How to Write Stanford's Essays (with Real 2023 Essay Examples)
AdmitYogi, Stanford MBA & MA in Education
16 min read
Stanford University is one of the most prestigious universities in the world and their admissions process is highly competitive. Writing compelling supplemental essays that stand out from other applicants is key to getting accepted into this top-tier school. However, approaching these essays does not have to be an intimidating endeavor! With some preparation and guidance, you can write powerful and persuasive supplemental essays that will help your application shine among the thousands of other applicants vying for a spot at Stanford University. In this article, we'll look at the supplemental essay prompts for Stanford University and provide an in-depth analysis of how to approach them. We'll also examine real-world examples of successful essays written by past applicants to give you a better understanding of what makes a great supplemental essay. By the end, you'll have all the tools needed to create powerful and persuasive supplemental essays that will make your application stand out from other applicants vying for admission into one of the most prestigious universities in the world. So let's get started!
Stanford's Essay Prompts
Stanford applicants will have to write eight essays in total. This includes writing three longer-form essays (with a 250-word maximum count) and answering five short answer questions (with a 50-word maximum count). Stanford's supplemental essay prompts include the following:
- 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.
- 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.
- Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why.
- What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?
- How did you spend your last two summers?
- What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?
- Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family.
- Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford.
Writing Stanford's Essays
Approaching Stanford's Intellectual Vitality Essay
"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."
When approaching Stanford's 250-word essay prompt about an "idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning," it is important for students to take some time to reflect on what truly excites them. Asking yourself questions such as “What topics engage me the most?”, “What have I enjoyed learning recently?”, and “What interests motivate me to take action or dive deeper into a topic?” can help you identify what ideas or experiences make you truly passionate about learning.
Once you have identified at least one idea or experience with which you are passionate, brainstorming specific examples of times when this passion has been demonstrated can be helpful in creating a stronger and more compelling essay. This could include recalling particular moments in school when the topic was discussed, describing challenges that were overcome during research related to the topic, or even sharing reflections on how this idea has impacted your life outside of school.
In addition, it is important to consider ways in which your passions may connect with others, demonstrating how your passions may create new opportunities for collaboration and growth among students at Stanford. For example, if you are passionate about environmental studies and sustainability initiatives, discussing ways in which Stanford could become a more sustainable campus could highlight both your enthusiasm for learning and potential contributions to the overall community.
By taking the time to reflect on moments where their passions have been demonstrated and thinking creatively about potential connections between these passions and Stanford's goals and values, students can effectively craft powerful supplemental essays that demonstrate their genuine excitement for learning.
Here's a great example from Hannah, a Stanford student who was also accepted to UPenn, Johns Hopkins, Northwestern, and many other great schools! You can read all of Hannah's essays and activities here.
Whenever I need an extra boost while studying, I listen to iconic film soundtracks. Not only are they beautiful artistically, but the carefully-selected notes and motifs often unknowingly alter your emotions, giving me a subconscious spike in motivation.
I watched Titanic four times in three days because I was entranced by the repetition of musical themes in critical moments. Similarly, I printed out pictures of certain shots in Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby because the color schemes were aesthetically pleasing while also matching up with the characters’ emotions.
As I’ve been exposed to more music and film, I’ve learned how heavily artists can rely on psychology. Not only can certain colors or musical motifs foreshadow events, but they can complete some of the most iconic shots in cinema.
I plan on further exploring this intersection of science and art on Stanford’s campus. As a psychology major, I will study the intricacies of the human brain and its effects on behavior; on the other hand, I can take advantage of the rich creative culture on campus by participating in the Stanford Storytelling Project. By pursuing both, I can learn how masters of cinema capture audiences’ attention and deliver a beautiful, impactful story.
Tackling Stanford's Roommate Essay
"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."
To ace the Stanford roommate essay, it's important to focus on personal and intimate details about yourself. The essay is an opportunity to reveal something unique, quirky, and memorable about yourself to your future roommate. As you write, think about what sets you apart from others - what makes you special and interesting. Here are some specific tips for approaching the Stanford roommate essay:
- Highlight your unique quirks: The admissions committee is looking for something that sets you apart from other applicants. Consider what makes you different and let those quirks shine through in your essay. For example, maybe you have an obsession with collecting old maps or you're a huge fan of a lesser-known band.
- Think about your ideal roommate: As you write the essay, think about the kind of roommate you want. What qualities would you look for in a roommate? Reflect on those qualities and think about how you embody them yourself.
- Avoid controversy: While it's important to be authentic in your essay, it's also important to avoid controversial topics or anything that might be offensive to others. Stick to lighthearted, positive aspects of your personality and interests.
- Use imagery and senses: To make your essay stand out, use vivid imagery and sensory details. Engage the reader's senses by describing your favorite flavors, sights, sounds, and smells.
We have some specific tips on approaching Stanford's roommate essay here. In the meantime, read through one of our favorite Stanford roommate essay examples from Atman, a Stanford student who is now studying biology and design! You can read Atman's entire application here.
Don’t mind the morning clutter! I’ll be swapping out jewelry. My daily earring choices are contingent on anything from the outfit to the weather—today, I’ve got on a dangly butterfly and a silver key, but I may shift to some big resin sunflowers to protest this Minnesota cold.
Unfortunately, my beautiful smile won’t greet you some mornings as I’ll be starting bright and early in the lab. If I feel like leaving the excitement, we’ll go rate bubble teas from local shops (my spreadsheet would benefit from more Californian influence).
If you’re the type of person who “doesn’t really listen to music,” that will definitely change. Our room will be playing a variety of sounds 24/7—I’m talking tunes from Tyler the Creator to Thundercat, Michael Buble to Baby Keem. You’ll find me making my viral TikToks dissecting Frank Ocean songs—share your music taste with me and maybe I’ll remember you when I’m famous!
I’ll be passively beatboxing as we study, arbitrarily prompting any stranger to freestyle over my bizarre, yet curiously potent beats. Prepare yourself: You’ve arrived at Stanford’s “Bars 101” class.
You play Ping-Pong? Check again. Against more ill-advised challengers, I’ll replace my paddle with objects around me—a stray shoe, my hospital ID, my wallet, or even your wallet (you’ll grumble now, but true mastery requires complete material detachment). This habit had a shamefully large impact on my decision to buy a larger phone, so meet me at the tables!
How to Write Stanford's "Something Meaningful Essay"
"Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why."
When writing the "Something Meaningful Essay" for Stanford University, it's crucial to choose a topic that encompasses your personal values and beliefs. Your essay should connect with the reader emotionally and relay how an experience or moment has influenced your character. In order to demonstrate your perspective on life and the world around us, you will want to creatively depict the significance of the moment or experience you have chosen. Here are some specific tips to help you approach the "Something Meaningful Essay" confidently:
- Reflect on your values: The "Something Meaningful Essay" is an opportunity to share something that is important to you. Start by reflecting on your values and beliefs. Consider what matters most to you and how those values have shaped your life.
- Choose a specific moment or experience: Once you've identified your values, think about a specific moment or experience that embodies those values. For example, maybe you volunteered at a homeless shelter and learned the importance of compassion and empathy.
- Write with emotion: The admissions committee wants to see that you care deeply about your subject. Write with emotion and use descriptive language to bring your story to life. Don't be afraid to include dialogue or sensory details if they add to the story.
- Connect to the bigger picture: While your essay should focus on a specific moment or experience, it should also connect to a larger theme. Think about how your experience relates to the world around you. What broader implications does it have?
For inspiration and guidance, read through this beautiful Stanford "something meaningful" essay example below from Apollo. Apollo was accepted to Stanford, Harvard, and Princeton! You can read every single one of his college applications here.
I pull out the piano bench, lift the fallboard, and prop up my music. Today, I'm playing Liszt's "Mazeppa." It's one of the toughest pieces ever written for the piano, but to master it, there’s only one thing I need: the metronome.
First, 48 beats per minute, an easy largo.
I hated practicing. Simultaneously, I was a perfectionist. Those two traits clashed throughout my early piano years, contributing to a "limbo" period full of botched performances. Frustrated by my lack of progress, my teacher began imposing slow metronome practice. Although I was stubborn at first, I gradually learned to steady myself. "48" taught me patience, and encouraged me to seek deeper levels of ability.
Now, 112, a striding allegretto.
When I began competing seriously, I discovered a new enemy: performance anxiety. In practice, I came back to the metronome, setting a moderate tempo where I could be rock-solid. Through "112", I was able to build my confidence.
192, a barrelling presto.
My fingers fly. It’s a speed I once viewed as beyond my capability, but it now feels completely natural. "192" was when practice transformed into performance, freeing me to explore new worlds of artistic growth.
0. In high school, I learned how damaging it is to get caught up in a perpetual cycle of work; by taking breaks, I could open up valuable time to reflect on myself. As the foundation of my practice, "0" taught me balance.
I click the metronome off. Practice is done for the day.
Answering Stanford's Short Answer Questions:
Approaching Stanford's "Significant Challenge" Question
"What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?"
To approach this Stanford essay prompt, consider a challenge that you are passionate about. Be specific in identifying the issue and its impact. Then, focus on developing a unique perspective on the challenge and propose potential solutions. Remember, Stanford values diversity of thought, so be sure to express your individuality in your response. Here's a great example of an amazing Stanford significant challenge essay from Ryan, who got into Stanford, Princeton, Columbia, and Brown. You can read all of Ryan's college applications here.
Through many forms of corruption, the ever-increasing wealth and power of the ultra-rich is seeping its way into our governments, slowly redefining who those in power aim to serve. With no control left in the hands of the people, I worry tyrannical, systematic exploitation is only a few "votes" away.
Answering Stanford's Last Two Summers Prompt
"How did you spend your last two summers?"
To approach Stanford's essay prompt "How did you spend your last two summers?" be specific and focus on highlighting your passions, interests, and how you spent your time productively. Did you volunteer or partake in any internships related to your career aspirations? Did you travel to a new place and discover a new culture? Did you learn a new skill or participate in a program that challenged you? Be sure to explain why these experiences were meaningful to you and how it has contributed to your personal growth. Showcasing your unique experiences and interests can make you stand out in your application. So, be bold, creative, and honest. The example below comes from Emma. You can read all of Emma's successful college applications, including her Stanford application, here.
Taking Fiction Writing at Stanford Summer Session, volunteering for the Aspire Education Project, being mentored by fiction author Deborah Davis, assembling masks for essential workers with my nana. Immersing myself in Northwestern’s Medill program, working as a day-camp counselor, teaching sewing at a children’s fashion camp, crafting inventive short stories.
How to Write Stanford's "Historical Moment" Essay
"What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?"
To approach Stanford's essay prompt "What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed?" choose a specific moment or event that genuinely interests you. Research the moment or event and provide context on its historical significance. Share why you wish to witness it – what do you hope to learn from that experience? Would it enrich your life experiences or understanding of the world around you? Explain how this moment or event could help you shape your personal and academic path in Stanford. Lastly, showcase your intellectual curiosity and passion to learn by highlighting the specific details you found most fascinating. For more information about writing this essay, read our article here! Below, we've provided an excellent example of Stanford's historical moment essay from Andrew, who got into incredible schools like Stanford and Columbia. You can read his complete set of college applications here.
The broken concrete of the Berlin Wall, encapsulated by Leonard Bernstein’s An die Freude on Christmas Day 1989, still resonates as a symbol of collective self-determination. I am inspired by the power of music to unite people, especially as we seek strength and reassurance to overcome our own challenges today.
Approaching Stanford's Extracurricular Prompt
"Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family."
To approach Stanford's essay prompt "Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family", choose a specific experience that highlights your character. Start by briefly describing your role or responsibilities, then focus on specific instances or achievements that demonstrate leadership, teamwork, or personal growth. Be sure to highlight how this experience has influenced you and contributed to your personal growth. Use concrete examples and quantify your impact, if possible. Remember, the goal is to showcase your unique experiences, skills, and character traits to the admissions committee. This awesome example comes from a Stanford premed student, Jude. You can read all of their applications here!
Heading the lighting department for my school’s theater company is the most difficult and rewarding position I have ever undertaken. Staying at school into the night, I spend hours hanging lights from scaffolding 50 feet in the air and methodically designing each and every lighting cue to tell a story.
How to Approach Stanford's "Looking Forward to Experiencing" Essay
"Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford."
To approach Stanford's essay prompt "Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford", be specific and personal in your response. This question is an opportunity to showcase your individuality, so choose something that genuinely excites you and aligns with your interests and passions. You might describe events, courses, clubs, or traditions at Stanford that you are eager to participate in. Focus on how this experience will impact your academic and personal growth, and how it will help you achieve your goals. Research the specific opportunities at Stanford and show that you have a genuine interest and connection to the university. The incredible example below comes from Thu, who got into Stanford, Yale, and Brown, and also won over $2.5 million in scholarships! You can read about his incredible essays and accomplishments here.
After watching countless videos about it on Youtube, I’ve become obsessed with it. I can clearly picture it in my mind: the bright California sun, the Spanish colonial architecture, and their grief-stricken faces. Rodin’s Burghers of Calais replicated in Memorial Court. It’s my favorite artwork and coincidentally at Stanford.
Reading example essays is an invaluable tool for students when crafting their own college application essays. Remember, the goal is not to copy the examples, but rather to learn from them and apply those lessons to your own unique experiences and perspective. If you want to read more excellent essay examples for Stanford, visit our massive essay database for a wealth of inspiration and guidance.
Writing essays for Stanford University requires more than just good writing skills; it requires ingenuity, creativity, and authenticity. You have the opportunity to showcase your unique experiences, perspective, and personality to the admissions committee. The key is to approach each essay prompt strategically, focus on specific experiences that demonstrate your character and potential, and edit and revise your work thoroughly. Remember that Stanford values diversity of thought, so don't be afraid to express your individuality in your responses. By following these tips, you can craft essays that make you stand out as a candidate and capture the attention of the admissions committee.
Read the essays, activities, and awards that got them in. Read one for free!
Stanford (+12 colleges)
Princeton (+35 colleges)
Stanford (+20 colleges)
How to Write Harvard's Optional Essay
When it comes to college applications, Harvard is one of the most prestigious schools in the country. If you're hoping to get into this Ivy League institution, you'll want to complete its optional supplemental essay prompt, which asks: Your intellectual life may extend beyond the academic requirements of your particular school. Please use the space below to list additional intellectual activities that you have not mentioned or detailed elsewhere in your application. These could include, but are not limited to, supervised or self-directed projects not done as school work, training experiences, online courses not run by your school, or summer academic or research programs not described elsewhere. In this article, we will provide some tips on how to approach this prompt and write an essay that will impress the Harvard admissions office.
How to Write Harvard's Essays (with Real 2023 Harvard Essay Examples)
Harvard is among the world's most storied institutions, and writing their essays can be a challenging task! In this article, we discuss Harvard's essay prompts and how to approach them, providing real examples along the way!