How to Respond to Stanford’s “Historical Moment” Prompt
This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
Stanford’s third short answer question asks you to respond to the following prompt:
What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 words)
For this short answer question, your response is limited to a maximum of 50 words, so you need to make sure to use this space wisely. In this article, we will discuss a few different ways that you can approach this prompt.
Common Events from an Uncommon Perspective
This short answer, while an awesome opportunity to demonstrate creativity and share different sides of yourself, also presents the danger of cliche responses.
Most major events, like President Barack Obama’s inauguration, for example, will likely be cited by multiple students for this short answer question. Thus, having a fun, unique, and personal take on a common event is vital to set your essay apart.
In the example of President Barack Obama’s inauguration, a student who identifies as Black or who has some sort of personal connection to that event, could potentially write a strong, authentic response for this prompt.
That said, it is important to keep in mind the context in which the admissions officers will be reading your essay. If they are also reading tens, or even hundreds of other essays about the particular event that you choose, you will need to make the authenticity and uniqueness of your response incredibly clear in order to stand out.
Obscure or Personal Events
Another option when responding to this prompt is to choose an obscure or personal event to you. For example, let’s say that your dad went to the University of Michigan and was a big Michigan football fan. Before you were born, he went to see Michigan win its last national championship, which was in 1997. Writing about wanting to experience that game with your dad because Michigan football is a shared passion of yours could be a great way to answer to this question.
Choosing an obscure or personal event like this will set you apart from the 258th essay that the admissions officer may have read that week about common events like Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech or the fall of the Berlin Wall.
“Butterfly Effect” Moments
One other interesting way to approach this prompt is to look for a “butterfly effect” moment, or a moment before a major event. “Butterfly effect” moments set off a chain of events leading to major, transformational historical moments.
An example of a “butterfly effect” event could be the “Mukden Incident,” the 1931 alleged Japanese railway bombing that led to the Japanese invasion of Manchuria. This event is often considered to be the precipitating incident of World War II, as well as a host of other historical events, such as the beginnings of Communist China, that all connect back to the Mukden Incident.
Choosing a “butterfly effect” moment can be a great opportunity to demonstrate that you have an eye toward history and are interested in looking beyond just the most common or famous historical events. That said, this strategy can sometimes be difficult to accomplish within 50 words, particularly because of all of the different connected events that make the “butterfly effect” moment so consequential.
For more information on how to approach Stanford’s supplemental essays, check out this article about how to write the Stanford University essays.