshman Year:

Sophomore Year:

  • IB Chemistry 1

Junior Year:

  • IB English Literature 1
  • IB History of the Americas
  • IB Biology 1
  • IB French 1
  • IB Theory of Knowledge

Senior Year:

  • IB English Literature HL 2
  • IB History World Topics
  • IB Math SL 2
  • IB Biology HL 2
  • IB French Language and Literature SL 2
  • IB Social and Cultural Anthropology

I ended up taking both the SAT and ACT because I wanted to cover all my bases, but it’s definitely not required to do so. I used a tutoring service for both tests and only took them once. 

Here’s my score breakdown:

SAT Composite: 1420

Evidence-Based Reading and Writing: 710

ACT Composite: 34

English: 35

Reading: 35

Science: 34

Since I only submitted one score for both, my scores weren’t superscored. However, W&M does superscore in general. The middle 50% of SAT scores for W&M students is 1320-1510, and for ACT scores it’s 30-34. The SAT Subject Tests are optional.

why william and mary essay

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Extracurriculars and Awards

Sports (9-12)

  • Field Hockey: goalkeeper; team leader on the field; undefeated 2015 conference champions
  • Basketball: Sportsmanship Award; decided by team vote, given to player who best embodied kindness and encouragement

Violinist (9-12)

  • Violinist in the most advanced school orchestra; performed five concerts per year 
  • Violinist in string quartet; yearly performances
  • Superior rating at American Strings Teachers’ Association’s Certificate Achievement Program three years in a row

Classical Singer (9-12) 

  • Mezzo-soprano
  • Participated in multiple Northern Virginia Music Teachers’ Association competitions and studio recitals every year

Science Olympiad (11-12)

  • Participated in various science-based events to compete for first through sixth place; placed fifth in Forensics in 2017 

Virginia Governor’s French Language Academy

  • Three week full French immersion program in Summer 2017
  • Rigorous application process; teacher nomination followed by written and speaking tests

Community Service (9-12)

  • Make-A-Wish Club co-founder; ran food/toy drives, make holiday cards for children in hospitals
  • Volunteer at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital in the Occupational Health Office

I was also a peer tutor and belonged to multiple National Honors Societies. I know this seems like a lot, but you’d be surprised how much you’re already doing! Don’t feel pressured to add activities to your plate to make yourself seem more well-rounded; it’s much better to really care about the couple things you’re doing rather than take on a bunch of random extracurriculars. There are also ways to spin the activities you’re involved in so that they seem diverse and varied. Think about the impact you’re having on others and what skills you’re learning in these activities to strengthen your application. 

I had to apply through both the Common App and the Coalition App , because between the three colleges I applied to they ended up using both platforms. 

The Common App personal essay prompt: Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Here’s an excerpt from my personal essay:

After encouragement from my tenth- and eleventh-grade French teachers, I applied to the Virginia Governor’s French Language Academy on a whim…I was ready to retreat back into myself, to become the person that the public saw. No initiating conversations, no raising my hand, just keeping to myself. I did not know anyone, so this seemed like the best and most obvious course of action. But the people were so nice, so friendly- so much like me- that I was instantly at ease. Slowly, I started to change. I was happy. I made friends. I did not want to put on a façade. I conversed with everybody, students and faculty alike, and for the first time in my life, I felt… free. Comfortable. Being completely cut off from the outside world and forced to speak a foreign language for three weeks while interacting with the same 60 people day after day meant that we formed lasting bonds. My friends and I are still in contact, both online and through rendez-vous in person, two months after the end of the academy. I’ve realized that the friends we make are only temporary if we treat them that way. Our relationships are in our control. I know that this lesson will stay with me, especially as I begin college.

The friends I made at Governor’s School are so dear to me, so cherished, because they accepted the real me. They made me feel comfortable in my own skin. I will forever be grateful to them for allowing me to be myself, and for loving me for it. 

W&M also had an option to submit an additional essay. 

Prompt: Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful?…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.

Here’s an excerpt from my essay:

Baking has always been a favorite pastime of mine. It is a science, a chemistry; I have always felt that the attention to detail it demands has allowed me to become more focused in other aspects of my life, too. Baking serves as a way for me to decompress, whether from a math test that did not go quite as planned, to preparing an English presentation that is just not working, to the ever-growing pile of homework burning holes in my bag. When I bake, I can forget about the real world for a couple of hours and lose myself in the calming precision that is making madeleines, creating a cake, or even layering a lasagna. Afterwards, I can go back to my work with a fresh mind and re-energized ideas. 

Above all, baking is a connection. The act of “breaking bread” has always been seen as an act of peace, of communion – how is “breaking brownies” any different? Food brings people together, one satisfied stomach at a time. When I am the one who makes that happen, I feel like it is what I was meant to do.

Letters of Recommendation

W&M asks for one to two letters of recommendation. I asked my biology and history teachers; since I developed good working relationships with both of them. They were both very happy to write the letters and I made sure to ask two teachers that I had in my junior year so that I could present W&M with more recent insight into my academics.

W&M offers interviews that are actually conducted by current seniors at the college. I really enjoyed the experience of talking to an actual student, because I was able to ask them questions about the school that may not have been answered as thoroughly if I had been speaking with an adult who had never had a student experience at W&M. If you’re able to do an interview, I would highly recommend it because W&M cares about something called demonstrated interest , which is where the applicant goes out of their way to show that they are interested in the college. Smaller schools generally consider this in the application process, so an interview really does give you a bit of a leg up in those cases.

Wrapping it Up

Before I wrap up, I just wanted to share some helpful links. This is a really nice application checklist that W&M has, so you can make sure you’ve got all components together. Like I mentioned earlier, visiting or interviewing at W&M can really help because you’ll be showing demonstrated interest, so here’s a link for visits, tours, and interviews .

If there’s one tip I could give you, it’s that W&M really cares about its students. They want to know what makes you unique, what your quirks are, and how you would round out the student body. So if you do end up submitting a supplemental essay, make sure to really tell a story that makes you stand out—even if it’s a little weird. We embrace that here!

Overall, I’m really happy at W&M. I’ve met so many great people, I love my classes, and the professors are amazing. I know that the college application process is terrifying and nightmaric at times, but there really is a light at the other end of the tunnel.

What Are Your Chances of Acceptance at William & Mary?

Over 14,000 students apply to W&M every year and only around 1,500 students are accepted. Getting in is not easy, but CollegeVine is here to offer you tips for creating a competitive application.

To better understand your chances of acceptance, use our free admissions calculator. This tool will take your academics, test scores and even extracurriculars to measure your chances of acceptance at hundreds of schools.

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Silvano Marchetto, Owner of Glitzy Greenwich Village Trattoria, Dies at 77

Da Silvano was a celebrity hangout, drawing boldface names like Madonna, Barry Diller and Yoko Ono. It was often referred to as the downtown Elaine’s.

Silvano Marchetto, holding a glass of wine and wearing a sport coat, stands inside a rustic-looking restaurant with a rough brick wall behind him.

By Alex Vadukul

Silvano Marchetto, an Italian-born restaurateur whose Greenwich Village trattoria, Da Silvano, became a star-studded canteen and a Page Six fixture over four decades, died on June 4 in Florence, Italy. He was 77.

His daughter, Leyla Marchetto, said the cause was heart failure.

Akin to a downtown Elaine’s, Da Silvano , which opened in 1975, was one of New York’s reigning haunts for the art, fashion, media and film crowds. And Mr. Marchetto, a hard-living Tuscan who parked his Ferrari ornamentally outside his establishment, was its rustic host and mascot.

He wore Hawaiian shirts and yellow pants, and his wrists were covered in silver bracelets and jewelry. After he fired waiters in fits of passion, he soon missed them, sending emissaries to lure them back. And when everyone from Rihanna to Barry Diller to Patti Smith frequented his restaurant, he greeted them with a friendly growl as he nursed a glass of wine.

Before social media democratized the public’s access to the lives of celebrities, tabloids like The New York Post and The Daily News relied on Da Silvano as a source of juicy gossip. The patio tables beneath its yellow awning were coveted seating for those who wanted to be seen, and the pictures snapped by the paparazzi posted up along the sidewalk notified New Yorkers about how their favorite celebrities dated, argued, wheedled and canoodled.

“Page Six covered us so much, people asked if I owned The New York Post,” Mr. Marchetto (pronounced MARK-et-oh) once said . “But it was good for Da Silvano, whatever they wrote.”

Mr. Marchetto’s roster of regulars included Calvin Klein, Anna Wintour, Lindsay Lohan, Joan Didion, Madonna, Yoko Ono, Harvey Weinstein, Susan Sontag, Lou Reed, Salman Rushdie, Stephanie Seymour and Larry Gagosian.

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William and Mary Optional Supplement 500 words or 650 words??

Basically the title! On the common app the optional William and Mary essay has conflicting instructions, in the prompt it says the essay should be less than 500 words, in the common app text box the max is listed as 650 words. I feel like to be safe I should probably go with 500 words. Idk. What did you guys do?? Did anybody email the admissions office??

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Billy Waters, a one legged busker, in a crowded London street. Coloured aquatint, 1822. Source: Welcome Collection .

Black in New York City: The Story of Billy Waters

June 25, 2024 | Jimenez, Katherine | African American Studies , American History , Biography , Black Lives Series , History

Mary L. Shannon—

How do you tell the story of unrecorded Black lives in early New York City? This was the problem confronting me when I tried to uncover the early years of William “Billy” Waters (c. 1778-1823), once a famous Black busker in Regency London, born in America in the dying years of the eighteenth century, now largely overlooked by history. Sailor, immigrant, father, lover, and extraordinary talent, exploring the life of Billy Waters allows us to celebrate his creativity and to understand a diverse transatlantic Regency world.

Waters had a hit song, a famous street performance, a well-known costume and was depicted in a play that toured Britain and America. He was a Black, disabled, poor man in an era when to be any of those things was at best challenging, and usually downright dangerous. Yet Waters shaped his life on his own terms as far as he could—he joined the British Navy, got promoted to a petty officer, turned the accident which disabled him into the start of a new career as a performer, and fought hard to defend his family and his livelihood. Waters was a versatile and skillful man.

Where did he learn these skills and this resilience? I began the process of researching and writing his life story with a hunch that his early years as a child in America must, like for any artist, have shaped both his skills and attitude to life. But how could I find out for sure? I knew he was American because British naval records told me so: how frequently as Waters’ biographer did I have cause to feel gratitude towards the Navy clerks and lieutenants and captains with their scratchy quill pens! These Navy men painstakingly recorded birthplaces for newly-arrived sailors, kept scrupulous logs of what happened on any ship on any given day, and obsessed almost as much as I did about the fine details of when Waters was paid his naval pension, how often, and how much. Most of the hard facts I could verify about Waters were gleaned from the crumbling pages of British Navy record books from around the time of the War of 1812. They told me he was born in New York (probably the city rather than just the state) sometime around the years of the American Revolution. Beyond that, however, they told me nothing about Waters’ childhood and adolescence.

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How was I to find one small boy amongst the crowd in post-Independence New York? Harder still, how was I to find one Black boy? In New York’s slave-holding economy, birth records for Black Americans were not kept. Existences were erased and voices were silenced on paper as well as in real life. Census data recorded the names of white property owners but not their human property. Occasional names appeared in newspapers: “RUNAWAY! My negro boy Sam.” Sam’s own perspective, however, was unrecorded.

Scholar Imtiaz Habib calls this “the arc of invisibility.” In other words, when people are deliberately excluded from the archival record, and stereotyped in popular culture, they are more than absent from history, they are erased from it. 1 Waters was drawn by numerous artists, and fictionalised versions of him turn up in books, plays, and cheap print. One eye-catching picture was done c. 1821 by George and Robert Cruikshank (George later illustrated Charles Dickens’s Oliver Twist ). The picture shows Waters in the middle of a crowded pub in London’s St. Giles, fiddling for some dancers as drinking, fighting, and flirting unfolds around him. His caricatured features and his costume are what we see: feathered military hat, sailor jacket, white wig, and the shaft of his wooden leg. But none of these representations are by Waters himself. They all look at him through nineteenth-century eyes.

As a biographer I wanted to look with him, to imagine his world from his perspective, as much as I could. Time to look for help.

I am, of course, far from the only writer about lives from the past who has confronted the problem of archival violence. Saidiya Hartman’s work on Black women’s histories and the histories of enslavement led her to develop the idea of “critical fabulation,” or the use of creative yet research-informed approaches to telling stories where hard facts are missing or contradictory. 2 This gave me the permission to imagine, to surmise, and to bring the techniques of the novelist to the problem of biography. Alain Corbin’s phrase “the evocation of a life”—used to describe his book The Life of an Unknown about a clog-maker from France for whom only the barest of records survived—helped me to see how historical context can also build up the picture of a person. 3 And Marion Turner’s “biography” of Geoffrey Chaucer’s fictional character The Wife of Bath (which draws upon the lives of medieval women) made me realize that characters, too, can help us to access overlooked lives. 4

So I began to think about Waters’ street persona and costume. What information did Waters leave us there about his life? Waters’ later life in London was much more easily traceable than his early years: this is the problem for a biographer researching Black history in early New York. Waters left no papers, diary, or letters. But eventually I realized those caricatured, racialized Regency images of Waters are stereotyped, to be sure. The print by Thomas Busby from 1819 is an excellent example of this. But in depicting his chosen costume in great detail, they are also a window into Waters’ own choices. They were a clue to his creative influences and early life experiences. They are all we have of autobiography.

The images, then, were where I began. I started with that extravagant feathered hat. Where did that idea come from? What was Waters referencing? In the musical world of early New York, I found some clues. I came across the Pinkster festival, held at Pentecost across New York State (including in New York City) where ordinary New Yorkers, enslaved and free, Black and sometimes white, danced to the music of the Pinkster drums. They paid court to the Pinkster King, a Black man in a military-inspired costume, all gold lace and military hat. Performance was key at Pinkster: drums, feathers, fiddles, footwork, and shouts upended the norms of this slave-holding society for a few short days and cried noisy defiance in the slaveholder’s faces. No wonder Pinkster celebrations were eventually banned. No wonder a young Billy Waters learnt that performance could be power, if you did it right.

If we look again, then, at the pictures by Busby and the Cruikshank brothers, we might begin to see new things in them. Beyond the caricature and the racialization, we might see the creative influences of Waters’ rich life standing out on the page. In his feathered hat we can see the echo of the Pinkster King, of the lively song and dance culture in early New York, and of Black New Yorkers fighting with everything they had to preserve, develop, and transmit the rhythms of their ancestors. Perhaps what these Regency artists depicted (without knowing it) was Waters’ response to the history and heritage of forced migrations that he lived through, and lived with. I realised that I didn’t need to develop a creative way to overcome the gaps and silences in the archive. Billy Waters had already managed that long ago.

  • Imtiaz Habib, Black Lives in the English Archives, 1500-1677: Imprints of the Invisible. 2008 (18). ↩︎
  • Saidiya Hartman, Wayward Lives, Beautiful Experiments: Intimate Histories of Riotous Black Girls, Troublesome Women and Queer Radicals . 2019 (xiii) and “Venus in Two Acts”, Small Axe 12:2 (1 June 2008): 1–14. ↩︎
  • Alain Corbin, The Life of an Unknown: The Rediscovered World of the Clog Maker in Nineteenth-Century France. 2001 (212) ↩︎
  • Marion Turner, The Wife of Bath: A Biography . 2023. ↩︎

Mary L. Shannon is a writer, broadcaster, and senior lecturer in English Literature at the University of Roehampton, London, where her research focuses on nineteenth-century literature and culture. She is author of the award-winning Dickens, Reynolds and Mayhew on Wellington Street.

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