12 Best Stanford Supplemental Essays That Worked 2024

Stanford University Essay Examples

Your essays are one of the best ways you can stand out in Stanford's competitive admissions process.

In this article, I'm going to share with you 12 answers to Stanford's notorious writing supplement from an admitted student.

Stanford University Admissions FAQs

Many students are interested in applying to Stanford, even though admission may seem like a long-shot.

But you may surprise yourself, and for many students it's the only time in their life they'll apply.

Here are some common questions students and parents have about Stanford's admissions:

What is Stanford University's acceptance rate?

This past year, Stanford had a record 55,471 applications and admitted 2,190 students. That gives Stanford an overall admit rate of 3.95%.

Or in other words, less than 1 in 25 students are admitted.

Just having good stats is not enough to get into schools like Stanford.

Which makes your essays are a critical opportunity for you to show why you should be accepted.

Stanford University Acceptance Scattergram

But for any school that has competitive admissions like Stanford, that only means your essays are more heavily weighed.

Each year thousands of students apply with stats that are good enough to get in. And your essays are one important factor admissions officers use.

What is Stanford's application deadline for this year?

Stanford offers two admissions deadlines for 2022-23: restrictive early action and regular decision.

For this year, Stanford's deadlines are:

  • Restrictive Early Action (REA): November 1st, 2022
  • Regular Decision (RD): January 5th, 2023

How many essays does Stanford require?

This year, Stanford University requires applying students to answer five Short Questions and write three Short Essays. If you're applying with the Common App, you'll also need a strong personal statement essay .

Stanford is notorious for its lengthy and creative writing supplement. The questions are known to be thought-provoking, which is done on purpose.

Stanford admissions officers want to dig into your thought process, and learn how you think.

What are the Stanford supplemental essay prompts for 2022-23?

For 2024, the Stanford writing supplement consists of eight questions total:

Short Questions

Stanford requires applicants to answer five short answer questions of between 3 and 50 words each.

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (3-50 words)

How did you spend your last two summers? (3-50 words)

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (3-50 words)

Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family. (3-50 words)

Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (3-50 words)

Short Essays

Stanford's short essays are three required essays of between 100 and 250 words each.

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. (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. (100-250 words)

Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100-250 words)

Stanford's unique prompts give you a lot of freedom in how you choose to respond.

But being so open-ended can also make it difficult to get started.

Because of that, it can be helpful to see how other students wrote answers to Stanford's prompts in recent years.

12 Stanford University Essays That Worked

For getting your best shot at Stanford, you'll need to write authentic and interesting essays.

My advice: Have fun with the prompts when coming up with ideas. But write about them with care and diligence. Above all, be authentic.

Check out how these admitted Stanford students wrote their essay and short answer responses.

I've also included a great Common App essay from an admitted student.

  • Stanford University Essay Example #1
  • Stanford University Essay Example #2
  • Stanford University Essay Example #3
  • Stanford University Essay Example #4
  • Stanford University Essay Example #5
  • Stanford University Essay Example #6
  • Stanford University Essay Example #7
  • Stanford University Essay Example #8
  • Stanford University Essay Example #9
  • Stanford University Essay Example #10
  • Stanford University Essay Example #11
  • Stanford University Essay Example #12

1. Stanford University Short Question

Prompt: What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 words max)


Why This Essay Works:

  • Bold and Unique: Stanford's prompts reward bold and genuine writing. It is okay to be simple and straightforward, but still must be thoughtful as this response is.
  • Well-Composed: Although only three words, this response still shows thought. The use of capitalization and periods separating each word emphasizes the author's point and makes it even more poignant.

What They Might Change:

  • Use The Full Word Limit: It is risky to leave 47 words unused. This essay succeeds in taking that risk, but generally you should use all the words available because each one is an opportunity to convey more meaning.

2. Stanford University Short Question

Prompt: How did you spend your last two summers? (50 words max)

[Date] : Working with the head of IT at Golden Gate Parks and Rec to renovate the social media program and redesign the website. (sfrecpark.org)

[Date] : Studying at Stanford High School Summer College, building a family in two months.

  • Answers Prompt Directly: This response leaves no room for doubt. And shows that you don't have to be fancy or "try hard" for all essays. Sometimes plain answers work best when it is a short prompt like this one.
  • Organized Clearly: For straightforward answers, having a straightforward structure can be a good thing. Each word is used carefully and has a purpose.
  • Has Strong Ideas: You don't need much to convey meaning. In just the last six words ("building a family in two months") there is hints of deeper ideas.

3. Stanford University Short Question

Prompt: What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 words max)

The Trinity test, the first detonation of the atomic bomb. For one, an opportunity to meet my role models: Oppenheimer, Feynman, Fermi, etc. But also, to witness the 4 millisecond shift to an era of humanity that could eradicate itself. “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”

  • Connects To Author's Interests: The author cleverly reveals about themselves by telling their role models: the physicists involved.
  • Shows Specific Knowledge: Rather than just saying "the first atomic bomb test", the author names it specifically: The Trinity Test. Including the famous Oppenheimer quote from the Bhagavad Gita also shows real thought was put into it.

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4. Stanford University Short Question

Prompt: Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 words max)

Representing an ideal.

Stanford is a gathering place of people working towards a common ideal; one of engagement, passion, intellectual vitality, and devotion to progress. This is what I stand for, so I want to help Stanford represent it.

(Also those cream cheese croissants from CoHo.)

  • Idea-Focused: The author's take on what Stanford represents ("an ideal") is a unique perspective.
  • Authentic Motivations: Revealing your genuine motivation for attending a school shows your interest is not surface-level. The author's motivation is also a powerful one: representing an ideal.
  • Lighthearted and Relatable: The last remark in parantheses lightens the tone, while still relating to Stanford specifically. Admissions officers surely would crack a smile at this remark because it is relatable to them and genuine.

5. Stanford University Short Question

Prompt: What five words best describe you? (5 words max)

I don’t conform to arbitrary boundaries.

  • Bold and Takes a Risk: Stanford supplements are the perfect place to take a (calculated) risk. This type of answer only works if A.) it hasn't been done before and B.) it is genuine and not done just for the sake of risk-taking.

6. Stanford University Short Question

Prompt: Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50 words max)

One extra hour is thirty minutes extra of daylight.

The US has 28 GW of installed solar capacity. With the extra daylight, there will be a 4% increase in national capacity, an entire GW added. This small increase alone powers 700,000 homes. I’m spending the time investing in photovoltaics!

  • Thinks Outside the Box: Most students would answer this prompt more literally: with what activity they would do. Having a unique approach shows your ability to think differently.
  • Cleverness: Strikes the right balance between being clever and genuinely answering the prompt. Trying too hard to be clever is easily seen-through.
  • Explain Acronyms Before Using: Instead of writing "GW," the first reference should say "gigawatt." This is a minor semantic correction that would make things slightly more clear.

7. Stanford University "Genuinely Excited About Learning" Short Essay

Prompt: 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. (100-250 words)

It’s in the mail.

I rip open the package.

It feels sleek along my fingertips. Three volumes. Gorgeous red binding with stunning silver lettering. THE Feynman LECTURES ON PHYSICS The NEW MILLENIUM Edition

I had heard about them previously, but a Quora thread on “essential physics texts” convinced me to invest in them. I thought I was buying a textbook, but I was buying a new way of life. That night, while I laid in bed, Feynman changed my entire perspective of the universe. In the first lecture.

Not only was he a Nobel prize winning physicist with a unique approach to the subject, but his pedagogical capabilities were perfectly suited to my personality. When Feynman teaches, he does not just teach physics, he teaches how to think and understand. He helped me recognize that my passion wasn’t for physics, it was for a passion for learning and understanding.

Spoken directly from the source: “I don't know anything, but I do know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.”

Reading the Lectures rouses within me the most intense feeling of elation I have ever experienced. When I open the Lectures, any bad mood is erased, any haze in my mind is cleared away, and I become the person I strive to be.

Now, I always have at least one of the Lectures on me. At festivals, in backpacks, in carryons, if I am there, so are the Lectures.

  • Tells a Story: Painting a vivid picture can bring admissions officers into your world. Using stories also is a compelling way to share ideas without stating them plainly.
  • Showcases Genuine Interest: Write about things in a way that only you could write about. The authenticity in this essay is palpable.

8. Stanford University "Letter to Roommate" Short Essay

Prompt: 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. (100-250 words)

Dear roommate,

Don’t be alarmed if you glance over at my laptop late at night displaying a plague doctor examining a watermelon with a stethoscope, meticulously listening for a heartbeat.

I apologise for waking you, but before requesting a room change, allow me to explain. This twisted scene is innocently my favorite video on YouTube. I have ASMR, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It is a euphoric, calming sensation triggered by visual and auditory stimuli like whispering and fine movements, which I use to aid my insomnia. This plague doctor, played by youtuber Ephemeral Rift, has movements as he inspects the watermelon that are as calming to me as a mother’s lullabies are to a child.

I know we will both have our strong, unique personalities with our individual quirks like this. However, I guarantee we have a fundamental similarity which lead us to becoming Stanford students.

We have passion for learning. Even if two people are polar-opposite personalities, they can become family if they have this.

That said, I have a feeling we won’t be polar opposites. I love jamming on my guitar, going out to parties, playing video games, messing around with soccer, and a hodgepodge of other hobbies. I’m sure we’ll have some common ground to start off but either way there will be plenty of time to grow together!

P.S. I am a whiteboard fiend. I hope that’s okay.

  • Humanizes the Author: Being quirky for quirkiness sake isn't good. But the author strikes a balance between showing their unique (some may say strange) interests and the relatable aspects (like whiteboards, going to parties, and soccer).
  • Connects to Bigger Ideas: Even in "unserious" writing, connecting to meaningful ideas is key. The author brilliantly shows what relates all Stanford students: their passion for learning.
  • Minor Writing Fixes: Small edits such as capitalizing the proper noun "Youtuber" and some word choices could be altered.

9. Stanford University "Meaningful To You" Short Essay

Prompt: Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100-250 words)

A meaningful discussion can be found deep in the jungle of YouTube, during an obscure “CBS This Morning” interview with Bill Murray.

“What do you want, that you don’t have?” - Charlie Rose

Bill Murray - “I’d like to be here all the time, and just see what I could get done, what I could do if I really, you know, didn’t cloud myself... if I were able to... to not get distracted. To not change channels in my mind and body, to be my own channel.”

Death is scary but my slimy, monolithic, Lovecraftian fear is unengagement. I only have a brief time to experience life and I know I will find the most fulfillment in “[seeing] what I could get done.” When I feel that signature fuzzy, tired feeling in my head, I am reminded of my old night terrors; I would be awake yet unable to interact with my surroundings.

In sophomore year, when I discovered my passion for physics, I found a powerful way to stay engaged. Developing a passion fundamentally requires me, as Murray puts it, “to be my own channel.” Problem solving, understanding difficult concepts, having intense discussions all demand your mind to be present and I am more than happy to oblige.

Intellectual vitality is not my application buzzword, it is my lifestyle.

  • Shows What Drives Them: Admissions officers are interested in the root of your being. That is, what gets you up in the morning. Showing your perspective on life and what you hope to get out of life is key.
  • Connects to Application's Interests: A central theme of this author is physics. And each essay relates back to their intended area of study to a varying degree. By connecting to the rest of your application, it creates a cohesive picture of yourself as an applicant.
  • Use Less Quotes: Quotes can be great for introducing ideas. But ultimately admissions officers want to hear your words, not other people's. The first three paragraphs are about other people's ideas, not the author's, and could be condensed.

10. Stanford University Short Essay

Prompt: Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 words max)

One month into AP Physics C Mr. Shapiro's cancer came out of remission. With no teacher for the rest of the semester, I offered to give a few lectures. The first try was a huge success and I was hooked on teaching.

Following my newfound addiction, I started Lowell Physics Club (LPC). Our first lecture attracted 50 students, with 40 returning the next week!

A victim of grandeur, I designed an environment more than a club. It had to be innovative, attractive, and have a tangible payoff. We tutor students in physics, connect those looking for fun projects, prepare students for the F=ma Olympiad, and sometimes I give lectures which expand rather than repeat. This year two students qualified.

Mr. Shapiro returned this semester and continued teaching. I can now relax in the back of the room listening to his engaging lectures, occasionally giving one of my own.

  • Provides Backstory: Explaining how you got started in an extracurricular is compelling because it reveals your motivations for doing it.
  • Shows Takeaways from Their Achievements: Listing achievements and extracurriculars isn't as important as what you got from them. The author emphasizes the important of their extracurricular and why it is meaningful, rather than just what they did.
  • Be Careful With Personal Details: Unless this author got permission from "Mr. Shapiro" to use their name, revealing personal details such as health conditions is not good to do. Always be careful naming people in your essays, but especially for potentially sensitive topics.

11. Stanford University Short Question

Prompt: When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 words max)

From my bookshelf, Youtube subscriptions, Netflix history, and Spotify.

The Feynman Lectures, MF Doom, Ephemeral Rift, Tank and The Bangas, The Eric Andre Show, Lightnin’ Hopkins, Hubbard and Hubbard’s Differential Equations and Vector Calculus, Thích Nhất Hạnh, Kamasi Washington, 3Blue1Brown, Al Green, Band of Gypsys, Oxford Press - Very Short Introductions

  • Answers Prompt Clearly: Provides a straightforward response without room for misinterpretation.
  • Has Good Context: By stating where these interests come from ("bookshelf, Youtube subscriptions, Netflix"), the answers have more context.
  • Organization: Listing their interests by type (such as musical artists, authors, and TV shows) would help readers who may not be as familiar with all the interests.

12. Stanford University Common App Essay

Common App Prompt #7: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you've already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. (250-650 words)

Slowly, my passion emerged from pretense and envy into reality.

This essay is all based upon the metaphor of "the itch" representing a desire to understand the world. By using a central theme, such as a metaphor, you can create a thread of ideas that run throughout your essay. If you want to use a metaphor, make sure it clearly relates to the idea you're trying to express, rather than choosing one just because it is a creative or unique approach. In this case, there is perhaps no better metaphor than "the itch" which would capture their main idea, so it works well.

Instead of "telling" their ideas, this essay does a lot of fantastic "showing" through specific anecdotes. Sentences like "I learned to sing the blues before I knew the words..." capture a lot about the author's character and background without having to say it outright. By showing the reader, you allow them to draw their own conclusions rather than just having to accept what you're telling them. Using specific language also creates a more vibrant and interesting essay. Rather than saying "I loved learning as a kid," this student shows it using a concrete example: "my favorite book was an introduction to fulcrums".

Writing about other people in your essay can be a great way to tell things about yourself. Known as a literary "foil," by describing other people you can show your own values without stating them plainly. In this essay, the author shows their value (of being passionate about learning) by first recognizing that value in somebody else, "Kikki" in this case. By writing about people in your life, you can also create a sense of humility and humanity. Nobody is an "island," meaning that everyone is influenced by those around us. Showing how you draw inspiration, values, or lessons from others will show more about your character than simply telling admissions would.

In general, listing activities in your essay is a bad strategy, because it is repetitive of your activities list and comes across boring. However, this essay manages to list their activities in the 3rd-to-last paragraph by connecting them to a central idea: how their newfound passion for learning sparked all these new engagements. Listing activities can be okay, but only if they have a clear purpose in doing so. In this case, the purpose is to show how these activities are representative of their new passion for learning. But the purpose for listing activities could also be to show a specific value, provide examples for your idea, demonstrate your new perspective, etc.

What Can You Learn From These Stanford Essays?

Do you want to get into Stanford in 2022? If so, writing great application essays is one of your most critical parts of applying.

With selective schools like Stanford, your essays matter even more.

Hopefully these 12 Stanford short answers and essays have helped inspire you.

From these essay examples, you can learn what it takes to write some stellar Stanford supplements:

  • Don't be afraid to be creative
  • Don't write formally. You can write as you would speak.
  • Showcase your genuine self, interests, and passions
  • Think outside the box, if appropriate and natural

If you enjoyed these essays, you'll also like reading UCLA essays and USC essays .

What did you think of these Stanford essays?

Ryan Chiang , Founder of EssaysThatWorked.com

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How to Write The Stanford Supplemental Essays (With Examples) - Part I

How do you tackle the Stanford University short answers and college admissions essays? These are an important part of your application — one in which you can convey not only your writing style but also your personality. In fact, it’s one of the few places where you get to show off who you are, what you believe, and what’s meaningful to you.

To help you understand what the admissions committee is looking for, we’ve broken down the short answers and first essay topic (with example) and offered guidance below.

1. What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 words) It’s okay to be a little controversial here, as long as you offer a careful, nuanced analysis. If you’re going to use a common topic like climate change or conflict in the Middle East, make sure you put a unique spin on it and offer a new insight. Don’t waste too much space describing the issue — you only have 50 words, after all — but spend the majority of your time discussing why it matters and your thoughts on how it might be addressed.

Given the short amount of space, focus on your one or two most important experiences. Rather than copying your activities section, you might use this essay to delve a bit deeper into an experience that helped you grow. For example, if you worked as a camp counselor, you might connect your experience to your larger goal of being a teacher or, cleverly, to something unexpected like an engineer.

Again, conveying your enthusiasm for the topic is more important than what it is. Don’t spend your 50 words explaining what happened; the admissions committee knows. Instead, focus on why it matters to you.

4. What five words best describe you? (5-10 words) It’s fine to just list words here. The only real rules are that you keep them positive and avoid saying anything too trite. You don’t need to use “big” words, either. Just try to convey something real about your personality. Perhaps you’re persistent, ambitious, and passionate. Try not to use synonyms, and if you’re having trouble coming up with five words, ask people who know you well for help. Pro tip: contradictions can be interesting! Maybe your contemplative and efficient. 5. When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 words) This question is about getting to know you. While it may be tempting to list all complex and weighty works of literature — War and Peace , for example — but if it’s not actually true, the admissions committee is likely to see through that. Instead, choose works that you really enjoy. Don’t be afraid to reveal a guilty pleasure. If you love rom coms, say so! You should attempt to balance the list with some intellectual passions, but make sure they’re genuine. Including small details of why you enjoy something can add depth. For example, “ How I built This (a podcast) is a master class in entrepreneurship.” 

6. Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 words) This prompt is a spin on the “why us?” essay and requires you to actually know something about Stanford that you can’t just get from a brochure. Think about why you really want to attend. Perhaps there’s a tradition or a program in which you’re looking forward to participating. You may need to do some research; it’s important to avoid choosing something too obvious or surface-level. You should also avoid an experience that you can have at numerous schools — such as studying English or gaining independence.

Essay #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. (100 to 250 words)

This is a classic intellectual curiosity question — and it’s not really specific to Stanford. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate that you’re truly excited about learning. The topic itself is less important than how you describe it. While you should certainly choose something that’s a true passion, what’s really important is that your enthusiasm comes through. That said, it must be a true learning experience. Perhaps a book you read in English class helped you draw conclusions about the real world. Maybe a class discussion prompted you to do a deep-dive into a topic. The learning experience doesn’t have to be school-related, either, although it should in some way correlate to your future major or a deep passion that you hope to explore further. For instance, an aspiring doctor might discuss an experience connecting with a patient at a hospital where she volunteered.

Writing the best supplemental essays for Stanford

Let’s take a look at an exemplary example:

While peer tutoring a sophomore English class this year, I found that curiosity is a two-way street. I spend my fifth period editing essays, clarifying textual details and answering questions. Many of these questions leave me pondering deeper implications. For example, several students asked me what it means to describe the farmhands in Of Mice and Men as “romantic” characters. As someone who prefers to let the words immerse me in gripping plots, unforgettable characters and unexpected endings, I hadn’t stopped to consider how context can affect the weight of a word. Explaining that being “romantic” connotes the possession of a softened or idealistic vision of reality as well as the more commonly known Hollywood definition of romance, made me wonder how people  communicate effectively when words contain such complex duality. I find myself pausing more in my own reading to ponder how each word is affecting my overall experience. I've also found that my tutees each have their own learning style. Some of them absorb the material well with diagrams and examples, while others need only clear verbal explanation. How does each person’s unique learning style affect the way they perceive the world around them? I myself have begun to notice that as someone who learns by doing, I am able to be the most helpful when I can determine hands-on solutions to problems. Peer tutoring has truly led me to discover that every new perspective is an opportunity pointing me down an endless path of questions to investigate. 

Analysis: While peer tutoring might not be the most exciting choice of activity, the writer spins it into a compelling topic by drawing interesting conclusions and insights. She also uses a very specific example, keeping the essay focused on a single question rather than allowing it to meander. This is important since you have limited space. 

She also does well in building suspense through a mini “hero’s journey” by grappling with a deep question. Remember, while you only have 100-250 words, you should still tell a story and make the reader care about your own learning journey. The topic itself — pondering the language in a literary work — is an intellectually curious one, and the author further displays her passion for learning by taking us step by step through her analysis. Ultimately, she reveals how she has come away from the experience having become a more sensitive reader and tutor, while demonstrating tremendous self-awareness, a quality admissions committees value in applicants.

As you write your own response, you,  should think about an experience that somehow changed you and made you a deeper thinker. Then, walk the reader through your journey, using imagery to help us really see how your thought process has transformed you.

Ready to tackle the rest of the Stanford Supplemental essays? Read Part II of this post .

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How To Answer Stanford's 2023/24 Supplemental Essays: Tips & Insights

How To Answer Stanford's 2023/24 Supplemental Essays: Tips & Insights

What's New in 2023/24

What Are Stanford's Essay Prompts?

Short Answer Questions

Short essay questions.

General Guidelines

Navigating Stanford University's supplemental essays for the 2023/24 admissions cycle? This guide offers step-by-step advice on tackling each question, from the short answers to the more complex essays. We also include general guidelines to help you craft compelling narratives that answer the prompts, showcase your unique character, and fit with Stanford's community. It is ideal for anyone aiming to make their application stand out in a highly competitive pool.

Stanford’s 2023/24 Supplemental Essay Updates: What's Changed?

Gaining admission to Stanford University , with its acceptance rate of approximately 4% , is an unparalleled accomplishment. In the fiercely competitive world of college admissions, your supplemental essays play a pivotal role in showcasing your unique story and alignment with Stanford's values.

Every academic year, prestigious institutions like Stanford fine-tune their application process to ensure they capture a comprehensive view of their potential students. For the 2023/24 admissions cycle, Stanford has implemented a few notable changes to its supplemental essay questions.

In the short answer section, while four prompts remain consistent with previous years, the question about anticipating an experience at Stanford has been substituted with a prompt asking applicants to "List five things that are important to you." This shift indicates a desire to understand applicants' priorities and values on a more personal level.

The short essay section has also seen adjustments. While the prompts about reflecting on personal learning and penning a note to a future roommate continue to feature, Stanford has amalgamated the questions about defining family and discussing something significant. Now, applicants are invited to describe how their life experiences, interests, and character would contribute to the Stanford undergraduate community.

These revisions highlight Stanford's evolving admissions approach, emphasizing understanding the diverse life experiences and intrinsic values applicants would bring to its dynamic undergraduate community.

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What Are Stanford’s Supplemental Essay Prompts for 2023/24?

For the 2023/24 application cycle, Stanford University has thoughtfully designed specific supplemental essay prompts to delve deeper into the profiles of its applicants, complementing the Common App questions. These prompts aim to uncover your societal concerns, personal experiences, academic passions, and how you envision your journey at Stanford.

Stanford's short answer questions provide a snapshot into your perspectives, experiences, and values.

  • Societal Challenge : What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 words)
  • Summer Activities : How did you spend your last two summers? (50 words)
  • Historical Witness : What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 words)
  • Extracurricular Elaboration : Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family. (50 words)
  • Personal Priorities : List five things that are important to you. (50 words)

These essays provide a deeper insight into your intellectual curiosities, personal experiences, and how you'll contribute to Stanford's vibrant community.

  • Passion for Learning : 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. (100-250 words)
  • Roommate Introduction : 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. (100-250 words)
  • Distinctive Contribution : Please describe what aspects of your life experiences, interests, and character would help you make a distinctive contribution as an undergraduate to Stanford University. (100-250 words)

With an acceptance rate hovering around 4% , Stanford's application process is undeniably rigorous. These prompts offer applicants a unique opportunity to showcase their societal insights, personal growth, and the distinct perspectives they'll bring to the Stanford community.

Looking for inspiration? Dive into these Stanford essay examples to see what successful applications look like!

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How to Answer Stanford’s Short Answer Questions?

“what is the most significant challenge that society faces today”, - 50 words max.

Stanford seeks students who are not only academically adept but also socially aware and proactive. This question aims to gauge your awareness of global or local challenges and your perspective on their significance . It's an opportunity to showcase your critical thinking and ability to prioritize issues based on their impact.

Selecting a Challenge

The first step is to identify a challenge you genuinely believe is significant. This could be:

  • Environmental issues like climate change or deforestation.
  • Social challenges such as racial inequality, gender discrimination, or mental health stigma.
  • Technological challenges like data privacy concerns or the ethical implications of AI.
  • Economic challenges such as income inequality or unemployment.

Articulating the Significance

Once you've chosen a challenge, delve into why you believe it's the most significant:

  • Scope of Impact : Is it a global issue affecting millions or a local challenge with profound implications?
  • Long-Term Implications : Does the challenge have potential long-term consequences if not addressed?
  • Personal Connection : Perhaps you've witnessed the effects of this challenge firsthand or have been personally affected by it.

Being Concise and Specific

With a 50-word limit, precision is key. Avoid generic statements. Instead, focus on specific aspects of the challenge and its implications.

  • "The digital divide is society's most pressing challenge. As technology advances, those without access are left behind, widening educational and economic disparities."
  • "Mental health stigma is a silent crisis. Many suffer in silence, fearing judgment, which exacerbates the issue and prevents early intervention."

Stanford's first short answer question tests your awareness, perspective, and ability to articulate complex issues succinctly . Choose a challenge you're passionate about, explain its significance, and ensure your response is concise and impactful.

“How did you spend your last two summers?”

Stanford is interested in how you utilize your free time, as it provides insight into your interests, priorities, and work ethic. This question aims to understand what activities or experiences you value and how you engage with the world when academic commitments are less pressing.

Being Specific and Honest

The key to answering this question effectively is being specific and honest. Instead of saying, "I spent time with family," you could elaborate with, "I explored local hiking trails with my family, fostering my love for environmental science."

Balancing Variety and Depth

You can mention a variety of activities, but remember to be concise. If possible, connect the activities to your intended field of study or personal growth:

  • Academic Pursuits : Did you take any courses, attend workshops, or engage in self-study that aligns with your academic interests?
  • Work Experience : Did you have a job or internship? What skills did you gain, and how did it shape your understanding of a particular field?
  • Volunteering : If you engaged in community service, what impact did it have on you and the community?
  • Personal Interests : Did you engage in any hobbies or personal projects? How did they contribute to your skills or well-being?


Ensure that the experiences you share are appropriate for an academic application. They should be experiences you'd be comfortable sharing with a teacher or in a professional setting.

  • "Last summer, I interned at a local tech startup, honing my coding skills and understanding the dynamics of team collaboration. The previous summer, I volunteered at a food bank, which deepened my awareness of food insecurity issues."
  • "I spent one summer taking a creative writing course, which fueled my passion for storytelling. The other was dedicated to a family road trip across historical sites, enriching my love for history."

Stanford's second short answer question seeks to understand how you use your free time to engage in meaningful activities or personal growth . Be specific, honest, and appropriate in your response, and if possible, connect your activities to your broader goals or interests.

“What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?”

Stanford is keen to explore your intellectual curiosity and how you relate to history, whether it's a globally recognized event or a personal moment in time. This question aims to understand what you find significant or intriguing in the tapestry of human experience .

Unleashing Your Imagination

Don't limit yourself to textbook historical events. This is an opportunity to showcase your unique interests. Whether it's a monumental event like the signing of the Declaration of Independence or something more personal or niche, like a family event or a lesser-known cultural phenomenon, the key is to pick something that genuinely interests you.

Exploring the 'Why'

Once you've chosen the event, delve into why you wish you could have witnessed it.

  • What do you think you would learn or gain from the experience?
  • Would it offer insights into contemporary issues, personal growth, or your field of study?

The 'why' is as important as the 'what' in this question.

Timing and Context

Consider the timing of the event. Would it be a moment that lasts a few minutes, like witnessing a groundbreaking scientific discovery, or something more prolonged, like being present during a significant cultural festival? The duration and setting can add another layer of depth to your answer.

  • "I wish I could have witnessed the Women's Suffrage Parade of 1913. Seeing the courage and unity of women fighting for their rights would deepen my understanding of the struggles that paved the way for the freedoms I have today."
  • "I'd love to have been in the audience at the premiere of Stravinsky's 'The Rite of Spring.' The riot it incited speaks volumes about the power of art to challenge societal norms, something still relevant today."

Stanford's third short answer question is an invitation to share your intellectual or personal interests through the lens of history . Be imaginative and specific, and focus on the event and why witnessing it would be significant to you. This is a chance to offer a glimpse into what excites your curiosity and how you relate to the world and its history.

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

Stanford wants to see a fuller picture of who you are beyond academics . This question explores another facet of your life you're passionate about or committed to. It's an opportunity to showcase your skills, values, and contributions in a different context.

Choosing the Right Experience

Select an experience you haven't elaborated on in other parts of your application. It could be an extracurricular activity , a part-time job, or even family responsibilities. The key is to choose something that has significantly impacted you and ideally contrasts with your intended major to show the breadth of your interests.

Narrative Over Summary

Instead of listing what you've done, focus on a specific anecdote that encapsulates the essence of your involvement. Describe a moment that was pivotal or enlightening in that experience. This makes your answer more engaging and provides a deeper insight into your role and its significance.

What You Bring to the Table

Discuss the skills or values you've gained from this experience. Whether it's leadership in a club, responsibility in a family setting, or problem-solving in a job, highlight how these skills have shaped you and how they could be applied in a Stanford context.

  • "As the editor of our school newspaper, I once had to navigate a controversial article submission. Balancing freedom of speech with the potential for harm taught me the delicate art of ethical journalism."
  • "Working in a family-owned restaurant taught me the value of hard work and customer service. It also fueled my passion for business analytics, as I started to see how data-driven decisions could improve our operations."

Stanford's fourth short answer question is a window into your life outside the classroom. Focusing on a specific anecdote and the lessons learned can provide a more vivid and meaningful picture of your extracurricular involvement or responsibilities . This is your chance to show Stanford another layer of who you are and what you could bring to their community.

“List five things that are important to you.”

This prompt is a straightforward yet revealing way for Stanford to understand your priorities, values, and interests . It's a snapshot of what matters most to you, from personal beliefs to hobbies, relationships, or aspirations.

Selecting Your Five Things

Choose items that genuinely resonate with you and ideally offer a well-rounded view of who you are. The list can include a mix of the profound and the seemingly mundane as long as they are genuinely important to you.

Be Authentic, Be You

This is not the time to list what you think Stanford wants to hear. Authenticity is key. Your list should reflect your true self, as it offers another layer of understanding about you that might not be evident in other parts of your application.

  • Family: The cornerstone of my life and my biggest support system.
  • Environmental Sustainability: A cause I'm deeply committed to, both in lifestyle choices and activism.
  • Music: A universal language that brings me joy and emotional expression.
  • Intellectual Curiosity: The driving force behind my academic and personal endeavors.
  • Humor: A necessary tool for navigating life's ups and downs.

Stanford's fifth short answer question is a quick but insightful look into your values and interests. By carefully selecting the five genuinely important things to you, you offer Stanford a glimpse into what drives you, what you care about, and what kind of community member you would be .

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How to Answer Stanford’s Short Essay Questions?

“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.”, - 100 to 250 words.

Stanford is looking for students who are both academically competent and passionately curious. This essay aims to delve into what genuinely excites you about learning , whether it's a specific subject, a method of inquiry, or an experiential learning opportunity.

Identifying Your Idea or Experience

Begin by pinpointing the idea or experience that genuinely excites you about learning. This could be:

  • A subject matter that you are passionate about but haven't had the chance to explore in a formal educational setting.
  • An experience that sparked your curiosity and led you to further exploration or research.
  • A methodology or form of inquiry that you find particularly stimulating.

Narrating the Discovery Journey

Discuss how you came across this idea or experience. Was it through a book, a mentor, an internship, or perhaps a personal experience? If you faced any obstacles or discouragement in pursuing this interest, this is a good place to discuss it.

Connecting to Stanford's Learning Environment

Now, consider how you would continue to explore this interest at Stanford. Would it be through specific courses, research opportunities, or clubs? Are there professors you're excited to work with or facilities you're eager to use?

Formulating Questions and Research Approaches

Discuss the kinds of questions this topic raises for you and how you might go about answering them. Whether it's through lab experiments, fieldwork, or theoretical analysis, indicate how you envision your learning journey unfolding at Stanford.

Collaborative Learning

Stanford values collaborative learning. Briefly touch upon how you see yourself engaging with peers, professors, or even external communities to deepen your understanding of the topic.

Stanford's first short essay question is an opportunity to showcase your intellectual curiosity and enthusiasm for learning. By detailing an idea or experience that excites you and connecting it to Stanford's resources and community, you demonstrate not just your passion but also how you would contribute to the intellectual vitality of the campus. Approach this essay with a focus on specificity, authenticity, and a clear vision of your academic journey at Stanford .

“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 wants to get a glimpse of who you are outside of your academic and extracurricular achievements. This essay is a chance to showcase your personality, quirks, and the unique traits that make you, you .

Setting the Tone

Approach this essay as if you're writing a letter to a friend. The tone should be conversational; you can incorporate humor, vulnerability, or even self-deprecation to make it engaging and relatable.

Sharing Personal Anecdotes

Instead of using adjectives to describe yourself, share specific anecdotes or experiences that reveal something about you. This could be:

  • A ritual or tradition that's important to you.
  • A hobby or interest that you're passionate about.
  • A challenge you've faced and how you dealt with it.

Examples for Inspiration

  • If you have a religious practice, you could talk about how you adapted it during a school trip, perhaps waking up early to pray without disturbing others.
  • If you love aesthetics, you might mention how you can't resist picking flowers from your neighborhood to make your space more beautiful.

Incorporating Humor or Poignancy

Feel free to incorporate humor or poignant moments to make the essay memorable. Whether it's a funny story about a family vacation gone wrong or a touching moment from a community service trip, these details help paint a fuller picture of who you are.

Living Together

Since this is a letter to a future roommate, consider mentioning how you approach shared living spaces. Are you neat or messy? An early riser or a night owl? This adds another layer of personal insight.

Stanford's second short essay question offers a unique opportunity to showcase your personality in a more informal setting. By sharing specific anecdotes and experiences, you not only help your future roommate get to know you but also give Stanford a more comprehensive view of what you'll bring to its community . Approach this essay with authenticity, vulnerability, and a dash of humor to make it memorable.

“Please describe what aspects of your life experiences, interests and character would help you make a distinctive contribution as an undergraduate to Stanford University.”

Stanford wants to understand how you will contribute to its diverse and vibrant community. This prompt allows you to showcase the unique qualities, experiences, and perspectives you bring to the table .

Defining Your Community

Start by identifying a community you are a part of . This could be anything from a school club, a sports team, a religious group, or even a community of hobbyists. What binds this community together? Is it a shared goal, a common interest, or collective challenge?

Your Role in the Community

Once you've defined the community, focus on your role within it. Are you a leader, a supporter, a motivator, or perhaps a creative mind? How have you contributed to this community, and what impact have you had?

  • If you've been part of a mentoring program, you could discuss how you nurtured that relationship over the years, the challenges you faced, and the growth you observed in yourself and your mentee.
  • If you started a club in school, you could talk about how it originated from a common interest, how it grew, and what steps you've taken to ensure its continuity after you leave for college.

Connecting to Stanford

Now, tie these experiences back to how you will contribute to Stanford.

  • Will you bring your leadership skills to a student organization?
  • Will your creative thinking contribute to classroom discussions?
  • Will your commitment to service find a new avenue on campus?

Character Traits

Don't forget to mention character traits that enable you to make these contributions. Are you empathetic, resilient, innovative, or collaborative? Use specific examples to demonstrate these traits.

Stanford's third short essay question is your chance to showcase how your unique life experiences, interests, and character will enrich the Stanford community. Focusing on your role in a specific community and how you've contributed to it provides a glimpse into how you'll engage with the Stanford community. Approach this essay with introspection and authenticity to effectively convey your potential contributions .

General Guidelines for Answering Stanford's Supplemental Essay Questions

  • Research and Specificity : Stanford's essay prompts are designed to gauge your fit within its diverse and intellectually vibrant community. Be specific about courses, professors, or extracurricular activities that excite you. Mentioning these details shows that you've done your homework and that you're genuinely interested in Stanford.
  • Show Self-awareness : Stanford values students who are reflective and self-aware. Whether you're discussing a societal challenge, your summer activities, or your future roommate, always tie it back to what these experiences or thoughts reveal about you.
  • Diversity of Thought : Stanford prides itself on a diverse student body that brings many perspectives to campus. Highlight how your unique experiences, viewpoints, or background will contribute to this diversity of thought.
  • Be Authentic : Authenticity is crucial. Don't write what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. Your genuine interests, challenges, and aspirations will always make a more profound impression.
  • Quality Over Quantity : With strict word limits, focusing on depth rather than breadth is essential. Choose a few points and explore them fully to give the admissions committee a more detailed picture of who you are.
  • Narrative Storytelling : A compelling narrative can make your essay stand out. Whether you're describing a historical event you wish you'd witnessed or explaining what brings you joy, storytelling techniques can make your essay more engaging and memorable.
  • Proofread and Revise : Your essays should be well-crafted and error-free. Beyond grammar and spelling, ensure your essay flows well and effectively communicates your message. Consider seeking feedback from teachers, mentors, or friends.
  • Connect to the Bigger Picture : Always relate your answers back to your potential contributions to the Stanford community and how Stanford will help you achieve your personal and academic goals. This shows that you're not just thinking about admission but also about how you'll fit into the Stanford community long-term.
  • Embrace the Challenge : These essays are your opportunity to present a fuller picture of yourself beyond just grades and test scores. Use them to show why you and Stanford would be a mutually beneficial match.

Stanford's supplemental essays provide a platform to express your individuality, aspirations, and suitability for the university. By carefully crafting your responses and connecting them to Stanford's resources and ethos, you can effectively demonstrate why you would be a valuable addition to the Stanford community.

For more inspiration, you might want to explore examples of successful Stanford essays to understand what makes an application truly stand out.

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Final Thoughts

Embarking on the journey to Stanford is about more than just academic excellence; it's about crafting a narrative that deeply resonates with Stanford's unique ethos and the admissions committee. Your supplemental essays offer a unique lens into your character, aspirations, and the distinct contributions you'll make to the Stanford community.

Every Stanford hopeful has a unique story to tell. This is your golden opportunity to narrate yours. Approach your essays with authenticity, introspection, and a genuine enthusiasm for your narrative.

If you're uncertain whether your essay truly encapsulates your essence or if it will distinguish you amidst the sea of applications, our essay review service is here to assist. Our seasoned experts will meticulously review and provide feedback, ensuring your essay strikes a chord with Stanford's admissions officers.

Want some helpful inspiration? Explore our ebook and discover essays from students like you who have secured places at elite institutions. And for those aiming for Stanford, our collection of successful Stanford essay examples will offer invaluable insights.

For those at the onset of their college application journey, consider booking a free consultation with our experienced college counselors. We're committed to guiding you in crafting an application that amplifies your chances of walking through Stanford's iconic arch. Your dream of becoming a Stanford Cardinal is attainable, and we're here to support you every step of the way.

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What Makes Crimson Different

Key Resources & Further Reading

  • Everything you need to know about US Application Supplemental Essays
  • Acing your College Application Essay: 5 Expert Tips to Make it Stand Out from the Rest
  • How to Tackle Every Type of Supplemental Essay
  • 2023-24 Common App Essay Prompts
  • What are the Most Unusual US College Supplemental Essay Prompts?

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The Admissions Strategist

How to write the stanford roommate question & other supplemental essays 2020-2021 (examples included).

Stanford University is notoriously difficult to get into. In fact, it is one of the most selective schools in the country, accepting just under 5% of applicants .

Does that mean you have no chance of acceptance?

Of course not!

But what it does mean is that every piece of your application matters , including how you answer questions on Stanford’s supplement. This year, Stanford has five short answer questions, each with a word limit of 50 words, and three short essays which need to be between 100-250 words.

This supplement is found in Stanford’s Questions section of the Common Application and the Stanford Application Questions section of the Coalition Application.

In this article, we’ll guide you through each of the supplement’s questions and essays to help boost your chances of success !

Tips From Stanford University

Before we get into the individual questions, let’s take a look at the advice from Stanford University itself.

Stanford Supplemental Essays: How to Write Them!

Click above to watch a video on Stanford Essays.

When it comes to writing essays , the university’s website recommends:

  • Writing in a natural style
  • Writing essays that reflect who you are
  • Beginning to work on the essays early
  • Asking parents, teachers, and friends for constructive feedback (including if the essay sounds like your voice)

Stanford emphasizes that these questions and essays are an opportunity to get to know you, saying, “We want to hear your individual voice in your writing.”

The tips below will give you inspiration and guidance as you complete the Stanford Supplement, but the most important thing is for you to write about topics that are meaningful to you in your own unique voice.

Now, we’ll take a look at Stanford’s questions one by one, starting with the short questions, which all have a 50 word limit.

Stanford Supplement Short Answer #1: Society’s Most Significant Challenge Essay

This is the first short answer question that appears in the Common Application. It reads,

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

This question gives you a chance to let admissions officers know what you’re passionate about. The possibilities abound, but consider the following questions to help you get started:

  • When you listen to the news, what issue makes you want to take action?
  • What issues have you protested in the past?
  • When you’re in conversations with friends, what are your most heated discussions about?
  • If a genie appeared and offered to fix one problem in the world, which one would you solve? How would you fix it?
  • How controversial is the subject you’re thinking of? Try to avoid anything too contentious, as you never know who will be reading your application.

The goal is to think of an issue that genuinely bothers you and that you would like to change.

  • You can talk about an issue that relates to something else in your application. This could be an activity or even a future career.
  • Consider presenting a solution or discussing how you’ve explored this issue on your own time. This could have taken the form of watching documentaries, reading books, or viewing TED Talks on the subject.

To give you an idea, the two short bullet points above total 62 words. So 50 words is really not much. The nice thing is, this means you don’t have to worry about writing a formal introduction or doing anything fancy. 

Start by introducing the challenge and why it’s so important to you. If you have words left, briefly offer a solution too! Regardless, get to the point quickly and succinctly. 

Society’s Most Significant Challenge Essay Example

Here is a example of what this essay could look like: 

Many citizens resort to stereotypes and generalizations when speaking about others. The Internet, and especially social media, makes it easier than ever to absorb a set of beliefs without encountering criticism. If citizens left their bubbles more often, eliminating discrimination and prejudice would be a much easier proposition.

Stanford Supplement Short Answer #2:Your Last Two Summers Essay

As the second question on the Common Application, this question asks,

“How did you spend your last two summers?”

As one of the short questions, it retains the tight 50-word limit, so you won’t be able to talk about everything that happened during both summers. Try to focus on information that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the application.

Rather than selecting an answer that you think would impress admissions officers, think about what stands out to you the most. The following questions may help you get started:

  • How did you spend both of your summers? Was there anything in common between the two?  This could be something as concrete as the same job or as abstract as studying.
  • Does your family have a vacation that they take every summer?
  • What did you do to relax over the summers? Did you read, spend time outdoors, play games, create artwork, or play an instrument?

Again, skip the introduction and focus on the most important details. If you have a particular difficulty or hardship, this is also a good chance to mention it. You shouldn’t explicitly say that you are disadvantaged, but if you have circumstances that are a significant time commitment during your summers, this is a chance to explain it. This can include:

  • Taking care of a sick or disabled relative
  • Working to support your single-parent household
  • Moving from one home to another due to parental separation

With only 50 words, you’ll also want to edit your grammar and spelling to perfection.

Your Last Two Summers Essay Example

For an idea of what this essay could look like, see the following example:

I served free, healthy lunches to kids at the library and saved their parents a little money. Additionally, I helped mom with a business law class for a job she’s pursuing. I was fascinated with the intricacy of laws that must be enforced to maintain a fair market.

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Stanford supplement short answer #3: witnessing a historical moment essay.

This is the third question of the short questions on the Stanford application, and the one that allows for the most imagination and creativity. It reads,

“What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?”

For this question, try to avoid topics that you think many other students will address. Popular events include Martin Luther King Jr’s “I Have a Dream” speech and the signing of the Declaration of Independence.

Unless you have a short personal story or detail that relates to the topic, try to pick something unique. Given the number of words allowed, you’ll have just enough time to briefly summarize the historical moment and explain why it’s so significant to you. With the space you have available, try to provide personal details and insights into who you are. The following questions may help you:

  • Is there a specific story or event that occurred in your city?
  • Does your family have a tale they tell about a relative or ancestor?
  • Was there a defining event or events related to the significant challenge you mentioned above? 

As you write the question, ask yourself why you chose the specific historical event and what significance it has to you. 

Witnessing a Historical Moment Essay Example

To help get you started, here is an example:

My life needs historical context. Aunts, uncles, second-cousins, and the seamstress down the street fled to escape the war. Both grandpas fought in it. One died in it. When they wave their South Vietnam flags alongside the American one, I wonder what they endured during the communist takeover of Vietnam.

Stanford Supplement Short Answer #4: Extracurricular Activities Essay

The prompt from Stanford reads,

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

Before you get started, glance over the rest of your application, and take a look at the other questions included in the supplement. While you can, and should, be working to create a cohesive story, you don’t want to repeat anything. Keeping that in mind, what’s an activity or work experience that won’t be featured anywhere else?

Another goal for this question is to personalize your application as much as possible. Thus, try to think of an activity or work experience you have that is unique to you. Talk about something meaningful that other students might not be able to write about.

If you do decide to write about a more common experience or organization, brainstorm some personal details that make it unique to you. You should always strive to write something that only you could write.

Lastly, you want to be analytical and reflective about the experience. Consider:

  • Why is this activity or experience so meaningful to you? 
  • How has it impacted or shaped you as a person?
  • What have you learned from this experience?
  • How did you contribute to this activity, and what does it tell admissions officers about how you will contribute at Stanford?

Whatever you decide to write about, it should be an activity that you’ve spent considerable time and energy on. If your chosen topic didn’t impact your growth or personal development, then you should choose another. If possible, select an activity that resonates with the narrative of your application:

  • If you’re someone who wants to study engineering, perhaps you could talk about your time serving as design head of your FRC team.
  • If you love politics and want to major in political science, consider discussing the time you canvassed for a local politician or solicited signatures for a petition.

As always with these short questions, you only have 50 words, so focus on the most meaningful and memorable details. 

Extracurricular Activities Essay Example

Here is an example of what an essay might look like for an applicant interested in one day becoming a doctor:

While I run to get the door for a visitor, a nurse hurriedly hands me a lab sample to deliver. Smiling, I walk down the hall, plastic bag in hand. I like stressful days when I’m working as a family birth center volunteer at the local Methodist Hospital.

Stanford Supplement Short Answer #5: One Thing at Stanford Essay

The last of the short questions asks,

“Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford.”

Hopefully, as someone who has already decided to apply to Stanford, you already have a basis for this question. However, much like the last topic, it’s important to not pick an obvious answer.  While valid reasons for attending Stanford, this is not the place to gush over how good a school it is or the fact that your family lives down the road. The admissions committee is already aware that Stanford is an exclusive school or that you come from California. You should dig deeper.

The good news is that this doesn’t need to be complicated. Here are some questions to help you think about this question:

  • What makes Stanford special, especially compared to other top schools?
  • Is there a community, event, or club that you’re especially looking forward to experiencing?
  • Is there something academic you’re particularly interested in, such as a research project or class?

This is the last question with a limit of 50 words, but all the previous advice still holds. Be judicious with your word choice, don’t bother with an introduction, and focus on one idea.

One Thing at Stanford Essay Example

An excellent answer to this short question could look like this:

As someone who loves a variety of topics, I cannot wait to take advantage of Stanford’s quarter system. Whether taking beginner ceramics or computational biology, having the opportunity to explore all of my passions would be invigorating.

Stanford Supplemental Essay #1: Driven to Learn

This is the first of Stanford’s three short essays. All of them have a word count of 100-250 words. This one reads:

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.

As this is the first of the short essays, you have a few more words, but not enough to craft an entire formal essay, complete with an introduction and conclusion. You’ll still need to get to the point quickly

As you can tell from the prompt, Stanford is looking for students who are hungry for knowledge, self-motivated, and eager to actively participate in classroom and campus life, so choose a topic or experience that makes you feel enthusiastic.

  • Is there a type of homework assignment you actually love to do?
  • Is there an idea you’re constantly reading articles or watching videos about?
  • Have you encountered a problem or concept that you just can’t stop thinking about?

The first step of the essay should be describing the experience, then explaining why this idea is so exciting to you.

Because of the prompt, it is important that the topic you choose is something you have spent your own time exploring, as this is one of the things that demonstrates a genuine desire to learn. The tone of this essay should also be enthusiastic, as you want to clearly demonstrate your inquisitive nature and passion for your education.

Driven to Learn Essay Example

As the first of the short essay questions, take a look at this example:

At the end of freshman year, I enrolled in AP Chemistry. I didn’t think much of it; I was used to picking the hardest classes offered. Over the next few weeks, I was bombarded with warnings from wary upperclassmen about what was supposedly the hardest class in school. The teacher even had a meeting to scare the freshmen away. Refusing to let up, I planned on teaching myself some of the content before the next year started. I was mesmerized from the first chapter. As the author explained VSEPR theory, I was amazed at how the simple geometric shapes I’d been learning since elementary school could explain the repulsion between electron clouds. That summer, I read two chapters a day in pure awe. Chemistry was the first science class that challenged me to visualize abstract concepts on a completely new scale while incorporating the problem solving and logical deduction that I loved from math. During labs, I felt a genuine sense of purpose. Rather than following a list of directions, I brought theory to life by testing the properties of chemical reactions. Science was no longer about memorizing facts; it became discovery and application. Chemistry was my first experience blending math with science. Now that I’ve been introduced to physics, biology, and calculus, the interconnectedness of these subjects inspires higher pursuits within me. There’s so much more to learn in the world, and I want to use chemistry as my window to see it.

Stanford Supplemental Essay #2: Stanford Roommate Essay

Everyone is nervous about sharing a room with a stranger, but don’t think about this question that way. Instead, take this as an opportunity for you to influence who you spend the first year of college with. As such, the tone of this should definitely be more casual. Here is the question:

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. 

While you definitely want to maintain perfect grammar and spelling, this is a great place to inject humor, personality, and fun information about your living habits. Remember, you’re supposed to be addressing a fellow student, not an admissions officer. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • What should your roommate know about you?
  • What are your hobbies? Do you like to cook? Play a sport? Build robots ?
  • Are you a lover of the outdoors, but will always be careful not to track in dirt?

Whatever it is, this is an opportunity to reveal an aspect of your personality that really wouldn’t fit anywhere else in the application.

Make it unique, interesting, and memorable, while keeping it within the 100-250 word limit. Try to go offbeat here – this is the perfect chance to add to your application without worrying about narrative. 

Stanford Roommate Essay Example

This is a great, quirky example written by a student:

Hi roomie! If there’s anything you should know about me, it’s that I’m kind of like a dog. Hold on, let me explain: I love going on walks, frolicking in the water, and needlessly exploring. Feel free to join me in finding the best study spots or taking a few laps in the rec pool. Chicken wings and getting in the car make me happy. I’m always up for late-night drives and boba runs. I love kids. I’m always in a good mood after facetiming my little cousins or volunteering in an elementary school or library. If you listen to music, I’ll start humming (or howling) along. I’m a sucker for piano, and I can have High School Musical or Gustav Holst’s Planets Symphony stuck in my head at any given moment. I exude positivity. If you need a pep talk before a big test or a confidence boost when taking a fashion risk, I won’t hesitate to cheer you on. We’ll experience a lot together, so I hope you do the same. I just want to make people happy. I’ll always be your friend. We’ll have our disagreements, but I can’t hold grudges. I’m a first-generation American and college student, so a lot of things will be new to me. But like a wolf, my life has always been about adapting to my surroundings. Being here is already a symbol of leading my “pack” of younger cousins to higher education. Puns aside, I can’t wait to meet you!

Stanford Supplemental Essay #3: What’s Meaningful to You

This is the last of the short essay questions, so congratulations!  You’re almost done. This reads,

“Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why.”

This is a very broad question, and you only have 100-250 words to answer it. However, since it comes at the end of your application, there are definitely a few different ways to approach it. Ask yourself:

  • Is there an activity you care about that you haven’t mentioned yet?
  • Did you really like one of the topics you brainstormed for a previous question, but it didn’t seem to fit quite right there?
  • Is there a person, object, tradition, religious ceremony, experience, concept, or memory that really explains who you are?

The goal is to tell admissions officers something they don’t already know about you, so be sure to clearly explain why this is meaningful. How has it impacted your life and shaped you as an individual?

Don’t feel pressured to choose something grand or esoteric. The best responses to these questions are personal, speaking to your character, struggles, challenges, or ambitions.

What’s Meaningful to You Essay Example

This response is about seizing an opportunity to give back to a community, successfully highlighting several attributes that were meaningful to the writer.

When I learned my Boy Scout Troop would officially disband within the year, I knew I had to do something. Unflinchingly, I decided to run for the position of Senior Patrol Leader (SPL) on the platform of returning my troop to its former glory.  The biggest issue was diminishing scout attendance, so I collaborated with my Patrol Leader Council to create weekly meetings filled with activities such as water balloon fights, 3-on-3 soccer tournaments, and model rocket launches. Next, to build interest in troop events, I organized a two-night campout at Six Flags. Finally, to ensure troop involvement, I employed email marketing, encouraging members to rekindle their interest in Boy Scouts. Finally, after a six-month term as SPL, I increased Scout participation sixfold, successfully postponing the troop shutdown for a minimum of two academic years and allowing nine additional scouts to earn Eagle, with six more to graduate in 2019.  As an Eagle Scout, I found a community that has guided me toward becoming a better citizen. Boy Scouts has shaped me into the young adult I am today. In becoming a SPL, I reinforced the primary principles of the scout law within me: being trustworthy, loyal, and helpful.

Conclusion: Writing the Stanford Supplemental Essays

As you complete your Stanford Supplement, keep a few key things in mind:

  • Don’t be repetitive
  • Write in your own unique voice
  • Be specific, and try to provide answers that are unique to you
  • Polish your spelling and grammar to perfection
  • Ask other people you trust to read your essays and give you feedback

If you follow the tips here and do your best to showcase your unique personality and writing style, you’ll increase your chances of being accepted to Stanford!

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Stanford University Supplemental Essays Guide: 2021-2022

Not sure how to approach the Stanford essay prompts? With tips from an Ivy League graduate, CollegeAdvisor.com’s guide to the Stanford essay prompts will show you exactly how to write engaging Stanford supplemental essays and maximize your chances of admission.

For more CollegeAdvisor.com resources on Stanford,  click here . Want help crafting your Stanford supplemental essays? Create your  free account  or  schedule a free consultation  by calling (844) 505-4682

Stanford  Essay Guide Quick Facts:

  • Stanford has an acceptance rate of 5%— U.S. News   ranks Stanford as a  highly competitive  school.
  • We recommend answering all Stanford essay questions comprehensively and thoughtfully.

Does Stanford require supplemental essays?

Yes. In addition to the  Common App  personal statement, there are several specific Stanford essay questions. When building your school list, it may be helpful to keep a running tally of which schools require supplemental essays and how many each school requires. You’ll need to create a timeline for each application with realistic deadlines for drafting and editing your essays.

Sometimes, students struggle to find the best topic for their Common App statement. CollegeAdvisor.com’s  article on reflection exercises  is a great place to start. For additional tips on approaching the Common App, we have  a step-by-step breakdown .

How many essays do you need to write for Stanford?

There are eight total Stanford essay questions. There are three short Stanford essays which are between 100 and 250 words, and five short Stanford essay questions, which are a maximum of 50 words each.

Though they vary in word count, it’s important to take each of the Stanford supplemental essays seriously. A 50-word Stanford essay can mean just as much as a 250-word response!

Which essays are required for Stanford?

All of them! No optional Stanford essay prompts here. The Stanford supplemental essays are on  the Common App site , but you can also visit  the main Stanford website  for a full list of application requirements, including the Stanford supplemental essays. Since you’ll be answering eight Stanford supplemental essays of varying lengths, you’ll want to plan accordingly and give yourself enough time to write and edit each response.

What is Stanford looking for in essays?

This guide will break down each of the Stanford essay examples. In general, Stanford wants to see students whose passion and personality shine through. Be authentic in your Stanford supplemental essays. Don’t just say what you think Admissions Officers want to hear—instead, stay true to yourself, starting with the question below!

Stanford Supplemental Essays—Short Essay 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. (100-250 words)

To answer this Stanford essay, think back to a time when you really enjoyed yourself while you were doing something academic. This could be reading a textbook, taking an exam, writing an essay, or learning about a certain topic in class that really interested you.

Here, you should let your genuine passion shine; you’d do best to think of one specific example. Once you’ve got your example, describe  why  it was so exciting to you. Don’t be afraid to get nerdy on this question and showcase a depth of knowledge about your chosen subject. Your Stanford essays are the place to demonstrate your intellectual drive both inside and outside the classroom.

Stanford Essay Draft Key Questions:

  • Does your draft clearly communicate the idea which excites you?
  • Do you articulate why your chosen activity matters to you and how it has influenced your growth and identity?
  • Does your supplement complement the information present in the rest of your application?

Stanford Supplemental Essays—Short Essay 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. (100-250 words)

Of all the Stanford supplemental essays, this may be the most well-known.

The second of the Stanford essay prompts might just be the most difficult question on the application—it is the most direct invitation to talk about yourself, but specifically, your  inner  self. This is the Stanford essay where you can get the most creative. You might try brainstorming a list of characteristics, hobbies, or habits that you’ve noticed in yourself. Once you have a long list, you can decide whether you want to incorporate all of those traits in your letter or just focus on a specific few.

It also might help you to ask close friends or family members about any unique quirks you might have. You should have fun with your writing. Be honest! What do you genuinely want your future roommate to know? Do you stay up all night after watching horror movies because they scare you so much? Are you a show tunes shower singer? Is your love of plants only equal to your ability to kill any of the ones you’ve purchased?

The second of the Stanford essay questions lets you demonstrate more dimension than any other part of your application. It should be one of the most memorable things the Admissions Officers read—and also the most fun!

  • Does your response teach the reader something new about you?
  • Have you revealed aspects of your personality that both a roommate and an Admissions Officer should know?
  • Is your essay’s tone clear and reflective of your identity and personality?

Stanford Supplemental Essays—Short Essay 3

Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100-250 words)

Like some of the other Stanford essay prompts, the most important part of this essay is not necessarily the what but the  why.  Stanford wants to understand your underlying passions and drive. In this Stanford essay, you want to demonstrate how you will contribute to the Stanford community. Like with other Stanford supplemental essays, your response should connect back to your overall candidate profile and emphasize the unique skills and interests you bring to the table.

For this Stanford essay, you could pick an activity, club, or academic subject, but be sure you have a compelling reason why your chosen subject is important. You could also talk about a meaningful event or memory. You do not necessarily have to limit yourself to one thing, as long as you can connect each interest or experience you choose to discuss in the same thread. If you choose to talk about an event like a job, internship, or volunteer experience, you should provide tangible evidence of why it was meaningful. Go deeper than generalized statements like “It was challenging,” or “I learned a lot.”

All of the Stanford essay questions aim to let applicants showcase their identities, and this is no exception. Be honest, be genuine, and showcase your values!

  • Do you describe in detail something that is unique to you?
  • Do you focus on the  why  and not just the  what ?
  • Does your essay clearly display what “meaningful” means to you?

Do Stanford supplemental essays change?

From year to year, the Stanford essay questions can sometimes vary, although the notorious “Future roommate” question is almost always guaranteed to appear. You can find all the current Stanford essay prompts on the  Common App website  and all of the Stanford application requirements (including Stanford essay prompts)  here .

While the Stanford essay questions do change, at their core, each of the Stanford essay prompts will always aim to teach the admissions committee more about prospective students on their own terms.

Stanford Supplemental Essays—Short Question 1

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 words maximum)

The short Stanford essay questions present a particular challenge. After all, a 50-word limit doesn’t give you much space!

With this Stanford essay, you’ll want to pick a topic that you feel passionately about and that you also have some actionable ideas about. Try not to write about something too niche; however, if you choose a broad topic such as climate change, gender inequality, or racism, you’ll want to narrow it down to a more succinct description. You will then want to suggest what you feel could be done to address your chosen challenge.

Many of the short Stanford essay prompts are designed to see how you can think on your feet. Rather than just pointing to a challenge or problem, Stanford wants to see your capabilities for deeper analytical thought and problem-solving. Towards the end of this (very short) answer, you should demonstrate your critical thinking skills. End your Stanford essay on a positive note with changes that could be useful for reframing how our society approaches your challenge.

Stanford Supplemental Essays—Short Question 2

How did you spend your last two summers? (50 words maximum)

This question should be one of the most straightforward to answer. You could approach this Stanford essay in one of two ways. You could write out a list, covering a more expansive array of topics and showcasing your diversity of skills and interests, or you could hone in on one or two specific activities that mattered most to you.

Either way, you’ll want the activities you discuss here to reflect other parts of your application. This helps show consistency in your overall candidate profile. You also do not want to waste the beginning with an intro sentence like “Over the past two summers, I have performed a variety of jobs and activities.” Admissions Officers know the question you are responding to, so dive right in!

Stanford Supplemental Essays—Short Question 3

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 words maximum)

The third of the short Stanford supplemental essays are more creative in nature. For this Stanford essay, the historical moment you choose to write about will not be as important as  why  you’ve chosen it. If no historical event immediately jumps into your mind (and it’s alright if not), you might want to flip through an old history textbook or even try some creative googling.

Other applicants may also use Google to help, which means that you’ll want to work a little harder than just clicking on the first link that pops up when you search “important historical events.” The most important thing to do with this Stanford essay is to be sure to describe  why  witnessing this event would be especially impactful to  you .

One way to approach the third of the short Stanford essay questions is to think about what you want to study and how historical events may have impacted your chosen field. Or, perhaps you have older family members who have always told stories about their experience of an event, and you’d like to be there firsthand in order to connect more with these relatives. What will make this Stanford essay stand out for readers is the personal connection or interest you describe in the event. As with other Stanford essay questions, it’s not the  what  that’s important, but the  why .

Stanford Supplemental Essays—Short Question 4

Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family. (50 words maximum)

As you’ve likely noticed, the Stanford essay prompts oscillate between the abstract and the straightforward. This Stanford essay is more streamlined, giving you the chance to expand on your interests and experiences.

This is an opportunity to elaborate about something in your activities section or to address something that you were not able to list but still is a large part of your identity (such as caring for family members). Whatever you pick, you will want to choose an activity or responsibility that taught you a lot, that pushed or challenged you, or that was particularly memorable.

You don’t get a  ton  of room in the Stanford essays to expand on your chosen activity, so feel free to be straightforward and direct with your language. You don’t have to waste words setting the scene; like all of these shorter Stanford essay questions, you’ll want to get right into your answer.

Does Stanford have a “why us” question?

Yes. This is the classic supplemental essay question, and the Stanford essays are no exception—all colleges want to know what makes them special to you. This is your chance to showcase any research you have done about Stanford while you’ve been writing your Stanford essays or as you’ve been completing the rest of the application.

Stanford Supplemental Essays—Short Question 5

Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 words maximum)

This “Why Us” question is a bit different from the traditional college essay because it asks you to focus on one thing you’re excited about. This Stanford essay is the space to show off your expert investigation skills and name drop a course, a club, a professor, or an undergraduate-specific event or tradition only available at Stanford. Colleges can tell when you swap out their name for another university and submit the same “Why here?” answer, and Stanford specifically phrases this essay prompt to further discourage that.

You will probably have to spend a bit of time investigating Stanford. You may even want to ask an alum or do some intensive research to find a unique answer. Also, you’ll want to focus on why in particular you are looking forward to whatever you choose, rather than just saying “It’s really cool” or “It seems so fun!”

Be authentic in your response in order to make it stand out from more generic answers. Admissions Officers will likely read a lot of similar answers to the Stanford essay prompts, and the “Why Us” question is no exception.

Stanford Supplemental Essays—Final Thoughts

Completing the Stanford essay prompts can seem daunting, but don’t let that discourage you from applying. The Stanford essay questions are a great opportunity to demonstrate who you are for admissions officers reading your application. Your Stanford essays can boost your application if you have a lower-than-average GPA or  SAT score . Use this guide as a step-by-step aid when approaching the Stanford essay questions and start earlier than you think you should.

This is especially true with the shortest Stanford essay prompts; you might think it will be easy to write five essays that are under 50 words, but the shortest Stanford essay questions can be the most challenging. Don’t be afraid to ask for revisions from someone; it’s helpful to have another set of eyes checking your Stanford essay prompts for grammatical errors, tone, and clarity. Good luck!

This 2021-2022 essay guide for Stanford University was written by  Laura Frustaci . For more CollegeAdvisor.com resources on Stanford and the Stanford supplemental essays,  click here . Want help crafting your Stanford supplemental essays? Create your  free account  or  schedule a free consultation  by calling (844) 505-4682.

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6 Stellar Stanford Essay Examples

What’s covered:, essay example #1 – letter to your future roommate, one-second videos, essay example #2 – letter to your future roommate, study and fun, essay example #3 – letter to your future roommate, k-pop and food, essay example #4 – something meaningful, 1984, essay example #5 – something meaningful, ramen, essay example #6 – significant challenge short answer, where to get your stanford essays edited.

Stanford is one of the most selective colleges in the nation, with an acceptance rate typically under 5%. If you want to snag a spot at this renowned university in sunny California, you’ll need to write standout essays.

Stanford is known for it’s short and whimsical prompts that give students a lot of freedom to let their creativity shine through. In this post, we will be going over three essays real students have submitted to Stanford to give you an idea of how to approach your essays. We will also share what each essay did well and where there is room for improvement.

Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized. 

Read our Stanford essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts. 

Prompt: 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. (100-250 words)

Hey roomie!

I’m so excited to meet you and share our first year at Stanford, but I should probably warn you. By the end of fall quarter, I guarantee that you will be sick of hearing me ask, “Do you want to be in my one second?”

For the past couple of years, recording a one-second video every day has been my way of finding excitement in even the most boring days. I promise that while we’re roommates, my one-second clips will make every day an adventure.

Some of my personal favorites:

  • Ice skating in Millennium Park in Chicago
  • Watching Netflix with my 3 sisters (usually Jane the Virgin)
  • Baking a cake in physics class
  • Petting my 17-pound rabbit, or my 2-pound rabbit
  • Family karaoke night featuring the High School Musical soundtrack and my terrible singing 
  • Playing in Pep Band at basketball games with my best friends
  • Winning Mario Kart (I am a self-proclaimed professional)
  • Playing with a friend’s new puppy
  • Selfies with my Target coworkers after handling an army of coupon moms

I’m excited to capture our first year together at Stanford, from Big Game to our first ski trip. Even on days where studying in our dorm seems like the highlight, I’ll suggest a spontaneous ice cream run so we’re not THAT lame.

So when I inevitably ask you to be in my one second, I promise that it’ll be worth it (and you can’t say I didn’t warn you).


Your soon-to-be bestie/adventure buddy/one-second-a-day-video-taking roommate

What The Essay Did Well

This is such a fun essay to read because it shows us who this student is outside of her academics and extracurriculars. There isn’t a single mention of her academic interests or the clubs and organizations she is in—ironically, that’s the strength of the essay! By focusing her essay around her one second a day video, it allows her to demonstrate to the reader her most natural self. Outside the confines of a classroom or pursuing extracurricular achievement, these are the things that bring her joy and make her interesting; conveying that idea is the exact point of Stanford asking this question.

Bulleting her most memorable one second videos is a great way to share a wide variety of stories without making the essay too dense. They are quick thoughts—not even fully formed sentences—but they all start with a verb to bring a sense of action to the essay. Not to mention, she was able to work in a good amount of humor. Including her “terrible singing ” at karaoke night, being a “ self-proclaimed professional ” at Mario Kart, and the “ army of coupon moms ” at her job isn’t necessary for each story, but adding it in gives admissions officers an extra little chuckle.

No space is wasted in this essay, even down to the sign-off. She could have ended by saying “ Sincerely, Sara “, but instead, she added an extra line to excitedly describe herself as “ Your soon-to-be bestie/adventure buddy/one-second-a-day-video-taking roommate.”  As if we didn’t get enough of a taste of her personality throughout, this student closes with a run-on thought that conveys her child-like enthusiasm at going to Stanford and meeting her roommate. 

What Could Be Improved

Overall, this is a really strong essay. That being said, there are a few sentences that could be reworked to be a bit more fun and align better with the rest of the essay.

For example, the starting off with an admission that her roommate might get sick of hearing about her one second videos is cute, but it could be made stronger by really leaning into it. “ Hi roomie! Here’s to hoping you aren’t ready to throw my phone out the third-floor window of Branner by finals!”  With this opening, we are immediately asking ourselves what could this student possibly be doing with her phone that would cause her roommate to chuck it out a window. It builds suspense and also adds humor. Not to mention, she would be including a dorm on campus to show she has thoroughly research life at Stanford.

Another sentence that could use some extra TLC is “ I promise that while we’re roommates, my one-second clips will make every day an adventure.”  Again, a nice sentiment, but it doesn’t stimulate the reader’s mind in the same way an example would. She goes into some of the one seconds they will capture at Stanford later on, but it wouldn’t hurt to add another example here. She could write something like this: “ With me everyday will be an adventure; I’ll have the clip of you trying scrambled eggs and strawberries at the dining hall for proof (trust me, it’s how they were meant to be eaten). “

Dear stranger (but hopefully future roomie),

Are you looking for someone that:

S ees you only at night when they are going to sleep?

T hrives being taciturn?

U nnerves you on the eve of your exams?

D oesn’t tell Moroccan fairy tales each night?

Y owls while sleeping?

A bhors lending you their clothes?

N ever nibbles on snacks and won’t bring you Moroccan cookies?

D oesn’t ask you to go for a walk on campus?

F idgets when you need help?

U proots a spider they cross without asking you for help?

N ot ready to sing with you if you play Beyonce’s songs?

Don’t fret if you said no to all of the above. That just means we are the perfect match because I am the opposite of everything I described above! It would be my great pleasure to introduce you to the person with whom you will not just share a room, but also have unforgettable moments. Be ready to spend nights laughing–it is not my fault if I keep you up all night with my jokes. Words cannot express how excited I am to find out what makes you, you! I’ve cleverly hidden our theme within my note. In case you didn’t notice, reread the first letter of each line.

P.S: It may be difficult for you to say the “kh” in my name, especially if you don’t speak Arabic or Spanish. So feel free to call me Yara.

This is a charming way to introduce yourself to a future roommate. Not only did they spell out all the ways they will be a loyal and dependable roommate, but they literally spelled out a secret message! Accomplishing this shows this student took extra time and care into crafting statements to add an extra layer of creativity.

This student also imbued aspects of their personality in these statements—once you flip it around. We see how important their Moroccan heritage is, as they look forward to sharing “ Moroccan fairytales each night ” and “ Moroccan cookies ” with their roommate. We see how caring they are when it comes to  “lending you clothes”  and not fidgeting “ when you need help. ” They also include some humor in some lines: “Yowls while sleeping.” Each sentence helps piece together different aspects of this student’s personality to help us put together a full picture.

Although the idea of presenting a bunch of contradictory statements puts a nice spin on the structure, be cautious about going this route if it gets too confusing for your reader. Certain lines create double negatives—” doesn’t tell Moroccan fairytales ,” “ never nibbles on snacks ,” “ not ready to sing with you “—that take the reader an extra second to wrap their head around what the student is actually trying to say. Admissions officers spend a very limited amount of time on each essay, so you don’t want to include any language that requires additional brain power to digest.

This essay is also missing the closing to the letter. The author includes “ Dear stranger ” and “ P.S. “, indicating they are writing the essay in the format of a letter. Their letter requires a closing statement and a sign-off of their name. Without them signing their name at the end of the essay, the P.S. they include doesn’t make as much sense. If the reader doesn’t know what their name is, how would they understand their nickname? 

Hey, future roommate!

As an INFJ personality type, I value my relationships and genuinely want to know you better:

How do you feel about music? I. Love. Music. My favorite genre is kpop, and since I am an avid kpop lover, I follow many groups (TXT and Twice being my favorites). I apologize in advance if you hear me blasting songs. Admittedly, getting lost in my own little world happens a lot. You can just ask me to tone it down. Or join in!

I am also a sucker for dramas. We could watch sweet heart aching love stories or historical ones together! Both are also my cup of tea.

Speaking of tea, what is your favorite drink to order? I tend to prefer sweet, bitter coffee and teas. I also like trying out new foods and making them. You know…you could be my taste tester. I like to consider myself an amateur cook. If we somehow miss the dining hours, no need to worry. With my portable bunsen stove, we can make hot pot in the dorm or quickly whip something up suitable to both our tastes.

As much as I love all food, Burmese food holds a special place in my heart. I would like to share with you my favorite foods: lahpet thoke (tea leaf salad) and ohn no khao swè (coconut noodle soup). Food is my love language, and I hope that we can share that same connection through exchanging and trying out new foods!

This essay packs a ton of information into just a few paragraphs. We learn about the author’s food and drink preferences, music taste, and favorite TV shows. The vivid language about food, drink, and cooking in particular makes the images of this student’s potential life at Stanford that much clearer and more compelling. 

Another especially strong element of this essay is the author’s personality and voice, which come through loud and clear in this essay. Through varied sentence structure and the way they phrase their stories, we get a great sense of this applicant’s friendliness and happy, enthusiastic style of engaging with their peers. 

Finally, college applications are by their nature typically quite dry affairs, and this kind of prompt is one of the few chances you might have to share certain parts of your personality that are truly essential to understanding who you are, but don’t come across in a transcript or activities list. This student does a great job taking advantage of this opportunity to showcase a truly new side of them that wouldn’t come across anywhere else in their application.

You wouldn’t, for example, want to just rehash all the APs you took or talk about being captain of your sports team. Firstly, because those probably aren’t the first things you’d talk about with your new roommate, and secondly, because that information doesn’t tell admissions officers anything they don’t already know. Instead, approach this prompt like this student did, and discuss aspects of who you are that help them understand who you are on a day to day basis—as the prompt itself hints at, the residential college experience is about much more than just class.

This is a great letter to a future roommate, but it’s important to remember that while the prompt is officially for future roommates, the essay is actually going to admissions committees. So, you want to  think carefully about what kinds of practices you mention in your essays. In most college dorms, students aren’t even supposed to light candles because it’s a fire hazard. So, while your dorm cooking skills might be very impressive, it’s probably not a good idea to advertise a plan to bring a portable stove to campus, as these kinds of things are often against dorm rules.

This may seem like nitpicking, but at a school as competitive as Stanford, you want to be extra careful to avoid saying anything that admissions officers might find off-putting, even subconsciously. For a more extreme example, you obviously wouldn’t want to talk about all the parties you plan on hosting. While this slip-up is much more minor, and the student was clearly well-intentioned, the overall genre of disregard for the rules is the same, and obviously not something you want to highlight in any college application.

Prompt: Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100-250 words)

I am an avid anti-annotationist; the mere idea of tainting the crisp white pages of any novel with dark imprints of my own thoughts is simply repulsive. However, I have one exception — my copy of George Orwell’s 1984, weathered and annotated in two languages. While victimized by uneven handwriting eating away at the margins, it is the only novel I still hold beloved despite its flaws. 

Two years before reading 1984, I was indulging in the novels of Dr. Seuss, not because of my preferences, but because my reading level was deemed an “A” — the reading level of a toddler. I was certainly anything but that; I was a fresh-off-the-plane immigrant and rising middle schooler who could barely name colors in English. 

After reading the likes of A Very Hungry Caterpillar like a madman, my next step was purchasing more advanced books in both English and Korean, so I could understand the nuance and missing details of novels after I initially read them in English. This crutch worked perfectly until George Orwell’s 1984 — the first novel I purchased and read without the training wheels of a translated copy. It took me weeks to finish the book; it was painfully slow, like a snail inching toward an arbitrary finish line. 

I read the novel twenty-seven times, each reading becoming faster and revealing more information. When I look at my copy of 1984, I still cringe at its weathered and tainted pages, but I can’t help admiring that initial portal between two literary worlds. 

This is undoubtedly an excellent writer who produced an exceptionally strong essay. Right from describing themself as an “ avid anti-annotationist, ” we can tell this is going to be different than you typical essay. While many students will choose something related to their academic or extracurricular passion, this essay choose a specific book. Although 1984 is so much more to them than simply a novel, as they reveal through the essay, the focus on an individual object as something meaningful is such a powerful image.

This student does a beautiful job conveying their journey through the symbol of 1984. They measure time using the book (“ Two years before reading 1984 “), and use well-known children’s novels like A Very Hungry Caterpillar and Dr. Seuss to convey just how far they came without explicitly needing to describe how behind they were. Describing reading 1984 without a translated copy as ditching “training wheels” further emphasizes their growth.

The meaningfulness of 1984 is reinforced through the focus on its “ weathered and tainted pages .” Admitting to the reader at the beginning that they hate marking up books, yet their favorite book is annotated from cover to cover, highlights how 1984 is so much more than a book to them. It is a symbol of their resilience, of their growth, and of a pivotal turning point in their lives. Although the student doesn’t say any of this in their essay, their skilled writing reveals all of it to the reader.

One of Stanford’s deepest values is intellectual vitality (in fact, there’s a whole separate prompt dedicated to the topic!). This student demonstrates this value through establishing a willingness to learn and a love of cross-cultural literature.  All the while, this student is authentic. There’s little posturing here intended to impress the admissions officers with the student’s resilience and deep love for the written word; instead, he is genuine in sharing a small but authentic part of his life.

This essay has very little that needs to be improved on, but there is one crucial question that would have been nice to have answered: why 1984? Out of all the books in the world, why was this the one this student decided to commit to as the first all-English novel? Was it just by chance, did a teacher encourage them to pick it up, or did the premise of the book speak to them? Whatever the reason, it would have been nice to know to further understand its significance.

While most people argue that the best invention is something mechanical or conceptual, I believe it’s the creation of instant ramen. There’s little time involvement, deliciousness, and convenience all included in one package. What more could one ask for? The nostalgia packed within instant ramen makes it a guilty pleasure I can’t live without. 

During a road trip to Yellowstone, this miracle meal followed my family as we took turns sharing an umbrella under the pouring rain and indulging it in its instant delicacy: we were shivering in the cold, but the heat of the spicy soup and the huge portion of springy noodles warmed our souls instantly. It was an unforgettable experience, and eating ramen has since then followed us to Disneyland, Crater Lake, and Space Needle, being incorporated in our frequent road trips. 

It has also come in handy during our wushu competition trips. Often, competitions ended at midnight, making it inconvenient to eat out. In these situations, the only essentials we needed were hot water and instant ramen packages, enough to satiate our spirits and hunger.

Instant ramen is also a way my mom and grandma express their care for me. On late nights of doing homework after wushu practice, I usually ate something—sometimes instant ramen—to have a smoother recovery. My mom and grandma usually paired instant ramen with extra toppings like homemade wontons or fish balls—their motto being “instant ramen always tastes better when someone makes it for you.

By picking such an unusual topic, this applicant grabs the attention and interest of readers straightaway. Picking something as commonplace and commercial as instant ramen and transforming it into a thoughtful story about family is a testament to this student’s ability to think outside the box and surprise admissions officers. It makes for an essay that’s both meaningful and memorable! 

Another great aspect of this response is how information-dense it is. We learn not just about the writer’s fondness for instant ramen, but about their family road trips, their participation in wushu, their close-knit extended family, and their culture. Even though some of these details come in the form of brief, almost throwaway lines, like briefly mentioning fishballs and wontons, they are clearly thoughtfully placed and designed to add depth and texture to the essay. 

While walking the line between maximizing every word available to you and having your essay be cohesive and easy to follow is tricky, this writer does a fantastic job of it. The details they include are all clearly relevant to their main theme of instant ramen, but also distinct enough that we get a comprehensive sense of who they are in just 250 words. Remember, even quick details can go a long way in enriching your overall description of your topic or theme.

This is a very strong essay, but there’s always room for improvement. The first paragraph of this essay, though a good general introduction that you might find in an academic essay, doesn’t actually say much about this applicant’s potential as a Stanford student. Remember, since your space is so limited in the college essay, you want every sentence, and really every word, to be teaching admissions officers something new about you.

Starting a story in media res, or in the middle of the action, can get the reader immersed in your story more quickly, and save you some words that you can then use to add details later on. Avoiding a broad overview in your first paragraph also allows you to get into the meat of your writing more quickly, which admissions officers will appreciate—remember, they’re reading dozens if not hundreds of applications a day, so the more efficient you can be in getting to your point, the better.

Everybody talks. The Neon Trees were right, everybody does indeed talk but in our society no one listens. Understandably, the inclination to be heard and understood jades our respect for others, resulting in us speaking over people to overpower them with our greatest tools, being our voices.

What The Response Did Well

This prompt is a textbook example of the “Global Issues” essay , but with an obvious catch: you have only 50 words to get your point across. With such limited space, this Stanford short answer supplement demands that applicants get their point across quickly and efficiently. This essay does a great job of grabbing one’s attention with an unusual hook that segues smoothly into the main topic. Along with that, the student demonstrates that they have a great vocabulary and sophisticated writing style in just a few sentences. 

While failing to communicate effectively indeed causes a great many problems, failure to listen is an incredibly broad challenge, and therefore, not the strongest choice for this short response. Remember, like with any other supplement, you want your response to teach Stanford admissions officers something about you. So, you ideally want to choose a specific subject that reflects both your knowledge of the world and your personal passions.

Again, your space is limited, but if this student had been even slightly more specific, we would have learned much more about their personality. For example, the sentence that starts with “understandably” could have instead read:

““Understandably, the inclination to be heard and understood jades our respect for others, which causes shortsightedness that, if nothing changes, will soon enough leave our air unbreathable and our water undrinkable.”

This version goes a step further, by not just speaking vaguely about nobody listening, but also pointing out a tangible consequence of this problem, which in turn demonstrates the student’s passion for environmentalism.

Do you want feedback on your Stanford essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

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Stanford University

99 Successful Stanford Essays

Updated for the 2024-2025 admissions cycle.

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Nestled in the heart of Silicon Valley, Stanford University is one of the most storied and prestigious institutions in the world. With an endowment of nearly $40 billion, Stanford offers students the opportunity to learn from some of the brightest minds in academia, while also providing access to cutting-edge technology and research facilities. This combination makes Stanford a great school for a wide variety of disciplines: from economics to engineering to English, you really can’t go wrong on the Farm! The campus itself is also stunning. Gorgeous Spanish-style architecture and greenery engulf the whole campus, and students are frequently seen basking in the Palo Alto sun. Stanford’s student culture is thriving. Hundreds of clubs—including sports teams, music groups, and community service organizations—are active on campus.

Unique traditions at Stanford

Stanford University has several unique traditions that make it stand out among other universities. Here are some of them: 1. Hiking the Dish: The Dish is a popular hiking trail on campus that offers panoramic views of the Bay Area. It is named after the large radio telescope on the hilltop that is used for scientific research. Students will often hike the Dish—or take a walk to the top of the hiking trail—to get a glimpse of some of Stanford’s most scenic views.  2. Attending Full Moon on the Quad: On the first full moon of the fall quarter, Stanford students gather on the Main Quad for an evening of revelry and kissing. The tradition dates back to the 1890s, and it is still going strong to this day.  3. Fountain Hopping: On warm days, students can be seen cooling off by jumping into the fountains on campus, a tradition that has been going on for decades.  4. Watching Gaieties: Gaieties is a student-written and performed musical comedy that parodies the annual Big Game against UC Berkeley. It has been a tradition since the 1910s and is performed each year in the week leading up to the game.

Programs at Stanford

With over 600 student organizations and many more unique academic offerings, Stanford offers countless opportunities for academic and personal enrichment! Here are a few clubs and programs worth looking into: 1. Bing Overseas Studies Program (BOSP): If you’re interested in studying abroad, BOSP is a great program to explore! With over 50 programs in 20 countries, the Bing Overseas Studies Program allows students to immerse themselves in different cultures and cultivate a global perspective. 2. Stanford in Government (SIG): SIG is a nonpartisan student group that empowers students to get involved in public service and policy-making. Members can participate in internships, workshops, and events focused on topics such as foreign policy, law, and social justice. 3. Stanford Solar Car Project: Interested in cars? Interested in solar power? The Stanford Solar Car Project is a great fit for you! In this club, you’ll get to join a team of students building and racing solar-powered cars! 4. Stanford Outdoor Outreach Program (OOP): Stanford’s Outdoor Outreach Program allows Stanford students to help underserved youth in the Bay Area experience outdoors activities like hiking and rock climbing. 5. Stanford Business Association of Stanford Entrepreneurial Students (BASES): Boasting almost 700 members, BASES is Stanford’s premiere entrepreneurship organization. It offers Stanford students the opportunity to meet likeminded students and work on cool business projects together!

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Real Essays from Stanford Admits

Prompt: briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family..

My grandmother moved in. As the oldest grandchild, her health became my responsibility. I meet her every morning with a cup of pills and herbal remedies. I administer injections, her painful shriek as the needle penetrates her skin shatters my heart every time, but her loving hugs always comfort me.

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Essay by Jaden Botros

Economics & Political Science student at Stanford University | 800K in Scholarships | Profile includes Resume and Summer Research Email Templates

Prompt: Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford

Stanford’s research opportunities at the Hopkins Marine Station near the Monterey Bay appeal to me; more specifically, Professor Barbara Block’s project examining unregulated fishing with new technology. Using my understanding of bycatch gillnets as the main threat to Hawksbills, I aspire to learn more about the consequences of unsustainable fishing.

Essay by Erick Angelo Ramirez

CS Major, Bio Minor, FGSS Honors Thesis, FLI @ Stanford

Prompt: What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

As I’ve listened to classmates, neighbors, and even national leaders spew out comments like “slavery was a choice” and “Martin Luther King Jr. was a terrorist,” I’ve realized that the distortion of history to reinforce ill-intentioned beliefs creates much of the division, prejudice, and hatred that plague our world.

Essay by Nikhe

History student, poet, and Succession-fanatic @ Yale

Prompt: How did you spend your last two summers?

I led volunteers in community farm maintenance. Harvests went to local families. Off the farm, I learned breakdancing from my brother and YouTube tutorials. Next summer, I attended two piano festivals. Highlight: I asked guest-artist Andrew Tyson if he purposefully moved his eyebrows while performing. He laughed and said no.

Essay by Python Chen

I'm an aspiring author from Nashville. I love reading & writing, playing video games, watching anime, cooking, and letting my undiagnosed ADHD lead me on a wild ride everyday!

Prompt: What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?

When our prehistoric ancestors carved the Seokjang-dong petroglyphs, some of Korea’s oldest rock art. The patterns and symbols date to a time when humanity started to understand that three footsteps, three cows, and three days were numerically identical; it’s the beginning of abstraction, and hence the inception of mathematics.

Essay by Sean Yoon

CS @ Stanford + $200K Scholarship | Math, CS, Traditional Art, Debate | Proven success in helping 30+ high schoolers through their college apps. Discover how to REALLY blend your passions into a winning application!

Prompt: 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.

Dear Roommate,

My bedroom is my refuge, and I hope ours will be the same. Through immersive design, there are countless possibilities to personalize our room. All it takes is the simple command: “Alexa, it’s Christmas time,” and we teleport from a hot, stuffy room in June to a winter wonderland. The ceiling lights turn red and green, Christmas lights begin to sparkle, “Jingle Bells” bounces through the speakers, and The Christmas Story is cued. My friends giddily sing along to Christmas carols, and we joke about Alexa’s unquestioning loyalty. When my friend [Name Redacted] got dumped last summer, he asked for “Christmas time” in my room to cheer him up. And, when my basketball team won the semi-finals, we said “Alexa, it’s party time” and celebrated as disco lights whirled and “Bohemian Rhapsody” blasted. We have a command for (almost) every occasion. Rigging my room has brought laughter and joy into the lives of friends and family and is something I look forward to doing with you. We can learn about each other while we set up our room. Whether it’s our music, lights, jokes, or auto-stocked products, I’m excited to create a room that reflects both of our identities, cultural backgrounds, and humor. In our spare time, I also look forward to taking a hiatus from indoors to head out to surf, play basketball, or plan spikeball matches on the oval. Whether we’re indoors or out, I can’t wait to get to know you. “Alexa, it’s Cardinal time.”

Essay by StanfordStudent

Mechanical Engineering @ Stanford

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

My breath caught in anticipation. My grandfather, affectionately known as Pop Pop, flipped the card over.

I could peg out.

We both exhaled, me in triumphant relief and him like a deflating balloon. He knew I had won.

Pop Pop taught me cribbage when I was eight and it became our game. Through it our relationship flourished, he taught me about the world through card strategy metaphors and nudged me to gain confidence in defending myself through teasing trash talk. Every year I joked about “Pop Pop rules”, playfully accusing him of shifting the rules to counteract my progress. I suppose we each have our own outlook on how to play the cards we are dealt.

A signature move of mine is to always take the crib second. The initial crib-holder gets those extra points first while the other player is in a perpetual state of catching up. Playing like I am more behind than I truly am, I work that much harder to win. While I love card games and competition, I most appreciate the resolve and creativity that stems from adversity and pushes me towards success.

Cribbage with my grandfather has taught me much more than strategic gameplay. I’ve grown from a young girl struggling to add seven and eight together to a confident young woman who knows that hard work and level- headedness are the keys to success.

This time, it was him who asked, “How about one more game?”

Low-income, disabled pre-med Human Biology major/Creative Writing minor with additional interest in humanities

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Someone with the same interests, stats, and background as you


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Sat / act prep online guides and tips, how to write stellar stanford essays: 3 expert tips.

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College Essays


Are you hoping to be one of the less than 4% of students admitted to Stanford this year? If so, you'll need to write some amazing essays as part of your application.

In this article, we'll outline the different types of essays you need to write for your Stanford University application and teach you how to write an essay that will help you stand out from the thousands of other applicants. We'll also go over the five short answer questions that are part of the Stanford supplement.

So let's get started!

What Are the Stanford Essays?

Stanford requires that you complete a total of four essays as a part of your application for admission.

You'll need to answer one  prompt provided by the Common Application or Coalition Application , depending on which one you use to submit your Stanford application through. You can find more information about the Common Application essays here , and more info about the Coalition essay prompts here .

You'll also need to respond to three Stanford-specific short essay questions .

The Stanford essay prompts offer you plenty of opportunities to show off your qualifications as an applicant and wow the admissions committee.

Want to build the best possible college application?   We can help.   PrepScholar Admissions combines world-class admissions counselors with our data-driven, proprietary admissions strategies. We've guided thousands of students to get into their top choice schools, from state colleges to the Ivy League. We know what kinds of students colleges want to admit and are driven to get you admitted to your dream schools. Learn more about PrepScholar Admissions to maximize your chance of getting in:

2022-2023 Stanford Essay Prompts

You'll need to respond to three Stanford Questions for your Stanford supplement essays. You'll submit the Stanford supplement essays online with your Coalition or Common app.

You need to respond to all three of the Stanford essay prompts for your application. Each one of the Stanford essays has a 100-word minimum and a 250-word maximum.

Here are the 2022-2023 Stanford essay prompts:

#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.

#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—know you better.

#3 : Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?

Stanford Essays Analyzed

In this section, we'll be looking at each of the three Stanford supplement essays in depth. Remember, every applicant must answer every one of the Stanford essay prompts, so you don't get to choose which essay you would like to write. You have to answer all three of the Stanford essay prompts well in order for your application to stand out.

Let's take a look at each of the three Stanford short essay questions and see how to write something meaningful for each.

Stanford Essay 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. (100 word min, 250 word max)

This Stanford essay prompt is very broad. The structure of the prompt indicates that the committee is interested in learning about your curiosity inside and outside of the classroom, so don't feel like you have to limit the lessons you talk about to ones that occur at school.

The most important thing to remember here is to be specific. The committee doesn't want you to wax poetic about the virtues of remaining eternally curious; they want to see how a real-life example has affected you.

For instance, instead of talking about how a trip to a foreign country opened your eyes to different cultures, pick a specific moment from your visit that really hammered home the importance of curiosity. Go into detail about how that one experience affected you. Being specific is more powerful than speaking in generalized platitudes.

Similarly, you want to write about something that you're genuinely passionate and excited about. After all, it says so right in the prompt! Pick a topic that you truly love, such as a historical fiction book that you read that inspired you to learn about a new era in history or the science fiction movie that sparked curiosity about how time works in space.

Don't feel limited to your potential major. Stanford doesn't require that you pick and stick with a specific major for your application, so you don't have to write about a moment here that relates to your predicted course of study. In fact, picking a learning experience in a different field will better show that you're curious and open to new ideas.


Stanford Essay 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—know you better. (100 word min, 250 word max) 

Stanford's roommate essay question is notorious. While the other two of the three Stanford essays may change from year-to-year, the Stanford roommate essay is always on the application.

First, remember that this essay is written to your future roommate, who will be one of your peers. You can adopt a more informal, fun tone with this essay, because the prompt indicates that it's going to someone who is your age.

The Stanford roommate essay is your opportunity to show a different side of your personality than the admissions committee will see on the rest of your application. This essay is your chance to show yourself as a well-rounded person who has a variety of different interests and talents.

Don't repeat information that the committee can find elsewhere on your application. Take the time to share fun, personal details about yourself.

For instance, do you make awesome, screen-accurate cosplays or have a collection of rock crystals from caving expeditions? Think about what you love to do in your spare time.

Be specific—the committee wants to get a real picture of you as a person. Don't just say that you love to play video games, say exactly which video games you love and why.

The roommate essay is also a great time to show off your community—the friends, family, teammates, etc. who make up your current life. You can talk about the deep bonds you have and how they have affected you. Showing your relationships to others gives the committee a better idea of how you will fit in on Stanford's campus.

All in all, the Stanford roommate essay is a great opportunity to have some fun and show off some different aspects of your personality. Let yourself shine!

Stanford Essay Prompt 3

Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why? (100 word min, 250 word max) 

While all three of the Stanford essay prompts are fairly broad, the third Stanford essay prompt is by far the broadest. You can write about anything that's meaningful to you here— the prompt doesn't specify that you have to talk about something academic or personal.

Sometimes, broad prompts can be more intimidating than prompts that have a very narrow focus. The trick here is to (again) pick something specific and stick to it.

Don't, for instance, say that world peace is meaningful to you because it won't sound sincere. You should talk about something that is uniquely important to you, not the other thousands of students that are applying to Stanford.

Pick something that is really meaningful to you. You could talk about your relationship with your grandmother and how she taught you how to cook or a specific musical album that reminds you of an important experience in your life. You might talk about a club or after-school activity that has broadened your horizons or an academic award you won after an extreme challenge.

Whatever topic you choose, your essay should feel sincere. Don't write what you think the committee wants to hear. They'll be more impressed by a meaningful experience that rings true than one that seems artificial or implausible.


Stanford Short Answer Questions Analyzed

Along with your essays, you'll also need to answer five short questions. You'll only have 50 words to answer each one...so you'll need to make it count!

Question 1: The Social Challenge Question

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

There are two ways you can answer this question. First, you can choose a significant social challenge that matters to you. For instance, perhaps your parents are essential workers, and the COVID pandemic revealed the unfair labor practices that exist in the US to you. Labor issues are a major social issue both in the US and abroad, and because you're impacted by it, you'll be able to put together a very compelling and powerful answer.

The other approach you can take to this question is linking it to your academic interests. Perhaps you want to major in mechanical engineering. One huge social issue is access to clean drinking water. In your response, you can explain the issue and then talk about how it inspired you to become a mechanical engineer. Maybe you want to develop better water decontamination systems! That would be a great response to this question.

The big thing to remember is you need to include a why in your answer. Why do you think this challenge is significant? And how are you planning to help solve this problem? Make sure you include these answers in your response!

Question 2: The Summer Question

How did you spend your last two summers?

This is a pretty straightforward question. Make a list of everything you did the past two summers, then parse it down so that you're including the most important aspects. For example, say you volunteered at a summer camp for the past two summers, but you also helped your family with chores and volunteered with a political campaign. Our recommendation would be to leave the chores out and focus on the bigger, more notable aspects of your summer vacation.

But maybe you had to work over the summers. Or perhaps you weren't able to take on extracurriculars because your parents needed your help caring for your younger siblings. Don't worry: those are great answers here, too. Your response doesn't have to be flashy —you don't have to have spent two summers participating in scientific research!

The important thing is to include a why in your answer . Why did you spend your summer vacations this way? And what do your choices say about your values? For instance, if you helped care for your younger siblings, you can explain that family is important to you, and that's part of why you're driven to get a college education. Counselors are trying to get a sense of who you are and what you care about!

Question 3: The Historical Moment Question

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

Think back to your history classes. Is there a historical moment you're fascinated with? This is a good time to share it with the admissions committee! Maybe you love legal history, so you would have loved to have attended Ruth Bader Ginsburg's swearing in ceremony. Or perhaps you're more interested in medicine, so you'd have loved to witness Wilhelm Röntgen discover x-rays.

Our best advice for answering this question is to be specific and original. Stay away from popular and obvious answers, like "the signing of the Declaration of Independence" or "Lincoln's Gettysburg address." Pick something more unique so that you stand out from other applicants. Once you've picked your historical moment, explain why you'd want to witness it!

Question 4: The Extracurriculars and Responsibilities Question

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

The key word in this question is "one." The admissions counselors don't want to read a list of your responsibilities. They want you to talk about one of them and then explain why you participate and/or why it's important to you.

For this question, avoid discussing something that's already evident from the rest of your admissions packet. For instance, if you've already listed band as an extracurricular and talked about it in one of your essays, you don't really need to talk about it here. Give the admissions counselors new information about yourself that they wouldn't be able to learn from other parts of your application.

For instance, maybe you help your dad out with his lawn care business in the summers. That would be a great thing to discuss here, especially if you haven't had a chance to talk about this elsewhere in your application. You could use this opportunity to discuss how helping your family out is important to you, and you also appreciated getting to know the people in your community while cutting their grass.

Whatever activity you choose, be sure to do more than just explain what that activity entails . Go into detail about what it means to you. Why do you participate in that activity? How has it impacted you as a person? You'll have to keep it brief, but these kinds of personal details are what Stanford admissions counselors are looking for.

Question 5: The Stanford Question

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

Answering this question starts with research. What is one—again, just one —thing you can't wait to learn, experience, or participate in as a Stanford student? You'll need to spend some time on the Stanford website looking into the different opportunities available to students.

First things first: limit your answer to academics or academic-leaning extracurricular activities. Yes, Palo Alto is beautiful. And yes, Stanford has a fun football program. But admissions counselors want to see that you're going to be a thoughtful, involved member of the Stanford community. So while these things are true and fun, this question is your chance to explain how you're going to get involved on the Stanford campus ...and maybe even give back, too.

Also, the best answers to this question are going to be specific. Instead of saying that you can't wait to participate in clubs, pick one (like the Food and Agribusiness Club) and discuss why it's so exciting to you. The more specific you are, the more you'll show admissions counselors that you're super serious about being a Stanford student.


How to Write a Great Stanford Essay

Regardless of which Stanford essay prompt you're responding to, you should keep in mind the following tips for how to write a great Stanford essay.

#1: Use Your Own Voice

The point of a college essay is for the admissions committee to have the chance to get to know you beyond your test scores, grades, and honors. Your admissions essays are your opportunity to make yourself come alive for the essay readers and to present yourself as a fully fleshed out person.

You should, then, make sure that the person you're presenting in your college essays is yourself. Don't try to emulate what you think the committee wants to hear or try to act like someone you're not.

If you lie or exaggerate, your essay will come across as insincere, which will diminish its effectiveness. Stick to telling real stories about the person you really are, not who you think Stanford wants you to be.

#2: Avoid Cliches and Overused Phrases

When writing your Stanford essays, try to avoid using cliches or overused quotes or phrases.

These include quotations that have been quoted to death and phrases or idioms that are overused in daily life. The college admissions committee has probably seen numerous essays that state, "Be the change you want to see in the world." Strive for originality.

Similarly, avoid using cliches , which take away from the strength and sincerity of your work.

#3: Check Your Work

It should almost go without saying, but you want to make sure your Stanford essays are the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your Stanford application, make sure to edit and proofread your essays.

Your work should be free of spelling and grammar errors. Make sure to run your essays through a spelling and grammar check before you submit.

It's a good idea to have someone else read your Stanford essays, too. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person. Have them check and make sure you haven't missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it possibly can be.

What's Next?

If you want to be one of the 6% of students accepted to Stanford, you'll have to have a great GPA. Check out our guide on how to get good grades in high school for some tips and strategies!

Confused or intimidated about the college admissions process? Check out our complete guide on how to apply to college.

If you want to stand out from the crowd as an applicant, you'll need a solid resume of extracurricular activities . Learn more about your extracurricular options and why they matter.

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.

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Stanford University’s 2023-24 Essay Prompts

Societal challenge short response.

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

Summer Activity Short Response

How did you spend your last two summers?

Historical Event Short Response

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

Extracurricular Short Response

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

Important Things Short Response

List five things that are important to you.

Intellectual Curiosity Short Response

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.

Roommate Short Response

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.

Diversity Short Response

Please describe what aspects of your life experiences, interests and character would help you make a distinctive contribution as an undergraduate to Stanford University.

Common App Personal Essay

The essay demonstrates your ability to write clearly and concisely on a selected topic and helps you distinguish yourself in your own voice. What do you want the readers of your application to know about you apart from courses, grades, and test scores? Choose the option that best helps you answer that question and write an essay of no more than 650 words, using the prompt to inspire and structure your response. Remember: 650 words is your limit, not your goal. Use the full range if you need it, but don‘t feel obligated to do so.

Some students have a background, identity, interest, or talent that is so meaningful they believe their application would be incomplete without it. If this sounds like you, then please share your story.

The lessons we take from obstacles we encounter can be fundamental to later success. Recount a time when you faced a challenge, setback, or failure. How did it affect you, and what did you learn from the experience?

Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?

Reflect on something that someone has done for you that has made you happy or thankful in a surprising way. How has this gratitude affected or motivated you?

Discuss an accomplishment, event, or realization that sparked a period of personal growth and a new understanding of yourself or others.

Describe a topic, idea, or concept you find so engaging that it makes you lose all track of time. Why does it captivate you? What or who do you turn to when you want to learn more?

Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you‘ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design.

What will first-time readers think of your college essay?

Stanford Humanities Today

Arcade: a digital salon.


In literary studies we often present the discipline’s history as a kind of timeline along which we place texts that stand as landmarks, or maybe signposts announcing “turns” on the long and winding road to the present: the linguistic turn, the cultural turn, the turn to ethics, the affective turn, and so on — now, perhaps, the post-critical turn. Since the Representations special issue “The Way We Read Now” emerged from panels marking the 25th anniversary of the publication of The Political Unconscious , it’s little surprise Stephen Best and Sharon Marcus’s influential introduction to the issue takes this form, with Jameson’s 1981 text presented as a synechdoche for a decades-long “moment” characterized, in Best and Marcus’s account, by the dominance of a particular mode of reading—“symptomatic”—and an attendant critical posture—masterful, suspicious, heroic. [1] It used to be, goes their story, that critics were out to demystify and demolish, reading to uncover concealed depths; now, we read modestly, descriptively, and resourcefully, attending to the object as in itself it really “just” is. The unusually powerful rhetorical impact of their essay arises in part from the startling efficiency with which they divide reading “now” from the embarrassing excesses of the heyday of critique, back “then.” This narrative is relentlessly homogenizing: the rubric “symptomatic reading” conflates, as has been widely observed, quite distinct critical methodologies, so that various kinds of historicism, cultural studies, psychoanalytic criticism, and so on get lumped as one, and other methodologies, notably deconstruction, wash out of the history. [2] The Political Unconscious appears as a period piece, an exemplar of a bygone era’s self-indulgence and overkill—something like literary criticism’s “Stairway to Heaven.” But despite its unusually sweeping gestures, Best and Marcus’s piece follows a structure typical of the way we habitually talk about disciplinary change, no matter our methodological commitments: we map such change in terms of as a series of discrete and successive “moments,” each dominated by a particular critical mode whose prestige and power is followed by a quick drop or slow fade into obsolescence, as the mode becomes routinized and apparently exhausted. [3] The poles between which the disciplinary pendulum swings, in these accounts, may be variable—you can have your “history” vs. “form,” your “New Criticism” vs. “theory,” your “literature” vs. “cultural studies,” as now your “critique” vs. the “post-critical,” and so on —but the shape remains the same: a periodizing narrative, outlining a disciplinary trajectory unfolding in a kind of mythic time of the discipline. [4]

Like periodizing narratives generally, these generalizing versions of disciplinary history can have their uses—they help articulate differences and patterns—but by their very form, they can also limit our ability to take stock of change, or to imagine change beyond the swapping of one “moment” for the next. Assigned the burden of representing its past moment, the “dated” text is inert and powerless in the present. [5] We could use alternative ways of talking about disciplinary change, more attentive to the shifts and divergences, the weird time lags and overlaps that really structure how we read and teach and write and talk. It is hard to see in many of our narratives of disciplinary history, that is, the far more dispersed, heterogeneous, recursive, multiply-conditioned temporalities of our actual reading and writing (and teaching and publishing). Certainly, beginning with my first encounter with literary and cultural criticism as an undergraduate in the theory-mad early 90s, my own shifting relation to the impulses connected to various critical “moments” is much more aptly characterized in terms of errancy, recursiveness, and Nachträglichkeit than in terms of any straightforward narrative. While my work over the past few years on literary fandom and poetic transmission shares in the “post-critical” interest in modes of readerly intimacy and attachment and in the ways texts “travel” outside periodizing logics (Felski “Context” 580), for example, I’ve at the same time found myself increasingly returning to critique as a vital mode, not least because the literary texts I am most interested in writing about seem to me themselves to operate in the mode of critique. What if our accounts of the way we read “now,” as well as our narratives of the discipline’s history, were to set out not from a catalog of eras or turns, but instead from the more particularized, more fluid temporalities I’ve begun to describe?

The temporality I have in mind here can be exemplified not by dates of publication of landmark texts, then, but rather by the messier, less clearly bounded time of the text’s gestation process and its potential life in the discipline: the years (maybe many, many years) of writing, revising, reformulating; the different occasions shaping parts of the writing and the venues in which it appears in different forms over time; the conversations and encounters that inform the writing, on different continents perhaps, perhaps across departments or disciplines, and the parallel conversations going on in the discipline perhaps without the writer’s awareness; the lag time between writing and publication; the way a book is absorbed by others and inspires responses, sometimes soon, sometimes many years down the road-- if anyone reads it, that is. This is the familiar stuff of our everyday professional lives, recognized in the acknowledgements sections of our books but more often than not airbrushed out of the books themselves. It’s on view to disorienting effect in the occasional work like Leslie Scalapino’s “performance work/talk/essay” “Disbelief” (2010), a dizzyingly complex meditation on the tense of writing and “being in events” that both revisits and undoes the poet’s sense of her own early-80s writing from the standpoint of her present writing. Or think of the page-blanketing footnotes and self-interruptions that dramatize the torque of time’s passage in Gayatri Spivak’s Critique of Postcolonial Reason (1999), calling attention to the theoretical and historical changes she encounters as she works on the manuscript from the Cold War mid-80s to the post-Soviet late 90s. Keeping such temporalities in view as we think about where the discipline has been and where it is going may make it harder to present a clean picture of a disciplinary “moment” or to offer a confident view of the road forward, but it may deliver a more usable version of the discipline’s past and a wider sense of its possible futures. [6]

Taking the ordinary temporality of our scholarly lives as a figure for reading operates against what Jane Gallop has called the “monumentalization of theory,” and encourages instead our treating theory as “a persistent ongoing practice in time ” (Gallop 25). Rather than seeing critical or theoretical texts simply as the crystallized expression of the doxa of a “moment,” reading from this perspective allows that these texts might return different answers to our questions than we expect, or might lead us to ask questions not yet posed. It sees critical practice as essentially both experimental and provisional — a provisionality connected also to its openness to the activity of future readers, who, as Ellen Rooney observes, go on “weaving even the most rigorous, stark and adamant assertions into new and never to be final forms” (113). From this point of view, there is no reason to imagine critical methodologies as possibly synthetic, no reason they need take the form of a unifying solution (for example, to the perceived antimony of history and form). Emphasizing the recursivity of methodological thinking as opposed to narratives of progress and obsolescence, we get a view of disciplinary history not as settled history we already know, but as a collection of loose ends we might rebraid into new strands of thinking, activating unused potential for the present.

To move from the figural to a more literal level, starting out in this fashion from the everyday temporalities of reading, writing, and teaching is also one way to begin to answer Lorraine Daston’s call for “an epistemology based upon the practices of humanists, on what they do” (363). Rachel Buurma and Laura Heffernan’s work on actual classroom practices seems to me exemplary in this regard. [7] Turning to the archival record of what happened in the classrooms of critics such as Cleanth Brooks and Edmund Wilson, Buurma and Heffernan seek to produce “a new topography of the everyday life of our disciplinary practices” by looking at “the downtimes in the classroom hour, the tangents of discussion, the undertheorized moments of interpretation or historical conjecture, and the value bestowed simply by paying attention, finding in them a set of paths not so much not taken, as never mapped” (116). In a different vein, Deidre Lynch ‘s recent Loving Literature (which explicitly takes up Daston’s call) looks at the history of arrangements of work and pleasure, labor and feeling, around literary reading, and asks how it came to be that the boundaries between our personal and professional lives—our work time and our “downtime”—have a porousness unique among professions. These disciplinary histories are pitched not to the codification of a single history that would explain how we got where we are and forecast where we are going, but to a shifting of our professional self-understanding.

Attending to the time of reading in this sense means also thinking about the limits on that time, its interruptions and distractions. The way we read now? Too often, it’s hurriedly and not nearly enough, pressed for time, between classes and meetings and the rest of life. Behind the pendulum-swing narratives of the rise and fall of various methodologies within the discipline often runs another, parallel story, about the changing fortunes of the discipline as a whole viewed from a wider, extra-disciplinary perspective, and about the continued hits literature departments have taken in enrollments, funding, and prestige within and beyond the university. [8] Sunny and forward-looking, Best and Marcus’s account of “surface reading” spares little room explicitly to address worries about the pressures on the discipline, but the trope has become so familiar they hardly need to; Jeffrey Williams’s Chronicle piece describing the “new modesty in literary criticism” (with “surface reading” as Exhibit A) connects the dots directly, linking the “new modesty” to the contrast between the discipline’s present sense of precarity and the overreach of the “theory era.” The sociological story about the changing situation of the discipline within the university and the culture at large and the history-of-ideas story about turns within the discipline tend to slip and slide in relation to one another, as they are brought into implicit or explicit conjunction. In other words, we repeatedly translate questions about the situation of English within the system of disciplines, or questions about its relation to what is “outside” it, into narratives about a contest between methodologies taking place within departments of literature. This wavering between intra- and extra-disciplinary narratives makes it all too easy to pretend to be talking about the one when we are really talking about the other; it blurs cause-and-effect relations, so that it can appear not only that methodological aims are reducible to sociological terms but that methodology has structural consequences. This is illusory: as Jennifer Ruth points out, “the hermeneutics of suspicion cannot be blamed […] for administrators’ penchant for phasing out tenure lines in the humanities” (117). [9]

By setting the “way we read now” in the context of a tug-of-war between poles internal to the discipline, the intradisciplinary narratives we often generate in what Felski calls “the current climate of retrospection” (218) appear to make the whole thing a family affair, and so give out that our fate as a discipline is to a large degree in our own hands. The psychoanalytic take on this would be that the “new modesty” in literary criticism asserts itself as a reality principle, monitoring and reasserting the boundaries of a disciplinary ego against the threat of the dissolution of that identity. [10] In a situation where the discipline seems to many to have lost consensus about its object and direction, where some worry it is on the ropes, what such apparently coherent narratives of disciplinary history offer, of course, is a kind of wish fulfillment, a fantasy of continuity, boundedness, and autonomy (the obverse, mirror image of the fantasy of power attributed to literary criticism’s supposedly expansionist, imperialist mode of the 70s and 80s). Strangely, though, this more disciplined (in several senses) attitude asserts itself by taking disciplinary identity itself as a given. For example: it is significant that all of the contributors to the Representations special issue are located in departments of English (or in a few cases, English and Comp. Lit.), but also meaningful that this fact is observed in the first paragraph of the introduction and then summarily dropped. Similarly, a minor tempest broke out on the VICTORIA-L listserv recently when the members of the newly formed V21 collective posted a manifesto advocating a “post-historicist” direction for Victorian Studies, inviting responses to the manifesto on their website but restricting that invitiation to scholars in literature. When historians who saw themselves as having a stake in Victorian Studies as a traditionally multidisciplinary enterprise voiced their objections, the ensuing dust-up exposed the way the question of disciplinarity could not be posed within the problematic of the manifesto itself, because the “field”—as both a disciplinary and period-based formation—was exactly what was being already assumed as a defining term.

My intention is not to weigh in here for or against “interdisciplinarity”; rather, what I want to point out is how the narrative of the movement from one “moment” to another—symptomatic reading to surface reading, historicism to post-historicism, critical to post-critical, suspicious to reparative—allows one to hold the field or discipline as the steady frame for these changes over time, yet to keep the problem of framing itself out of view. The insistence on some kinds of limits (for example, limits to the imagination of critical agency) can simultaneously bracket the question of other kinds of limits (for example, the question of literature’s limit). It may be true that now we do things a little bit differently than we did back then, as Best and Marcus suggest, but, from another point of view, we also just keep on doing things, if a little differently. Slogans announcing challenges to critical routines proliferate, yet even as these challenges offer a valuable opportunity to rethink the usefulness of certain critical moves or habits, the isolation of one form of supposed routinization can allow critical programs to naturalize other disciplinary protocols, including the institutional frame of the discipline itself, and foreclose the imagination of other transformations. What’s set aside are not only questions about how to specify the relation of our reading practice to its material conditions, and these to the conditions of some larger present, but also questions about the institution of literature and its institutionalization in the discipline and the university, about the very idea of its “transmission.” These are questions about “the possibility of knowing—and therefore teaching—what is called literature” that, Peggy Kamuf writes, “go to the very border along which an institution, here the university, sets itself off from some outside” (7, 4).

We have, however, a wide array of resources we can mobilize in keeping such questions “live.” Deconstruction and Marxist critical theory remain in my view powerful strategies not only for thinking about the work of literary form but also for thinking through relations among the concept of discipline, the scene of teaching, and institutions of reading in terms of what Kamuf calls their “historicality,” “by which is meant both that they have been bequeathed to us by a specific history […] and that whatever stabilized forms they may assume in the present remain open to the transformations of a future” (4). I think we have a lot still to gain from local attention to the diversity of everyday practices and settings through which English literature has been transmitted as an object of knowledge, within and outside the university. Giving us more than colorful historical detail, this work can help us see the disciplinary protocols we take for granted as newly strange, and help us see our reading practices as mediated by multiple, divergent histories, across multiple sites, rather than a single tradition or line of development. For me, this kind of work intersects productively with new studies of reception focusing less on tracking the changing meanings or values assigned texts—less on genealogies of influence or interpretative acts—and more on the practices (habits of thought or body) mediating the transmission of texts, or on the concept of transmission itself. [11] And this research can also be placed in dialogue with a phenomenology of reading attentive to the desires, attachments and investments at play in the encounter with textual objects, taking the scene of reading not as strictly self-enclosed, but rather as the site of collisions as well as identifications between the intimate and the social (those produced as we read, but also those that happen in the moments around reading, as when, say, overheard conversations or street noise blend with one’s reading). [12]

The moment of reading in this sense opens out on the one hand to the dailiness with which it is contiguous, and on the other hand to the multiplicity of individual and collective histories that structure it, including the long histories of reading practices and of genres. Reading in this sense can be in active relation to multiple “moments” of very different temporal scale, more or less tied to reading’s date (e.g., “Romanticism,” “the moment of Occupy,” “the post-critical moment”): think, for example, of Eve Sedgwick’s reflection in Tendencies on the time-specific “now”—the “moment of queer,” for which she takes the 1992 New York City gay pride parade as emblematic—and her affirmation of “queer” as a “continuing moment” and “immemorial current” (Sedgwick xi-xii). [13] Here, instead of worrying about drawing or erasing boundaries between the work and its historical context, or between the domains of knowledge claimed by one discipline or another, what’s at issue are the unstable, contingent yet productive borders delimiting the moment of reading, and the subjectivity at work there, from whatever outside. This boundary is what the poet Lyn Hejinian fruitfully names “a dilemma:” “not an edge but a conjunction,” “a border under pressure of doubt” (339-340).

Collectively, these approaches contribute to a criticism that apprehends the “now” of the reading it performs—and its relation to a “moment” it might inhabit, continue, dissent from or help create—not as something already known or fully knowable, but as itself a moving object of analysis continually to be rethought. They cast the disciplinary narratives we spin as crucially open to change.

Works Cited

Bell, David F. “A moratorium on suspicion?” PMLA 117:3 (May 2002) 487-90.

Best, Stephen and Sharon Marcus. “Surface Reading: An Introduction.” Representations 108:1 (2009) 1-21.

Buurma, Rachel Sagner and Laura Heffernan. “The Common Reader and the Archival Classroom: Disciplinary History for the Twenty-first Century.” New Literary History 43 (2012) 113-135.

Chew, Dalglish. “We Have Never Been Critical.” We, Reading, Now. Colloquy curated by Dalglish Chew and Julie Orlemanski. Arcade. http://arcade.stanford.edu/colloquies/we-reading-now

Dale, Leigh, Jennifer McDonnell, and Marshall Brown, eds. Lessons from the Past: The History of Academic English. MLQ 75:2 (2014).

Daston, Lorraine. “Whither Critical Inquiry?” 30:2 (Winter 2004) 361-364.

Felski, Rita. “After Suspicion.” Profession (2009) 28-35.

––––– . “Context Stinks!” New Literary History 42:4 (2011) 573-591.

Gallop, Jane. The Deaths of the Author: Reading and Writing in Time. Durham and London: Duke UP, 2011.

––––– . “The Historicization of Literary Studies and the Fate of Close Reading.” Profession (2007) 181-186.

Goode, Mike. “Blakespotting.” PMLA 121:3 (May 2006) 769-786.

Goodlad, Lauren M. E. The Geopolitical Aesthetic: Realism, Sovereignty, and Transnational Experience. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015.

Hejinian, Lyn. The Language of Inquiry . Berkeley: U of California Press, 2000.

Johnson, Barbara. The Feminist Difference: Literature, Psychoanalysis, Race, Gender. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1998.

Kamuf, Peggy. The Division of Literature: Or The University in Deconstruction. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1997.

Latour, Bruno. “Why Has Critique Run Out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry 30 (Winter 2004) 225-248.

Lesjak, Carolyn. “Reading Dialectically.” Criticism 55:2 (Spring 2013) 233-277.

Levine, Caroline. “Strategic Formalism: Toward a New Method in Cultural Studies.” Victorian Studies 48: 4 (Summer 2006) 625-657.

Loesberg, Jonathan. “Cultural Studies, Victorian Studies, and Formalism.” Victorian Literature and Culture (1999) 537-544.

Lynch, Deidre. Loving Literature: A Cultural History . Chicago: U of Chicago P, 2015.

Mitchell, W. J. T. “The Commitment to Form; Or, Still Crazy after All These Years.” PMLA 118:2 (2003) 321-5.

Poovey, Mary. “The Twenty-First-Century University and the Market: What Price Economic Viability?” differences 12:1 (Spring 2001) 1-16.

––––– . “Beyond the Current Impasse in Literary Studies.” American Literary History 11 (1999): 355-77.

Price, Leah. How to Do Things With Books in Victorian Britain . Princeton: Princeton UP, 2012.

Robson, Catherine. Heart Beats: Everyday Life and the Memorized Poem. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2012.

Rooney, Ellen. “Live Free or Describe: The Reading Effect and the Persistence of Form.” differences 21:3 (2010) 112-139.

Ruth, Jennifer. Novel Professions: Interested Disinterest and the Making of the Professional in the Victorian Novel. Columbus, OH: Ohio State UP, 2006.

Scalapino, Leslie. “Disbelief.” Jacket 40 (2010). http://jacketmagazine.com/40/scalapino-essay.shtml

Sedgwick, Eve Kosofsky. Tendencies. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 1993.

Spivak, Gayatri Chakravorty. A Critique of Postcolonial Reason: Toward a History of the Vanishing Present. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1999.

V21 Collective. Manifesto of the V21 Collective: Ten Theses. V21collective.org. 2015.

Weed, Elizabeth. “The Way We Read Now.” History of the Present 2:1 (Spring 2012) 95-106.

Williams, Jeffrey. “The New Modesty in Literary Criticism.” Chronicle of Higher Education. Jan. 5, 2015.

[1] For responses to Best and Marcus, see Goodlad, Lesjak, Rooney and Weed.

[2] That Best and Marcus have psychoanalysis and Marxism stand in this way for a whole range of critical traditions suggests the real target is the notion of an unconscious, political or otherwise. Deconstruction disappears in Best and Marcus’s account perhaps in part because it is most directly incompatible with their story about criticism’s privileging of hidden depths over surfaces (it deconstructs that opposition) and because the deconstructive ethics of attention, especially as exemplified in the later Derrida, seems like a forerunner of “post-critical” reading, rather than an example of a hermeneutics of suspicion. Lauren Goodlad makes a parallel point about the continuity between poststructuralism and “the ethical responsibility to attend to the object of one’s critique” emphasized in “surface reading” and allied approaches (273).

[3] You can claim that the critical attitude you want to critique is obsolete, or you can critique the way the approach you want to advance has been deemed obsolete. In a 2003 PMLA essay, W.J.T. Mitchell playfully, and cleverly, casts his ability to believe that form still matters despite its evident “historical obsolescence” as an example of Adornian (political) “commitment” (322). Here is an example of the way claims that form or formalists are “obsolete” have accompanied the high visibility of “form” as a catch-word: by 2009, for Best and Marcus, it’s a supposedly anti-formalist critique that’s obsolete. In Jane Gallop’s 2007 Profession article “The Historicization of Literary Studies and the Fate of Close Reading,” it is the alleged dominance of a highly routinized historicism that threatens close reading (held up as a kind of disciplinary constant) with obsolescence.

[4] Dalglish Chew, in his essay for this colloquy, similarly observes that “efforts to invent new methods of reading tend to characterize their originality by reorganizing the recent history of literary criticism according to discontinuous paradigms” (Chew).

[5] Goodlad points out the strangeness of the way both Best and Marcus and Rita Felski, in “Suspicious Minds,” tie what they claim is a still-persistent critical mentality to texts from the 80s. The effect in each case is to emphasize the way they see criticism as stuck in dated routines, running glosses on the same master scripts, but as Goodlad notes, this also suggests some distance between the target of their argument and the present critical landscape (269-70).

[6] I recognize that the move I’m making here, from the mythic to the everyday and the straightforward to the messy, repeats a gesture common to much work associated with the “post-critical” (though it is also here, as it is there, a move with obvious Marxist and poststructuralist pedigree). For this characterization of the “post-critical” with an emphasis on temporal messiness, see Rita Felski’s “Context Stinks!”

[7] See also the essays in the 2014 special issue of MLQ, Lessons from the Past: The History of Academic English.

[8] On these structural issues and their reflection in talk about the discipline, see Poovey, “Twenty-first” and “Beyond,” and the exceptionally lucid discussion in Ruth 114-121.

[9] Accounts of the supposed failure of critique tend to minimize and exaggerate its effect at the same time: “criticism was deluded to think it made anything happen,” say the critics of critique, “and plus, now look at what critique’s done to the discipline!” There are two common types of this argument, easy to find on newspaper editorial pages: one that postmodern or poststructuralist suspicion and/or relativism have infected the general public with a worrying willingness to ignore fact and science, because there’s no such thing anymore as truth; another, that the rise of theory and of “suspicious” reading correlates in some causal way with declines in enrollment. Bruno Latour makes a striking version of the former claim (“of course conspiracy theories are an absurd deformation of our own arguments, but….these are own weapons nonetheless”[230]). David Bell makes a very explicit, if entirely anecdotal and unpersuasive, version of the latter claim.

[10] Jonathan Loesberg’s 1999 essay uses the metaphor of disciplinary “enclosure” explicitly in arguing that a period of disciplinary expansion needs to be followed by a “voluntary askesis” exercised through a return to “aesthetic formalism” (541). So, there is an analogy drawn between the desired disciplinary coherence and the apparent coherence of the form imagined as its object (i.e., form as enclosure). Lesjak summarizes the trend I am discussing, pointing to methodological proposals such as Caroline Levine’s “strategic formalism” as examples: “The overarching message seems to be: scale back, pare down, small aims met are better than grand ones unrealized, reclaim our disciplinary territory and hold on to it” (237).

[11] Many different scholars, working in very different modes, are doing exciting research in this area, including, to take just a few examples, Catherine Robson, Mike Goode, and Leah Price.

[12] I’m thinking here most directly of Eve Sedgwick’s reflection on the scene of reading in these terms, for example in “Queer and Now” from Tendencies , and the line of work in queer studies influenced by Sedgwick. Rita Felski has thought through the potential of a new phenomenology of reading in productive and provocative ways. In a different tradition but in interestingly overlapping ways, a phenomenology of reading is also central to Hejinian’s poetics.

[13] Gallop’s Deaths of the Author thoughtfully discusses Sedgwick’s thinking about the “moment” of reading and writing in relation to Spivak’s.

Join the colloquy


We, Reading, Now

Dalglish Chew

Julie Orlemanski


"We, Reading, Now" invites participants to rethink the status of critique in literary studies. We seek to explore three key areas of concern—collectivity, method, and temporality—raised by the contentious phrase "post-critical interpretation" and summarized in our title "We, Reading, Now." Who constitutes the "we" invoked in contemporary accounts of the ways we read? What do such practices of reading entail? How do we define, periodize, and consider the historicity of this "now" in which we read?

In posing these questions, the Colloquy enters into a web of ongoing debates about reading and the scholarly activities carried out under labels like critique, criticism, the humanities, the liberal arts, hermeneutics, interpretation, and literary and cultural study. The Colloquy’s sustained interest in temporality derives from the fact that the authors of its core essays were all graduate students or junior faculty members at the time of writing. As scholars who trained  after  the heyday of theory, the burn of the culture wars, and the torque of the linguistic turn, these participants have felt called upon to reconstruct the field’s recent past to make sense of the current disciplinary surround. The importance of collectivity for "We, Reading, Now" emerged from similar grounds: despite a wide range of ideas, we shared a sense of generational recognition. What kind of "we,"what kind of new and contingent collective—this Colloquy seeks to ask—can be gathered together in the place marked out by the pronoun?

"We, Reading, Now" grows out of a  New Literary History  workshop on "Post-Critical Interpretation" held at the University of Virginia in the fall of 2014. Prompted by a shared desire to continue conversations begun in the workshop, its participants have convened this Colloquy. We hope to inspire and collect new accounts of reading practices, accounts that reflect the links between the history of literary study and the ways in which we understand, teach, and talk about literature in the present. As the initial contributions attest, efforts to take stock of critique and to imagine what might succeed it result in divergent narratives, various articulations of relevance, and contrasting intellectual histories. What connects them is the shared historical moment of their conception ( now ), their interest in whom reading gathers together ( we ), and their common engagement with how literature is studied ( read ) during the "turn away from the linguistic turn," the "crisis in the humanities," the moment of "post-critical interpretation," or the perceived exhaustion of the "hermeneutics of suspicion."

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stanford historical moment essay

how did you guys find the topic for your historical moment essay? or alternatively, what are you guys writing about? nothing is coming to mind and im trying to be uNiqUe so i don’t want to just select something from top 100 historical moments or smth like that. i came up w ideas for all other essays except this one amcbwjvnsifne


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  23. stanford historical moment essay : r/ApplyingToCollege

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