How to Write the Stanford Roommate Question & Other Supplemental Essays

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Stanford University is notoriously difficult to get into. In fact, it’s the most selective school 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 the Stanford Supplement. The supplement consists of seven questions and three “short essays” with a limit of 100-250 words.

This supplement is found in the Stanford 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.

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 most importantly, 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.

Extracurricular Activities Essay

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

As you answer these questions, one rule of thumb is to avoid repetition.

Before you get started, glance over the rest of your application, and take a look at the other questions included in the supplement. What’s an activity or work experience that won’t be featured anywhere else?

Another goal as you answer these questions should be to personalize your writing as much as possible. Try to think of an activity or work experience you have about which other students might not be able to write.

And if you do write about a more common experience or organization, think about 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.

  • Why is this activity or experience so meaningful to you? (Make sure you choose an activity that you’ve spent considerable time and energy on.)
  • How has it impacted you 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?

For instance, you could write about your summer as a lifeguard and what it taught you about responsibility and leadership. Even better, you could focus on one particular day or moment you had as a lifeguard and how it impacted you.

Whatever you choose, make sure you choose an activity that has had an impact on your growth and personal development. Even better, select an activity that resonates with the narrative of your application:

  • If you’re someone who loves robots and leading a team, perhaps you served as design head of your FRC team.
  • Do you love politics and want to major in political science? Discuss the opportunity you canvassed for a local politician or solicited signatures for a petition.

You don’t have many words, so focus on the most meaningful and memorable details.  

Stanford Short Answer: Society’s Most Significant Challenge

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)

This question gives you a chance to let admissions officers know what you’re passionate about.

  • Climate change?
  • Poverty and homelessness?
  • Gender equality?
  • Bullying?

Think of an issue that genuinely bothers you and that you would like to change. If possible, present a solution or discuss how you’ve explored this issue on your own time (watched documentaries, read books, viewed TED Talks on the subject, etc.).

To give you an idea, the two short paragraphs above totaled 65 words. So 50 words is really not much.

You don’t have to worry about writing a formal introduction or doing anything fancy. Introduce the challenge society faces and why it’s so important to you.

If you have words left, briefly offer a solution too! Regardless, get to the point quickly. 

Note: Try to avoid anything too controversial. You never know who will be reading your application and what they believe!

Stanford Short Answer: Your Last Two Summers

How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)

This question also has a tight word limit, so you might find yourself needing to edit out bits and pieces of your summer. If you can’t include everything, focus on information that doesn’t appear anywhere else in the application.

You don’t have to try too hard to impress admissions officers. Answer the question honestly.

  • How did you spend your summer?
  • Did you babysit your siblings?
  • Go on a family road trip?
  • Read some good books?
  • Brush up on your artwork or playing an instrument?

Again, skip the introduction and focus on the most important details.

This is also a good chance to mention a hardship or difficulty you faced. Don’t outright mention that you endured hardship, but do explain a circumstance that took a significant commitment during your summers.

This can include:

  • Taking care of a sick or disabled relative
  • Working to support your single-parent household
  • Moving from one home to another because of financial difficulty

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

Stanford Short Answer: Historical Moment

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)

For this question, try to avoid a topic that you think many other students will address. MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech, for instance, or the signing of the Declaration of Independence, are likely to be popular topics.

Unless you have a (brief) 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.

You don’t have much space, but try to provide some personal details or insight into who you are as you answer the question.

This means that as you write the question, ask yourself why you chose it and what significance it has to you.

Stanford Short Answer: Five Words

What five words best describe you? (10 word limit)

For this question, it’s a good idea to get some feedback from friends and family members. What words do they think best describe you?

Ask yourself the same question. What qualities about yourself make you most proud?

  • Try not to include extremely common choices like “caring” or “kindness.”
  • Is there another way to say the same thing? How about “empathetic” or “generous?”
  • Don’t be afraid to get creative with your word choices.

Don’t try too hard. Be forthcoming. Give answers that are true to your personality and find a better word to explain the same thought.

Stanford Short Answer: Read, Listen, Watch

When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 word limit)

You can approach this topic in a couple of different ways.

  1. Mention a variety of books, songs/artists, and television shows/movies that interest you.
  2. Choose a favorite book, movie, TV show, or song and explain its significance to you.

The second option may give you the best opportunity to elaborate on your answer and reflect on what this selection says about you as an individual.

  • Is there a documentary, book, or movie that has inspired your career choice?
  • Have you learned a valuable life lesson from a particular character?
  • What work of art gives you comfort in times of darkness?
  • Is there a book or movie that has helped shape your character for the better?

Stanford Short Answer: Experiencing Stanford

Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 word limit)

Essentially, this question is asking you why you chose Stanford—but again, you have a very limited number of words for your response.

Be as specific as possible here. Never write about the following:

  • Stanford’s campus or Northern California scenery (NorCal is beautiful, yes, but this topic gives us no insight into how you plan to utilize Stanford resources)
  • Sports teams (cliche)
  • Stanford’s history and reputation (admissions officers already know about this)

Think about these options before you write your essays. You will fare much better if you connect Stanford to your vision for college:

  • Is there a specific tradition or club you want to participate in?
  • A class you want to take, or a professor with whom you would love to work?
  • What specific resources that Stanford offers will you take advantage of?

Your answer to this question should also tell admissions officers something about your interests, talents, and passions. Your choice here should reinforce and add to your college application narrative. 

Stanford Short Answer: Extra Hour

Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50 word limit)

If you’re applying to Stanford, you’re obviously a motivated and, likely, busy individual. If you could have one extra hour of free time in the day, what would you do with it?

You might want to talk about sleeping or hanging out with your friends, but — as always — try to pick something that’s more specific to you.

Maybe you’d like an extra hour to practice your favorite instrument, work on a short story you’re writing, practice a foreign language, or go bird watching with your dad.

Try to think of a hobby or interest you have that not many others share, or that reveals a lot of information about your unique personality. It doesn’t have to be anything super impressive, it just needs to help admissions officers get to know you.

Stanford Short Essay: Idea or Experience

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 the first of the supplement’s three short “essays.”

You have a few more words here, but not enough to craft an entire formal essay, complete with an introduction and conclusion. You still need to get right to the point.

Stanford is looking for students who are hungry for knowledge, self-motivated, and eager to actively participate in classroom and campus life.

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 and watching videos about?
  • Have you had an intellectual experience that you just can’t stop thinking about?

Describe the experience or idea, then explain what about this experience or idea is so exciting to you.

Indicate that you spend some of your own time exploring this topic, and that you have a genuine desire to learn more. Make sure that the tone of this essay is enthusiastic.

Stanford Short Essay: Roommate 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 — know you better. (100 to 250 words)

The tone here should be a bit friendlier and more casual.

You want to maintain perfect grammar and spelling, and continue avoiding the use of slang or emojis.

But you can inject some humor and some fun information about your personality and living habits (that wouldn’t make sense anywhere else in the application).

Remember that you’re supposed to be addressing a fellow student, not an admissions officer.

Have fun with this topic, and pretend you really are writing to your future roommate.

  • What should he or she know about you?
  • Are you a top-notch chef who’s going to keep both of you well-fed?
  • Are you a lover of the outdoors who will be careful not to track in dirt?
  • Do you love building contraptions that increase the efficiency of everyday errands?

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. Try to go offbeat here – this is the perfect chance to add to your application without worrying about narrative. 

Stanford Short Essay: What’s Meaningful to You?

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

This is a very broad question. But since it comes at the end of your application, you’ll probably have just a limited number of topics from which to choose. What’s something you care about that you haven’t gotten a chance to mention yet?

You can approach this from many different angles.

  • Talk about a person, object, tradition, religion or religious ceremony, experience, concept, memory, etc.

The goal is to tell admissions officers something they don’t already know. If you’ve done any brainstorm exercises, look back through them to pinpoint something you haven’t talked about yet.

Be sure to clearly explain why this is meaningful. How has it impacted your life and changed or shaped you as an individual?

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

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.

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!

And if you’re interested in gaining an edge in college admissions essay writing, check out our college essay boot camp.