Washington State University applicants should consider recycling

Before I give you my tips for Washington State applicants, I have to start with two disclaimers.

Disclaimer #1:  Washington State University is not the same as Oregon State University.  (As you can tell, we're professionals.) 

Disclaimer #2:  We don't usually recommend that students blatantly recycle their essay responses, unchanged, at multiple colleges. 

But what about when the essay questions are the same?  And by the "the same," we mean exactly the same, right down to the instructions?

What Oregon State calls their insight resume, Washington State calls its personal statement.  And as you'll see if you click the links, the six questions are exactly the same. (And yes, for the sticklers out there, we noticed that Washington State allows 110 words per response while Oregon State allows just 100.  Thought you could slip one by us, didn't ya?!)

So with apologies to the Cougars and the Beavers for lumping you together, we're going to just blatantly repeat our previously posted advice for Oregon State applicants here.  And if you're applying to both, just make sure you don't mistakenly address Washington as Oregon or vice-versa.

1. Leadership/Group contributions: Describe examples of your leadership experience in which you have significantly influenced others, helped resolve disputes, or contributed to group efforts over time. Consider responsibilities to initiatives taken in or out of school.

What they're looking for here is evidence of initiative and impact.  Big schools like Washington State appreciate students who make things happen for those around them.  Don't just recite your activities or leadership titles.  Describe your contributions to those activities.  It's the difference between "I was the president of the French Club in 11th grade" and "As the president of the French Club in 11th grade, I suggested that we hold a a French luncheon as a fund raiser.  We raised $800, the most the club had ever raised from one activity."

2. Knowledge in a field/creativity: Describe any of your special interests and how you have developed knowledge in these areas. Give examples of your creativity: the ability to see alternatives; take diverse perspectives; come up with many, varied, or original ideas; or willingness to try new things.

This question is looking for evidence that you like to put your mind to work.  What have you done that was motivated only by your desire to know more, or to learn how to do it?  Repair computers?  Learn to build web pages?  Take a writing class?  Fix your own car?  All of these are examples of following your interests to learn something.  As for your creativity, think about a time when you were faced with a situation in which the right answer wasn't obvious, and you had to think through a solution.  It might have been something academic, but it also might have been that your band's bass player quit, so you had to teach yourself the bass and alter some of the songs since you had never played bass before.  The key is to share something that shows you don't shy away from using your mind to find answers.    

3. Dealing with adversity: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to address this challenge. Include whether you turned to anyone in facing that challenge, the role that person played, and what you learned about yourself.

The reality is that you will be faced with some level of adversity in college, and throughout your life–everyone does.  They want to see how you've handled those situations so far in your life. The most important thing to remember here is to be honest.  Some people have faced extremely difficult circumstances in their lives.  If you haven't, don't try to pass something off as a hardship that wasn't really all that hard.  Instead, just answer the question honestly–what is the most significant challenge you have faced? For some, that might be as common as a struggle with AP chemistry.  For others, it could be something as difficult as helping your mother through a serious illness.  Don't worry about whether your example is "good."  Just tell the truth and answer all parts of the prompt.   

4. Community service: Explain what you have done to make your community a better place to live.  Give examples of specific projects in which you have been involved over time.

This question doesn't ask you to "list your involvements and the total number of hours."  We like the way they phrase it "…to make your community a better place to live."  That really helps students think about how they've made an impact in their local communities.  So don't necessarily just list your community service projects or recite your total number of hours served.  That's too robotic.  Tell them how many many meals you estimate you served at the homeless shelter on Thanksgiving, or how many gold medals your assigned "buddy" won at the Special Olympics while you were cheering him on, or what the school principal said after you rebuilt the elementary school's sandbox as part of your Eagle Scout project.  Community service is about helping others, so humanize your response by sharing not just the summary, but also the human side of the story.  We're not suggesting that you be overly dramatic; we're simply saying that a human element to the story can show that you weren't just clocking in community service hours. 

5. Handling systemic challenges: Describe your experience facing or witnessing discrimination. Tell us how you responded and what you learned from those experiences and how they have prepared you to contribute to the OSU community.

First, as with so many essays, it's important to really understand the terminology being used. Discrimination means treating or making a distinction about a person based on a group he or she belongs to, rather than on the individual merit of the person herself.  So discrimination doesn't just apply to race; people can also be discriminated against for their age, sexuality, gender, etc.  Second, a lot of discrimination isn't public for everyone to see. For example, if you heard your coach make inappropriate jokes about someone's ethnicity, even if he made those remarks in private and not within earshot of the person himself, that's still a type of discrimination. So think about where you've experienced or witnessed an action that could be called discrimination. How did it make you feel?  What did you learn from it?  And most importantly, how do you think that experience will affect you in a diverse setting like that at Washington State?   

6. Goals/task commitment: Articulate the goals you have established for yourself and your efforts to accomplish these. Give at least one specific example that demonstrates your work ethic/diligence.

One of the most common traits of successful people is that they set goals for themselves.  They don't just hope things will happen.  This is especially important at a big university like Washington State.  Successful students will be self-starting, they will set goals for themselves and seek out help or advice whenever they need it to help them achieve those goals.  So rather than just describing your most impressive accomplishment here, really think about a time when you set an important goal for yourself, what you did to reach it, and how it felt when you got (or didn't et) there.  And remember that the willingness to set a goal and to work to achieve it is almost more important than whether or not you reached your goal. 

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.