How to Write the Vanderbilt Supplement 2019-2020

Vanderbilt is a private research university in Nashville, Tennessee. The school has serious southern vibes and was founded in 1873. It is home to many long standing traditions. It’s intense academically and socially, and people love the school. The music and food scene in Nashville are right at Vanderbilt student’s fingertips, and Greek life is huge. About 6,800 undergraduate students attend the school. The acceptance rate for the class of 2022 was 9.6%.

Vanderbilt has one supplement:

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (200-400 words) 

For a school that is sometimes referred to as the “Harvard of the South,” you might have been expecting a more robust supplement. And while this is not a trick question, there are a few things that you should keep in mind before you start writing.

  1. Pay attention to the wording of the prompt.

    Just like Stanford and Washington and Lee, this year Vanderbilt’s prompt makes mention of “work experiences.”  It’s not uncommon for schools to ask you to elaborate on an extracurricular activity, but this prompt rightfully suggests that work experiences are just as important as time spent doing after-school activities. So if you have a job that you want care about and want to write about, go for it! Share that piece of your life with Vanderbilt.

  2. Don’t write about the extracurricular activity or work experience that you think is the most impressive sounding bullet point on your resume.

    Your passion and dedication need to jump off of the page. If you’re seriously passionate about student government (and have the resumé to back that claim) that’s fine, but don’t force yourself to write about that one extracurricular you’ve been doing once a week since freshman year because you think it looks good in your activities section. What you choose to write about doesn’t need to related to the major that you choose on the common app website. In fact, it’s better if it doesn’t. Your goal with this essay is to show another side of yourself, you’re just doing it through the lens of writing about something that you do outside of the classroom. Think about what Vanderbilt doesn’t already know about you. Are you a chemist with a penchant for classical music or a linguist with a part-time job at a restaurant? Show them that you’re a multidimensional person with a variety of interests, passions, and hobbies.

  3. Your response should be written in the form of a story with a beginning, middle, and end.

    A great response will drop the reader into the scene and your “why” for writing about your topic will be made clear with your response. A bad response will look like your resume rewritten into paragraph form. 400 words is actually a lot to play with, and you should take advantage of that. Was the extracurricular activity or work experience that you’re writing about challenging, rewarding, fun, transformative, or frustrating at times? Show them, don’t tell them. Think about memorable experiences that you’ve had and brainstorm potential stories from those ideas. What did you learn on the job? If you faced challenges or even conflict, this could be a good place to explore that and the eventual outcome.

  4. This prompt does not say that you need to be able to continue doing this activity at Vanderbilt, so you are not limited in that way.

    But if there is a similar extracurricular activity available at Vanderbilt, you might want to make mention of that briefly at the end of your response. This will show the admissions team that you’ve done your research and are familiar with the offerings of the school.


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