How to Write the Vanderbilt University Essay 2021-2022


Vanderbilt University in Nashville, TN, is a selective research university that comprises three undergraduate schools: the College of Arts & Sciences, the School of Engineering, and the top-ranked Peabody College of Education and Human Development.


This institution prides itself on an environment with a balance between high academic standards and a supportive, involved student community. Vanderbilt is consistently ranked as having some of the happiest students in the country. Accceptance is highly-coveted, and the admissions rate for Vanderbilt’s class of 2025 in the Regular Decision round was only 6.7%, while 18.1% of Early Decision applicants were admitted.


Because of these stringent admissions statistics, you’ll need to ensure your response to Vanderbilt’s single supplemental essay prompt stands out. Here are some of CollegeVine’s strategies for writing an outstanding essay. Want to know your chances at Vanderbilt? Calculate your chances for free right now.


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.

How to Write the Vanderbilt University Application Essay


Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (200-400 words)

Step 1: Choosing the extracurricular.


The most effective approach to this prompt is to choose an activity or experience with the most significance and meaning to you personally, not necessarily the one that looks most impressive or unusual. It can be anything outside your coursework, even if it isn’t associated with a formal school club.


This will help you create a vivid picture of your character, because you won’t be limited to shallow descriptions of something from your Common App extracurriculars list. While the word count of 400 offers you relatively ample space to tell your story in detail, it is ideal to focus on just one or two anecdotes that best exemplify why your chosen activity had such a strong impact on your personal development.


You may have noticed that Vanderbilt’s promotional materials often emphasize the theme of “balance.” In light of this, don’t feel obligated to write about an experience that explicitly connects to your intended major or academic profile. If anything, providing your reader a perspective on yourself that they might not expect from the rest of your application will show that you have much to offer this diverse community. Prospective biologists, for instance, have secured admission by writing about the collaborative exercise involved in jazz band performances.


If you are torn between multiple extracurricular experiences that are equally important to you, rank them based on their correspondence to student organizations at Vanderbilt, as well as your level of accomplishment in the field. Though the focus of this essay should certainly be on your direct experience, every essay should relate to your prospective contribution to the Vanderbilt undergraduate community and its intellectual atmosphere.


For instance, suppose you have proposed and spearheaded an initiative in a community service group, and this challenged you to plan and execute new methods of reaching out to fellow students to help your cause. Choosing this topic would enable you to connect your story to the opportunities of Vanderbilt’s Alternative Spring Break program, by including in the conclusion a brief discussion of the service skills you could leverage with ASB.

Step 2: Crafting the introduction.


Generally, it is less critical for supplemental essays to have a narrative format than the personal statement. However, if the topic you’ve decided to write about is especially memorable — and it should be — you can show this effectively by starting with a brief snapshot of your experience that captures the reader’s attention. Consider this possible introduction to an essay about writing and self-publishing science fiction stories:

Weak example: The summer after my sophomore year, I decided to spend my free time trying to become a published sci-fi author. At first it was just a fun way to put my experience watching Star Trek reruns to good use, but eventually this turned out to be the most challenging yet rewarding undertaking of my life so far.

Compare it with:

Stronger example: My fingers dance on the keyboard as visions of Hugo Awards hover in my mind’s eye. George Lucas has nothing on me! Then — stuck. The word count has plateaued, and here come the doubting voices:

“How can I make the ending inevitable yet unpredictable?”

“The middle is lagging; how can I save my baby?”

“Just how menacing can my antagonist get before he enters James Bond villain territory?”

Although the first example immediately and unambiguously presents the focus of the essay, it doesn’t give quite as much insight into the writer’s personality or the emotional force of the essay topic. From the second example, the reader can quickly empathize with this student’s experience of writer’s block that comes right at the heels of effortless confidence.


You should write your introductory sentences with the goal of providing a strong first impression, especially considering that admissions committees receive tens of thousands of applications per cycle.

Step 3: Building the heart of your essay.


After the initial hook, you can be more direct as you explain the indispensable details of your chosen activity or experience. Each of these details should help the reader understand why this topic was so special that you chose it above all others. Some questions to consider include:


  • What challenges did this activity pose? (If there were none, it’s likely that you haven’t chosen the best topic.) How did you face them? What did you learn from them, beyond typical lessons such as the value of perseverance?
  • If this activity involved working with other people, how did the activity and your personal interactions affect each other? (Be sure to go further than vague discussions of leadership and teamwork skills – explain how this experience shaped your unique perspective on those topics.)
  • How have you affected others through this activity?

Step 4: Looking forward in the conclusion.


This is the section of the essay where the importance of picking a topic with some connection to opportunities at Vanderbilt, discussed above, comes into play. By this point, your reader knows how and why the activity in question was important to you, so now they are wondering how and why it will be important as you engage with the student community you’d like to join.


Of course, your reader will realize that students’ interests change between high school and college, so you don’t need to think of this conclusion as a binding contract. Rather, it’s your opportunity to demonstrate that even if you don’t join similar clubs or continue the same part-time jobs, you’re capable of applying wisdom from your past to your future. If you wrote about your role in stage design for school plays, for instance, you might relate this to your goals in web development, or remark on how you expect to use the general skill of striking a balance between meeting practical and aesthetic needs.


We at CollegeVine wish you the best of luck on your supplemental essay for Vanderbilt!


Want help on your college essays to get into your dream schools? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses, as well as our Essay Manager.

Short Bio
Our college essay experts go through a rigorous selection process that evaluates their writing skills and knowledge of college admissions. We also train them on how to interpret prompts, facilitate the brainstorming process, and provide inspiration for great essays, with curriculum culled from our years of experience helping students write essays that work.

Don't miss out on the best high school & college admissions resources!

Join thousands of students and parents getting exclusive high school, test prep, and college admissions information.