Expert guidance for all your college essays

Prompt’s Essay Specialists share tips to help you write better essays in less time

Get fresh essay tips in your inbox

All Posts

How to Write Outstanding Stanford Essays for 2020-2021

The Stanford application gives you the rare opportunity to show off the full spectrum of your personality with no less than eight supplements! This guide will show you how to take full advantage of every Stanford essay prompt, painting the picture of  a student who belongs on this prestigious Silicon Valley campus. 

(Compared to last year, Stanford has actually reduced their supplemental essay requirements by five. Hooray! You can see our advice for 2019-2020 here.)

The gist: On top of a required personal statement and activities list, Stanford asks you to write:

  • 5 short answers (limited to 50 words each - about a paragraph).
  • 3 short essays (100-word minimum; 250-word maximum).

We're going to walk you through each of these prompts. But let's begin with our advice for approaching all of these supplements. Reflect on what you want the admissions people to know about you using the bubble map technique.

Take out a sheet of paper and write your name in a big bubble in the center. Next, draw some slightly smaller, connecting bubbles for some of the main aspects of your identity — such as culture, family, professional goals, extracurriculars and niche interests. From there, elaborate on each aspect, adding additional bubbles for formative experiences or memories.

When you’re done, your bubble map may look something like this:

Doc Apr 11, 2019, 12_30-1


This map will help you quickly find material for many of the supplemental essays. It will also help you make sure you don't repeat yourself — you want each answer to reveal a new, important facet of your identity. Finally, your map will help you tie your essays to larger themes about yourself — you want them to create a cohesive whole when taken together, rather than seem like a listing of disparate and scattered interests.

Got your map handy? Let's dive into the actual prompts!


For each of these five questions, your answer is limited to 50 words:

  • (1) What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? 
  • (2) How did you spend your last two summers? 
  • (3) What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? 

For these three short answers, Stanford wants to get a sense of what matters to you and see how you relate to the world. What are your most deeply-held values? How do you act on them? What are you like on a personal and professional level? 

For #1 (societal), it’s okay to start with a broad societal challenge, but push yourself to get specific in your response. For example, if you're passionate about the environment, you could write about the environmental impact of plastic bags or single-use bottles, and propose regulations. 

For #2 (summers), make sure to connect what you did to your deeper values. Why did you spend your last two summers that way? And don't focus on a job description or program description — focus on your achievements.

For #3 (historical moment), again relate this back to your deeply-held values. Explain why this would matter to you so much, and maybe, how you hope make history in a similar (or perhaps opposite) way. 

  • (4) Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. 

You don’t need to pick the most impressive activity on your résumé. Instead, write about the activity that is most personally meaningful to you.

  • (5) Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. 

It's important to do your research here. Get to know the Stanford website. Now let your genuine interests guide the one thing you focus on here — a specific academic class? a campus tradition? an academic program? Be sure to tie that back to your values, and your academic or professional ambitions. 



For each of these three questions, your answer must be between 100 and 250 words:

  • (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.

Can you think of a time when you followed your curiosity and learned something on your own? What is your academic passion? How have you pursued this passion outside the classroom? What did you find fulfilling about this experience?

You have a lot of space for this essay, so craft a response that tells your story and invites the reader to share your excitement.

  • (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—get to know you better.

Write with the goal in mind here — you want the admissions officers to see that you'll be contributing to a friendly, fun and inclusive campus atmosphere, but you also want to show a new facet of your personality.  Are you the nerdy type who can't be comfortable until she's re-wired the wi-fi and set up a gaming console? Do you own a sewing machine, and are you going to use it to create matching pjs for your roommies? Are you going to force everyone to a museum, or to watch a horror marathon? Remember, you don't have to waste your word count dealing with practical roommate matters.  This is about getting to know you! Be honest, be yourself, and be fun. 

  • (3) Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?

This prompt is frighteningly wide open. Approach it through this filter — Will you succeed spectacularly at Stanford and beyond? Admissions is trying to get a handle on what you're ultimately going to contribute on campus and in the world. Many things are meaningful to you, even deeply so — choose the one that is most likely to impact your spectacular future success. 

After writing these Stanford supplemental essays, you’ll have a strong application that gives the reader a holistic sense of your personality, values, and ambitions. On your mark, get set… go!

Prompt’s Essay Specialists reviewed 13,000 admissions essays in 2018, helping thousands of students submit their applications with confidence.

Get Your Essay Reviewed

Related Posts

The Big Reveal from Harvard’s Admissions Lawsuit: Essays Really, Really Matter

Good news for anyone deferred Early Decision/Early Action: It turns out that Harvard gets enough applican...
Brad Dec 21, 2020 4:08:27 PM

How to Write the University of Arizona Honors College Essay and the UA SALT Center Essay

The University of Arizona has supplemental essays for students who are applying to specific programs for ...
Lauren Dec 18, 2020 10:47:45 AM

How to Write the Boston College Engineering Essay: Showcasing Compassion and Intellectual Curiosity

Boston College’s Human-Centered Engineering program launches in Fall 2021. This exciting new program will...
Bex Dec 17, 2020 4:08:44 PM