Vanderbilt Supplemental Essays 2023-24 – Prompts and Advice

July 25, 2023

With an acceptance rate of just 5.6% for the 2023-24 entering class, Vanderbilt has become one of the more selective schools in the United States. It’s easy for prospective applicants who can claim a 99th percentile score and a position near the top of their high school class to feel overly confident when applying to a university of this ilk. Yet, it is critical to realize that, in 2023, the median SAT at Vandy is over 1500, and just about every admitted student finished near the top of their high school class. This brings us to the topic of this blog – the Vanderbilt supplemental essays.

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

When applying to Vanderbilt, you can’t just rely on your fabulous grades and test scores to carry you toward an eventual acceptance letter. You need those credentials, of course, but you also need to pour every ounce of effort into other components of the application in order to separate yourself in the eyes of the admissions committee. The Common App and supplemental essay present just that opportunity.

Below are Vanderbilt’s supplemental essays for the 2023-24 admissions cycle along with our advice for composing a winning essay. Note: Applicants only pick one of the two prompts. 

Vanderbilt Supplemental Essay Prompt – Choice #1

Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you. (250 word max)

Look, if you had one shot, or one opportunity (Eminem beat starts to ramp up)…While many highly-selective colleges offer two, three, or even more supplemental prompts, Vandy only offers this single essay (that you choose from between two options). They don’t ask about your role in a community, overcoming an obstacle, a list of every book you read this year, or what a particular quote from the 19th century means to you—they just want you to briefly discuss one activity or work experience. So, the question is, how to make your response to such a basic prompt really count?

Here are a few considerations for you to mull over as you begin the prewriting process:

  • 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 Vanderbilt admissions staff.
  • With this prompt, Vanderbilt is not necessarily asking you to write about the activity where you earned the most prestigious awards. Nor the activity where you 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 activity 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.

Vanderbilt Supplemental Essays (Continued)

There are no wrong answers to this prompt, but there are unhelpful ways to approach it. For example, you decide to write about a two-week summer program at Rice University, not because it was life-changing and contained a meaningful and revealing story about your life, but because you think it will impress Vanderbilt. Meanwhile, you pass up the chance to talk about working at Dairy Queen where you got to meet people from all walks of life and learned a ton about the human experience. Just because DQ doesn’t sound as “prestigious” as a Rice summer program, doesn’t mean you should shy away from it.

Again, the admissions office is going to see all of your activities and honors in the Common App. This 250-word piece should be about telling an authentic story that reads like more than just an expanded description of your most “impressive” high school activity.

Required Essay Prompt – Choice #2

Vanderbilt University values learning through contrasting points of view. We understand that our differences, and our respect for alternative views and voices, are our greatest source of strength. Please reflect on conversations you’ve had with people who have expressed viewpoints different from your own. How did these conversations/experiences influence you?

The U.S. presently finds itself in an extreme state of polarization. There seems to be little agreement even as to what constitutes “truth” or “facts”. Within this divided world, it can be hard for individuals with competing viewpoints to engage in civil and productive dialogue. Here, Vanderbilt is giving you the chance to show that you are an open-minded, intellectually curious, truth-seeking young person. Illustrate how you are willing to converse with people holding opposing positions on topics of great importance to you. One key thing to remember when addressing this prompt is that you don’t have to be the hero of the anecdote. In fact, you may be one who learned to expand your thinking.

How important are the Vanderbilt supplemental essays?

The essays (both the Common App essay and supplemental essay) are “very important” to the Vanderbilt admissions committee. This places them in the same category as: GPA, standardized test scores, class rank, the rigor of your secondary school record, extracurriculars, and character/personal qualities. In short, the Vanderbilt supplemental essays are among the most important factors to the University when evaluating your application.

Vanderbilt Supplemental Essays – Want Personalized Essay Assistance?

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