Williams is among the most selective colleges in the country. In 2021, its acceptance rate was only 8%. As part of your Williams application, you’ll need to respond to the Williams writing supplement.
In this article, we’ll cover the four questions that make up the Williams writing supplement, offer suggestions for what to write about in your essay, and give you tips for crafting the best essay possible.
UPDATE for 2021-2022 Williams Applicants
For students applying to Williams during the 2021/2022 school year, there is no required writing supplement. However, there is the option to submit a short academic paper (3-5 pages). On their website, Williams states, "Williams does not require a writing supplement. However, students who are interested in submitting an example of their written work have the option of sharing an academic paper completed within the last year, ideally 3-5 pages in length. The paper does not need to be graded, and can be creative or analytical. Please do not submit lab reports. If submitting this optional paper, please include a description of the assignment or prompt."
As this supplement is optional, you can choose whether or not you want to submit something for it. If you choose not to, it won't negatively affect your application. If you do decide to submit a paper, don't write something new just for this prompt. Choose a school paper you think is a great example of your writing skills, and submit that. You may want to choose a paper that relates to the subject you want to major in at Williams, but that isn't required. Remember to include a description of the assignment, as Williams requests.
The Williams Writing Supplement
There are four different questions on the Williams writing supplement. You need to respond to one of them as part of your application.
1. 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 60 pre-determined tutorials are offered across the curriculum each year. Imagine yourself in a tutorial at Williams. What topic would you be most excited to study in that setting and why?
2. The First-year Entry — a thoughtfully constructed residential microcosm of the student community that's a defining part of the Williams experience — brings together students from around the world with different perspectives, interests and backgrounds. Imagine having a late-night conversation with your Entrymates about a community that you value. Describe that community and why it's important to you.
3. All-Campus Entertainment (ACE), a student organization that hosts a weekly event called "Stressbusters" — an opportunity for students to focus on self-care by stepping away from their typical routine and enjoying some unscheduled time — and snacks! — with friends. Weekly Stressbuster activities might include a concert, playing with a therapy dog, painting pumpkins, building with Legos, etc. What's your version of a "stressbuster," and how does it help you rejuvenate in the midst of a hectic week?
4. I would like to upload my own essay (from a humanities or social science course and ideally 3-5 pages in length).
Each question has the same instructions: respond to the prompt in 300 words or fewer. Writing the Williams writing supplement is optional, so you can choose whether you want to answer a question or not.
Should I Write an Essay for the Williams Writing Supplement?
When you’re working on your Williams College application, you might notice that the Williams Writing Supplement is entirely optional. So should you write an essay? Or skip it altogether?
It would be a huge mistake to not write the Williams College supplement. While the instructions do say optional, the statement isn’t really optional. Choosing not to write an essay will make you look like you don’t care that much about being accepted to Williams.
Along the same lines, your Williams writing supplement is a great way to show the admissions committee aspects of your personality that aren’t highlighted in the rest of your application. Take that opportunity! Show the admissions committee why you belong on Williams’ campus.
What Should I Write About in My Williams College Supplement?
Let’s take a look at each of the Williams College supplement questions and discuss what you could write about in each.
Williams College Essay Prompt #1: The Small Group Prompt
There are two steps to answering this question correctly. First, you need to pick a topic that you want to study in an intensive, small group setting. You'll need to set aside some time to really think about what interests you enough to engage with it in this unique, tutorial-style setting.
Generally speaking, it's a good idea to pick a topic that's related to your major. Having said that, tutorials are designed for depth rather than breadth. So while you might study dozens of topics in a class like Biology 101, a Williams tutorial is all about picking a narrower subject and really digging into it.
A good answer to this part of the question will be specific. Let's say you're majoring in biology, but your most interested in cell research. Instead of just stating you want to study biology in your response, you should specify that you want to study the ways the human immune system works.
Having said all of that, we recommend that you take a look at past Williams tutorials to help give you an idea of what actual courses look like. That way you can make sure the topic you choose aligns with the type and style of tutorials already offered at Williams.
Second, you need to explain why the tutorial style of class — and the topic you've chosen! — is exciting to you. What do you hope to get out of in depth research? And why is a Williams tutorial the only way for you
It's also a good idea to include Williams-specific information in this section of your response. For instance, if you're interested in the immune system, don't be afraid to name specific faculty members you'd like to study with. Adding Williams-specific details will really show admissions counselors that you're serious about becoming a Williams student.
Additionally, make sure your passion shines through as you explain why you're interested in your topic. Building on our earlier example, maybe one of your parents suffers from Crohn's disease, which is an autoimmune disorder. You want to use your time in your tutorial to learn more about the immune response to Crohn's, which will help you better understand your father's illness and put you one step closer to your goal of becoming a Crohn's researcher.
Prompt #2: The FYE Prompt
The FYE program at Williams is designed students plug into the Williams community and give you the support you'll need to be successful during your first year. Knowing that, it makes sense that admissions counselors would want to know more about how you'll fit into both your Entry and the Williams student body!
The first step to answering this prompt is choosing a community to focus on in your essay. You should pick a community that is important to you, either because you're a member of that community or because that community has inspired or impacted you in a positive way.
Most of us value more than one community. For instance, you may appreciate the community you have at school, but your church is also important to you. Or maybe you're a member of a larger community, like the Mexican-American or LGBTQ+ ones. Whatever the case may be, make sure you pick a community you really care about.
From there, it's time to tell a story. Remember: you're supposed to be pretending that you're sharing with your Entrymates, and storytelling is one of the most powerful tools you have to help others understand your values. That's why we recommend that you tell a story that helps illustrate why the community you've chosen is important to you!
For example, let's say you immigrated to the U.S. as a kid and just recently became a U.S. citizen. Telling that story as a way to explain why the immigrant community is important to you will help admissions counselors a) get to know you better, and b) understand why this is a community you value.
In telling that story, make sure you don't forget to explain why the community you've chosen matters to you. This prompt is designed to help admissions counselors get to know you better, so don't be afraid to be authentic and honest!
Prompt #3: The ACE Prompt
You're a high school student, which means you're no stranger to stress! Being a student at Williams College will be stressful, too...so admissions counselors want to know a little more about how you'll handle the pressure.
This is a chance to give admissions counselors a glimpse of who you are beyond the rest of your application. So don't be afraid to highlight a unique or unusual way you let go of stress! For instance, maybe your stressbuster is baking cookies, but only the cookies your grandfather taught you to bake before he passed away. Or maybe you unwind by chalking a hopscotch board in your driveway and...well, hopscotching. Everyone manages stress differently, and now's your time to share your strategy!
But you have to do more than describe your stressbuster: you also have to explain why this helps you manage stress! What is it about this technique that helps take your stress levels down to a manageable level? Let's take the cookie baking example. Maybe baking cookies helps you feel close to your grandfather even though he's no longer here, and it helps remind you of the life lessons he taught you. (And of course, you'll have a delicious treat to enjoy as well!) Or with the hopscotch example: maybe the rhythm of the hopping helps take your mind off of things, and the exercise helps you feel more relaxed as well.
Whatever the case may be, including the "why" does more than just answer the prompt in its entirety: it also helps admissions counselors get to know you a bit better, too.
Prompt #4: The "Upload Your Own Essay" Prompt
Williams gives you the option to submit an essay that you've written for one of your high school courses in lieu of answering one of the other prompts. Keep in mind that this needs to be a paper you've submitted to your teacher: don't write a completely new paper just
If you do choose this prompt, there are a few things to consider. First, your paper needs to be A+ level excellent. If there's a paper you have in mind, we recommend talking to your teacher about it before you decide it's the paper you want to submit. They will be able to give you honest feedback and encouragement about
Second, make sure you edit your paper before you send it to Williams. That doesn't mean you need to completely rewrite your paper, but you should make the revisions your teacher mentions on your essay. Also, make sure you proofread, proofread, proofread. Just because this was a paper you submitted in class doesn't give you an excuse for typos or grammatical errors!
But should you choose this prompt? We recommend choosing this prompt only if you're planning on majoring in a field where writing is important. For instance, if you want to be an English major or a history major, showing off your writing chops might not be a bad idea!
Tips for Writing a Strong Williams College Supplement Essay
Writing a strong Williams College supplement essay isn’t just about picking the right prompt to answer. You need to make sure your essay is the best possible example of your work in order to wow the admissions committee. Follow these three tips for writing an amazing Williams supplement essay.
#1: Be Authentic
The point of a college essay is for the admissions committee to have the chance to get to know you beyond your test scores, grades, and honors. Your admissions essays are your opportunity to make yourself come alive for the essay readers and to present yourself as a fully fleshed out person.
You should, then, make sure that the person you’re presenting in your college essays is yourself. Don’t try to emulate what you think the committee wants to hear or try to act like someone you’re not.
If you lie or exaggerate, your essay will come across as insincere, which will diminish its effectiveness. Stick to telling real stories about the person you really are, not who you think Williams wants you to be.
#2: Play With Form
The Williams College supplement essays leave a lot of room open for creative expression - use that! You don’t need to stick to a five paragraph essay structure here. You can play with the length and style of your sentences — you could even dabble in poetry if that makes sense!
Whichever form you pick, make sure it fits with the story you’re trying to tell and how you want to express yourself.
#3: Proofread and Polish Your Essay
Your Williams essay should be the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your application, make sure to edit and proofread your essays.
Your work should be free of spelling and grammar errors. Make sure to run your essays through a spelling and grammar check before you submit.
It’s a good idea to have someone else read your Williams College supplement essay, too. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person. Have them check and make sure you haven’t missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it possibly can be.
While the Williams College supplement says it’s optional, it’s not really! You should answer the essay as part of your application.
When writing your Williams College supplement response,
- Be authentic and true to yourself.
- Tell stories that are meaningful to your identity and experience.
- Lie or exaggerate to seem more important.
- Forget to proofread or polish your essay.
Wondering how to ace the Common Application? No problem! We’ve got you covered with tips and tricks to make your application stand out from the crowd.
Starting your essay is often the hardest part. If you're unsure where to begin, check out this guide to starting a college essay perfectly, and don't be afraid to just dive right in!
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Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.