William And Mary Essay Supplement

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We Admit It! We are at a bit of a turning point regarding our optional submission.  Don’t get me wrong, we really like the prompt:

Beyond your impressive academic credentials and extracurricular accomplishments, what else makes you unique and colorful?  We know that 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.

Our prompt is a bit out-of-the-box.  It’s original, it’s erudite, it’s quirky; it’s W&M.  It was designed to allow our applicants to feel free to be out-of-the-box, original, erudite and quirky in their response to our prompt.  We didn’t want them to feel constrained by the standard five-paragraph essay, formal writing style, or tired topics.  What we worry about is that when combined with our video message (written by Associate Provost for Enrollment and Dean of Admission Henry Broaddus and designed merely to show our prospective students that those reading their applications are humans and not autobots), the two together might put undue pressure on our applicants to go a bit overboard with their optional submission.

Honestly, the instances of overboard optionals are not overly commonplace.  I would wager that over 90% of the optional submissions we receive come in the form of downloadable printed content (essays, poems, creative writing submissions, etc.).  But sometimes we do get some crazy stuff rolling into this office in postal shipping containers the likes of which seem proportionally infeasible.  We’ve gotten everything from footwear (representing that applicant’s proverbial foot in the door), to baked goods in the shape of famous campus landmarks (yes, we received a Rice-Krispee-treat Wren Building), to a used cast (no, I’m not making that up, someone actually sent us their used arm cast…I think we were all so grossed out we have forgotten what it was meant to symbolize).  We’ve also gotten scrapbooks, videos, green-and-gold-striped pole vaults, jewelry and stuffed toys dressed up in W&M gear.   These items likely take a great deal of time and money to create, an enormous sum to ship (as many students Fed Ex them), and more likely than not they do not have an enormous impact on the decision we make (this is not to say that we didn’t appreciate the effort but oftentimes the over-the-top submissions don’t provide us much substantive information about the applicant).

So the question is, are we pushing you too hard?  Does our prompt unintentionally put more pressure on you to come up with something extraordinary rather than making you feel more relaxed about being yourself?  If so, what’s the next step?  Do we change the prompt or just the way we talk about it?  Do we need to be more explicit about what we want and what we don’t want as a response?  What did you do for your optional submission and what impact did you hope it would have on the Committee?  Your feedback on this one (via the comments) would be greatly appreciated.

Wendy Livingston, ’03, M.Ed. ’09
Senior Assistant Dean of Admission

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