+81 03 6240 9953
MAR 11, 2020 • 12 min read
Stanford University has remained a prominent institution through the almost unbelievable transformation of its surrounding area. The South Bay has gone from being a low density area, a string of small suburban towns, to the birthplace of the tech boom, the site of a hyper-growth that intensely alters the economic and social landscape of the San Francisco Bay. Adapting to the changing landscape, Stanford is a prestigious hub of intellectual activity, research, innovation, and activity.
Stanford’s undergraduate application requires 7 short answer questions and 3 longer essays. Below Crimson provides pointers on how to respond to these prompts for a successful application to one of the best schools in the country.
These short answers are exactly that: short. Brevity requires clarity. For each question, first choose a word that will be central to your answer. You’ll use that word in the first sentence. Then brainstorm some related words that will be key to each of the sentences that follow. Don’t try to write 200 words and then pare down.
This isn't merely an opportunity to brag about an additional accomplishment (although if this essay ultimately includes an accomplishment, that's ok!). It's really an opportunity to discuss an experience you've had outside of school that you feel gets buried by the rest of your application. Since it specifies an "extracurricular activity," it likely wants you to write about something that appears on your Common App list of extracurriculars but does not appear elsewhere in your app. Writing an anecdote, rather than a summary or list of all your extra curricular activities, is advised.
Pro tip: It could be a good idea to choose an activity that contrasts with your intended major. This shows your diverse interests and gives your application more texture overall.
Obviously society faces many challenges - migration, climate change, population growth, terrorism, public health crises, economic decline, discrimination of many kinds, etc. This essay asks you to choose one, so part of the exercise is describing the logic behind your choice. The challenge here is to be specific and succinct.
Be honest but keep it appropriate.
Don’t just say you spent time with your family, say what you did in your time together. Nothing is mundane about the details of another person’s life. Say also something you did that relates to your intended field of study, whether reading or working or volunteering.
Feel free to state a variety of things you did (be honest).
Do not write about experiences you wouldn't tell your Math teacher about.
This essay should stir up your imagination. Try to think here of something you truly wish you could have witnessed.
This does not have to be a generic “historical” moment, it could be a Whitney Houston concert.
Perhaps you are a prehistory/archaeology buff - do wish you had been present for the painting of the Lascaux Caves?
Maybe you wish you could meet your great great grandmother - to better understand your ancestry and cultural heritage?
What do you think you would learn about the contemporary from bearing witness to the historical event?
What would the timing of the event be? A few minutes? Several days?
Do not choose similar words. Ask your family and friends for help with this one. You may be very surprised by their answers.
Think about your tendencies, and what kinds of words sum these up, like if you always clean your room and organize your school stuff the night before, use a word like attentive or prepared or fastidious or organized. If you always end up in a position of leadership, telling people what to do, use a word like assertive, extroverted, or generous.
It may work well to have words that offer sharp contrasts within yourself - easygoing and stubborn, fearful and courageous, loyal and expansive. Within the tension between these pairs of words a lot of content can be generated.
If the words you come up with feel boring or common, use a thesaurus and see if you can’t find a synonym that more pressingly, accurately speaks to the quality you’re describing.
Here is your chance to talk about yourself-your desires, interests, curiosities.
It is also your chance to show off your “lit crit” (literary criticism) skills- your art writing. Describe the TV show, news article, novel, etc. that you consume in your spare time with accuracy and intense detail in a sentence or two.
What do these media do for you? Escape? Connection? Do you relate to the people in the narrative, or to other people who read, listen to, or watch this work?
Take a look at Stanford’s website and check out the kinds of experiences they offer. Importantly, don't write about something that you could experience at any school.
In addition to being specific about what Stanford offers, make sure you also let your background and personality shine through. This goes for each essay, of course! You can achieve this effect by being honest about your particular interests, experiences, and dreams.
Why are you excited about this? Because you will learn a lot? Because you will meet people who will transform you?
Is it something you already spend time doing and wish you had more time for? Perhaps something you rarely do? Or something you’ve never done? What would an hour’s worth of this activity afford you? Would it bring a peace of mind? A learning? Would you be helping others?
Learn How Lara Gained Admission to Stanford
While these essays are a bit longer, they are still quite short and will require careful thinking and editing. Make sure you choose a topic in which you feel invested before diving in.
This is the most serious of the three essays. For this essay, it’s important not to be vague, but rather to describe exactly the idea or experience that makes you excited about learning.
First, think about what it is that you are curious about. Be creative and generous with yourself- now that you are moving beyond high school, more topics are fair game for study. Rather than the five or six subjects you study in school, subjects from fashion design to ethnic studies are on offer. You could take a class on death and dying, food science, or gender. Just having such a breadth of education opportunities may be exciting.
Now think about the experience you’ve already had that made you excited about learning. How did you end up in that situation? What led you to that concept? Who introduced you to the encounter you had that made you excited? Did you talk about the experience? What did you say? What response was your account met with? Sometimes people make us feel ashamed of the things we’re excited about, try to push us away from one thing and towards another. Think about the things that really made you excited, whether or not you were encouraged in your pursuit by parents, teachers, etc.
What was the excitement like?
So you got excited about learning something. What form will that education take at Stanford? Will you learn more about this inside or outside the classroom?
What kind of question does the topic demand? Like, what form would research about it take? Archival? Lab experiment? Ethnographic? How will you work with others at Stanford to learn about the topic?
Don’t brag about yourself. Be honest. Be specific.
Think about the things that come into play when sharing a space with someone else. Sharing space isn’t easy, but can be deeply rewarding.
The most humorous, or possibly poignant of the essays, approach this one with the tenderness, intimacy and playfulness you might a sibling, who you may also have shared a room with at some point! Humor does not necessarily come from being silly or light, but from being vulnerable, even self deprecating.
While the instinct here would be to use many adjectives to describe yourself, adjectives actually say very little, because they are subjective measures of interpretation of an experience. So try to use more nouns and verbs to describe an experience, habit, or opinion you have.
This essay lends you almost complete freedom to write what you can write best about.
There’s no such thing as objectively meaningful; meaning is personal, so don’t worry about choosing something that fits into some idea of what you think other people think is meaningful.
Again this is a rhetorical exercise in proving the meaning in something, whether it’s obviously apparent or not. In fct, choosing something that’s less universally significant (like “ my daily wake up time,” as opposed to “my mother”) may make for a more impressive essay - if you can really show why it’s meaningful to you.
*Other ideas: *
Do not take on a defensive tone. Being truly reflective will go a long way. While students who haven’t previously applied have their whole lives to reflect on, having already applied can actually be advantageous in that you only have a year or a few years (depending on when you previously applied) on which to reflect. Because of the limited time, you can distill a growth process.