Wake Forest University is located in Winston-Salem, NC and has an undergraduate population of around 5,100 students. It’s a southern, small-ish, bordering on medium but not quite medium-sized school, that identifies as a collegiate university with a liberal arts curriculum. It’s test-optional, which could be appealing for some applicants, but it’s still quite competitive. Their acceptance rate has hovered around 30% for the last couple of years, though dipped a bit below last year. It’s academically rigorous and boasts a number of quite unique majors and minors that appeal to the student who has a true understanding of exactly what they want to do. For example, their sports medicine program, Elementary Education program, Business and Enterprise Management program, which is rare for a liberal arts school, and their Cultural Heritage & Preservation Studies program.
Wake Forest’s supplement is notorious for being lengthy, verbose, and time-consuming. It also tends to change every year. While they kept some questions from last year, they’ve tinkered with it quite a bit and we’re going to break it down for you. Do not fear. Stick with us.
The key with the Wake Forest supplement is not to consider each essay or each response as a separate entity. Rather, you should consider all of your answers as complementary. They’re all anecdotes that are harmonious and interdependent to one another and tell the contained and finite ~story of you~. They should convey different aspects of your whole self, but your whole self should remain clear and forthcoming throughout. Think of this application as your Thanksgiving dinner table--all of the dishes are different, but they are each working to complete a whole that makes sense. You wouldn’t have spaghetti and meatballs at your Thanksgiving table. Unless you would, and that would make a lot of sense, because that’s who you are. So, show and explain that to the reader.
Let’s get started with their “In Brief” section of the Wake Forest supplement. Don’t be fooled by the title of this section--it’s important to be brief with your words, but not with your thought process for these answers:
1a. List five books you have read that intrigued you.
By “intrigued you,” Wake Forest means piqued your curiosity or made you think in a different way. And that means that this can’t be a list of books that you had to read for school. Nothing that you are mandated to do shows your choices. And that’s what we need here. We need books you’ve chosen on your own that have also made you reposition or readjust your framework of understanding an aspect of the world. Be intentional about this list. Be accurate.
1b. As part of my high-school English curriculum, I was required to read___________. I would have liked to replace it with ___________. The required book I was most surprised I enjoyed was ___________.
The best way to approach this question is to take a work that is decidedly dated for blank 1, and replace it with something that is related thematically and that you stand behind lyrically and morally for blank 2. The issues that connect them should be something that you’re passionate about. For example, we’d answer this with The Scarlet Letter as the school-based book requirement, which would rightfully suggest that, I don’t know, we care about puritan views of sexuality and slut-shaming, so it would make sense that we’d replace it with, Sex Object by Jessica Valenti.
As for the answer for the required book blank, be honest, and make sure the content is relevant. We’d have a hard time deciding between Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison and The Woman Warrior by Maxine Hong Kingston. Perhaps you can consider the adjectives that you gathered from your friends when you texted them and think of a book that is slightly counterfactual to those adjectives. It should slightly surprise the reader, but not so much so that they question the validity or if you just included that title to appear controversial.
1c. Tell us how a work of fiction you’ve read has helped you to understand the world’s complexity (300 words)
Basically, just don’t use any Harry Potter book for this. Use one of the books that you perhaps were inclined to use for an above question but it didn’t quite apply. Let’s be thoughtful about certain specific and narrow aspect of the world’s complexity that a book forced you to consider rather than throwing a widely-read book on philosophy up there, shall we?
2. What piques your intellectual curiosity, and why? (150 words)
You can approach this question one of two ways: you can share a brief, short paragraph of a story detailing the last Wikipedia hole you went down, or you can make a list of a few different things that are related but new information to your overall application and interests. We want to go narrow and deep for this, not wide and shallow. As noted above with the whole “intrigued you,” part of question 1, when they ask what “piques” your intellectual curiosity they are asking what has recently made you feel curious enough to double-click and go down a rabbit-hole of information and discovery. What have you been thinking about recently? What interaction have you not been able to quite “shake”? Can you also not stop thinking about why your cousin’s girlfriend is pro-life? It’s been six months. Let it go. Or, don’t, and write about it here.
3. As part of our “Voices of Our Time” series — which allows students, faculty, and staff to hear from some of the world’s leading thinkers — Wake Forest has hosted Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander, Eboo Patel, and Thomas Friedman. If you could choose the next series speaker, whom would you pick, and why? (150 words)
Wake Forest is so tricky with this question and the people that they choose to list in it. They’re well-known names and because of that, they are distracting because they make you feel like you need to also pick a big, just niche enough name to fit the bill in this zeitgeist-y category and continue this list in a logical manner. Don’t get taught in that trap. Take a breath, go back to your list of adjectives and think about why you might want to have a conversation with someone or bring them on campus to have a wider conversation with a community before you decide. What does someone represent for you, and what value (besides fame and excitement) might their voice bring to a conversation? Once you have a solid and exciting answer to those questions, you’re getting somewhere.
4. Give us your top ten list (100 characters per line).
This is one of our favorites because you can really select anything that feels like a true reflection of how you think and what you think about. Don’t be afraid to have fun, and remember that is just says “Top Ten List,” it doesn’t say anything else about what this has to be. There are no rules. Our personal favorite utilization of this opportunity is a list of our 10 dream dinner party guests. We’ve also used it to name the top 10 uses for cheese, top 10 favorite types of fat, top 10 global takes on filled starches or dough (dumplings, arepas, etc.) (can you tell we love to cook), or top 10 best lyrics. You don’t need to limit your entries to one or two words--there are no limits there. What we will say not to do, is a list of the 10 reasons you most want to go to Wake Forest. It’s too on the nose and doesn’t really say anything about you, except that you paid attention during the info session.
5. At Wake Forest, we gather our students in “Calls to Conversation,” congregating small groups around dinner tables in faculty’s and administrators’ homes to discuss topics organized around a theme, for example “arts for social change,” “gender in society,” and “leading a meaningful life.” If you could design a theme for a “Call to Conversation,” what would you choose, and why? (150 words)
This, on the other hand, is our least favorite part of this supplement. It’s kind of boring, because their examples of “themes” are so incredibly broad and non-specific that it’s hard to begin to situate yourself. So, for this, we’d advise you taking this opportunity to harp on the thing that you care about most, whatever it is. The quirkier, or the more humorous, the better, sure, but be specific. Again, narrow and deep, not wide and shallow. Think, “Brunch is a Marketing Tactic, Not a Meal Time” not “The Merits and Downfalls of Organized Religion.”
6. We live in an age intensely interested in heroes. Professor Joseph Campbell defined “hero” as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Describe a hero in public life and how and why, in your opinion, they meet Professor Campbell’s definition. (150 words)
This question can be your greatest opportunity or your biggest downfall. FUN. The key to ensuring that you’re seizing this opportunity is to use this question to show humility. Really delve into your own understanding of your world and the scope of the self within in it, emphasis on “your world.” Think small. Keep it small. Keep it narrow. And don’t name your mom as the hero of your story. It’s been done, even though it should have never. When we think of a hero, we think of someone who has done something great for a specific population or person. Some people we might note here, given our interests and adjectives (do not copy this! Your adjectives and interests are not the same as ours), are Dr. Nadine Burke Harris, Audre Lorde, and Anthony Bourdain. Think about a stance or reality that you care deeply about and figure out a major contributor to it--no one has to have heard of them. In fact, it might be better if they haven’t.
We are all different, and our lived experiences — influenced by our culture, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, and/or religion — shape our understanding of the world. How have your experiences shaped your development, and how do you plan to use those experiences to interact and engage with others who might be different from you within our Wake Forest Community? (600 words)
*Note: this essay is ONLY listed on the direct Wake Forest application, and is not listed on the Common App. Should you choose to apply to Wake Forest directly (via their application), you’ll be asked to submit an essay that answers this specific question. Should you choose to apply to Wake Forest via the Common App, this essay question is not listed. It's likely that you can utilize a version of your Common App essay to answer this question, but make sure that you are revising it adequately such that it directly answers this prompt.
Alright, the dreaded essay. Right when you thought you were nearly done, they hit you with a question that they would like you to answer in a longer-form essay format. The key here is to evidence your character and intellect throughout this entire supplement, so don’t save it all for this essay. This essay should be merely an extension of the narrative you’ve been weaving and crossing within this whole application. Again, we’re going to encourage you to keep it small and keep it short in terms of the story that you tell here. Choose one limited experience and tell a short story about it.
The question that Wake Forest has provided is quite vague. It is essentially asking you to talk about ‘difference’ and ‘others’ who might be ‘different’ from you while also suggesting that ‘difference’ is universal. This question seems to be intentionally othering. With a quick search, we found the school’s racial and gender breakdown. So perhaps Wake Forest wrote this knowing that their incoming freshman class is likely over 70% white, which would match the reality of their school-wide ethic breakdown. Yikes!!!
So, choose to not be burdened by their questionable series of word choices and see the bright side: you can speak about whatever you would like as long as it addresses some kind of transition or adjustment. That adjustment can be physical, mental, or emotional. It can be small. But it needs to be a story. Our favorite story to tell is about what happens at our dinner table. Every dinner table is different (buzzword!) and representative of particular dynamics that cannot be replicated elsewhere and are hard to describe to anyone who isn’t there. Only you can do that.
And then, just like that, you’re done. We’re always here for you should you have any remaining questions or you just feel plain stumped.
Don’t hesitate to reach out to us with your thoughts, concerns, or panic attacks.