Often referred to as WashU, or sometimes even as WUSTL (from its initials), Washington University in St. Louis is a large, private research university with a very competitive admissions process and high marks for academic quality. In the words of its mission statement, it seeks “to provide an exemplary, respectful and responsive environment for living, teaching, learning and working for present and future generations.”
In service to this mission, WashU has assembled a collection of some of the brightest students and most innovative projects they can find, creating a unique community for learning that seeks to encourage academic and personal development and be appreciative of diversity. There’s support on campus both for students who know exactly what they’d like to be doing from the beginning, and students who feel the need to explore new paths and change their minds.
Does WUSTL sound like it might be right for you? Read on for an overview of what makes the university special, what it takes to be a student at WashU, and how to navigate the application process.
Introducing Washington University in St. Louis
WUSTL was originally founded in 1853, and like many institutions and locations in the United States, it was named after George Washington. In 1976, the phrase “in St. Louis” was added to the official name of the university in order to avoid confusion with other schools with the same namesake, such as the University of Washington, Washington State University, and George Washington University.
Predictably enough, WashU is located in and around St. Louis, Missouri. The university is comprised of four distinct campuses, of which the Danforth Campus is presently considered the main campus, as well as a biological research station outside of the city. In total, these properties cover around 2,300 acres.
In the past, WUSTL’s reputation was built on its status as a leading regional university in the southeastern United States. However, the university grew substantially throughout the later 20th century and into the 21st century, both in terms of its endowment and in terms of its prestige, and it has become a well-regarded research university on the national playing field.
Today’s WashU is an institution dedicated to pursuing academic excellence, and it shows; the university is currently ranked 19th in the National Universities category by the U.S. News and World Reportranking system, and is highly ranked by a number of other organizations and publications for everything from its undergraduate business program to its dorms. Among its many other claims to fame, the university has been the site of more presidential and vice-presidential debates than any other university in the U.S.
Currently, 14,688 students attend WUSTL, of whom 7,504 are undergraduates. The university is divided into seven individual schools, of which five offer undergraduate degree programs. Prospective undergraduate students can choose from the College of Arts and Sciences; the Olin Business School; the College of Architecture (within the Sam Fox School of Design and Visual Arts); the College of Art (also within the Sam Fox School); and the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences.
Among the five schools that accept undergraduates, students at WashU can find programs in more than 90 different fields of study available as academic majors and/or minors. The most popular majors fall within the fields of engineering, social sciences, and pre-medical studies. Students are also permitted to design their own majors.
Outside the classroom, undergraduates participate in an unusually large number of student groups and activities. There are more than 350 options in total, including eleven fraternities and nine sororities, cultural and religious communities, performing and visual art groups, community service organizations, and groups based on shared academic interests.
Intramural sports, whether single-sex or coed, are especially popular on the campus, with a surprising 75% of undergraduates participating in at least one intramural team. For more serious athletes, WUSTL is home to 19 varsity sports teams. Any applicant is sure to find something of interest to occupy their free time, and of course, they’ll also have the city of St. Louis to explore.
WashU Admissions Information
Admission to Washington University in St. Louis is very competitive. For the class of 2020, the university received a total of 29,197 applications for first-year admission. 4,729 applicants were accepted, making the acceptance rate about 16.2%. 1,780 of these accepted students ended up enrolling at WashU in the fall of 2016. However, since applicants must apply specifically to one of the five undergraduate programs, it’s a bit more complicated to determine the actual chance of acceptance for any given applicant.
WUSTL doesn’t release acceptance rates broken down by each of its individual undergraduate programs, but you can find data for the number of applicants to each school and the number of accepted students who eventually enrolled in each school in 2015 on the WashU website. What that data boils down to is that for all five undergraduate programs, a large number of applicants are competing for a relatively small number of spots in the first-year class.
Admissions practices vary slightly among the different schools that make up the undergraduate program, and applicants will be evaluated based in part on how well their high school background has prepared them for the subject they would like to study. For instance, if you hope to attend the School of Engineering and Applied Science, you should have a strong foundation in math, chemistry, and physics that’s evident on your application.
However, the majority of the application evaluation process is the same for all undergraduate applicants to WUSTL, regardless of major, in that many of the same qualities are considered important for all prospective students at such a high-achieving school.
Speaking academically, WashU requires that applicants have strong high school backgrounds up to and including their senior year, and have fully taken advantage of the educational opportunities offered to them. These educational achievements, as expressed by grades, test scores, and course choices, among other factors, are extremely important to all the undergraduate programs at the university.
Community and extracurricular involvement, work and leadership experience, and recommendations should “complement” the applicant’s academic achievements. On a more personal level, the admissions office is interested in finding out what applicants are passionate about. With such a large, highly qualified applicant pool to compete with, applicants will need to focus on what makes them stand out from their peers.
Paying for WUSTL
The cost of attending WashU for the 2016-2017 school year has been estimated by the university at $65,366, with tuition accounting for $48,950 of that sum. Room and board estimates are included in this figure, but may be somewhat different based on which housing and dining options students select. This figure does not include the cost of books and supplies, personal expenses, or travel to and from St. Louis, all of which will vary for individual students.
If you’re interested in attending the university, but you know that you’ll require financial assistance to attend, the first thing you should be aware of is that admissions decisions for all applicants, domestic and international, are made on a need-aware basis. This means that your amount of financial need may be taken into account when the admissions office decides whether or not to admit you.
However, this certainly doesn’t mean that you can’t apply to WUSTL if you have financial need. The school does offer need-based financial aid to admitted students. In fact, if you are admitted to WashU, the university commits to providing you with need-based aid that meets 100% of your financial need, whether you’re a domestic or an international student. Students whose family income is less than $75,000 per year are additionally not required to take out any loans as part of their financial aid package.
The bottom line is that Washington University in St. Louis provides need-based financial aid, but will only admit as many students with financial need as it can fit into its existing financial aid budget.
In order to apply for need-based financial aid, all applicants to WUSTL will need to submit either the CSS Profile or the school’s own financial aid form, the Family Financial Profile (FFP). Domestic applicants will also submit the FAFSA. For Early Decision applicants, the financial aid application must be submitted by November 15th; for Regular Decision applicants, the due date is February 1st.
In addition to need-based financial aid, WashU offers a number of named merit-based scholarships and fellowships, ranging in amount from $3,000 per year to the full cost of tuition. (In general, on the university’s website, need-based aid is referred to as “financial aid” and merit-based aid is referred to as “scholarships.”) Some of these scholarship programs are open to students in any major; others are restricted to students within a particular program.
Applicants can apply for merit-based scholarships and fellowships in combination with need-based financial aid. If you’re interested in these merit-based programs, you can find a list of the different scholarships and fellowships, along with more information about the application procedure for each scholarship, on the WUSTL website. Applications for these scholarships and fellowships are due on January 15th for all applicants, whether Early Decision or Regular Decision.
Need-based financial aid and merit-based scholarships are available to transfer students, but the availability of aid is very limited, especially for international transfers. Transfer students do have the option of applying for two merit-based scholarships that are only open to transfers. You can find more information about those scholarships on the university’s website. If you’re applying as a transfer, you’ll need to turn in your need-based financial-aid forms by March 15th.
The WashU Application
There are two different application options: the Common Application and the Coalition Application. The admissions office views both application forms equally, so you’re welcome to choose whichever application works best for you. Both applications will ask for a lot of the same information, but they differ in the exact questions they ask, and each application has different essay options.
In addition to these two application options, WUSTL gives you a choice of two different application timelines: Early Decision (ED) and Regular Decision (RD). You can apply using either application form on either application timeline.
ED applicants submit their applications by November 15th in order to hear back about their admissions decisions by December 15th. In exchange for this early notification, they’ll apply early only to WashU, and they’ll sign an agreement that obligates them to attend the school if they’re admitted. This application timeline may be appropriate for you if you’re absolutely sure that WUSTL is your first choice.
RD applicants, who make up most of the applications submitted to the university, will submit their admissions applications by January 15th, and will hear back about whether they have been accepted by April 1st.
If you’re considering applying to WashU, you may wonder how the school will know which undergraduate program you’re applying to. It’s important to note that the different undergraduate schools do not have separate admissions processes — everyone will apply through the same application form, regardless of what you plan on studying.
When you fill out your application, you’ll be asked to specify which undergraduate program you’re applying under. This is important to the admissions evaluation process and later to the academic advising process, but it’s not binding, and you’ll have opportunities to study other subjects and/or change your major later on.
You’ll notice when you fill out the Common App or Coalition App that, unlike many other schools, WUSTL does not require all applicants to respond to a university-specific essay prompt. (As we mentioned above, some essays are required to apply for the Academic Fellowship and Scholarship programs.) However, you will be asked to answer some WashU-specific questions on the application, most of which are simple multiple-choice questions.
If you’re a transfer applicant, you’ll also need to fill out either the Common App or the Coalition App, and will need to specify which undergraduate program you’re applying to. You’ll need to get your admissions materials in by March 15th, and you can expect to hear back about your admissions decision by mid-May.
Below, we’ll go over the school-specific questions that WUSTL has included on its application, and offer some advice on how to approach these questions.
If you’re applying to WashU and you choose to use the Common App, you’ll need to first create a Common App profile, fill out the basic questions that the Common App asks of all applicants, and add the university to your My Colleges list. For some help navigating the Common App, you can refer to the CollegeVine User’s Guide to the Common Application, as well as our targeted posts regarding how to fill out the sections on your demographics, citizenship, academics, activities, awards, and more.
In addition to the basic questions asked by the Common App, you’ll be required to answer some questions that are specific to WUSTL. To get to this part of the application, navigate to your My Colleges tab and click on “WashU” on the left side. As you can see from our sample applicant’s account, this will lead you to the screen below:
On the left side, under WashU’s tab and the heading that says “Application,” click on the word “Questions.” You’ll see this screen:
These supplemental questions are grouped into five sections: General, Academics, Activities, Contacts, and Family. Click on the section headers to access the questions in each section, or click “Continue” to move on to the next section.
Is Washington University in St. Louis a school on your college list?
If so, there’s good news and bad news! The good news is WashU is one of few schools that don’t require any supplemental essays. The bad news is that means you need to have a strong personal statement. Here are 5 essay intros examples that were successful:
On the first day of kindergarten, I brought a bento box for lunch. My dad had taken time to prepare the colorful array: foil papers separated the rolled egg, the vegetables, the rice. When I sat down to eat, my friend pointed at my food and said, disgusted, “What’s that?” I looked at her sandwich, and then at my chopsticks in embarrassment, ashamed of my Japanese lunch. That night, I told my dad I didn’t want bento anymore; I wanted PB & J, like my friend. Keep reading.
It’s hard to imagine life without clean water, insulated housing, and readily available health care. Ecuadorian villagers live this life every day. During this past summer, I joined a medical humanitarian effort as a health teacher to teach hygienic habits to these Ecuadorian villagers. During my time in the Ecuadorian highlands, I tried my best to offer services to the Ecuadorians who had limited access to severely strained medical facilities. View full.
I knock on the window of a parked yellow cab. The heavily-accented driver loudly utters a “no” as he shakes his head vigorously, but another yellow one pulls up to the curb. There is so much to do here in New York City. As the taxi pushes its way down Broadway, we whiz by blobs of grey and black scarves, overcoats, and ties. I’m let off at the Majestic Theatre near Times Square to meet my mother for the matinee of the “Phantom of the Opera”. More than two hours later, the crowd exits raving about the show to their neighbor or humming the tune of “Masquerade” in their head. Continue reading.
Imagine a life in complete silence, sentenced to ‘deaf’ – unable to hear the beautiful symphonies of Mozart, the crash of waves on a Florida beach, the incessant pounding of waterfalls, shared jokes among friends, the words “I love you” – all of the sounds that most take for granted. Now consider these: fire alarms, oven timers, last minute announcements, crucial facts in a professor’s lecture – any warning wasted on your ears. There may be some idle pleasures in silence, like studying and reading, or sleeping through a storm, but with my cochlear implants, I experience the best of both worlds. Read full essay.
“Give us today our daily bread.”
Such words I would hear both at Sunday congregations and from occasional bread-lovers that show up at our family bakery. Propelled by the entrepreneurial mentality of my family, I started to develop a growing desire for success at a young age. However, this seemingly ambitious desire gradually transformed into a self-centered way of life as I began to yearn for a sumptuous lifestyle that ignored the welfare of others. Keep reading.
Interested in reading these students’ full personal statements that got them into WashU? Unlock all of them in one go with our WashU Starter Package!
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About The Author
Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.