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Wake Forest University 2018-19 Supplemental Essay Prompt Guide

Regular Decision: 

Psssst! Hello to all you early birds checking out last year’s prompts! Since Wake Forest released new prompts in early July last year, we are expecting to have this page updated around the same time this year. We’ll keep you posted!

In the meantime, feel free to familiarize yourselves with last year’s prompts. There’s a good chance they’ll stay the same for the 2019-20 admissions season.

Wake Forest 2018-2019 First-Year Application Essay Question Explanations

The Requirements: Three lists, six short answer questions and one long essay.

Supplemental Essay Type: Short AnswerOddballActivity

Before you dig in…

The Wake Forest supplement always gives our students a run for their money and the 2018-19 Wake Forest application is no exception. (Three lists, Six short answer questions plus an essay? What gives?!) That’s why we made you a guide that explains the purpose of each of these thought-provoking prompts and how to answer them in a way that presents a varied and comprehensive package to admissions.

Brief Responses:

1a. List five books you have read that intrigued you. (Spaces have been left for you to include each book’s title and author and mark whether the selection was required or unrequired.)

The name of the game with prompts like this one is variety. Each of these books is an opportunity for you to reveal an interest or passion of yours to admissions, and you don’t want to come off as one-note. Did Neil Gaiman’s graphic novel series Sandman blow your mind? Were you horrified by Jon Ronson’s revelations about social media in So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed? Also, admissions is giving you the option of checking “required” or “unrequired” for a reason – they want to understand what interests you both in a formal academic setting and on your own. So make sure you’re not just listing To Kill a MockingbirdRomeo and Juliet and 1984. They’re all works of art, but everyone’s read them, so what will they really say about you? When you only choose one or two of those oft-assigned classics, admissions gets a chance to see what from the modern English (or other!) curriculum really resonated with you.

1b. Discuss the work of fiction you have read which has helped you most to understand the complexity of the world.

This prompt asks you to discuss a work of fiction that has impacted your view of the world. As much as you can, try to choose something unexpected. Yes, 1984 showed many students a bleak picture of what a Big Brother takeover might look like. But almost every student in the country is assigned that book and takes a look at those lessons. What else have you read that stuck with you because of who you are and what you care about? The book has to be fiction, but it doesn’t have to be about politics. Has a book you’ve read made you look at relationships differently? Try to be as creative as possible with your selection here, and think about what books have really struck you at your core, and why.

2. What piques your curiosity?

This is a classic short-answer: a broad, pithy question that demands a specific, personal response. This isn’t about your academic interests, so rather than starting with a subject area (religion! calculus!) or big category (books! snakes!), try to come up with a few specific examples. When was the last time you went down an internet rabbit hole trying to research something? What was the last fact or skill you learned outside of school? Once you come up with a good example, think about different ways to describe it: Do you like problem-solving? Do you like working with your hands? Interviewing people? In other words, think about how you can connect this one example to your worldview or general approach to things like challenges, differences, and the unknown.

3. Identify a cultural norm or current political reality with which you disagree. How have you sought or might you seek to change it?

If you’ve already written about Common App’s third or fourth prompts — about challenging beliefs or solving global problems — you’ll want to make sure you cover different ground in this answer. That said, the advice remains the same. Choose your topic and approach wisely. As the phrasing suggests, this question is certainly open to responses that address some of the most urgent and controversial issues of our time. But tackling a polarizing topic means you risk alienating your reader, even if what you write simply activates an unconscious bias. So be clear, specific, and concrete in your writing. Avoid getting overly abstract and preachy. This isn’t about making a convincing argument. It’s about solving a problem you have identified in the world. Instead, make your point through telling specific, personal stories. When have you actually come up against or witnessed a problematic cultural norm in action? What did you learn? How would you devise a solution grounded in this personal experience?

4. Describe an instance in which you observed or exhibited “character.”

We, at CEA, always discourage our students from adding extraneous “quotation marks” around words that aren’t direct quotes or dialogue. That said, the quotation marks in this prompt seem like an invitation for you to provide your own definition of “character.” Does it mean determination? Initiative? Bravery? No need to decide just yet. This prompt is a perfect candidate for a backwards brainstorm: come up with your story first and then back it into the prompt. Chances are, any meaningful story from your life experience will include an instance of someone doing something that stood out. Maybe it was you, maybe it was your great uncle Pete. When did you (or someone you know) take a risk? What was at stake? Zero in on the hero of your story and build your definition of character around them. What struck you about their actions? In what ways did you surprise yourself? How did this experience inspire to live your life moving forward?

5. Give us your top ten list.
Theme: _____________________________

This is one of our all-time favorite short-answer questions. It’s also one students dread initially, because they don’t know how to approach it. Like many of the other questions on this list, think about what you do or what you are interested in that might also be of interest to admissions. What else about who you are and what you do have you not yet revealed about yourself? Our founder always jokes that she would list her favorite kinds of pasta in order (because she is an actual pasta addict). Maybe she would make a list of the top ten pasta meals of her life and who she ate them with, to showcase how much pasta is a part of her social life and how she connects with others (it truly is the centerpiece of her world). Think about how you can add dimension to your list and take a collection of favorite movies or music beyond the ordinary. If someone else could submit your list, it’s not specific or creative enough and probably won’t tell admissions anything they really want or need to know.

6. Pro Humanitate, which means “for humanity,” is Wake Forest’s motto. If you had a personal motto, what would it be?

Don’t think too hard about this — the answer probably already exists! (But it’s probably not hakuna matata.) Instead of trying to pull a problem-free philosophy out of thin air, why not dig through your memory with a freewrite. What do you say all the time? What little phrases have special meaning between you and your siblings or parents? What’s the best piece of advice you’ve ever gotten? What is your personal brand? Somewhere in there, you’ll find your perfect motto. And better yet, your motto will have an origin story. As you try to boil your formative life experiences down to a couple of words (in any language, living or dead), you have a great opportunity to infuse your motto with a bit of humor. So if it naturally presents itself as a surprising opening line or punchline, jump on this rare chance to make your reader laugh.

7. Kendrick Lamar won the 2018 Pulitzer Prize for Music, becoming the first non-classical or jazz musician to win the award. Whom do you believe will be the next person to break boundaries in artistic, scientific or literary accomplishment?

Unless you have been honing your ESP for the last 4 years (is that on your activity list?) you probably won’t be able to predict the future. This isn’t about making a correct prediction. It’s an opportunity to geek out about a field or human that matters to you. Banish all concerns about what you think admissions wants to hear because an artificial answer on a pretentious topic isn’t going to impress anyone. (That said, if you like pretentious things, don’t let us stop you! Live your truth.) Instead, go with your gut: brain dump a list of all the people you admire and a few reasons why. Is there a YouTube makeup artist whose creativity inspires you? Maybe you think podcast soundscapes are the next frontier for musical achievement. What do you love and why do you love it? Who deserves kudos for breaking new ground and making something that surprised you?

On a separate page, use the following essay to give the Admissions Committee insight into your character and intellect.

Rogan Kersh, Wake Forest University Provost and Professor of Politics and International Affairs, is currently teaching a class entitled, “Millennials, Politics and the Future” which explores research-based characteristics of Gen Y or the Millennial Generation to which you belong. At Wake Forest, we strive to understand the distinctive features of your so-called “millennial” generation, as we design curricula and programs for today’s students. What, in your view, are significant aspects of your generation that we should be aware of? (If you live outside of the U.S., feel free to discuss generational features of young people in your country of residence.)

This is sort of like the Coalition’s fourth prompt, about being a teenager, but with the added burden of speaking for your whole generation. No pressure. While the prompt itself may ask you to generalize, we encourage you (as always) to start with the personal. In fact, “When did you feel misunderstood because of your age?” would be a great question to kick off a brainstorm session. Maybe you’ve actually been in a situation where someone has used their impression of your generation as a way to invalidate your opinion. Perhaps you’ve just read enough articles criticizing your generation and are fed up. What is the most infuriating or dangerous misconception? Lived experience is the best antidote for generalities, so go forth and tell your story!


In the space provided, briefly discuss which of the accomplishments listed above has had the most meaning for you and why.

You’re going to have to poke around to find this one (we did!) but it exists, so we thought you should be prepared. This is a pretty typical activity essay. Just try and distill your most meaningful extracurricular in a few sentence and give context for why it has meant so much to you. The word count should become clear when you enter it into the app itself (we hope!)


Please note: the information below relates to last year's essay prompts. We are going to update this guide with the prompts for 2021-22 as soon as they become available. Check back soon!
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