How to Write the Vanderbilt University Essay 2023-2024
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. Acceptance is highly-coveted, and the admissions rate for Vanderbilt in the Regular Decision round has fallen to below 5% in recent years.
Vanderbilt University has one required prompt that allows you to choose between two different options to respond to. Here are some of CollegeVine’s strategies for writing an outstanding essay.
Read this Vanderbilt essay example to inspire your writing.
Vanderbilt University Supplemental Essay Prompt
Please select one of the following short answer prompts (approximately 250 words):
Option 1: Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you.
Option 2: Vanderbilt University values learning through contrasting points of view. We understand that our differences, and our respect for alternative views and voices, are our greatest source of strength. Please reflect on conversations you’ve had with people who have expressed viewpoints different from your own. How did these conversations/experiences influence you?
Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you. (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.
Vanderbilt University values learning through contrasting points of view. We understand that our differences, and our respect for alternative views and voices, are our greatest source of strength. Please reflect on conversations you’ve had with people who have expressed viewpoints different from your own. How did these conversations/experiences influence you? (200-400 words)
This prompt is a mix between a Diversity Essay and Political/Global Issues Essay prompt. The prompt has a 200-400 word limit, so you will want to write succinctly. You can answer the prompt in a wide variety of ways — the most important part is to highlight past experiences that are unique to you and give deep insights into your values.
Many of us disagree with others’ values rather often, so you should have plenty of past experiences to brainstorm from. This is especially true for those who may have been part of the debate or mock trial clubs at their high school. While you can tell the story of a time when you had an argument with someone else, this is not mandatory. You simply need to show how you communicated with and were influenced by what others have said.
This prompt is all about individual differences and how they make each of us unique. Diversity is highly valued by colleges, so you will have peers from all across the country and world in your classes that you will be able to collaborate with. Your essay should make it clear that you will thrive in such an environment.
When determining if an issue is important to you or not, think about the conversation you have had about it as well as how they impacted you. Your essay does not have to be about politically divisive topics, but instead should be about something that is relevant to your past experiences. Topics that involve you and your community on a local level could be great to write about — for example, you could discuss school district issues, a big corporation pushing out smaller local companies, or funding cuts to the arts or special education classes at your school.
Make sure to set the right tone for your writing in the introduction. Be careful not to focus too much on negative emotions toward the other person or group in your story, but instead, discuss viewpoints objectively. Be mindful of the word count as well — you should prioritize information about your identity and values rather than details about political views and history.
An example of this could be that you and another student had conflicting views as to whether or not your school should replace the bottled water it provides to students with more eco-friendly reusable water bottles. This conversation highlights a social issue that conveys what you care about and are interested in.
Be sure to not just simply outline a conversation of opposing viewpoints, but focus on how you dealt with the conversation. Did the conversation affect how you perceived society or the individual? Did it impact how you communicated with others in the future? Did you learn anything from the scenario? Think through these questions as you write your essay.
One more thing to note is that you should be careful not to attack the other person or seem close-minded. Many people in college will have differing viewpoints from you, and you should frame being in an environment with these differences as a learning opportunity. Use this essay to highlight how you are able to learn from and work with others with differing beliefs, in addition to how your own experiences have affected you moving forward.
Where to Get Your Vanderbilt University Essay Edited
Do you want feedback on your Vanderbilt essays? 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!