How to Get into Washington University

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

View of Washington University at spring time.

How to Get into Washington University

Located near South Bend, Indiana, Washington University is one of the top schools in the nation. A combination of excellent academics, an absolutely beautiful campus, and Division I athletics, makes Washington a great choice for students who have put in the hard work in high school. But gaining admission to WashU can be quite difficult. You will need to have the right combination of test scores, grades, and extracurricular activities if you want to be a strong contender. In this post, we’re going to discuss everything you need to know before you apply to Washington in order to give yourself the best possible chance of getting in. So, let’s talk about how to get into Washington University.

How hard is it to get into Washington?

Like many competitive schools, Washington University has become even more selective in the last few years. Students putting off college because of the pandemic has significantly increased the number of applications that many schools receive, but all of these students are competing for the same number of spots in the freshman class. Three years ago, WashU had an acceptance rate of 15%, which is already very low. Currently, WashU has an acceptance rate of 13%.

For the class of 2026, Washington had a total of 33,634 undergraduate applications. They ended up admitting just 4,373 applicants, which shows just how selective Washington has become. As is the case with most selective schools, applying early gives you an advantage if you know that Washington is your number one school.

View of a university building made of stone and bricks.

When it comes to applying to Washington, there are a number of factors to consider. First, is whether you plan to apply early decision or regular decision. For students who know that Washington is their first choice, applying early decision gives you a significant advantage because the acceptance rate for early decision is around 29% versus their cumulative acceptance rate of 13%. The bottom line is that if you are sure that Washington is the school for you, apply early.

What does WashU expect from its applicants?

In order to give you the best information about how to get into Washington, we’re going to break this down into the different criteria that Washington considers when they look at your application. Washington states that there are a number of factors that they consider very important, while other factors are considered as part of the application process but are not as influential.

According to WashU: “We want to know each student by name and story and help them to direct their talents, drive, and energy toward becoming successful, contributing global citizens who work to improve their communities and the world”.

Two students walking in the campus.

So, you might be wondering how WashU evaluates these qualities. The key to demonstrating that you are the type of student that WashU is looking for, you will need to weave these concepts into your personal statement and supplemental essay.


Known for being one of the top Universities in the nation, WashU has only been getting more difficult to get into, and because of this, you need to make sure your application is as good as possible.

WashU doesn’t have specific benchmarks that applicants must satisfy, but in order to be competitive, you will need an excellent GPA and test scores, along with a number of other criteria. WashU doesn’t publish the average GPA of their admitted applicants, but it’s safe to say that having a GPA of 4.0 or better is necessary. If your GPA isn’t above 4.0, you will need to look for ways to make up for this in other parts of your application.

In order to maintain a GPA above 4.0, you will likely need to take a rigorous course load in high school including AP, IB, and honors classes. Getting excellent grades in these courses allows you to present WashU with an impressive GPA, but it does something else as well.

The first factor that WashU considers to be “very important” is class rigor. Essentially, WashU want to know that you have challenged yourself in high school. This demonstrates academic integrity as well as intellectual curiosity. WashU wants to admit students who will go above and beyond in their studies and taking challenging courses in high school shows that you intend to challenge yourself in college as well.

View of a woman studying in a room with a window.

Many colleges are impressed with students who show significant improvement in their grades over their high school career, but highly-selective schools like WashU want to see that you’ve been committed to academic excellence throughout your entire high school career. Part of the reason for this is they want to see that you value hard work, but they also want students who show sincere intellectual curiosity. Taking more rigorous courses shows that you want to challenge yourself as a student, and this is the kind of motivation they are looking for.

Test scores

Standardized test scores were an optional part of the WashU application during the 2022-2023 application cycle due to the pandemic, but this may change in the future. With this in mind, you need to be conscious about how to prepare for the SATs or ACTs in order to score as highly as possible. Typically, accepted WashU applicants had an average of 1480 to 1560 on the SAT and 33 to 35 on the ACT.

Students writing on their notebooks on a table.

There is a common misconception that you need a specific score in order to ensure admission to a top school. But at WashU 1520 was the average score, meaning some students scored lower and some students scored higher. Obviously, your test scores aren’t the only criteria by which you are judged but applying with a lower score typically means you will need to make up for it somewhere else on your application.

Extracurricular activities

Top colleges these days want well-rounded students who have an active life outside of the classroom. But they also want to know what you’ve been doing with this time. If you’re wondering how to get into WashU, one of the keys is to have extracurricular activities that demonstrate your leadership skills and commitment to your community.

When it comes to your particular extracurricular activities, schools care less about what you did than how you did it. If you took part in community service activities, did you take the initiative to spearhead new projects or ideas? If you spent much of your time outside of school working a part-time job, what lessons did you learn, and how did you make the most of your time at work?

If you participated in sports, were you a leader on and off the field for your fellow players? Maybe you took it upon yourself to start a social justice club at school or you found a way to solve a specific problem in your community. Regardless of how you’ve spent your time, the goal is to show WashU that you grew both personally and intellectually.

Some students are laser focused on their favorite field of study, and they use their time outside the classroom to dig even deeper into their academic passions. And just because these pursuits were academic, it doesn’t mean they don’t qualify as extracurriculars. Perhaps you spent the summer exploring your passion for Geology by spending a month working in Moab National Park with researchers. Or you have used your passion for the environment to research new electric vehicle technology. Regardless of your particular passion, WashU wants to see how your activities contributed to your growth and personal integrity.

Academic research

While having participated in academic research is not a requirement for admission to WashU, many of their accepted students have taken part in at least some form of academic research while in high school. Because WashU is known at one of the top research facilities in the world, many of their academic programs involve some form of research, and their various departments have a number of different research opportunities.

Young woman using a laptop in a table.

According to WashU’s department of research: “Our faculty, students and staff collaborate across disciplines and schools, creating new knowledge to address some of the world’s most challenging problems. Student research projects are supported by faculty mentors and other university resources. Faculty successfully win backing for their research from many sources, including the federal government, state governments, corporations, foundations, nonprofit agencies, individuals and the university itself.”

The WashU Office of Undergraduate Research is a specific resource for students who are looking to become involved in research. From WashU’s website: “The Office of Undergraduate Research (OUR) serves as a valuable resource for students beginning to explore the concept of undergraduate research. From helping students discern their own research paths and find a mentor, to connecting them to research funding and programs at WashU and beyond, to providing opportunities to share their work, we support all undergraduates, in all disciplines, and in all schools.”

What does WashU look for?

In addition to the standard criteria like high school transcripts, test scores, and extracurricular activities, WashU is looking for students who demonstrate a high level of academic curiosity. When writing about your extracurricular activities, the key is to convey that these are not merely activities in which you have been involved.

In general, the most important aspect of your application will be the courses you took in high school, and how well you did. WashU doesn’t use a lot of flowery language about the type of students they are looking for. Rather, they clearly state that the most important factors to them are whether you sincerely challenged yourself in high school and the outcome of those classes.

In addition to these factors, WashU is looking for students who have taken part in different extracurricular activities, community service, and experience working. In terms of their particular academic requirements for the number of courses you have taken, visit the WashU website for their specific recommendations.

Personal statement/supplemental essays

Top schools want to see more from students than just numbers on a transcript. Schools like WashU want to know how you think and how you express yourself. Numbers on a transcript don’t tell a school how your mind works, so making the most of your personal statement and supplemental essays is a vitally important part of your application. Students who wonder how to get into WashU need to understand that your essays are what give the WashU undergraduate admissions staff a clear picture of who you are and what makes you special.

Schools like WashU get plenty of applications from students who have excellent grades and test scores. So, in order to make it through the application process, you need to set yourself apart from the crowd. WashU is looking for intelligent, hardworking students, but they’re also looking for interesting people. In order to build an extraordinary student body, WashU needs to know how their applicants approach the world.

The current WashU supplemental essay asks you simply to write about about what you want to study in college and why. But keep in mind, they want to “get to know you” as a real person. And they also want to know what excites you about the idea of attending WashU, specifically. For this essay, it’s important to do your research and understand exactly what WashU has to offer.

Letters of recommendation

When it comes to how to get into WashU, one of your most valuable tools is your letter of recommendation. This allows WashU to see you from someone else’s perspective. Because of this, it’s vitally important that you choose people who know you in a variety of different ways.

The teacher who gave you an A in their class isn’t a great resource if that’s all they know about you. But the teacher who mentored you or guided you through challenges in your studies will know you as a student and as a person. WashU currently requires one letter of recommendation from your school counselor and one letter from a teacher in core subjects. If you choose not to submit your SAT/ACTs, it is recommended that you submit an additional letter of recommendation from a teacher in your specific area of study.

WashU uses eight main factors when considering your application: the academic rigor you have chosen in high school, your GPA, test scores, essay, letters of recommendation, extracurricular activities, talent, and personal qualities. But they also consider your interview, whether you are a first-generation college student, legacy, geographic residence, state residence, religious affiliation, racial/ethnic status, work experience, and volunteer work.

Additional materials/supplements

WashU does not require any additional materials as part of your application unless you are applying to the College of Art. Students who plan to study architecture are also strong advised to submit a portfolio.

A holistic approach to admissions

Like many schools, WashU uses a “holistic approach” to their admissions process. This means looking at the whole student rather than just grades and test scores. This means the WashU undergraduate admissions office will look at your life circumstances in addition to your transcripts and test scores.

Universities know that some students come from backgrounds that offered fewer opportunities, while others may have faced unique challenges, and some simply have extraordinary gifts that schools find attractive. The bottom line is that there is no simple answer to how to get into WashU University. Instead, your goal as an applicant is to highlight what makes you a strong, unique candidate.

According to WashU: “We are looking for students with a high school diploma or equivalent, including home schooled students and students holding a GED, who took a challenging college-preparatory curriculum in high school complemented by extracurricular activities, community service, and work experience. Your senior-year transcript should show that you continue to take demanding courses. Most applicants take advantage of honors, advanced placement, and International Baccalaureate courses, if offered by their high schools.”

Because WashU is such a selective school, you may have a lot of questions about the application process, and whether your application meets their criteria. At AdmissionSight we have many years of experience guiding students through the college admissions process in order to give them the best possible chance of getting in. Our counselors know what college admissions officers want to see, and they can help tailor your application to make it as competitive as possible. You’ve already done the hard work of excelling in your studies. AdmissionSight can help you get across the finish line




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