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How to Tackle the Vanderbilt 2016-2017 Application Essay

A certified arboretum with over 6000 trees on campus, Vanderbilt University, located in the heart of Music City (Nashville, Tennessee), is a private liberal arts university with a population of around 7,000 undergraduate students. Vanderbilt is made up of four colleges: Blair School of Music, Peabody College of Education and Human Development, the School of Engineering, and the College of Arts and Science.


Vanderbilt is particularly known for its Peabody College, which has consistently ranked in the top 5 schools for education, and has led in groundbreaking research in the fields of human development and K-12 education. The other schools are also well respected, however, with alumni going on to found Bain & Company, the Boston Consulting Group, and American Airlines.


Vanderbilt is touted for its adoption of the “work hard, play hard” environment, the perfect choice for students who want a balance of vigorous academics and opportunities to cheer on SEC sports teams with vibrant Greek life. The baseball team, affectionately known as the “Vandy Boys,” were NCAA Division 1 champions in 2015 and runners-up in 2016, and the Women’s Bowling team and Women’s Tennis team have both won national championships in the past couple of years.


Vanderbilt only has one essay supplement, which we have analyzed below.


Want to learn what Vanderbilt University will actually cost you based on your income? And how long your application to the school should take? Here’s what every student considering Vanderbilt University needs to know.



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Vanderbilt University Application Essay Prompt


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


There are two main purposes of this essay. The first is to give you a chance to elaborate on an activity you wrote about briefly in the extracurricular section of the Common Application. If there is an activity you are particularly passionate about, but did not have the chance to write about it in your regular Common App essay, this is a chance to provide more information about your role.


If you were the president of an a cappella group, go into detail about what you did for the group and how being president of that particular group shaped you. Each extracurricular will have shaped you in different ways. To highlight personal passion or growth, choose an activity that has a particularly deep significance to you, such as volunteering at the local hospital after going through treatment there.


To highlight your capacity in a certain field, you can choose to discuss research or internship experiences. As long as you focus on how you grew as a person and learned more about a field, these can set you apart from applicants who have not had a chance to get more professional experiences.


However, always tie the internship or research job with work you would like to do at Vanderbilt (i.e., working with a specific professor on a project that is related to one you did at the lab you interned at). It would benefit you to do some research on Vanderbilt’s specific academic departments here; don’t be afraid to name drop lab projects that you’ve researched to show your interest in this particular school.


Another purpose of this essay is to give students who held a part-time job an opportunity to provide more details about their situation. Sometimes students write off work experiences as different from and not as “credible” as extracurriculars, but they can actually set you apart from other applicants, particularly if your work experience offered you a chance to try something new (provided you with some sort of obstacle that you were able to overcome) or shaped the way you think about the world.


For example, if working at a child care center helped you realize that you really enjoy working with kids and thus want to apply to Vanderbilt’s Peabody School of Education, go into more detail about the experiences you had with the kids, as well as how both your character and future ambitions were shaped as a result.


You can also take this opportunity to briefly explain the circumstances that caused you to take a part-time job (money is tight at home, you are saving up for a medical mission trip, etc.) and then paint that circumstance in a light that will reflect the positive character traits. For example, if you took a job to save money so that you could go on a medical mission trip over the summer, you can talk about what led you to make that decision, and how that might affect how you want to spend your undergraduate career at Vanderbilt.


Oftentimes, holding a job and being a student at the same time is complicated, and whatever characteristics you developed through the experience (selflessness, humility, maturity) can be highlighted throughout your essay.


Lastly, because Vanderbilt doesn’t have a separate “Why us?” prompt, it is imperative that in this essay you illustrate how Vanderbilt can help you continue to pursue your passions. Therefore, whether you are talking about an extracurricular or work experience, do your best to relate it to activities you want to continue pursuing at the school.


You can also take this opportunity to highlight aspects of yourself that you feel were not mentioned in your Common App. If it is clear in your application that you enjoy music and theater, but there is not much about your love for robotics, write about the time you made your first robot or entered your first robotics competition.


Hopefully with these tips on how to tackle Vanderbilt’s supplemental essay to the Common App, you will be on your way to having the opportunity to become a Commodore! Anchor down!


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