How to Write the Sarah Lawrence College Essay 2022-2023
Sarah Lawrence College has one supplemental essay, with four prompts to choose from. Roughly, these prompts address identity, creativity, diversity, and the values of the college. This post will provide guidance on which prompt to choose, as well as a breakdown of how to write an effective response to each one.
Although this essay is technically optional, Sarah Lawrence receives thousands of applications each year, so you should take advantage of every opportunity possible to distinguish yourself from the other applicants. These prompts give you a chance to do exactly that.
Sarah Lawrence College Supplemental Essay Prompts
We know that there may be elements of who you are as a person and student that you may not feel are conveyed fully in the other sections of this application. If you wish to showcase a little more about your particular interest in Sarah Lawrence College, please respond to one of the prompts below or select “I will not be submitting this optional essay.”
Option 1: Sarah Lawrence students are often described as hyphenates: director-playwright-sound designer, environmentalist-photographer, journalist-linguist, economist-poet. In 250-500 words, tell us about seemingly disparate interests you’ve brought together, or hope to bring together at Sarah Lawrence.
Option 2: Students at Sarah Lawrence are asked to design their own research questions and answer them during semester-long projects. In 250-500 words, thoughtfully respond to a prompt of your own creation.
Option 3: Sarah Lawrence College’s community places strong value in inclusion and diversity. In 250-500 words, tell us about what you value in a community and how your perspective, lived experiences, or beliefs might contribute to your College community.
Option 4: In her 2019 commencement address, Maggie Haberman ’96 told the graduating class ‘My time at Sarah Lawrence helped me understand the importance of patience, of assuming good faith in others, and of finding truth.’ In 250 – 500 words, tell us about a time you spoke your own truth or found the importance in one of the values Maggie describes.
Sarah Lawrence students are often described as hyphenates: director-playwright-sound designer, environmentalist-photographer, journalist-linguist, economist-poet. In 250-500 words, tell us about seemingly disparate interests you’ve brought together, or hope to bring together at Sarah Lawrence.
Here, the key to a strong response is identifying a combination of interests that is genuinely unique to you. Sarah Lawrence gives you a hand by providing some examples of what they’re looking for. If the combination you’re thinking of writing about is more along the lines of “student-athlete” or “guitar player-piano player,” you should probably select a different prompt. Not that there’s anything wrong with those interests—that’s just not what this prompt is getting at.
If you feel this prompt is a good match for you, the next step is identifying anecdotes that clearly show your interest in the topics you have selected. Since this is a relatively long supplement, make sure you can describe these anecdotes in some detail.
For example, say you decide to write about your interests in hiking and cooking. Below are good and bad examples of how you might choose to begin your essay.
Good example: The day’s last rays of sunlight filled the sky, and Baker Lake’s rumpled surface reflected every incandescent shade of pink, purple, blue, and orange. I could smell the pine trees surrounding the lake, and my fleece was plenty warm enough for a gentle August night. Everything was perfect… except the bowl of mashed potatoes in my lap, which was somehow both powdery and watery, and lacked any and all spices. My parents had also made exactly the same thing for both breakfast and lunch. As I choked down the potatoes by the lake, I began to realize that if I ever wanted better backpacking food, I would have to learn how to cook myself.
Bad example: When I was little, I went backpacking every summer with my parents. I really loved the views of mountains, lakes, and valleys, but I was always so hungry after hiking, and my parents weren’t very good cooks. We usually ate dehydrated mashed potatoes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. This monotony inspired me to learn how to cook myself, so I could figure out tastier options, even in the backcountry.
The main difference here is clear: the first response shows, while the second tells. While you should always aim to show, not tell, as noted above this is a longer supplement, so you should take advantage of that extra space to immerse your reader in your story as much as possible. Details, like describing a particular backpacking trip instead of speaking generally, make your passion more believable and convincing.
Note that the prompt allows you to choose interests you have not yet combined. For example, say there is an applicant who also likes hiking and cooking, but, unlike our first applicant, doesn’t have experience cooking in the backcountry. We would recommend this applicant check out Sarah Lawrence’s list of clubs and organizations, and connect her interests to one of the options listed there.
For example, she might write about how the Outdoor Adventure Club would give her an opportunity to cook for her fellow hikers, and how she could then write about her most successful meals in Sarah Lawrence’s food magazine, Salt and Pepper.
These details will not only show your reader that you are truly passionate about continuing these hobbies in college, but also that you have done your research on Sarah Lawrence and can show them what you would bring to their community.
Students at Sarah Lawrence are asked to design their own research questions and answer them during semester-long projects. In 250-500 words, thoughtfully respond to a prompt of your own creation.
This option is by far the most open-ended of the four, which can be both a blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have the opportunity to share anything you want with the admissions officers. In college, you will be able to do far more varied and nuanced work than in high school, and a strong response to this option will show Sarah Lawrence you are prepared to work independently.
On the other hand, the freedom of this prompt might be overwhelming. If you find yourself spending hours trying to create your own prompt, we suggest pivoting to one of the other options, as that is not the most productive use of your time.
However, if there is a question you really wish you’d come across in your supplements, or something you’ve just been dying to share, this prompt may be right for you. The first step is, of course, writing the actual prompt clearly, creatively, and concisely, which can be more difficult than it sounds.
For example, say you want to write about your passion for grunge music. Here are some good and bad examples of made-up prompts that will allow you to do that.
- Good Prompt 1: If someone made a movie about your life, what song would play during the opening credits, and why?
- Good Prompt 2: Who would be your dream performer at your next birthday party, and why?
- Bad Prompt 1: Write about grunge music and why you like it.
- Bad Prompt 2: Since the beginning of human history, musicians ranging from the ancient Greek lyre players to Beyoncé have shaped culture, identity, and the human experience as a whole. Music can lift you up in your saddest moments, or make your best moments even better. Write about a song or artist that has made a profound impact on your life.
The good prompts clearly show your reader not only that you will be writing about music, but also that you can approach this topic in a creative, unconventional way.
Bad Prompt 1, on the other hand, is too direct. You don’t want to start off on such a flat note, as you might lose your reader before you even begin. Bad Prompt 2 has the opposite problem: it’s much too long. While you may have come across real supplements that provide background context like this, every word is precious, and you should use as many as possible on your actual response.
Once you’ve written the prompt, the next step is to figure out what you want to say about yourself in your response, and the anecdotes you want to share with your reader to illustrate those qualities. Since you picked the topic yourself, hopefully this part won’t be too difficult.
It is important, however, to make sure that your reader learns something substantial about you from your response. This option is open-ended, but that doesn’t mean you can be unfocused.
For example, say you choose to respond to Good Prompt 1, and your answer is “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana. You don’t want your essay to be a rant about why music peaked in the 90s and no modern band can compare to Nirvana. While that essay might be interesting to read, it won’t tell your reader much about your personality or character, only your taste in music.
Instead, think specifically about why you like this song so much, and about what that says about you. Maybe you have a brother who is a lot older than you, and listening to this song together helped you connect with him despite the age gap. Or you grew up in a small town, like Kurt Cobain, and Nirvana’s music has helped you connect with your roots.
Remember that this is a fairly long supplement, so as you think about the anecdotes you’re going to use, make sure A) you can describe them in a good amount of detail, and/or B) you have more than one strong one.
Take the brother example. You could write about the first time you heard the song, when he was driving you to your first day of 3rd grade, and then fast-forward to singing it karaoke-style together at his high school graduation. In a longer essay like this, showing how your personality has developed over time can be a very effective strategy.
Finally, remember that you shouldn’t repeat information that’s already in your common app essay. So, if you wrote about grunge music, you should find a different topic here.
Sarah Lawrence College’s community places strong value in inclusion and diversity. In 250-500 words, tell us about what you value in a community and how your perspective, lived experiences, or beliefs might contribute to your College community.
This option may remind you of other supplements you have already written, as it falls neatly into the “Diversity Essay” category. Before you begin, we recommend taking a look at our general Guide to Diversity Essays, if you haven’t already.
You may have also already written a response to this kind of prompt. If so, that other essay can be a great starting point, but since 500 words is significantly longer than most other supplements, we discourage you from just copy and pasting, or inserting filler to boost the word count. If you’re lengthening a 150- or 200-word essay, you’ll have to add real substance to respond to this prompt effectively.
If you have not yet responded to a diversity essay, remember that diversity doesn’t just refer to race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality. You certainly can write an excellent essay on one of those topics if you would like, but diversity can also come from an unusual hobby or experience.
For example, say your family has a giant cornhole tournament every summer. That can be a great subject for a diversity essay, as not too many other people have that experience.
The next step is to think about what your topic says about you. Like with every college essay, you want your reader to learn something new about you, so don’t spend half the essay describing how the tournament rankings work.
Instead, think about what you have learned from this tournament. Maybe you have always been quite shy, and the rest of your family is very outgoing, and this tournament helped you come out of your shell when you were a kid, which taught you how a shared activity can build community.
You certainly want to describe your anecdote(s) in detail, but this last part is the key to a successful diversity essay. Your reader needs to see how this experience has shaped your current outlook on life, and what qualities you will be bringing to Sarah Lawrence’s community. You can then even explain how you will build community at Sarah Lawrence, for example, by participating in the service learning classes, like the intensive semester in Yonkers. If your essay does these things, excellent work!
In her 2019 commencement address, Maggie Haberman ’96 told the graduating class ‘My time at Sarah Lawrence helped me understand the importance of patience, of assuming good faith in others, and of finding truth.’ In 250 – 500 words, tell us about a time you spoke your own truth or found the importance in one of the values Maggie describes.
This option gives you three potential topics: patience, assuming the best in others, or speaking your own truth. If you immediately identify with one of these topics, don’t overthink things—write about it! If nothing comes to mind within a minute or two, however, we recommend responding to one of the other prompts, as they are all more open-ended, so you will likely have an easier time brainstorming for them.
If you do choose this prompt, once you decide what sub-topic to focus on, you want to select anecdotes to share with your reader. For example, say you pride yourself on your patience. You could write about how your family adopted a dog that had been abused by her previous family, and how the long, difficult process of earning her trust and eventually being able to pet her taught you that sometimes just being patient is the kindest thing you can do.
Alternatively, say you decide to write about speaking your own truth. This doesn’t have to be a time you got up on your soapbox and preached to your friends or family about an epiphany you had. It can also be a seemingly small moment that was significant to you.
For example, an applicant might choose to write about the summer before junior year, when he decided to be a counselor at his old summer camp instead of doing a coding camp that his parents were encouraging him to do. He could write about how this experience taught him to live in the moment, and to take ownership of his own life, instead of always doing what’s expected.
The most important thing to do if you select this option is make sure that your reader sees your topic through your eyes. Everyone has a slightly different interpretation of patience, so you need to show what patience means to you, and describe the experiences that have taught you the importance of that quality.
Finally, if you select this option, make sure to avoid sensitive topics. You should not, for example, talk about how having family members with different political beliefs has taught you to try to see the best in others. This kind of experience can certainly be extremely formative, but you have to remember that you never know who will be reading your essay, and you never want to accidentally offend your admissions officer.
Where to Get Your Sarah Lawrence Essay Edited
Do you want feedback on your Sarah Lawrence essay? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.
If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools. Find the right advisor for you to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!