How to Write Successful Stanford Essays

Writing college essays can be a stressful, overwhelming process. In addition to the Common Application essay, some highly selective colleges require multiple supplemental essays. Each supplemental essay serves a different purpose and requires a different thought process from the applicant. With all the different colleges and prompts, applicants may be unsure how to write college essays or personal statements.

 

Below we have provided tips for each Stanford essay prompt. Supplemental essay prompts tend to be repeated each year, so these tips should be useful no matter when you apply to college.

 

Briefly respond to the following inquiries so we can get to know you better. Do not feel compelled to use complete sentences.

Name your favorite books, authors, films, and/or artists. (50 word limit)

The purpose of this question is to see your interests. Focus on succinct writing.These can allude to the themes mentioned in the Common App or other supplemental essays.

What newspapers, magazines, and/or websites do you enjoy? (50 word limit)

Similar to the above prompt, a concise and direct message is important.

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

Stanford wants to see that you follow current events and feel passionate about creating positive change in society. Common topics may include education, poverty, healthcare, global warming, etc. Find one that you have demonstrated interest through your extracurriculars and how you would like to continue finding solutions to that challenge in the future.

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

It is important to convey that you have been busy working on something outside of school for the past two summers, hopefully related to your theme and your story. Keep it simple and straightforward. This should add dimension to your persona beyond the aspects already discussed in other prompts.

What were your favorite events (e.g., performances, exhibits, competitions, conferences, etc.) in recent years? (50 word limit)

This sheds additional light into awards or significant personal interests. List a few events and provide a short explanation. It’s important to be specific about why these are important to you. For example as an artist you may have visited the MOMA in New York because you wanted exposure to a certain artist and style.

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

It is important to explain WHY you are interested in that particular historical moment or event. Did that historical moment/event inspire you to do something, as demonstrated in your extracurriculars? If you had been there at that moment, would you have done anything to change it?

What five words best describe you?

Be authentic! Everyone is multifaceted, and the five words should describe distinct parts of you. Don’t only describe yourself with words like “ambitious” or “intelligent” just because you think that is what Stanford wants to read. Include words that genuinely describe your personality outside of academics.

Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development. (250 word limit)

Inspiration can be spontaneous or part of a broader collection of experiences. Looking  back you should be able to recall the conditions that led you to your intellectual passion.

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 — know you better. (250 word limit)

As an individual you possess all kinds of habits, hobbies, and personal approaches to social interaction. Topics and range from social justice beliefs to furniture arrangement preferences. Put another way, when your roommate looks back at the housing experience, what information would serve as a defining explanation of your relationship? It would be useful to include aspects of student life/culture/traditions that you would like to experience together or that would contribute to your dynamic.

What matters to you, and why? (100 to 250 words)

Admissions readers want to know who YOU are and learn what authentically matters to you. This topic should be demonstrated through your extracurriculars and theme, shown that it matters to you through your commitment and hard work. This is the perfect place for an explanation of your passions to surface alongside a concrete supporting example that situates the reader in context.

The best tip to write essays for any college is to be yourself! Whether your story is unique (grew up in unusual circumstances or excel in an uncommon extracurricular) or “typical” (play an instrument or sport that many other applicants play), the topic matters less than HOW you write about it- what you did, what you learned, and your reflections. Colleges want to see that you are passionate and committed to something, no matter what it is. 

Good luck with your college applications!  

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