Stanford University is one of the most prestigious institutions in the country, if not the world. With an acceptance rate of under 5 percent, the competition for admission is fierce. You’ll need to have stellar grades, test scores, activities, and, of course, college admissions essays to separate yourself from the many other qualified candidates.
In Part I of this series, we broke down Stanford’s short answers and essay topic #1. Here, we’ll give you insight into how to tackle essays #2 and 3. (Note that your responses to each must be between 100-250 words.)
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.
Stanford is famous for this unique essay. You’re not addressing a specific topic meant to shed light on your academic interests or extracurricular contributions. Instead, you’re delving deep into who you really are and showing the admissions committee your authentic self.
You should approach this by thinking about what you really would want to say to your future roommate. Are there any personality quirks you want to reveal? What hobbies and activities do you enjoy? Are you a night owl or a morning person?
This is an essay, so you do need to follow the rules of grammar, but you can have a little fun with it. That doesn’t mean you should discuss how hard you party — this is still part of your Stanford application, after all — but you can and should describe aspects of yourself aside from academics and your future career.
One way to accomplish the goal of showing your true personality is to pepper the letter with anecdotes. Humor is a nice way to keep the tone light, too, as is self-deprecation. For instance, here’s an example of how to open your letter:
Dear Future Roommate,
Right off the bat, you should know one of the most humiliating things that has ever happened to me: I failed my driving test. I drove about two feet before I hit the curb and BAM! Automatic failure. All of which to say: I hope you have a license!
Another approach to this is to discuss how you might spend time together by sharing your likes and dislikes:
I love to bake, so you can expect a killer cake on your birthday. I’m also a big fan of late-night dance parties and early-morning runs (maybe not on successive days). I’d love to have a buddy join in!
Don’t try too hard to sound accomplished or impressive. Instead, write this letter as though your future roommate will actually see it. You want to paint a clear picture of yourself that gives an honest representation of who you are. You could even show it to your actual roommate someday.
Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?
You have an infinite number of options to use as the subject of this essay, and that can be overwhelming. There are probably plenty of things that are meaningful to you, so how do you know what to choose?
As with prompt #2, this question is about getting to the heart of who you are — not what you’ve accomplished academically. It can be related to a future career or a subject you really love, but your enthusiasm needs to come through, and you must delve into the meaning beyond the surface and avoid cliches. “My future medical career is important to me because I want to help people” is something admissions committees have heard a thousand times. However, if you have a compelling story or motivation, you can still make the sentiment work as an essay topic if you emphasize the WHY.
When I was 10 years old, my father was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. I was faced with the reality of losing the person who had always been my champion and my idol. I thought about all the things he might miss: my sister’s graduation, me starting high school, and even family dinners and birthdays. But there was a silver lining: it gave me insight into the medical field and showed me how important science and medicine are to the community — and myself. His oncologist was a caring person who explained each step of the treatment plan and broke it down into laymen’s terms so we could all understand it, and she even answered my questions about the science behind chemotherapy. Now, I’m happy to say my dad has been cancer-free for six years — and I’ve found my future career.
You can also write about something that’s unrelated to your goals: a relationship with a family member, an activity that brings you joy, a piece of advice someone once gave you, or even a book that changed your life. You could also choose an abstract idea or a seemingly insignificant concept that feels very significant to you. For instance, you might find the changing colors of the leaves in Fall meaningful. Or, perhaps you especially value the evolution of modern language.
Again, this is about showing the admissions committee who you really are — not what you think they want to hear. Topics like world peace and equality are cliche and can sound insincere — unless you can discuss them in a way that truly presents the real you and take a unique approach or angle.
Ultimately, these essays should collectively show Stanford the person you are beyond your accomplishments on paper. Keep these final tips in mind as you start brainstorming and writing:
- Use plenty of specific examples and anecdotes to bring your stories to life.
- Avoid cliches or overused topics unless you have a unique insight
- Be economic with your language because you only have 250 words.
- Write your essays in your own voice instead of a formal, English-class tone — but still follow language and grammatical rules and conventions.
- Be enthusiastic.
Good luck and have fun!
PS: If you need help completing your compelling essays for Stanford (or another college!) contact us today!