Stanford University College Essay Prompt #2

Today, I'm offering up advice for our 30th and final college of "30 Colleges, 30 Collegewise Guides to Getting In."  And I want to end strong.  I want to go out with some flair.   A little verve, if you will.  So let me ask you this.

Have you ever seen the Stanford band perform? 

If you have, you remember them.  It's hard to forget a band that sometimes performs with their collective pants down.  I wouldn't go as far as to suggest that they are representative of the entire student body at Stanford University, but they are an extreme example of something on which Stanford prides itself–it's a school filled with a lot of really smart people who are anything but boring.  They've got some panache.

Stanford's supplement to the Common Application is evidence of this.  You've got the opportunity to talk about what you find intellectually exciting.  That's for your smart side. But you've also got the chance to be playful and have a little fun.  That's where your personality comes in.  Here are some tips to help you do both.

Profile Questions

Please respond to the following questions so we can get to know you better. Respond in two lines or less, and do not feel compelled to answer using complete sentences.

The more you agonize over what's going to sound good, the more likely you are to write something that sounds like you're trying too hard, something that sounds the same as everybody else.  And that's not going to get you anywhere in an applicant pool like Stanford sees.

Here's an example of an applicant who's trying too hard:

Name your favorite books, authors, films, and/or musical artists.

Brave New World, Tale of Two Cities, Shakespeare, the dictionary, The Godfather

What newspapers, magazines, and/or websites do you enjoy?

The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Newsweek, various literary magazines,

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

Ending world hunger

How did you spend your last two summers?

I enrolled in a calculus course at my local community college and volunteered for over 150 hours at my local hospital. 

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

The signing of the Declaration of Independence

What five words best describe you?

Diligent, determined, focused, compassionate, trustworthy

I need to be clear here.  There is nothing inherently wrong with these answers.  But he doesn't have one single example of anything from his life that isn't educational and serious.  Do you know anyone who's like that about everything?  These answers have no personality at all.  No panache.  

What if this same applicant loosened up just a little bit and told the truth.  Notice how not all the responses change, but now he just seems more likeable and real.

Name your favorite books, authors, films, and/or musical artists.

Brave New World, Freakonomics, Superbad, Jay-Z, the occasional country music artist, and I've been known to read the dictionary from time to time. 

What newspapers, magazines, and/or websites do you enjoy?

New York Times, Newsweek, Facebook,,

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

Closing the widening gap between those with money and those who are impoverished.

How did you spend your last two summers?

Took calculus 2C at my local community college, volunteered at the local hospital, worked at In-N-Out Burger, tanned/burned, read while tanning/burning

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

The Beatles' last concert on the rooftop of Abby Road

What five words best describe you?

Pale, quirky, mathematical, self-effacing, sarcastic

Same applicant–and many of the same responses.  But doesn't he just seem more interesting and likeable now?  These responses aren't inherently better (or worse) than those in the first example.  But the fact that they just seem more honest makes this kid more likeable. 

Here's a good way to think about this.  For every answer you list that's less than 100% truthful, or anything you list that is technically true but not as true as something else that you're hesitant to list for fear it won't be as impressive, pretend that Stanford is going deduct 40 points from your SAT score (the horror!). 

Don't overthink these.  Just be yourself and tell the truth.

Short essays

Here are the directions for the short-answers, followed by some tips for each. 

In addition to your Common Application essay, please respond to the following three questions. Your responses must be at least 250 words but should not exceed the space provided.

Stanford students are widely known to possess a sense of intellectual vitality. Tell us about an idea or an experience you have had that you find intellectually engaging.

I'm going to be honest and tell you something that might not seem that nice; this question exposes the kids who don't have the intellectual depth to really succeed and be happy at a place like Stanford.  None of the students we've ever worked with who got into Stanford struggled with this question.  They didn't look at us and ask, "What should I say?"  They had an immediate answer about something that genuinely interested them, something that showed their intellectual curiosity and love of learning.  They didn't write, "I like math because there's always a right answer" or "history is so interesting, which is why I watch the History Channel."  I know that seems snarky to put it that way, but it's the truth. 

The truth is that every kid with perfect grades and test scores is obviously smart, but not all of them are necessarily intellectuals.  Intellectuals enjoy learning.  They're inherently curious.  They read, discuss and learn on their own, without concern for how or if those activities will help them get into a selective college.  They're motivated more by their curiosity and interest in learning, not by a sense of competition.  Those insatiable learners are what Stanford's looking for here.

So for this prompt, think about a subject that fascinates you, something you enjoy wrapping your mind around, something for which you'd be excited to meet and talk with other students who share this interest.  It doesn't have to be purely academic (like math or science).  It could be the engineering behind electric cars, or the newest technology used in electric guitars, or what you learned working on computers at your part time job, or how much more interesting your books in AP English were when you and your friends started a weekend book club to study together.  The common theme needs to be one of intellectual curiosity, followed by the desire and effort to satisfy it.  

Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. What would you want your future roommate to know about you? Tell us something about you that will help your future roommate — and us — know you better.

Honesty wins here.  If you were actually going to send this to your future roommate, would you really tell him how dedicated you are to your academics, or that you volunteer at the soup kitchen, or that you were very pleased to be named a National Merit Finalist (wow–please don't say that)?  Probably not. 

You'd probably talk about how much you love to play the drums, or how you're a Lakers fanatic, or how you won a karaoke contest last year, or about how much you love Tommy's Burgers even though you're fairly certain the chili has caused permanent damage to your internal organs.

So just be a real person and tell the truth here.

Tell us what makes Stanford a good place for you.

As is the case when any college asks you this question, the two very worst things you can do are to:

1)  Rattle off generalities that could be true for dozens of colleges, like "You have a strong reputation, a beautiful campus and top professors." Or…

2) To compose a list of factoids about Stanford that you obviously went and looked up on the website immediately before composing your answer to this question. 

Neither of those approaches addresses the prompt, which asks why Stanford is a good place for you.  To answer that, you're going to have to talk about yourself, not just Stanford.  To do this, you're going to have to give Stanford some insight into what was hopefully a thoughtful college search process. 

When you envision yourself in college, what do you see yourself doing?  What are your expectations for your college experience?  How are you hoping to change while you're there?  Are you excited for college?  Why?  What parts of college make you wish you were there right now?  Are all of these answers the same as they were when you started your college search, or have they changed along the way?

That's the "you" part of this response.

Then, tie your answers to Stanford.  What is it about Stanford that makes you think it's the right place to meet all of those expectations? 

And while you shouldn't compose a long list of facts about Stanford, you should be describing a connection that couldn't necessarily be found at lots of other schools.

So don't hide behind safe answers that are designed to impress.  Give Stanford what they want–the real you, with all your smarts, personality and a little panache thrown in.

Note:  Before you follow our tips, we recommend you read our "How to" guide here: Download HowToUse30Guides

And if you have other questions about essays, applications, interviews or financial aid, visit our online store.  We’ve got books, videos and downloadable guides to help you.  Or you could speak with one of our online college counselors.

Filed Under: Advice for specific colleges

Stanford University is one of the most selective universities in the US, admitting just 4.8% of applicants. The dream school for many students, here are all the short answer prompts and supplemental essays you’ll need to answer in order to apply.

Stanford University is located near San Francisco in the heart of California’s Silicon Valley. Close to 45,000 students applied to Stanford last year, making the competition extremely tough. With well-rounded undergraduate programs and resources, Stanford attracts many applicants with diverse background and interested, especially those who are interested in entrepreneurship and engineering.

Applying to Stanford University this year? Stanford’s application requires 8 additional short answers and 3 additional supplemental essays:

Short Answer Prompts

1. The following short answer prompts all have a 50 word limit.

2. What is the most significant challenge that society faces today?

3. How did you spend your last two summers?

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

5. What five words best describe you?

6. When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch?

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

8. Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time?

Supplemental Essay Prompts

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 to 250 words)

This essay prompt is slightly different from the essay prompt that was given last application season. Though the prompt changed slightly, the essay prompt is still asking the applicants the same thing: what makes you intellectually curious. Check out a few successful Stanford essay excerpts from essays included in the package below. 


We’ve curated a package of 5 Stanford student profiles that include the response to this specific essay prompt. See how others approached this supplemental essay in full by unlocking the “Stanford Supplement: Intellectual Vitality” package!

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 to 250 words)

The “Dear Roommate” essay! This essay prompt stumps a lot of applicants because it seems so casual, but can reveal so much about an applicant. It’s difficult to strike that balance: to show off who you are to a peer and to demonstrate your personality to the actual reader, the admissions office. Here are 5 roommate supplemental excerpts that might help you get off to the right start.  


Want to read the supplemental essay examples in full? Unlock the Stanford Roommate Supplement package!

Essay Prompt #3

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

Again, the Stanford supplement here has changed the wording of the supplement, but the core of the question is still asking the same thing. What is something that is valuable to you? It can be a memory, a book, or even a feeling. Here are 5 successful examples you can take a look at—some wrote about music, others wrote about what the future holds. 


Need more inspiration for your supplemental essays? Unlock our “What Matters To You, and Why? Supplement package!

Applying to college?

View the app files and essays of accepted students.


Want access to successful examples of Stanford supplemental essays? Our premium plans offer different level of profile access and data insights that can help you get into your dream school. Unlock any of our packages or search our undergraduate profile database to find specific profiles that can help you make an informed choice about where to apply! 

About The Author

Frances Wong

Frances was born in Hong Kong and received her bachelor’s degree from Georgetown University. She loves super sad drama television, cooking, and reading. Her favorite person on Earth isn’t actually a member of the AdmitSee team - it’s her dog Cooper.

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