How to Respond to Stanford’s Activity Short Answer Prompt
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Johnathan Patin-Sauls in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
Stanford University’s fourth short answer question asks you to respond to the following prompt:
Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities, a job you hold, or responsibilities you have for your family. (50 words)
For this short answer question, your response is limited to a maximum of 50 words, which means you have to think carefully about each and every word in your response. In this article, we will discuss how to choose a topic and approach this essay. For more information on Stanford’s other supplemental essays, check out our post on how to write the Stanford essays.
Choose Your Topic
This question provides applicants with an opportunity to discuss one of the experiences that could benefit from further elaboration to offer deeper insight into who you are as a person. Consider activities, jobs, or responsibilities that are not already included in a longer essay and that may not have enough context in your activity list to fully show their importance.
If there is an activity that you feel has been pivotal in your development throughout high school that you have not had the opportunity to discuss, this is the perfect time to do so. As is the case with every short answer and essay prompt, Stanford wants to get a better sense of who you are, so make sure to choose an activity that has been impactful to you.
Focus on the “Big Picture”
This essay isn’t really about the details of the club, the babysitting job, your grandfather’s medical care, or whatever the experience was – it’s about how this experience affected you.
Consider a cork board by your desk as an analogy for this short answer essay. Just as in the essay you get to have 50 words, on your cork board you get to hang two snapshots.
The details about this experience are represented by the little push pins that you use to hold up the pictures. The design of the push pins might be cute, or they might be utilitarian, but they’re vital either way – without them, your photos would fall down. That said, nobody will come up to your cork board just to admire your push pins; they will come to admire the photographs.
Just like folks admiring pictures on your cork board, the Stanford admissions readers want to see the “big picture” of the activity, job, or responsibility in your essay. They will be looking for what the activity has taught you and how it has changed you instead of the explanation of the activity itself. As you write, consider how the activity you select will make you a better Stanford student and affect your performance on campus.
Is Your Stanford Essay Strong Enough?
At top schools like Stanford, your essays account for around 25% of your admissions decision. That’s more than grades (20%) and test scores (15%), and almost as much as extracurriculars (30%). Why is this? Most students applying to Stanford will have stellar academics and extracurriculars. Your essays are your chance to stand out and humanize your application.
That’s why it’s vital that your essays are engaging, and present you as someone who’d be a strong addition to the Stanford community.
After reading your essays over and over, it can be difficult to judge your writing objectively. Your friends, family, and teachers may also be biased. That’s why we created our Peer Essay Review tool, where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. Since they don’t know you personally, they can be a better judge of whether your personality shines through, and whether you’ve fully answered the prompt.
You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. We highly recommend giving this tool a try!