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The Ultimate Guide to Acing the Stanford Supplemental Essays 2021/22

24 SEP 2021

Stanford University remains a prominent institution even throughout the 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 altered the economic and social landscape of the San Francisco Bay. Stanford has successfully adapted to the changing landscape and remains a prestigious hub of intellectual activity, research, innovation, and activity. 

How to stand out in your Stanford Supplemental Essays for 2021

Through your answers to the supplemental questions, Stanford can get to know you more holistically. Think about what you value, how you relate to people, and how you direct your energy. Why are you so excited to attend? As always, be honest and specific. Stanford has a low acceptance rate and these answers can help you stand out.

Ready to ace the Stanford supplemental essay questions? Let’s get started!


Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admission consulting company. Our expert admission strategist can help you narrow down your ideas and word choice to help you craft the perfect essay prompt response. Get your essay reviewed today!

What are the Stanford essay prompts for 21/22?

Stanford’s undergraduate application requires five short answer questions (50 words each) and three short essays (100-word minimum and 250-word maximum).

Short answer questions

  • What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)
  • How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)
  • What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)
  • Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family. (50 words)
  • Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 word limit)

Short essay questions

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

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How to Answer the Stanford Short Answer Questions

These short answers are exactly that: short. Brevity requires clarity. For each question, first, choose a word that will be central to your response. You’ll use that word in the first sentence. Then brainstorm related words that will be key to each of the sentences that follow. Don’t try to write 200 words and then pare down.

Question 1: What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)

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 and describe the logic behind your choice. The challenge here is to be specific and concise.

Examples:

Transportation infrastructure is the biggest challenge facing society because people need mobility to have economic opportunities.

Climate change is the biggest challenge facing society because it is difficult to understand and causes a deprivation of resources for people globally.

Question 2: How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)

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. Consider something you did and relate it to your intended field of study, whether reading, 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.

Question 3: What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)

This essay should stir up your imagination. Try to think here of something you genuinely wish you could have witnessed. It does not have to be a generic historical moment. It could be something like a Whitney Houston concert. Perhaps you are a prehistory/archaeology buff. Do you wish you had been present for the painting of the Lascaux Caves? Maybe you wish you could meet your great-great-grandmother so you could understand more about your ancestry and cultural heritage? What do you think you would learn about the contemporary from bearing witness to the historical event you choose? What would the timing of the event be? A few minutes? Several days?

Question 4: Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family. (50 words)

This essay isn’t just an opportunity to brag about your accomplishments. Use this opportunity to discuss experiences you’ve had outside of school that you haven’t elaborated on in the rest of your application. It’s better to write an anecdote rather than a summary of everything you do outside of school.

Pro-tip: Think about an experience that contrasts with your intended major. It shows you have diverse interests and gives your application depth and breadth.

Question 5: Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 word limit)

Take a look at Stanford’s website and learn more about the 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. You can achieve this effect by being honest about your particular interests, experiences, and dreams.

Why are you excited about the experience? Maybe you’ll learn a lot? Maybe you’ll meet people who will transform you?

How to Answer the Stanford Short Essay Questions

While these essays are a bit longer, they are still relatively short and require careful thinking and editing. Before diving in, choose a topic you can fully invest in. Make every word count.

Essay 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. (100-250 words)

This essay is the most serious of the three essays. For this essay, it’s important not to be vague but rather to describe precisely the idea or experience that makes you excited about learning.

First, what piques your curiosity? 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, think about subjects like fashion design or ethnic studies. You could take a class on food science or gender. Just having such a breadth of educational opportunities may be exciting.

Now think about the experience you’ve already had that made you excited about learning. How did you discover this experience? Who introduced you to this encounter? Sometimes people make us feel ashamed of what we’re excited about and try to push us into something else. This essay is your opportunity to write about what makes you happy, whether you were encouraged in your pursuit by parents, teachers, etc or not.

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 questions does the topic demand? What form might your research take? Archival? Lab experiment? Ethnography? How will you work with others at Stanford to learn about the topic?

Essay 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. (100-250 words)

Don’t brag about yourself. Be honest and 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 poignant essays approach this question with tenderness, intimacy, and playfulness, similar to how you might speak with your sibling (with whom you may have shared a room 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 say very little because they are subjective measures of interpretation of an experience. Try to use more nouns and verbs to describe an experience, habit, or opinion.

Examples

Perhaps religious belonging and daily prayer are important to you. Describe how you once had to adapt prayer practices when you attended a school trip. Maybe this is where the humor comes in. Describe waking up very early when you and everyone else were already sleep-deprived to make sure you could work prayer in your day. Maybe you prayed in the bathroom so you wouldn’t disturb your roommate on the trip.

You love bringing beautiful things into your space so much that even when you can’t afford to buy flowers, you pick a few in your neighborhood to assemble a bouquet.

You love your birthday, and once even planned your surprise party. Describe the party and why your birthday matters so much to you.

Essay 3: Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why? (100-250 words)

You can write virtually anything in this essay. There's no such thing as objectively meaningful. Meaning is personal, so don't worry about choosing something that fits into an idea of what you think other people think is meaningful.

This essay is a rhetorical exercise in proving the meaning of something. When you choose a topic that's less universally significant ("my daily wake up time," as opposed to "my mother"), it may make for a more impressive essay if you can show why it's meaningful to you.

Examples

Something your family does every year

Every year my family goes back to the town where my parents grew up. It's meaningful because it's regular (we don't do many things consistently as a family) and because my parents talk about the past in a way they don't usually at home. It's also meaningful because we listen to music on the ride there, and it's enjoyable and relaxing.

Language

A language may be meaningful because of who taught it to you or because it allows you to communicate with them. It may also be that the language itself is beautiful, and you get pleasure out of learning or speaking it.

Art form

Art can give our lives so much meaning. Dance, for example, can be a physical practice, a way of being in a community, a creative process (dance composition or choreography). It can also be an academic subject if you're studying theory and history.

Other ideas

  • A daily practice.
  • A subject at school.
  • Doing well at something.
  • A food.
  • A friendship.

Final Thoughts

Stanford admission wants to get to know you better and see how your unique qualities and experiences will positively impact their campus and surrounding community. It’s ok to think outside the box and write about ideas and subjects that matter most to you. Don’t forget to check and double-check your essays. It’s easy to miss simple grammar mistakes when you’re focused on a specific subject. 

Crimson Education is the world’s leading university admission consulting company. Our expert admission strategist can help you narrow down your ideas and word choice to help you craft the perfect supplemental essay responses. Get your essay reviewed today!

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