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Writing the Vanderbilt Essay


Vanderbilt University is an extremely competitive research university located in Nashville, Tennessee. The Vanderbilt essay supplement lets you show how you pursue meaningful activities beyond the requirements of your academic coursework.

The prompt: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150-400 words)

Follow these steps to find the best activity and demonstrate its importance to you.

Step one: Choosing your activity

  • Brainstorm activities for which you can show a steady commitment. Don’t try to impress readers by choosing something you think they want to hear. (So, for example, don’t say your passion is playing country music just because Vanderbilt is in Nashville.) Pick something you’re proud of and that makes you unique—especially something that might surprise them! In particular, think about activities you love to do that also “enriched or enlivened” your community in some way. This is broad; perhaps you enrich and enliven the community by making people laugh as a stand-up comic, or by giving people joy through playing a musical instrument. (Okay, so hypothetically this could involve country music...)


Step two: Showing why it’s meaningful

  • Why do you do this activity? What do you get out of it? What have you learned? How have you grown as a person? What do others get from it? If it’s work, show how it’s more than just a paycheck. If it’s an extracurricular activity, show that you don’t do it just because it looks good on your college application. Let’s choose our budding country star as an example. Perhaps they loved the challenge of learning all those guitar chords. Perhaps they love performing in front of energetic crowds and seeing people in cowboy boots having a great time. Maybe they’ve even participated in benefit shows for important causes!


Step three: Looking to the future

  • A good way to show that this activity is truly meaningful to you, and not just “for show,” is to discuss how it might influence your future. Does it connect to other interests of yours? Will you continue this activity, or something similar, at Vanderbilt? Are there specific Vanderbilt resources that might help you pursue this activity further? Perhaps it’s extracurricular now—but might it cross over into academic pursuits in the future? The idea is to show what values and/or commitments you’ll bring to the Vanderbilt community as a result of having done this activity. Perhaps our country musician plans to perform on campus, or perhaps they intend to study fiddle, banjo, or musicology while at Vanderbilt.


Space in the Vanderbilt essay is tight, so you’ll want to introduce your activity right away. If you choose to open with a dramatic scene of your chosen activity, be extremely concise! (You’re onstage, strumming the final chords of your last song on a summer music tour…) Think flash-nonfiction. Use 2-3 sentences to introduce the activity, then 1-2 paragraphs about why it’s meaningful to you, and 1-2 paragraphs looking forward to college and beyond.

Use the Vanderbilt essay to give them something to look forward to: you, following your passions while at Vanderbilt! Perhaps while wearing cowboy boots.


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