College supplemental essays are designed for applicants to demonstrate their personality and passion, but applicants are often stumped when they look the essay prompt.
Applicants tend to overthink the supplemental essay topic, often spending too much time trying to figure out what admission officers want to read. While it’s important to understand what the question is being asked, your efforts should be focused on what about personality or achievements you want to highlight.
Take one of Stanford University’s supplemental essay topic for example. Here’s the prompt:
What matters to you, and why? (250 word limit)
Instead of thinking about appealing to a university, think about this question as if your best friend just asked you at your usual hang out spot. What would you respond with? What’s the first thing that comes to mind? Don’t eliminate those ideas because you think they are too childish or not intriguing enough. These ideas and your reasoning behind is what makes you unique and different.
Here are 5 examples from students who were accepted to Stanford:
Stanford University ‘20
I have always been envious of characters in musicals: imagine jiving on the streets to Dancing Queen, or saying goodnight with So Long, Farewell! I, unfortunately, don’t quite have the skills to spontaneously set my feelings to music. I am privileged, however, to have music in my life. Keep reading.
Stanford University ‘20
Why do we humans even exist? For what purpose do we to continue to strive day after day, knowing our inevitable end? As quickly as I have come into this world, I will soon be out of it; I am but a second on an ever-ticking geological clock. Yet, I carry with me an innate longing for greatness, the wish to be immortalized for what I will achieve for mankind. Read on.
Stanford University ‘20
I am six. Pools of mudfish swim by my ankles, now slick and red with rashes, and when I scoop up the water with a hut! — The pink basket convulses with life, ready to burst. Eyes fixated on the muffled pop-pop of fish breaths, floating about like round balloons and splintering the shimmer of my reflection, I walk home with it. Continue reading.
Stanford University ‘18
I once stayed up all night with a twelve year old because no one else did.
I cried when my bunny cut her foot; but looked like stone the morning
I found that bunny stiff and cold.
I would rather lose my life than live without the chance to spend another hour in a hallway with a pair of somersaulting angels nothing like the stereotypical eighth grader.
When you ask me what matters,
when you wonder what’s wrong,
when you fail to catch my attention as I stare into space,
when the sky looks like a prayer but I act like it’s crumbling down,
pretty much every answer is true.
View full essay.
Stanford University ‘20
When my brother was diagnosed with leukemia for the first time over five years ago and when he relapsed last April, I saw firsthand how proper medical treatment, access to mental health resources, availability of marrow donors, and an insurance policy that didn’t set a lifetime cap or discriminate against preexisting conditions could help deliver my brother through a painful cancer journey. But he is only one of many, one child fortunate enough to have these resources. Continue reading.
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About The Author
Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.
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: