How to Write the William and Mary Supplement 2019-2020

The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, is frequently referred to as a “public Ivy.” It might not be an official title, but it does say a lot. William and Mary is highly respected, provides an educational experience of an Ivy caliber, but with the benefit of being more accessible. If you live in Virginia, you even get the added benefit of in-state tuition. The 6,400 undergraduate student body is big enough to offer something for nearly anyone while small enough to provide a community that is known for being close-knit and supportive. William and Mary’s emphasis on undergraduate research is also a huge selling point.

The overall acceptance rate for William and Mary is 37%, but that can be a little misleading. There is about a 15% difference between in-state acceptance rate and out-of-state acceptance rate. If you are from outside of Virginia, the acceptance rate is closer to 30%. If you live in Virginia, you’re in luck. You have a 45% chance of attaining a well-respected Ivy-level education at a seriously discounted cost. 

William and Mary lists their supplement as “optional.” However, if you’ve been reading our posts for a while, you already know how we feel about “optional.” There is no such thing. Everything is mandatory, even if they say it is not. When you only have so much space to make a case for yourself, deciding not to do a supplement is not an option.  

Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful? We know nobody fits neatly into 500 words or less, but you can provide us with some suggestion of the type of person you are. Anything goes! Inspire us, impress us, or just make us laugh. Think of this optional opportunity as show and tell by proxy and with an attitude.

We love this question, but we also know that it can be very overwhelming for students who are going through the college application process without a guiding hand.

First, let’s look at the very first sentence. In it, they set the limitations for the question. You can write about nearly anything, but they do not want to hear about something academic or that is in your activities section (aka extracurricular). By giving you a place to share what you do in the time you have outside of scheduled activities, they are trying to learn who you really are. 

But who are you? That’s an intimidating question. We ask our students to come up with a list of five (or more) characteristics/adjectives that they feel encapsulate who they are. It’s not an easy task, and sometimes it helps to ask friends. Maybe you are analytical, or perhaps your friends most appreciate your empathy. You might be inquisitive or identify as an artist. Before starting your applications, you should pull together five characteristics. Here you won’t hit on all five though. Instead, you will pick one or two. It can be tempting to try to hit all five at once but resist the urge! Focus is a good thing.

Once you’ve picked the characteristic you’d like to focus on, it’s time to tell a story. Telling a story as a way of illustrating who you are will keep you on track and carry the reader on a journey alongside you. The story should be small, precise, and allow for lots of colorful detail. If you are someone who continually cracks jokes, telling a humorous story may make sense. If you aren’t so sure of your comedy chops, it’s always better to be earnest than to fail at being funny.

An example of a potential story that we love comes from one of our very own team members. When she was in elementary school, she convinced her parents to let her buy a science classroom kit and breed praying mantises. For some reason they let her do it. The praying mantises hatched in the middle of the school day, and her mom had to pull her out of class to welcome them into the world. She even had to breed fruit flies to feed them. Once they were large enough, she released them into her garden. This launched a passion for animals that were misunderstood and resulted in more than ten years of unexpected pets including, clawed African frogs, geckos, a snake, and even a cockroach.  

If she were to write this supplement, she wouldn’t talk about all of these experiences, but about seeing a praying mantis in the garden years after releasing the ones she had hatched. She would write about curiosity, and about an insatiable desire to understand how the world works.  

When you’re writing your supplement, remember that they set a strict 500-word limit. Usually, sticking to a word ceiling isn’t too hard in the Common App. If you try to go over, it cuts you off. In this supplement, the limit in the prompt is 500 words, but the dialogue box (where you input your response) allows for up to 650 words. This is not an invitation to go over — even by a single word. The number one rule of supplements is to follow directions. If you cannot follow a simple direction like a word count, you are telling the school that you either a) don’t listen or b) thing that what you have to say is more important than their guidelines. Neither reflects well on you and going over certainly doesn’t reflect who you are in a positive way.  

Fitting a story into just 500 words can be tough. If you allow yourself to be vulnerable, focus on a precise experience, and highlight only one or two personal characteristics, you’ve got this.


Sometimes a question that asks you to be vulnerable can be overwhelming. If you need help, let us know.