How to Write the Stanford "Short Essay" Supplement

We’ve already talked about how Stanford is hard to get into which makes your supplements matter a lot, and we’ve also broken down to the short answer questions for you, so we’re not going to repeat ourselves here except to say: your supplements matter a lot. The short essays are a key part of Stanford’s ‘weeding out’ process, and they have a knack for coming up with questions that elicit a reaction of “Only 250 words?!? That’s crazy!!” We promise you, they do it on purpose. By limiting you to 100-250 words, they force you to give more than a Miss America answer while still ensuring that you’d don’t have much space to get anything in.

If you’re chuckling to yourself and thinking that it’s not that hard and we need to calm down, stop. The saying “if I had more time, I’d write a shorter letter” exists for a reason. Short answers are hard, so don’t be fooled into thinking these are one-draft wonders you can bang out between episodes of Game of Thrones. They’re being looked at hyper-critically, so take your time, try a couple drafts, and definitely don’t wing it.

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 one might be tough, but at least it’s fun, too! If you aren’t excited about learning, you shouldn’t be applying to Stanford. If you are excited about learning, you probably have a whole piggy bank full of stories. The key here is to be hyper-specific. Think about a project or experience that sent you down the rabbit hole to the wonderful world of academic joyfulness. Tell the story of when your biology lab materials got washed away by a river, or when your teacher dressed up like historical figures in 5th grade or that one time when a group project went terribly wrong before turning out wonderfully alright. They want to know what makes you buzz, so tell them.

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)

We LOVE this supplement. The first reason we love it is because it’s straight forward. It tells you to write a letter, so write a letter. The second reason we love it is because it’s a chance to remind the admissions officers of your wonderfully messy and imperfect humanity. Do you always have a piece of dark chocolate before bed even though you’ve already brushed your teeth? If so, write that. Will you be bringing your bobblehead collection with you? Write that, too. Sometimes your desk might get messy when you’re buried in a project, but you’ll never leave stuff on the floor and will always make your bed, or libraries might make you nervous, but you won’t stay up late studying in the room or demand that the lights stay on. Go for a mix of practical and quirky, but keep in mind that even though you’re addressing your future roommate (yes, it should probably start with “Dear Future Roommate”), you are still talking to admissions. Definitely, don’t take your answer into the realm of anything you wouldn’t want the person deciding whether you’ll get into Stanford to know about you. Example: If you give up showering for Lent each year, you should probably leave that out.

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

This one is annoying. It’s vague, it’s totally open-ended, and it frustrates us. To be more specific, it’s frustrating because with the more detailed questions you at least have a clear starting point and a hazy destination. You can mess up by veering away from the guide they give you, but with this one there is no guide and you can go almost anywhere - so go SMALL. Tell a story. Yes, we say this all the time, but we say it because it’s important. Humans connect with other humans through stories, so tell them.

If you’re this far into the supplement you’ve already talked about what causes you care about, what matters to you in your community, and what you do in your free time, so be very careful not to repeat. Go somewhere new. You can write about an experience, a place, an object, an amorphous concept, but it needs to be hyper-personal and recurring. For example: writing about the importance of nightly family meals gives the reader a picture of you. It’s relatable, presumably wholesome, and the reader wants in on it (but don’t steal our idea).

Don’t go too existential, though. Oxygen is not the most meaningful thing to you. It obviously matters a lot, but we’re pretty sure that you don’t thank oxygen for existing on Thanksgiving or would include oxygen on your list of 10 things to save from a fire. Come to think of it, if you’re having trouble coming up with something to write about, you should make that list.


If you’re looking for help on your supplements, regardless of college, you should connect with us. We’re sort of really super duper awesome at this.