How to Write the Stanford Supplement 2018-2019

Stanford has become iconic for being hard to get into. It’s a great school, we know, but deciding to apply to Stanford is picking to fight an uphill battle. Last year, over 44,000 people applied. 2085 got in. The acceptance rate was 4.7%. That’s half of what it was just 10 years ago (2008 was 9.5%). The scores kids got in with? Pretty close to perfect.

I think we’ve made our point that getting in isn’t anywhere near a shoe-in even if you have perfect scores, outstanding grades, and started a Fortune 500 company when you were in utero. You do have a secret weapon, though: a kickass supplement.

While many schools have been shortening or even nixing their supplements to drive up applications and force their acceptance rate down, Stanford has kept their supplement, and kept it long.

Ugh, we know, long supplements are annoying. But if you want to get into Stanford, this supplement should be your best friend. Afterall, in a sea of perfect scores, it’s your writing that’s going to get you in.

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

Before even considering how to answer this question, please refer to the word limit. 50 words. That’s it. You don’t have the space to extrapolate on the dangers of shark die-offs. Take a big issue, and look small. Focus on something that is global in scope, but that impacts you or your community personally. If you want to write a few sentences on mass incarceration, you better have a family member in prison or live in a prison town. If you want to write about gun violence, it should be something that impacts your community. They know what is going on in the world, so they don’t need you to tell them that water usage in California is a big problem. What they want to see is where you fit into what you care about.

Also, this explanation of how to answer is 3x longer than the word limit. 

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

As you’ll come to learn, Stanford likes concise answers. This one is really straightforward so don’t complicate things. Keep it simple, don’t try to glorify yourself (volunteering only plays well if it’s local and on-going), and please leave out adjectives and adverbs designed to fluff up what should be simple.

^This is 50 words if you want a visual.

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

Geez! Stanford likes trying to trick people into being self-aggrandizing. What’s funny is that your answer to this doesn’t really matter, but whatever you say is the lens that they will view the rest of your application through. If you say the moment an isotope was isolated, that says something about you. If you say a major battle, that says something else about you. If you say a….well, you get the point.

With that clear, don’t pick anything controversial or over-played. YES, we know the March on Washington is a crucial piece of history, but it’s going to be used in a lot of those 44K+ applications.

What five words best describe you?

If you’ve been reading our blog, you should already have a list of 15-20 words. If not, text friends, cousins, and siblings if you get along. Ask them how they would describe you, and pick the ones that resonate most. This is an answer best crowdsourced!

When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 word limit)

This one is similar to when colleges ask you what your favorite books are (ahem, Columbia, for example), and it can quickly become a sticky swamp. You see, it’s very normal for people to feel self-conscious, or even a little embarrassed, about the media they consume — even when it’s completely normal. Don’t let this discomfort direct your answer. Don’t get uppity. And don’t try to be esoteric. If you say you read The Economist and fringe literary journals, that is going to come off as strange unless other places in your application confirm this.

So look for a balance between ‘vanilla’ mainstream things and more complex pieces. You can, in fact, be accomplished and love the Real Housewives franchise (even Roxane Gay does!).

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

If you’re thinking: “I’m looking forward to a diverse community of thinkers!!” 

Our response is: NO.

Do not talk about the campus or the community generally for this one. You need to say something that is truly specific to Stanford, so get granular. Think of what program, track, or work you can only do there, then write that.

Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50 word limit)

We love this question because it is fun. We hate this question because it is a trap. Too many students see it and think: Aha! A place to reiterate that I work hard! They write about an extra hour of sleep, a nap, or more time to have fun because they work so darn hard.

This is the wrong impulse. You should use this question to share something productive, but also actually interesting. Have you wanted to try some fringe hobby? Would you invest in an ice cream maker and start churning out treats? Take this opportunity to humanize yourself and have some fun in the process.

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)

Have you thought about whether someone would want to grab coffee with you after reading your application? They should. They should feel like they know you, but also be curious to know more. Since you have 250 words here (and yes, you should use them all), this is a place to seed that curiosity. Have fun with it by telling an origin story. Go back, or even way back, into your educational history (either in the classroom or outside of it), and pull out a small and specific experience that implanted something in your mind that still drives you today.

Show them who you are, and make them want to know more.

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 prompt!!! Here’s your cheat sheet:

  1. Picture an actual person. What is your roommate like? What is their name? What do they look like? What music do they listen to? Do they snore? Do they get frustrated when you snore?
  2. Pick a quirk about yourself that isn’t concerning, but that is not what most would consider ‘normal’?
  3. Write a letter about your quirk to the person you already constructed. Yes, actually write a letter to them. “Dear Paul Frankfurter III,” etc., etc., etc.

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

Whew! You’ve reached the end of the epically long Stanford supplement. Now you can have a little fun (if you weren’t already, which you should have been). This prompt is an amazing invitation for humor. You can write about something that is innately serious but don’t take yourself too seriously while doing so. Have fun, and play around. One of our writers told the story of carrying her grandmother’s casket at her funeral as a way of writing about family bonds and “sharing the weight” of the complicated things in life. A dark subject, yet somehow a hilarious piece. 

Does this supplement seem absurdly long? We help students manage the mayhem.