*This is my personal opinion, from essays I’ve read, and the essays I’ve written. From what I’ve read about admissions, and the letters I’ve gotten from the university. This is why I believe that I got in.*
So, Let’s Pretend For a Moment
We’re going to pretend I know how I got in. If you want to play pretend with me, feel free to keep reading. Hopefully I can help make things a little easier for you than they were for me.
So. College essays. Yikes. You’ve done all you can as far as grades and extracurriculars, and now you’re at the application stage. You’re wracking your brain for that “perfect topic.” That topic that will set you apart from the rest. You know that numbers are important, BUT: if people with 2400s and 4.0s can get rejected or waitlisted, then you know there’s gotta be something else that those mysterious admissions officers are looking for. What is it?
The people at admissions want to know what sets you apart. What inspires you. Why do they want you around; how will you contribute the the unique, eclectic, diverse world of the Stanford campus? And this is exactly what you have to give them. The unique, goofy, stoic, musical, athletic, quiet, loud, whatever sort of person you are. Don’t pretend to be someone else: be who you are. Advice I read that helped me a lot? If you’re not funny, don’t try to be funny. If you are… go for it. I really took that advice to heart.
A Quick Example: Part of a “Letter to my Roommate”:
“I sing show tunes in the shower, and I tell math jokes while playing the guitar. Back massages totally make my day. I firmly hold with the belief that children are much cuter when they’re not your own. I eat pancakes at dinnertime, and I think that creamed spinach should not exist. On the other hand, I am totally fine with cottage cheese.”
Silly, whimsical, light-hearted, and all true. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. Show off what makes you unique, make them remember you. Be as silly or serious as you are. Talk about who you are and what makes you different.
What was something else that made me different? Well, as I alluded to in my “roommate essay,” I enjoy math and theatre. In my “What Matters to Me” essay I talked about how the freedom to explore many different ventures was so important to me. That was one thing that set me apart. How do I know this? My admission officer told me as much in a handwritten note:
“Your genuine appreciation for the freedom to pursue many thespian and intellectual interests makes you a wonderful fit for the Stanford environment. I am thrilled for you to bring your love of calculus, math jokes, show tunes, languages and ‘poetic gibberish’ to the Farm! Looking so forward to meeting you in April!”
Also: Don’t be afraid to let other people look at your essays. Some people I know didn’t have anyone edit their essays. But for me, having someone else look at them helped, especially for my common app essay. In all honesty, that’s the only one I really had people look at and edit, but it was extraordinarily helpful. They clued me in to so many ways to make it better. Of course, now you’re probably wondering, “So, what did you write about?”
“What did you write about?” The question I get from all my friends when they heard I got in. The million dollar question. Well, not really, but just about. To be incredibly vague, but hopefully still slightly helpful, I wrote about a person who had influenced me. Were they a particularly good person? No, but they still helped me learn lessons that made me the person that I am today. And I compared it to Cinderella. (No, I was not writing about a boyfriend, in case you were wondering.)
And another pretty important essay:
What is intellectual vitality? I honestly don’t know. I wrote an essay about it, and I still don’t know. But I do know this: I wrote about something I loved. I wrote a story about how I liked to multiply big numbers in my head when I was eight years old. 32 times 28? 896. (Yes, I just did that in my head.) I ended that essay with the passage:
“Over the summer, I went to a drama camp where I
sang show tunes, danced the Charleston, and learned Meisner’s views on acting, but the one thing I remember most? How dang much I wished someone would come up to me and say, ‘Hey, you wanna do some Calculus?'”
This was the hardest essay for me to find a topic. And then I realized: I just had to write about something I loved. Write about something you love, and write it in a way that will capture your audience. Tell them a story, paint a picture, let them see why this is your passion, and why you love it so much. Let them know what makes you tick.
A Quick Summary
- The people at admissions want to know what make you, you.
- If you’re not funny, don’t try to be funny. If you are… go for it.
- Talk about who you are and what makes you different.
- Just write about something you love.
- Tell them a story, paint a picture, let them see why this is your passion, and why you love it so much.
- Let them know what makes you tick.