In many ways, this question is very similar to Prompt 1, except it’s asking you to think about a more directly personal, rather than historical, experience. Again, at its core, the question is asking you to engage with the recurring themes—leadership, discourse, justice, and advocacy—that George Washington cares about and prioritizes. One way to approach this essay is to connect your values to a community you’ve been a part of and conversations you’ve had in/with that community. The key to that approach is good brainstorming. Here are some steps you can take before you start writing:
Start with our. This will give you a sense of what motivates you and what you might want to highlight in your supplemental essays.
Spend a little time mapping out which communities you’re a part of and which are most important to you. Our guide onis a great place to start. Keep in mind that communities can be defined in a variety of ways, including place, culture, interests, political beliefs, hobbies, even your favorite sports team. Get creative.
Use theto generate your essay content for 2-3 of these communities, jotting down notes to these questions:
What kinds of problems did you solve or work to solve (personally, locally, or globally) in that community?
What specific impact did you have?
What did you learn (skills, qualities, values)?
How did you apply the lessons you learned inside and outside that community?
Strong essays will have three main components: community + actions/dialogue within community + guiding values/values instilled.
To offer some inspiration, let’s take a look at another great example. This one was written for a similar Princeton supplemental prompt with a longer word count, so yours will have to be about 100 words shorter.
A racist culture pervades my small town of Maryville, Tennessee. To outsiders, we seem complicit in this racism through our mascot: the Rebels. In August, my school voted me as Miss MHS: awarded to the student who contributes the most to the school and community through extracurriculars, academics, and community service and embodies the “Rebel spirit.” I was grateful for the award but appalled when the latter label was bestowed upon me. So, the girl who embodied the Rebel spirit rebelled.
“Our mascot has foundations in racism. Changing the mascot is the bare minimum that we owe to the students that have been affected by the racism this mascot fuels,” began my (now infamous) social media post.
My post was reposted, sent in groups, and met with intense hatred.
“The snowflakes won’t let us have anything these days. It’s literally a mascot,” read the most popular comment, insinuating that I was being overly sensitive. The student who wrote this, leader of a group called “Save the Rebels,” ensured that I was alienated as one of the few local supporters.
I messaged him and transformed an argumentative discourse into a healthy, multiple-day discussion about the roots and depiction of the mascot. We researched each other’s sources and began to understand the opposing side’s perspective. Yet, as we made progress, his friends pulled him away from breaking the barriers of polarization with me.
In an effort to apply the lessons I learned from this experience to make future dialogues more constructive, I want to create a safe space where individuals can exchange differing perspectives and attempt to understand each other’s position without fear of social pressure. In my next discussion of the mascot (because the struggle is far from over), I believe it will be impactful for the defenders of the mascot to hear the testimonials of students of color to substantiate my claim that the mascot brought about pain.
At Princeton, I hope to contribute to an environment free of judgment, where I can use the tools that I’ve gained to pave the way for a more effective, respectful dialogue. (349 words)
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Tips + Analysis
Start with the issue at hand. This student wastes no time setting up the conflict that led to the discourse at the heart of the essay. This is helpful in orienting the reader because it quickly establishes the meaning behind the issue at hand, allowing room for her to elaborate on how the dialogue evolved and how it turned out. Getting right to the meat of the matter is especially important when you’re working with a smaller word count.
Build a compelling narrative. The author here does a nice job of showing rather than just telling us how this dialogue impacted her. She could have easily summed up the online conversation in a sentence or two, but by establishing her role at the school and narrating the exchange she had with her classmate, she adds more life to her essay. We feel the experience in real time and get a clearer sense of the emotions she felt. We also have more appreciation for her interest in crossing polarizing political boundaries and striking up productive discourse. Quick anecdotes, distinctive sensory details, dialogue, and good pacing all help to engage your reader and make you relatable (and, thereby, more memorable).
Address the impact. A big aspect of this prompt is the last sentence, which asks about the impact the dialogue had. The author here does a great job of speaking to both the “civil discourse” and “issue that’s important” angles of the prompt. But, if she had written her essay for this GW prompt, she likely would have elaborated on how the interaction influenced her own perspectives and relationships. Your answer doesn’t need to be neatly tied into a nice little bow as if everything were resolved or major changes resulted. Real life is often messier than that. But we still want to know—and this prompt specifically asks for—your takeaways. For this essay, for example, the author could have explained that, even though she didn’t change the other person’s mind, she may have planted a seed that led to more questioning down the line. Or she could have spoken to how it changed her approach to dialogue with more conservative classmates about another issue. This would have helped establish the impact of her actions in a more relevant way.
With all these tips and examples in mind, you’re ready to start writing!