admission essay

By Abigail Anderson

Last week we began the discussion of Stanford’s 11-part supplement. We covered the seven questions requiring answers in the form of either a list or 50 words and how to answer the activities essay.

Stanford’s short essays will require a little more thought and reflection than what you might’ve put into the short responses, and that’s to be expected; a 250 word limit gives much more space to engage an idea. These essays are all about demonstrating what you’ll bring to the Stanford community as a roommate, as a thinker, and as a member at large. Do some reflection on your best attributes and assets as you work your way through your brainstorming, and be willing to open yourself up in your writing. You can take risks here, but they should be measured risks that present a more complete picture of your personality.

Intellectual Vitality

The Intellectual Vitality essay is the one that gives my students the most trouble, I think because they are asked to think about learning in a different, non-academic way. When we talk about moments that were important in your intellectual development, we’re talking about moments when you went beyond the textbook, took your learning to the next level, and really pushed to understand something that was fascinating to you.

Think about the moments when you felt consumed by your learning experience—when you just wanted to know more and couldn’t slow yourself down in that pursuit. That’s the best place to start with this essay. If nothing comes to mind here, think about ways that your learning style had to adapt or was disrupted by a new experience: a science major in English class; an independent worker having to engage on a group project. Learning something about yourself through academic experience is a great way to approach this.

What matters to you and Why?

First and foremost, your essays should be thought of as opportunities to differentiate yourself from an enormous pool of qualified applicants. Eliminate common responses from your planning: we know you care about your family or about your future successes, academic and otherwise. Look for this as an opportunity to share something specific you care about. So many of my students lament that they don’t have an opportunity to share a passion or interest that they have that doesn’t quite fit the Common Application. Well, here’s your chance to bring that special something into your Stanford app! Whether it’s a passion for sustainable farming, a deep interest in art and design, or an abiding interest in Greek mythology, Stanford wants to get a sense of your curiosity in action. Light a fire under yourself and let it grow.

The Roommate Essay

Finally, Stanford asks you to write a letter to your future roommate. I tell my students to write this as though their future roommate will receive it, while also keeping in mind that their future roommate will not receive it—that it’ll end up instead in the hands of an admissions officer who’s making the decision on your file.

What does that mean? Your tone should be casual, conversational, engaging, and warm. Pretend you’re starting a conversation with someone who will be sharing a very small box with you for nine months. How can you get off on the right foot? What do you want to share about yourself that can break the ice? Try to make your “roommate” feel welcomed. At the same time, don’t go overboard—you’re still writing part of your application, so you want to maintain a filter. Late-night ragers might be on your real agenda, but probably shouldn’t be in this letter to your “roommate.” Be fun, be smart, be yourself.

When you’ve finished putting everything together, read all of your essays and responses as one. I think about this as a “family” of Stanford essays, each contributing to a bigger understanding of you who you are. Is something missing? Is something out of place? Take a look at the whole picture and make sure the finer points of your personality are clearly and thoughtfully conveyed. And then, take a deep breath, and press send!

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Written by Abigail Anderson
Abigail Anderson is a member of College Coach’s team of college admissions experts. Abigail received her bachelor’s in sociology from Colby College. Prior to joining College Coach, Abigail worked as a senior admissions officer at Reed College and Emma Willard School.