Williams Application Essay


Williams College Application Essay Prompt

This makes it all the more important that your application to Williams College is as strong as you can possibly make it. A compelling application begins with a well-crafted essay, and we at CollegeVine are here to help you with just that. In this blog post, we’ll go over the tips, tricks, and insights you need to write a supplemental essay that is sure to wow the admissions officers and help you stand out in the application pool.


Imagine yourself in a tutorial at…


At Williams, we believe that bringing together students and professors in small groups produces extraordinary academic outcomes. Our distinctive Oxford-style tutorial classes — in which two students are guided by a professor in deep exploration of a single topic — are a prime example. Each week the students take turns developing independent work — an essay, a problem set, a piece of art — and critiquing their partner’s work.

Focused on close reading, writing, and oral defense of ideas, more than 70 tutorials a year are offered across the curriculum, with titles like “Biomedical Ethics,” “Women in National Politics,” and “Extraterrestrial Life in the Galaxy: a Sure Thing or a Snowball’s Chance?”

Imagine yourself in a tutorial at Williams. Of anyone in the world, whom would you choose to be the other student in the class, and why?


At first glance, this question may seem rather daunting. It’s lengthy, it’s detailed, and it’s talking about a subject you may not yet be an expert on: Williams’ unique tutorials. However, there’s no need to stress. In reality, this question is far more open-ended than you may initially perceive it to be. At its heart, it is asking you to identify one person, living today, whom you would like to engage with in a close-knit academic setting.


The first step to answering this question is to understand the context in which it is framed. This means learning what, exactly, a Williams tutorial is like. Typically, a tutorial has no more than ten students; these students are then divided into pairs. Every week, one member of the pair writes a paper, which is approximately 5 pages in length, and the other member writes a critique. Then, the professor leading the tutorial meets with the pair to engage in a robust academic dialogue regarding the paper and the responding critique.


Naturally, this dynamic lends itself to deep intellectual intimacy. With your tutorial partner, you’ll likely be sharing raw insights, personal convictions, and passionate discussions. This is someone you’ll have to trust to be critical of your work, and in turn, someone whose ideas and opinions you’d be willing to analyze as well. Thus, the ideal tutorial partner you choose should be someone who you not only believe can help you grow as a student, but who you feel you can intellectually stimulate and challenge as well.


Now that you understand the context of the question, it’s time to actually answer it and choose a tutorial partner. Luckily for you, there are few wrong answers to this question. That being said, you should be particularly cautious about choosing extremely controversial or polarized figures, or figures linked to potentially divisive topics, such as religion or politics.


Remember that you don’t know anything about the admissions officer who will be reading this essay, and you want to steer clear of any topics that may potentially offend or simply rub them the wrong way. It is always wise to err on the side of caution, and it may be in your best interest to keep your essay rather neutral in this regard.


Beyond this, who you choose to select is entirely up to your discretion. You could identify a celebrity, a prominent intellectual, a figure in your personal life, or any other individual you deem fit. No matter who you choose, what’s most important is that you provide a clear answer as to why you are choosing them.


Think about the ways in which you want to grow as a student during your time in college, and then think about how the figure you choose will help you do so. What are your academic strengths? Where do you need to improve? In what ways do you want to be challenged? When you graduate from university, how will your approach to academia have changed?


Additionally, you should think about how your own intellectual passions can be tied back to whomever you choose. For instance, let’s say you are particularly interested in increasing female representation in politics. During your time in high school, you’ve volunteered with organizations like the League of Women Voters or the National Organization for Women, and helped start a female empowerment club at your high school.


For your response to this question, you could discuss how you would choose former Speaker of the House, Nancy Pelosi, to be your partner in the Women in National Politics tutorial. You could describe the kinds of questions you’d ask her, what you’d hope to learn from her, and how you’d bring in your past experiences to add a new perspective to your conversations with her.


The key to successfully pulling off this essay is passion. After reading your supplement, admissions officers should not only be able to clearly imagine you as a member of a Williams tutorial, but also as a member of Williams’ greater academic community. A successful response to this prompt helps illuminate your academic and personal interests, and leaves admissions officers with a clearer idea of who you are as a student and as an individual.


With these tips in mind, you’re ready to begin working on your Williams supplement. We at CollegeVine wish you the best of luck, and encourage you to contact one of our highly trained essay specialists for even more help with perfecting your essay for Williams College!


For more tips and tricks on how to master the application process, be sure to sign up for CollegeVine’s personalized application guidance program and mentorship services.


After weeks of brainstorming, writing, editing, and rewriting, that frightening personal statement essay is finally done.

But don’t exhale just yet.

For a majority of colleges, particularly the most selective, additional essay questions are also part of the application process.

Some seem simple, such as “Why Tufts?” or “Why Brown?” And some are quirky, such as “Hashtags trend worldwide. Give us a hashtag you wish were trending. Why?” asked by Wake Forest University, or “Tell us about spiders,” at the University of Richmond.

But make no mistake: There is nothing simple or frivolous about these questions that more and more colleges and universities are using to help in the selection process.

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“It’s another way to tell students apart,” said Dr. Kat Cohen, founder and chief executive officer of IvyWise, a Manhattan-based educational consulting company.

Cohen, who has worked as a college counselor for the past 17 years, said these are the questions that can make or break an applicant’s chances of getting into a top-notch school.

“These questions are aimed at trying to get students to reveal something about themselves that’s not obvious from all the other information they’ve provided, and to show their intellectual vitality,” she said.

That’s exactly what Richard Nesbitt, director of admissions at Williams College, is looking for.

“Who is this student? What are their values? What’s important to them? What makes them tick,” he said.

Nesbitt said he prefers calling the essays “personal statements,” because they should not be written in the same style as essays students are used to writing for most high school assignments.

“These need to be in a student’s own voice, in a conversational tone,” he said. “These are not something we grade, it’s more about completing the picture of who this student is.”

At Williams, the supplemental question asks students to think about the Oxford-style tutorial classes that are a distinct and important part of the academic philosophy of the small, liberal arts college.

In the weekly tutorials, one student writes a paper about something the professor has chosen for them to read, for example, while the second student is asked to write a two-or three-page paper reaction.

So the supplemental question asks: “Imagine yourself in a tutorial at Williams. Of anyone in the world, whom would you choose to be the other student in the class, and why?”

Students have 300 words in which to answer.

And Nesbitt says students should remember that this is their opportunity to tell their story.

So, if Ben Franklin is the person a student chooses to take a tutorial with, not many of the 300 allotted words should be used on Franklin’s biography.

“The answer should be telling us more about the student than about Ben Franklin,” he said. “It isn’t really about who the student chooses, but about how they handle it.”

And here’s another helpful bit of advice.

While it may be tempting to skip the supplemental questions marked “optional,” including the one asked by Williams, don’t do it.

“Very few of our applicants don’t choose to write it,” Nesbitt said.

Those few, he said, may be sending a “self-selecting” message that Williams probably wasn’t their best choice.

Cohen said another mistake students make is to spend months refining their long essay, and then leave a week to throw together their answers to the supplemental questions, which often ask for very short answers.

“You need to be thoughtful about every answer, even the short answers,” she said.

Especially, she said, because these are the places where students who have done their research and taken time to think outside the box can really distinguish themselves.

For example, Cohen said a supplemental question used by the University of Southern California recently was, “What’s the greatest invention of all time?”

The answer “computer” or “internet” — or something else obvious — is going to be used by hundreds, if not thousands, of applicants.

Cohen tells students to take every opportunity to tell their personal story.

“A student I was working with loved photography, so he wrote about the daguerreotype, and another student from Southern India wrote about air conditioning,” she said.

Another example where students can fall into a trap is the most commonly asked supplemental “why this school” question.

Even if the question must be answered in just 100 words, use details.

“Write about specific courses you may be interested in taking, about professors, about research opportunities, about the community,” Cohen said, warning against the general “the campus is beautiful, and I love the academic rigor” type of generalities that could be cut and pasted into any application.

At Tufts University in Medford, the supplemental questions are added “to personalize the Common Application and, in our case, showcase a student’s personality more clearly,” according to Lee A. Coffin, dean of admissions and enrollment management.

The questions are written each year by the admissions staff, according to Coffin.

This year’s questions instruct students to “think outside the box: take a risk and go somewhere unexpected. Be serious if the moment calls for it but feel comfortable being playful if that suits you, too.”

In addition to “Why Tufts,” the application also asks students to explore their background by writing about a Quaker saying, “Let your life speak.” Students are then asked to answer one more question from a list of six that range from, “Celebrate the role of sports in your life” to a Nelson Mandela quote followed by the question “Describe a way in which you have made or hope to make a difference.”

Tufts includes examples of what its admissions office considers “past essays that mattered” on it’s website at admissions.tufts.edu/apply/advice/past-essays/.

Whether students are writing the Common Application essay, or specific supplemental essays for particular schools, there are a few things that always matter, according to Nesbitt.

Grammar counts, he said,

And, he said, tell your own story, don’t try and guess what the admissions department might want to read.

“It doesn’t have to be about any earth-shaking event,” he said. “Tell a story that lets us know what’s important to you.”

Nesbitt suggests students should edit their essays out loud.

“It should sound like you, it should be in your own voice,” he said.

And reading words out loud lets you hear if there are redundancies, or words that you would never actually say, but wrote to try and sound impressive.

Nesbitt, a Williams graduate who has been in college admissions for 31 years, echoed what many other people who make admissions decisions have said.

Essays are important, but they are just one part of the overall picture that is being evaluated.

“Honestly, sometimes students can over-think it,” he said.

Ellen Ishkanian can be reached at eishkanian@gmail.com.

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