How to Approach the Stanford Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

Padya Paramita

How to Approach the Stanford Supplemental Essays 2019-2020 

If you’re a top student excited by the combination of academic challenges and pleasant California weather, you’ve probably got your heart set on applying to Stanford University. As one of the most well-regarded universities in the country, Stanford is many students’ go-to when it comes to identifying a school that values intellectual curiosity. But it would be wise to put your best foot forward when completing the Stanford supplemental essays 2019-2020 and let the school know that you’re not just applying to this Palo Alto university for its consistently high ranking.

You might be in it for Stanford’s unique majors such as “Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law” or “Music, Science, and Technology.” Or you might want to pursue activism through participation in student organizations like "Transgender Task Force" or "Promoting Women’s Health and Human Rights." Use your essays to highlight your eagerness and passion when it comes to the specific opportunities that Stanford has to offer. To help you understand each of the prompts better, I’ve outlined all of them, the do’s and don’ts for your responses, and additional tips for answering the Stanford supplemental essays 2019-2020.

Prompts for the Stanford Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

When reading the Stanford application essays 2019-2020, admissions officers consider your potential to succeed academically, your commitment to expanding your intellectual horizons, and whether you’ve participated in a few extracurricular activities with exceptional depth. Make sure these characteristics shine through in your writing. Remember to think honestly about your approach, and not just choose generic or predictable routes in your responses. Without further ado, let’s look at the prompts that lie ahead of you.

Short-Answer Questions

Prompt 1

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

50 words is extremely short and it’s not the easiest thing to make a strong impression so quickly. When planning your Stanford supplemental essays 2019-2020, consider that admissions officers will want to know how you think and what makes you tick. Are you a student who is willing to participate in conversations about current events or attend lectures featuring the eminent guest speakers that Stanford regularly hosts? Instead of trying to figure out what you think the school might be looking for, ask yourself if there’s an issue that you’re genuinely concerned about. 

Pick a challenge that resonates with your background or academic interests. The personal connection, the more meaningful your essay. You’ll be able to talk much more genuinely about something you’re actually familiar with, rather than exaggerating your knowledge on a topic you’ve decided you care about on a whim. Add a brief anecdote exemplifying your personal connection to the matter. If you have space, you might be able to dedicate a sentence or two to how you would use your education and work towards a resolution. 

Prompt 2

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

Stanford wants to know how you spend your time without the restrictions of a school schedule. You only have 25 words to dedicate to each summer. That’s barely anything! Don’t waste space rambling about a new TV series you might have discovered last June. Think about the most meaningful parts of your summers and activities or experiences that you might have not had the chance to mention in the rest of your application. Is there a new hobby you picked up? With such a tight word limit, you should only discuss one activity per summer in order to fit in both years.

Prompt 3

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

Make sure that you carefully divide the 50 words to set up the context for the event, what happened, and why you have chosen to write about it. Avoid common answers such as the French Revolution or World War II because, odds are, multiple students will do so. Don’t forget the importance of a personal connection and why it matters to you. If you have a personal connection to a historical event - such as your family being deeply impacted by its occurrence or aftermath, this could add a unique perspective to your writing.

Download Every Supplemental Prompt Here!



Prompt 4

What five words best describe you? (10 word limit)

Admissions officers reading your Stanford supplemental essays 2019-2020 want to know how you would fit into the university and how the school might be able to help you reach your goals. So instead of flocking towards more basic and vague words such as “nice” or “cool,” choose five words that convey more information about you, such as “foodie” or “tenacious.” The words shouldn’t all mean similar things. Each entry should throw a new element into the mix. Even though the word limit is 10 words, the question asks for only 5, so follow the instructions and stick to 5 attributes!

Prompt 5

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

You could approach your answer to this question in multiple ways. You might want to name all of the media in question - the kinds of books you enjoy, the music you listen to, and the movies you love the most. Or you could stick to one genre of books, such as graphic novels, or name one particular graphic novel, that you turn to when you have time. 

Although naming your choices may take up most of the words, you can spend the remainder of your paragraph(s) talking about why you turn to the type of book/song/movie. Explain how you relate to it. Do you associate it with a particular incident? Again, avoid common answers such as The Beatles for music or Harry Potter for books.

Prompt 6

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

This is an accelerated version of the “why our school” prompt that you might encounter with other colleges’ supplemental essays. You get one choice and 50 words, so you better make it good. Think about how you can frame your answer as personally as possible. Do you have a specific plan to take advantage of the Bing Overseas Studies Program? Are you excited to bring new ideas to Stanford’s philosophy organization, the Dualist? You should be able to both demonstrate that you’ve done the research on Stanford, as well as tie that knowledge to your unique interests when brainstorming your approach to this response. 

Prompt 7

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

This prompt is very broad, but Stanford wants to know what you prioritize. While you definitely should be honest, don’t write about taking a nap or hanging out with your friends at the mall. The school won’t really learn anything new about you if you go in that direction.

You might want to spend more time with your parents, and show that you’re a family-oriented individual. You could be interested in watching food documentaries to pick up new recipes and talk more about your love for food. Or you might want to work on your basketball skills and improve in a sport you enjoy. Whatever you pick, make sure your passion for the activity shines through when you’re explaining your reason so that admissions officers understand exactly why you’ve made the choice. 


We ask applicants to write a short essay on each of the following three topics. There is a 100-word minimum and a 250-word maximum for each essay.

Prompt 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.

When writing your Stanford supplemental essays 2019-2020 remember that the university strongly values students who challenge themselves and approach learning with enthusiasm and curiosity. Stanford wants to see “commitment, dedication and genuine interest in expanding your intellectual horizons in what you write about yourself.” When brainstorming your answer to the question, remember that you don’t have to limit yourself to abstract ideas. You can talk about a person or a place that encourages curiosity in you as well.

Don’t forget to show, with anecdotes, why you’re so interested in the idea or experience. Dive deeper into the why’s and how’s of the way your excitement increases at the thought of the topic. Since you have the words, talk more in depth about the ways in which you have explored the issue and how your knowledge has developed over time. The reader should come out of your essay knowing that you’re a student who wouldn’t be afraid to contribute to the Stanford classrooms and wider community as well as ask probing questions. 

Prompt 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.

The key to answering this particularly famous question among the Stanford supplemental essays 2019-2020 is to keep your tone informal. Of course, you shouldn’t start using slang, curse words or emojis, but your style of writing shouldn’t be highly academic either. It’s also a good idea to throw in facts about you that you’d actually want your roommate to know. Do you enjoy attending concerts and want to know if your roommate would like to see your favorite artist with you? You could also use this essay as a chance to mention activities you want to try out at Stanford. What makes you most excited about moving to campus and joining the community?

While you are writing to your “roommate,” don’t forget that you’re also providing the college with more information on what kind of Stanford community member you’re likely to be. Your answer to this prompt is a way to portray a more fun side of yourself and reveal information such as hobbies and unusual interests that you won’t have the space to discuss in comparatively serious questions. Take advantage of this opportunity to show what you’re really like.

Prompt 3

Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why?

When looked at as a standalone question, this is the most open-ended prompt among all of the Stanford supplemental essays 2019-2020. But since it’s the final one, your focal topics can be narrowed down simply by the fact that you should not repeat activities and information that you’ve already mentioned in your personal statement and the other prompts. There’s no correct answer or level of depth you must reach - the point of these essays is for the school to learn more about you. 

You could write about a photograph, a movie, or even something abstract such as your faith. Is there a family member you love spending time with more than others? One thing to note is that you should avoid writing about cliché topics such as love or time, as you’re attempting to stand out among a very tough applicant pool. Don’t spend too many words rambling about what is meaningful, and focus more on the why. Admissions officers want to understand your reasoning behind placing value on certain ideas or experiences over others.

Additional Tips for Writing the Stanford Supplemental Essays 2019-2020

  • Think about what Stanford offers beyond the name - Even though the Stanford supplemental essays 2019-2020 don’t ask an extended “why Stanford” essay, your responses are still used to determine whether you’ve done your homework and whether you’re a good fit for the school. Admissions officers want to be confident in their decision. If your essays depict you as someone who knows what you’re talking about when it comes to the majors, professors, and research opportunities, you will be more likely to gain approval. Carefully research what the college is looking for and frame your interests in a way that accurately captures your academic excellence, intellectual vitality, and extracurricular activities. 
  • Don’t waste words - The admissions officers don’t have all day to go through your application considering they have 49,000 to read. This is why you need to think strategically when writing each response, especially the 50-word answers. Don’t waste words beating around the bush or writing general statements. Aim to be as specific as possible, especially regarding how wider issues hold meaning to you and how the college itself can benefit you, and of course, focusing on exactly what the prompt wants to know. 
  • Context can make a difference - Factors that Stanford considers heavily when looking at your application are your “background, educational pathway, and work and family responsibilities.” If you believe that the context of your high school community can be relevant in the roommate question among the Stanford supplemental essays 2019-2020, for example, definitely mention it. Knowing where you come from and how you’ve taken advantage of the opportunities you’ve had could make a difference in your Stanford application.

As you take on the Stanford supplemental essays 2019-2020, think about whether it’s clear that you’re a student who would enthusiastically participate in the academic and extracurricular culture at Stanford University. Admissions officers should read your answers and say, “This is a student who can definitely take advantage of our exceptional majors or extracurricular offerings.” Conveying as much information as you can, while maintaining specificity and precision, this is your chance to show who you are and why Stanford is the perfect school for you. Who knows, this could be the deciding factor that puts you in the right pile for that acceptance letter. Good luck!

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