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How to Write the Stanford University Supplemental Essays

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?* (50 word limit)

Unfortunately, it’s pretty easy to fall into a trap when answering this question. Trap number one is picking an incredibly vast, yet vague issue that sounds a lot like a “Miss America” response. (Think world hunger, terrorism, etc.) Another trap is being too nearsighted and writing about an issue that is troubling in your own community, but doesn’t resonate with others. It’s important to find the middle ground and talk about an issue that is important to you, can tell the reader something about your view of the world, and demonstrates maturity. Remember you are NOT asked to talk about a solution, so focus on the issue and why it’s particularly challenging.

The hardest part is narrowing down the most significant challenge from the many options you have. Once you feel as though you’ve come up with a thought-provoking answer, you have a chance, albeit a short one, to express your opinion and to defend it.

If you choose to talk about systemic racism in the United States, won’t you seem naive for ignoring the catastrophic effects of climate change? Well, not exactly. Stanford is aware that you don’t have the space to acknowledge other challenges in just 50 words, so the best thing is to accept your limitations and use them to your advantage. This means you don’t need to include any qualifiers like “Society suffers from issues such as … yet I find … to be the single greatest challenge we face.” Make a stand and stick by it.

If you feel that your response is polarizing, keep in mind that that is not necessarily a bad thing. Societal issues are polarizing topics, and even your readers will likely disagree about the single greatest challenge the world faces today. That does not mean that you have free-reign to be offensive or off-putting, but remember that Stanford welcomes and supports a diverse range of opinions. However, it’s likely other applicants will write about a similar challenge, so try to stand out!

How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)

This is a chance for you to elaborate on extracurriculars. The best answers don’t detail entire summers or provide program descriptions. Instead, they feature the few most memorable things an applicant did while away from school. If you had a less structured summer, you should talk about a trip, a friendship, a skill, etc. that has had an impact on who you are.

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)

Avoid the signing of the Declaration of Independence at all costs. Be unique. Tell the reader about a time period or event they may not be familiar with, and explain why it’s cool in your opinion. This is a chance to show the reader your personality, not that you did your homework. Therefore, it’s best if the event is related to one of your academic interests!

Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family (50 word limit)

This is a space to talk about a meaningful experience you’ve had or a community you’ve cherished being a part of. It can be the place to elaborate on the part-time job you’ve had throughout high school (any job counts, even if it’s flipping burgers or tutoring kids in your neighborhood). However, feel to get personal and talk about roles and responsibilities you’ve had within your family. Remember, there is space for only 50 words, so be brief but thorough!

Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford (50 word limit)

Almost everyone is looking forward to having an engaging conversation with a peer or faculty member. Most are looking forward to the amazing facilities, the research opportunities, and the wonderful chance to learn from masters in their fields. Many can’t wait to experience that gorgeous Californian weather. Rather than express the obvious, try thinking outside of the box a bit!

This question is essentially a hidden “Why Stanford?” question. It’s a chance for you to show that you’ve done your homework, and the most successful answers really take the “one thing” to heart. Successful essays often talk extensively about a small moment, sight, sound, tradition, or resource that they have been dreaming about since they learned about it.

A quick Google search will reveal unique Stanford traditions such as fountain hopping, full moon on the quad, primal screams, and Gaietes. Don’t stop here! These are the most common responses, and admissions officers are well aware of how “fun” they can be. They don’t need to be reminded again. Keep in mind that this question is actually more about YOU than it is about the university.

What in particular makes you different from other applicants? Are you excited to audition for one of the many storied a cappella groups on campus? Do you have a hidden talent or passion that can be explored at Stanford? Is there a volunteering opportunity in East Palo Alto you’re excited about undertaking?

A good place to start is to ask yourself: what do you love to do now that you want to take to the next level in college? This is a great way to reveal who you will be on campus, and how you will interact with specific communities at the university. Cleverness is not rewarded as much as authenticity is here. You’re not trying to reinvent yourself, you’re trying to show why Stanford and you are a great fit for each other!

The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning (100 to 250 words)

In most cases, students write about an idea or experience that is closely related to their intended field of study. This can work, but it’s not the only way to go about answering this question. In fact, many successful students write about experiences or ideas from one subject that have influenced their thinking or views on another.

The key here is to demonstrate that you would be a good fit on campus by showing that you see the value in the pursuit of knowledge. The topic itself is not as important as showing what you have done with the information or idea you discuss.

Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate – and us – get to know you better. (100 to 250 words)

This question almost always gets a love-hate response. If you’ve written many letters in your life, you may feel comfortable writing this one, but there are a number of ways to write an impactful letter. The first tip we suggest is to start by writing your letter by hand. This will help you get out of your academic mindset and into letter-writing mode.

The first thing to know is that the response should be formatted like an actual letter. The second is that it should give a sneak peek into what it would be like to live with you and to be your friend. Remember not just to tell, but to show us how your personality may play out in a dorm room, a class room, or in a budding friendship. Keep the focus of the letter on yourself and try to share aspects of your personality and character that can’t be found anywhere else on your application. Have fun with it!

Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why (100 to 250 words)

You’ve written a lot already, but there has to be something you haven’t told Stanford yet, right? Here’s your last chance to show them who you are! Try to convey a piece of information that admissions officers do not already know. Whether that is a person, memory, trip, item, experience, philosophy, or feeling is up to you. The key is telling readers something that only you could say, and that will leave them on a positive last note. The best answers are so unique and memorable that admissions officers keep thinking about your application long after they put it down.