Wake Forest University Essay Guide 2020-2021

Essay Guides 12 min read
Image courtesy of Wake Forest University

In this Wake Forest University Essay Guide, you’ll find tips on how to best respond to the supplemental essay prompts for Wake Forest. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.


Situated in Winston-Salem, NC, Wake Forest University is a prestigious liberal arts school and one of few that is also focused on research. The University is famous for its small class sizes, highly engaged faculty, and personal approach to educating the whole person. Wake Forest is on the larger end of small liberal arts schools with an undergraduate student body of approximately 5,100 students. With a small student body, an undergraduate focus, and dedicated professors, the private school has several unique programs and encourages interdisciplinary study. For a small university, Wake Forest athletics are a big part of the undergraduate experience and students enjoy the competitive atmosphere between their peer Division I schools.

The school is ranked #27 by U.S. News and historically accepts approximately 30% of its applicants. Applying Early Decision is a significant advantage at Wake Forest, with 44% of the admitted Class of 2023 applying during the early round. Pre-pandemic, Wake Forest was one of the most selective test-optional universities. For the Class of 2023, the median ACT scores were 29-33 and median SAT scores were 1210-1470.

The Wake Forest supplement can be daunting at first - by requiring thoughtful responses to unexpected questions, the University is not only weeding out applicants who aren’t willing to put in the effort, but also preparing you for the type of thinking that their rigorous liberal arts curriculum demands. Due to their test-optional status and small school mentality, Wake Forest weighs applicants’ essays more heavily than most universities.

Prompt 1: How did you become interested in Wake Forest University and why are you applying? (150 words)

This question is the typical two-fold “why school” question, though writers should weigh the second part of the question more heavily. With a limit of 150 words, the challenge lies in telling your story while being concise. As a school that takes an applicant’s demonstrated interest into consideration, Wake Forest values how and when you learned about the school. There are few “wrong” answers to this question; the admissions officers truly want to know how you learned about the school, whether via their mailings, alumni, current students, or campus tour.

Your rationale for applying is the more important aspect of the question. What about your introduction to and research about the university triggered you to open an application? What about their campus, academic offerings, or campus environment helps you envision yourself as a Demon Deacon?

The key to an effective “Why Wake Forest?” response is to focus on yourself. With a strict word limit, you should not devote any words to telling them why they are great or describing any of their programs. Instead, tell the reader how you would engage with professors through classes and research, build connections with peers on the athletic field and through extracurriculars, or take advantage of service opportunities. Demonstrate that you have done your research by mentioning classes, resources, and campus initiatives in your response. When in doubt, be more specific.

Prompt 2: Help us to get to know you better by responding briefly to these questions. No need for research, just be creative and enjoy the process. List five books you have read that intrigued you (title, author, required reading).

For this response, you have 150 characters for the book title, author, and whether or not the book was required reading. When brainstorming for the Wake Forest supplemental essays, evaluate Prompts 2, 3, and 4 together since there is significant overlap in the content they require. Think about these three prompts as a set and also consider them in the context of your entire application. With such limited word counts, redundancies should be strictly avoided.

I recommend weighing your five selected books more toward non-required reading than required reading. The element of choice is inherently absent from reading a book for a class, and the admissions readers want to know what interests you. However, if there is a book that was meaningful to you from class, don’t hesitate to include it.

One of your first steps when brainstorming for this response should be to make a list of all the books you have enjoyed reading. Then, consider what you learned from each. What made you pick up the book originally? What made you keep reading? What did you learn from the book? Wake Forest is hoping to gain insight into what is important to you, so I suggest picking a variety of genres and authors rather than a series or books that are thematically connected. Use this as an opportunity to be genuine and reveal facets of yourself that are not exhibited elsewhere in the application. You do not have the opportunity to describe your reasoning for including the book on your list, but you could include a brief explanation after the title if your selection could be unfamiliar to others.

Prompt 3: As part of my high-school English curriculum, I was required to read [insert title]. I would have replaced it with [insert title here]. The required book I was most surprised I enjoyed was [insert title here].

This question is similar to Prompt 2 and Prompt 4 - relatively straightforward, and should not be overthought. Review the list you made for Prompt 2 to help you make a decision and use the fact that you do not have the opportunity to explain any of your choices to your advantage. The book has to speak for itself, and you also don’t have to articulate why you didn’t like it. Did you not like the writing style? Did you not connect with the main character? Do you not like the author?

The book you choose to replace it with could be a totally different genre or delve into the same theme in a different way. Does it explore a theme that you find interesting? Do you have a lot in common with the main character? Did the book shift your perspective on something? Is the book highly relevant to current events? The possibilities here are endless, so don’t force a book into a blank because you think Wake Forest will like it. Be creative and show a side of yourself that the admissions office would not see otherwise.

Prompt 4: Tell us how a work of fiction you’ve read has helped you to understand the world’s complexity. (300 words)

By the third essay about books, you should be able to tell that Wake Forest University is a prestigious liberal arts school that values written communication. There are two relatively straightforward approaches to answering this question. You could either chose the book first and deduce what you learned from it or you could consider an aspect of the world’s complexity that you find particularly interesting and recall if you’ve read a book that discusses that element of the world. One of these methods will likely flow more naturally for you.

I recommend avoiding using a book for class unless absolutely necessary or unless you are able to connect that work to a context outside of the classroom. Perhaps a book you read for AP Language and Composition inspired you to get involved in an initiative in your community, so there are always exceptions to this suggestion. Note that you must write about a work of fiction for this essay. If you are stuck when brainstorming your response, think on a more granular level; the whole book does not have to relate to the world’s complexity. You could extrapolate from a specific scene or interaction between two characters.

The key is to focus on yourself, not the book or the complexity in the world. How do you personally relate to that complexity or experience that complexity? Is there a book where you learned a lesson or identified closely with the main character? Have you read a book that changed your opinions, perspectives, or ideas? What does your choice of book reveal about you? Again, think about your application holistically, both in the context of the three questions about books and as a whole package.

Prompt 5: What piques your intellectual curiosity, and why? (75-150 words)

By using the phrase “intellectual curiosity” in the prompt, Wake Forest is asking you to do more than identify a hobby or interest. It matters more why you are curious, how you exhibit that curiosity, and what you have done to explore that curiosity. Although it might be tempting to identify many things you are curious about, I recommend choosing one thing that piques your curiosity since your words are so limited.

As with many essays, how you frame and present your response is more important than the topic. Is there an interest, activity, hobby, idea, philosophical concept, or piece of art that really makes you think? What motivates you? Have you ever tried learning about a topic that isn’t related to school? It isn’t quite enough to just be curious - choose something that demonstrates that you’ve taken action: have you shared your curiosity with others? Did you make a difference in your community in some way as a byproduct of exploring your intellectual curiosity?

Prompt 6: As part of our “Voices of Our Time” series – which allows students, faculty, and staff to hear from some of the world’s leading thinkers – Wake Forest has hosted Ta-Nehisi Coates, Michelle Alexander, Eboo Patel, and Thomas Friedman. If you could choose the next series speaker, who would you pick, and why? (150 words)

Your response to this prompt is a brief exercise in persuasion. Think carefully about why you are selecting the person in particular. For originality, you should choose to write about someone that is not in the mainstream, but avoid selecting an entirely obscure person. Don’t just restate facts about the person that could be learned in a quick Google search - go beyond. The person you select should be an indication that you are culturally aware and pay attention to the world around you.

Most importantly, your essay should be about you, not the person you select. This poses a substantial challenge, but you can overcome this hurdle by devoting the majority of your words to explain why you would invite the next speaker. Why does this person matter to you? What are your core values? Who embodies them? Did something they say, write, or create encourage you to think about the world differently? Who champions a cause that is important to you? Most of your essay should address the “why” component - why should this person come to Wake Forest? What would they add or magnify in the community?

Prompt 7: Give us your Top Ten list (theme and then top 10).

This question is one of the more intimidating ones on the supplement, but it offers an opportunity to be creative! Think about aspects of yourself or your interests that you have not yet shown through your application. Do you have a bunch of great nicknames? A really long bucket list? Are there 10 meals you’ve shared that were particularly meaningful? Do you love to cook 10 dishes?

In general, avoid Top 10 “Favorite” lists such as movies or food simply because they are overused. You will have likely exhausted your ability to write about books, but be sure not to choose books or another topic you have already covered in your application.

Prompt 8: At Wake Forest, we gather our students in “Calls to Conversation,” congregating small groups around dinner tables in faculty’s and administrators’ homes to discuss topics organized around a theme, for example “arts for social change,” “gender in society,” and “leading a meaningful life.” If you could design a theme for a “Call to Conversation,” what would you choose, and why? (150 words)

As this prompt indicates, faculty members play a central role in the Wake Forest undergraduate experience, and the University is proud of their 11:1 student to faculty ratio! Similar to Prompt 6, this prompt gives you the opportunity to show your social conscience.

Responses to this prompt can easily become too vague or broad because of the word “theme” in the prompt. I recommend choosing a theme such as “Aristotle’s relevance to college students” instead of the more general theme of “moral philosophy.” When addressing your chosen theme, emphasize the impact and importance of it. Ask yourself, “Would I attend this Call to Conversation?” Consider why others should engage in conversation on this topic. Your selection does not need to be strictly academic in nature; there are many opportunities to establish a real world connection to academic material and develop a conversation around current events. One way to elevate your response to the next level would be to include a call to action; motivate your reader to want to discuss your topic.

9. We live in an age intensely interested in heroes. Professor Joseph Campbell defines “hero” as “someone who has given his or her life to something bigger than oneself.” Describe a hero in public life and how and why, in your opinion, they meet Professor Campbell’s definition. (150 words)

Through this essay, Wake Forest University not only wants to learn who is important to you, but also how and why you see them as a hero. As is the case for Prompt 6, avoid writing about someone who is too well-known and mainstream - many applicants could write about Bill Gates, Michelle Obama, or Beyonce.

The prompt requires that the person be in “public life,” but that does not require that the person be famous! Your essay will be more meaningful and memorable if you think of “hero” in the more unconventional sense. A hero could be an artist who creates music that speaks to you or has helped you through a difficult time. Is there a painting that has a unique backstory for you? Is there someone in your community who has had an indelible impact on your life? Can you think of someone who champions a cause you believe in? When answering the prompt, keep in mind what the very question is intended to reveal — everyone has different heroes for different reasons. Be specific and vivid in your description of why the person meets the definition of a hero.


This informational essay was written by Caroline Marapese, Notre Dame ‘20. If you want to get help writing your Notre Dame application essays from Caroline or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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