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How to Write the Vanderbilt University Essays

Updated for 2023-2024

Vanderbilt's 2023-24 supplemental essay is focused on community. Students can choose from two prompts, the first requiring students to reflect on an extracurricular involvement that has shaped them, and the second to describe a time in which they interacted with someone whose views differed from their own. This guide will help you choose your prompt and execute it in a polished and engaging way!

Essay Prompt:

To give us a glimpse into how you engage with your community, we ask you to complete a short answer essay (approximately 250 words) based on one of two prompts. (250 words)

1. Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you.

2. Vanderbilt University values learning through contrasting points of view. We understand that our differences, and our respect for alternative views and voices, are our greatest source of strength. Please reflect on conversations you’ve had with people who have expressed viewpoints different from your own. How did these conversations/experiences influence you?



Vanderbilt offers two prompts to choose from, both with a 250 word maximum. Be mindful that since the first prompt only asks for you to write about ONE activity or work experience, it is important to only write about ONE. Don’t try to overstuff your response with a variety of experiences—it will prevent you from getting into the descriptive depth you need to address the primary topic, especially since 250 words makes for a rather short essay.

The second option asks you to write about diversified points of view and how you interact with opinions that differ from your own. Regardless of the topic you choose, this is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your maturity, open-mindedness, and critical thinking skills. That said, be careful when mentioning extremely controversial or overused topics that you might have seen in the headlines over the past few weeks.

Whichever prompt you choose, the goal should be the same: to provide a detailed and concise description of how you fit into the Vanderbilt community. Because 250 words is not very lengthy, you’ll want to be careful with your use of space by writing intentionally. You’ll also want to decide early which aspect of your conversation or activity to include. Should you write about a specific event? A phone call with a friend? A responsibility you held? What is it about your involvement that speaks to you?

Despite the open-ended nature of the prompts, here are a few additional guidelines to keep in mind as you choose which prompt to answer:

    • Remember that aside from your main Common Application essay, this is your only opportunity to share your voice with the admissions officer who reads your file, so take advantage of it. Your values, personality, and passion should shine brightly off the page. Since Vanderbilt is known for its active student body committed to fostering and improving its community, the admissions officers want to know what type of community member you will be and how you will contribute if you come to study at Vanderbilt.
    • Perhaps most importantly, Vanderbilt is a school that values leadership, so emphasize leadership that you’ve demonstrated in your activity or work. Similarly, this can come in many forms: you can write about how you chose to lead a discussion, the impact of your leadership, or be even more reflective and write about what you learned about yourself and others through your experience. Other leaders in your club or activity could also have inspired you and taught you valuable lessons—a true leader is one who can also recognize the impact of others!
    • Finally, you don’t have to choose the activity or work to which you’ve devoted the most time or plan to spend the most time pursuing in college; it’s often obvious that a decorated athlete will continue their sport at the varsity/club level or that an advanced concert violinist will seek the opportunity to join the orchestra. Rather, exceptionally insightful essays can draw from experiences that might seem less important or relevant on an applicant’s activities list (maybe it’s one that isn’t mentioned in your application anywhere else at all!). “Extracurricular” means anything outside of the normal course of study at school, so feel free to embrace the freedom that Vanderbilt is giving you by focusing on a small ritual or tradition that you or your family often do or a side project/hobby that you pursue for fun!