How to Write the Stanford Roommate Question & Other Supplemental Essays 2020-2021 (Examples Included!)

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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.

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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