How to Write the Williams College Supplement 2018-2019

Williams is a small liberal arts school in Massachusetts with an undergraduate student body of approximately 2,000 students. Williams offers a winter study program in the month of January during which students study a single subject, pursue research projects, and/or do fieldwork. The admission rate for the class of 2022 was 12%.

Williams’ supplement provides three prompts, all of which are to be answered within 300 words. They’re fairly wordy, so we’ve broken them down below:  

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 tutorials a year are offered across the curriculum, with titles like Aesthetic Outrage, Financial Crises: Causes and Cures, and Genome Sciences: At the Cutting Edge.

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

Have you ever noticed that when you meet someone and they teach you about something completely unexpected you almost always think they’re way cooler/interesting/complex than you originally thought? This prompt is giving you an opportunity to do exactly that.

We spent 10 minutes discussing the syntax of the question (we prefer brevity, Williams!). But once you cut through all of the verbiage, you’ll see this is a chance to expose a side of yourself that hasn’t appeared elsewhere. It may sound counterintuitive, but don’t start by picking a person. You’ll drive yourself crazy and waste an insane amount of time trying to think of someone “good” and end up filling space by writing about whatever fits that mold.

Instead, look at the rest of your application and identify the traits you’ve already shown. You don’t necessarily want to double down on anything, so figure out what else you want to say about yourself. The goal is for the reader of your essay to wonder why you’ve picked your person. The last thing you want is for an admissions counselor to pick up your essay, see who you’ve chosen, and file it as predictable or repetitive.  

Think about the things you enjoy exploring or learning about during your free time. It’s a good place to start because the things you read, experience, or look into (when no one tells you you have to) are usually things you’re most passionate about. Maybe you’re obsessed with art and took a liking to a tattoo artist or bookmark recipes from a raw food chef you read about obsessively online. It’s captivating to listen to someone talk about something they’re truly passionate about, even if what they’re passionate about isn’t going to change the world. It’ll be obvious if you fake it.

Once you’ve identified the topic of your tutorial, you can start brainstorming about your partner. The requirements for the person you pick is that they are a vehicle to discuss something unique and interesting, not someone you think makes you sound smart. We’ve written a list of people you absolutely should not pick. A general rule would be to avoid people that are often discussed on the news, anyone at the head of any issue, and celebrities you idolize.

To answer the “and why” part of the question, give context as to why you’ve chosen your person. You’ve picked this person out of everyone in the world, so you need to defend your choice and explain why they’re the best man/woman/non-binary person for the job.  

2. Each Sunday night, in a tradition called Storytime, students, faculty and staff gather to hear a fellow community member relate a brief story from their life (and to munch on the storyteller’s favorite homemade cookies). What story would you share? What lessons have you drawn from that story, and how would those lessons inform your time at Williams?

We cannot stress this enough: this prompt is asking you to write pretty much anything and this is a great opportunity to use humor. Williams gives off a ~pretty serious~ vibe but the open ended nature of this question allows for some flexibility with your answer. A lot of students read this and think they have to write about a thoughtful and informed lesson they plan to tie into the rest of their college career, but that’s not the case.

Humor is disarming, and it’s safe to say that every person on earth has a funny story about a mistake or well meaning intention that went awry. One of our writers wrote an essay about the time she drove her mom’s car into a parked garage door. Whoops. The lesson was to always double check before reversing a car. Not everything has to be heart-wrenching and it’s okay for your lesson to be obvious. It doesn’t have to be a deep lesson about humanity. The reader of your essay has been doing nothing but reading essays for months and would probably appreciate a change of pace, which is a great way to be memorable.

3. Every first-year student at Williams lives in an Entry—a thoughtfully constructed microcosm of the student community that’s a defining part of the Williams experience. From the moment they arrive, students find themselves in what’s likely the most diverse collection of backgrounds, perspectives and interests they’ve ever encountered. What might differentiate you from the 19 other first-year students in an entry? What perspective(s) would you add to the conversation with your peers?

Before we begin, a critique of this question (!!). Williams, if you’re reading, HELLO! Just reading this question is a little anxiety inducing for us, and we imagine it is for students, too. We’re not sure if it’s the use of word microcosm or the implication that you have to be completely different from 19 of your classmates/roommates you’ve never met or spoken to, but we aren’t a fan of this question. For starters, the student doesn’t know the members of their Entry yet. It would be really difficult to have the foresight to know how they’re different than them. Put another way: ideally you should know the person or people you are differentiating yourself from in order to answer this type of question. Are you trying to have students list niche accomplishments as a form of differentiation, or are you trying to read into the writer by seeing what their assumptions are of their fellow classmates they’ve never met? It’s also a bit presumptuous to assume that the student has never experienced diversity. It seems to us like there is a very intended demographic audience for this question. (A totally random fact, as of 2015: 76% of Williams’ staff was white and 58% was male.)

If this question doesn’t pop out at you, go with one of the previous prompts. Read: go with one of the previous prompts--they’re good questions that are more in your control.

If you read this prompt and it speaks to you, start by identifying exactly what your different perspective is. If you’ve had a life experience that makes you a good fit for answering this question, it’s best answered with a short story. Identify the perspective you’d want to add to the conversation and write a story with a beginning, middle, and end that best exemplifies your viewpoint.

As always, we’re happy to help.