With an acceptance rate of less than 4%, Stanford University is in a league of selectivity with only a handful of other schools including Harvard, MIT, and Princeton. At Stanford, the median SAT is a 1500 and 96% hail from the top 10% of their high school class. As a result,  you need more than just superior test scores and a sparkling transcript to be among the 1 in every 25 applicants who is ultimately admitted. Each year, we work with a number of successful Stanford University applicants. We can say with confidence that exceptional Stanford supplemental essays are a necessary component of any winning application.

 (Want to learn more about How to Get Into Stanford? Visit our blog entitled: How to Get Into Stanford: Admissions Data and Strategies for all of the most recent admissions data as well as tips for gaining acceptance.)

Stanford University requires applicants to respond to a whopping eight prompts, making the decision to apply an instantly sizable time commitment. Your mission—should you choose to accept it— is to write compelling, standout compositions that showcase your top-notch writing ability and reveal more about who you are as an individual. Below are Stanford’s essay prompts for the 2021-22 admissions cycle along with tips about how to address each one.

Stanford Supplemental Essays: (100-250 words)

Prompt 1: 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.

Whether it’s a general love for math/science or literature or a specific interest in aerospace engineering or 19th century French novels, use this opportunity to share what makes you tick, the ideas that keep you up at night, and what subject inspires you to dream big. What topic makes you read books and online content until your eyes bleed? Share the manner in which you relentlessly pursue knowledge. Whether it’s falling down a Wikipedia rabbit hole about the nature of time or consuming thousands of hours of podcasts on game theory, this is a chance to illustrate the ways in which you are an obsessive learner with an endless thirst for information. The admissions reader should emerge from reading this essay with the sense that you are a sincerely curious young person with a strong intellectual drive.

Prompt 2: 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.

Applicants can utilize this response to give greater insight into the little details about themselves that may not appear elsewhere in the application. Keep the old adage in mind that “you don’t truly know a person until you live with them.” Think about what your future roommate will learn about your daily habits, quirks, passions, and preferences? What music do you like to listen to? What time do you get up in the morning and what is your morning routine? Another common “move” writers use in this essay is to list a few uniquely-Stanford things that they can’t wait to do with their roommate around campus. In the grand scheme of things, this is a genuine chance to reveal more about your character, unique personality, and also—sometimes— how to get along with others.

Prompt 3: Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why.

Your response may be a bigger-picture idea, mission, or goal that undergirds much of what you want to do with your academic, career, and personal future. On the contrary, this entry can be completely outside of your academic/professional interests. It could be about a work of art, a natural environment, or philosophical/religious idea that you find inspirational. The focal point could bea  musical artist that moves you, your pet cat, or a work of fiction. There are limitless possibilities to this one—if you follow your heart/gut and write with passion, you’ll nail this one.

Stanford Supplemental Essays – Short Response Questions (50 words)

1) What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

The admissions committee wants to make sure that your personal aims align with those of the university, as indicated in their mission statement. This mission is “to extend the frontiers of knowledge, stimulate creativity, and solve real-world problems, prepare students to think broadly, deeply and critically, and to contribute to the world, and deploy Stanford’s strengths to benefit our region, country, and world.” The strongest answers usually include some level of previous participation/community service on the part of the applicant. For example, if you are concerned about voting rights and the preservation of the democratic process, you may have volunteered with a relevant organization.

2) How did you spend your last two summers? 

We are looking at your summers after sophomore and junior year for this prompt. So, why is Stanford so interested in what you did from mid-June through August, you ask? The answer, primarily, is because this is the time of the year when your entire schedule wasn’t laid out for you–the admissions office can observe your actions in the lone time and space when you are given complete agency and control.

Did you work to earn money to help support your family? On the other hand, did you work to save money for a specific purpose? Did you take a college course or two or enroll in an academic summer program? Or, did you conduct independent research or secure an internship at a company or organization? Stanford recognizes that students in different circumstances have varying levels of opportunity. Therefore, if you spent the summer watching your siblings out of necessity so your mom could go to work during COVID, that can be as valid as attending an aerospace engineering program at MIT. Ideally, your summer endeavor will—at least to some extent, align with your expressed passions and academic/intellectual aims.

3) What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?

Keep in mind that “historical” could refer to a famous event that is included in your average history textbook. Alternatively, it could be something more personal to your family, like when your great-grandmother immigrated to California in 1917. Many times, if students select a moment in world history, it isn’t one that is universally known in endless detail. Unless you are picking something as well known as MLK’s “I have a Dream Speech” or the 1969 Moon landing, make sure to give the reader some level of context about the actual event in addition to your commentary about why that moment is special to you. No need to get uber-obscure with your answer. However, the most needle-moving answers are generally not usually based on any of the most famous events in human history that you’ve known about since elementary school.

4) Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family.

Stanford is not necessarily asking you to write about the activity where you earned the most prestigious awards or held the highest position of leadership. The university is going to see all of your activities in that section of the Common App. As such, you want to ask yourself which of your entries is crying out for more explanation and detail? Which one is closest to your heart and most representative of your unique passions? Pick the option that will allow you to deliver additional detail that may be memorable to the admissions reader. Start this process by asking yourself, “What is the most interesting and consequential moment that I have experienced in one of my extracurricular activities?” If you can identify one clear-cut moment, that is likely the activity worth sharing with the Stanford admissions staff.

5) Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. 

Note the absence of a straight “Why Stanford?” essay in this application. This 50-word short response is the closest thing to it. This prompt asks you to select just one single feature of the Cardinal experience. Make sure that your answer reveals something about how you will take advantage of the university’s immense resources. Also convey that you are interested in Stanford for particular reasons beyond their prestigious reputation. You could name a specific course, professor, research opportunity, study abroad program, or extracurricular club. Just try to follow the prompt’s precise request and only talk about “one” thing.

How important are the Stanford supplemental essays?

The lengthy supplemental essay section is among the 9 factors that Stanford considers to be “very important”. The other factors are: rigor of secondary school record, class rank, GPA, standardized test scores, recommendations, extracurricular activities, talent/ability, and character/personal qualities.

Want Personalized Essay Assistance?

In conclusion, if you are interested in working with one of College Transitions’ experienced and knowledgeable essay coaches as you craft your Stanford supplemental essays, we encourage you to get a quote today.

Andrew Belasco

A licensed counselor and published researcher, Andrew’s experience in the field of college admissions and transition spans two decades. He has previously served as a high school counselor, consultant and author for Kaplan Test Prep, and advisor to U.S. Congress, reporting on issues related to college admissions and financial aid.