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How to Write the Vanderbilt University Supplemental Essays

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (200-400 words)*

First and foremost, be mindful that since the prompt only asks for you to write about ONE activity or work experience, it is important that you 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 for the primary topic, especially since 200-400 words makes for a rather short essay.

Because 200-400 words isn’t 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 activity/experience to include. Should you write about a specific event? A responsibility you held? Your impact? Or what about how your involvement speaks to you? Impacts your community? The prompt simply requests that you “elaborate,” so the aspect of your activity you choose to address is entirely up to you.

Despite the open ended nature of the prompt, here are a few additional guidelines to keep in mind as you decide what you want to write:

  1. 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, they want to know what type of community member you will be and how you will contribute if you come to study at Vanderbilt.
  2. 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, 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!
  3. 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 embrace the freedom that Vanderbilt is giving you by perhaps focusing on some small ritual or tradition that you or your family often do or a side project/hobby that you pursue for fun!