Washington University in St. Louis

Grounded and gutsy

Redefining a premier college-admissions experience


As a leading U.S. school, Washington University in St. Louis attracts many undergraduate applicants. But without a clear articulation of what made WashU special, the university was having trouble standing out among competitors—and the best admitted candidates were often choosing to go elsewhere. The school’s Office of Undergraduate Admissions needed new verbal and visual tools to differentiate the WashU experience, so it could persuade more of the right students to make WashU their first choice.


Our EyeOpener™ research—conducted with prospective students, parents and high-school guidance counselors—revealed three key imperatives that would help WashU build its reputation as a prestigious university and increase yield. Playing to its core strengths, the school needed to amplify its supportive culture, lean into its leading academic environment and connect with each student in authentic, personal ways. Competitive without being cutthroat, WashU could credibly talk about a community of achievers that worked together to change the world.




We developed a new positioning, “Real-World Ambition,” that captures the kind of “resourceful and realistic” student WashU is looking to enroll. From there, we created strategic messaging for target audiences, refined the WashU personality and tone of voice and reinvigorated the school’s existing visual identity. We then overhauled several pivotal communications. Finally, we helped create a new “front door” to WashU by designing the visitor experience for the new campus welcome center, which had just broken ground.

Guided by our positioning, we infused WashU’s personality, “Driven and Personal,” across a variety of existing communications and proposed experiences, including the school’s undergraduate viewbook, its acceptance letter and admissions package, and campus visit promotions.
To design a seamless and engaging experience for the Sumers Welcome Center, we identified specific moments that would provide the greatest impact for prospective and admitted students—from planning a campus visit all the way to post-visit communications—and looked for ways to introduce the idea of “Real-World Ambition” at every step.