Williams College Essay Sample

Entries are groups that first-years are sorted into by the college (not randomly). They’re basically floors that will do organized activities together, talk together, and spend all of Freshman year together. Williams always emphasizes embracing a diversity in opinions, background, ideas, and personality traits. Ask around and see how others would describe you, or what they think is most interesting about you. That can provide a good starting point for brainstorming some ideas.


Culture, interests, and unique talents are all different perspectives with which you can approach the prompt. This supplement is often the most difficult for students because it can come out sounding self-centered to the applicant. If you have that issue, steering away from writing about personality and achievements by following one of the above listed ways — it can mitigate the feeling that you are bragging, and make the essay simpler to write.


The cultural way of approaching the prompt is choosing an aspect of your culture and then portraying how that affected you, and why that brings a new idea or perspective to a group conversation. No matter what its ancestral background is, each family has a specific, idiosyncratic culture and traditions that separate it from the rest. Maybe your dad takes you horseback riding, or you and your mom love to go candle shopping, or all of the siblings in your family have to cook at least one meal a week together.


Each of these traditions can be utilized to explain a certain characteristic of you that is unique. For instance, in the candle-shopping scenario, the meticulous attention to color and form that you and your mom paid to each candle made you become much more attentive to detail, causing you to try to deeply and fully understand another’s arguments or background when conversing with them.


Interests and unique talents can be approached in a similar way to the cultural approach: Choose an uncommon or interesting passion that you have (everyone has at least one, from knowing how to make origami trees to being a connoisseur of different brands of pencils), and elaborate on why that makes you who you are, and why that affects your perspective in discussion. Discuss why your interest/talent shapes your worldview, and why that gives a unique perspective to the conversation.

Morty discussed the issue of how Williams can/should ensure that the students we accept want to come and will be happy here. We have a big advantage in that lots of people seek the number one liberal arts college, especially from abroad. But does someone from Shanghai really know what they are getting into? Do they understand what it means to spend 4 years in rural New England? Morty noted that the Common Application makes it easy for someone who is already applying to Harvard and Swarthmore to just add Williams to their application list. Why not? [It is free for someone who checks the financial waiver box and, since elite colleges want more poor kids, why not check it?] Morty noted that we want to somehow tell which applicants really understand Williams and want to come here for the right reasons.

A committee of trustees (led by Bob Scott ’68?) is actually looking at this issue and actively considering having Williams add a special essay section. Morty used the example [Not sure if this was actively under consideration?] of pointing out the course catalog and asking students to pick a few classes that they really wanted to take and to explain why. The expectation would be that students who really want to come to Williams would take the time to write these essays, would have the energy to look up the CVs of the professors and tell a compelling story. Even if this causes several thousand applicants not to apply [which seems plausible], Morty argued that this would be a feature rather than a bug. Why bother with students who aren’t that interested in Williams? They are unlikely to come even if we accept them. [And don’t forget adverse selection since the ones that would come from this category are the ones that couldn’t get in to any place better.] And even those that do come are less likely to be happy, contributing members of the community.

[I think that this is a great idea. In general, there are two models of Williams admissions. First is the contest. Once you set the rules (grades count for this much, SAT scores for this, X number of slots for athletes and URMs), you select the best candidates, regardless as to whether you think that they will come or be happy at Williams. You let them decide since they “won” the contest. The second model for Williams admissions is the dinner party. (Perhaps I need a better analogy? Suggestions welcome!) Although there are standards for who you most want at your party, you are especially interested in inviting people who will come and have a good time. Miserable guests make other people miserable as well. At the very best parties, all the attendees will be excited to be there.

In order to have a sense of whether this is a good idea, you would want to measure the happiness and contribution to campus life of different sorts of students, especially those who you think would have gone to the trouble of filling out an extra essay and those who wouldn’t have. One (imperfect) way of getting to that would be to compare early decision Ephs (both those accepted early and those admitted regular) with other Ephs. One assumes that the ED Ephs are more likely to understand what Williams is all about and be making an informed choice. If such students are much happier and more involved in the community than a matched sample of non-ED students, then requiring an Williams-specific essay makes some sense.]

If Morty and/or the Trustees go very far down this path, it promises to be the biggest change in undergraduate admissions in a decade. Comments anyone?

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