The point of this essay is to invoke the casual nature of roommate relationships and invite students to take a more relaxed approach to writing about themselves. It brings the application to life by asking you to write only about your own personality, which feels more open than other essays that ask you to answer a specific question like “Describe your community” or “Talk about a mentor who got you through a difficult time.” While answering both of those prompts still offers insight into who the author is, they are fundamentally centralized around another person or topic, which is why Stanford cuts straight to the chase with this prompt to actually get to know you better.
Stanford is looking for an extremely authentic 250-word portrayal of your character that could distinctly identify you from a crowd of essays. If you got to meet your admissions officer in person, and only had 60 seconds to pitch yourself without using anything from your activities or awards, what would you say first? If you were legitimately writing a letter to your roommate at Stanford, what would you want them to know about the prospect of living with you? If you imagine how your Stanford alumni interview might play out, what topics do you hope to steer towards?
Think deeply about these questions and first see if there is something meaningful that you want to convey, and look through Prompt 3 to see if it would best serve answering the question, “What matters to you, and why?” instead of this roommate prompt. If you do have a more serious answer, you can style the essay like a very formal letter or like a traditional 1-2 paragraph short essay without any of the letter gimmicks at all to stand out syntactically.
If you don’t think you have any important topics on the serious side that you want to specifically cover in the space for this prompt (an extreme medical condition, a family hardship etc.), you could also go for another popular tactic by creating a fun, miscellaneous essay.
This prompt can arguably be one of the most entertaining to write and read of all college supplemental essays because of the opportunity to present the admissions office with an amalgamation of weird topics. Last year’s CollegeVine guide encouraged students to explore their quirky side with this prompt by writing about unique hobbies or interesting personality oddities. It also advises staying away from things like politics (i.e., don’t indicate which party or ideology you tend to support, even through jokes or minor references, since you don’t want to step on any toes).
Don’t sweat too much over the exact way to put the essay in letter format. Starting with something like “Hi! I am ridiculously stoked to meet you!” or any other straightforward greeting that doesn’t sound too cheesy is totally fine. If you decide to, you can essentially make a bullet list of “fun me facts” if you want to include the maximum amount of content. Remember that this essay should be fun!
Since it is usually hard to come up with good material about your own diverse personality while staring at a blank computer screen, try keeping a note on your phone and adding to it gradually as you think of things throughout the day. Think about what you enjoy and jot down notes like:
I love Sandra Bullock movies. I wish I could stop biting my nails, and sometimes I do, but only until I take a test or watch a freaky movie. I hate doing my laundry and the song ‘Drops of Jupiter.’ I planned myself a Cutthroat Kitchen-themed birthday party last year because I love cooking contest shows. My favorite store is the Dollar Tree, and when I’m there I always feel like I’m getting too much stuff, but when I leave I regret putting stuff back. Before I go to bed, I like to watch clips from Ellen or Jimmy Fallon because I think it gives me funny dreams. I’m attracted to buying gift wrap even if I have no reason for it, a trait I inherited from my mom. I love chicken. I sleep like a rock and unfortunately, that means I need an incredibly loud alarm clock, but I also will never be bothered by late night noise, etc.
You can see by how long this section got just how easy it can be to talk about yourself once you get started…
Try to intersperse some facts that relate to activities you could do together or things that would be important for an actual roommate to know to stay true to the prompt. Juxtaposing random facts might not be the way to go if you feel they are redundant with your short answers or too all over the place for you. Putting together just a few key aspects of your personality and typical habits with more coherent elaboration on each and topping it off with a “Love, your future roomie” holds the potential to become an engaging essay as well.
Here is another example that shows a ton of personality and utilizes a list format:
Like many institutions, Stanford requires applicants to answer several short essays and questions. Unlike single-prompt supplements, supplements with multiple short prompts require you to utilize several different topics. Thematically, you should not write all of your essays about the same thing, whether that’s an extracurricular passion or a particular facet of your personality that you wish to highlight.
Instead, your essays should work like a portfolio, each one acting to highlight a different portion of your application or personality, with a collective effect that conveys what you want. The short answer questions should also fit into this portfolio, as they allow you to reinforce key themes from your essay or introduce additional components of your life or personality.
The Rapid Fire Questions
Briefly respond to the following seven 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)
What newspapers, magazines, and/or websites do you enjoy? (50 word limit)
What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)
How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)
What were your favorite events (e.g., performances, exhibits, competitions, conferences, etc.) in recent years? (50 word limit)
What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)
What five words best describe you?
These short answer questions are nice in that they don’t necessarily have any wrong answers. For the most part, it’s okay to answer these questions truthfully, so long as you avoid potentially controversial or offensive responses. These questions are designed to give admissions officers a brief look at your personality, and each answer reflects a different portion of your personality or application.
For the most part, your answers can be very straightforward. For example, if you said that you wish you could have witnessed W.E.B Dubois’ “Talented Tenth” speech, then the Stanford admissions counselors will know that you are interested in history and questions related to race and racial relations. Normally with short answer questions, you might want to avoid writing an extremely advanced work of literature or erudite publication down as your “favorite.”
However, because you have 50 words to work with, you can afford to list several different books, publications, and the like. If possible, try to strike a balance between things that are pure enjoyment and things that are educational. Also, if you decide to feature a particular theme for your application, you should try to make sure that some of your answers to these questions reinforce that theme.
Princeton’s app has a similar rapid-fire section — for further tips, check out the CollegeVine blog post How to Write the Princeton University Supplement Essays 2015-2016.
Briefly elaborate on one of your ECs…
Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 word limit)
This essay is similar to the extracurricular prompt that used to be on the Common Application. One option for writing this essay is to choose the most meaningful or in-depth extracurricular on your application and then write about that. However, if your Common Application essay significantly addresses this activity, you should try to move on to another on your resume. You can choose almost any activity; however, you shouldn’t be writing about a superficial experience just because it fits with your major – focus on something more meaningful.
With regards to the content of the essay, your focus is on specificity. Don’t just recount your accomplishments in that activity (that belongs on a resume); instead, focus either on what you learned from it, what it says about you, or a specific event or project within that activity that illustrates your ability to execute key projects or your ability to work well with others.
Another option is to write a descriptive anecdote about a particular moment or accomplishment during one of your extracurricular activities. This option doesn’t offer as much in the way of highlighting your accomplishment or skills, but instead allows you to show off your writing prowess.
The Intellectual Vitality Prompt
Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development. (100 to 250 words)
The focus of this essay should be how and why the idea impacted you, not necessarily discussion and explanation of the idea itself. If possible, you should spend maybe 50 words discussing the idea and then the remainder of the essay analyzing its impact on your intellectual development. And with regards to the latter aspect, you should either discuss how the process gave you an important skill, or how it made you fall in love with a field (ideally one that’s tied to your major).
For example, you could discuss the idea of quantitative easing (a monetary policy tool, or more broadly an economics idea) to either discuss how it gave one the ability to be analytical or how it made you fall in love with economics (your major). Your idea need not be so academic. The term “intellectual development” can be applied loosely to almost anything you like. For example, you could talk about a type of dance move, and how your persistent perusal of the internet looking for tips on successfully performing said dance move inspired you to become a music major.
A Letter to Your Roommate
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. (100 to 250 words)
This essay is as much about what not to say as about what you should say. The key thing to avoid in this essay: anything that could disqualify you in the eyes of the admissions committee. While you don’t want to write something that’s bland and clichéd, you should avoid discussing illegal or unsavory activities.
Conversely, you shouldn’t be afraid to explore your quirky side. Good topics are always unique hobbies or interesting personality quirks, and it’s perfectly fine to get a little weird. You can also talk about your favorite experiences with friends and how you’d enjoy similar experiences with a hypothetical roommate.
But you should probably stay away from things like politics. You can say you’re politically motivated if you are, but don’t indicate which party or ideology you tend to support. Also, try not to talk about specific political issues, especially if you hold a conservative viewpoint. It’s very easy to offend someone with politics.
What matters to you, and why?
What matters to you, and why? (100 to 250 words)
While it may seem as though this essay is asking you to discuss a social justice cause or some sort of “problem” with the world, the actual prompt is a lot broader. Basically, Stanford wants to know what’s at your core and the things that take up the majority of your mental desire.
The focus of this essay should be on the “why” portion of the essay. The “what” is important, but your explanation of the “why” is ultimately what will convey something new about you. Pretty much any topic, so long as you can legitimately describe why it matters to you, is fair game.
When writing about potentially controversial topics such as religion and politics, your focus should be explicitly on yourself. It’s okay to discuss how Christianity, for example, helped you gain a new appreciation for the value of personal discipline, but you shouldn’t discuss your deep-held desire to convert others to Christianity, because the idea of religious conversion could be offensive or controversial to some.
With these tips, you should be well on your way to writing the perfect Stanford Supplement. Best of luck from the CollegeVine team!
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