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How to Write Stanford’s “Excited About Learning” Essay

This article was written based on the information and opinions presented by Johnathan Patin-Sauls and Vinay Bhaskara in a CollegeVine livestream. You can watch the full livestream for more info.


What’s Covered:



Stanford University’s first essay prompt asks you to respond to the following:


The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (100-250 words)”


For this short answer question, your response is limited to a maximum of 250 words. In this article, we will discuss considerations for choosing to write about an idea or experience, ways to demonstrate a love or enthusiasm for learning, and why you should be as specific. For more information and guidance on writing the application essays for Stanford University, check out our post on how to write the Stanford University essays.


Choosing an Idea vs. an Experience


Regardless of if you choose either an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning as a topic, there are a few considerations for each.  


Most people gravitate towards writing about an idea. One challenge that arises with an idea-focused essay is that applicants who are passionate about an idea often become hyper focused on explaining the idea but neglect to connect this idea to who they are as a person and why this idea excites them. 


When writing about an experience, it is important to strike a balance between describing the experience and analyzing the impact of the experience on you, your goals, and your commitment to learning.


Learning for the Sake of Learning


This essay question allows you to expand on your joy for learning and your genuine curiosity. Stanford is searching for students who are naturally curious and enjoy the process of learning and educating themselves. For example, a compelling essay could begin with a riveting story of getting lost while hiking the Appalachian Trail and describing how this experience led to a lifelong passion for studying primitive forms of navigation. 


There is a strong tendency among applicants to write about formal academic coursework, however, the most compelling essays will subvert expectations by taking the concept of learning beyond the classroom and demonstrating how learning manifests itself in unique contexts in your life.


Learning as a Means to Other Ends


If you’re someone for whom learning is a means to other ends, it is important that you convey a sense of genuine enthusiasm and purpose beyond, “I want to go to X school because it will help me get Y job for Z purpose.” You may be motivated to attend college to obtain a certain position and make a comfortable income, however these answers are not necessarily what admissions officers are looking for. Instead, it can be helpful to relate an idea or experience to something more personal to you.


Academic & Professional Trajectory


Consider relating the idea or experience you choose to a major, degree program, research initiative, or professor that interests you at Stanford. Then go beyond the academic context to explain how the idea or experience ties into your future career. 


For instance, if you are interested in the concept of universal health care, then you might describe your interest in applying to public health programs with faculty that specialize in national health care systems. You might then describe your long term career aspirations to work in the United States Senate on crafting and passing health care policy.


Personal Values & Experiences


Another way to tie the ideas in this essay back to a more personal topic is to discuss how the idea or experience informs who you are, how you treat others, or how you experience the world around you. 


You could also focus on an idea or experience that has challenged, frustrated, or even offended you, thereby reinforcing and further justifying the values you hold and your worldview.


Community Building & Social Connectedness


You may also explore how this idea or experience connects you to a particular community by helping you understand, build, and support members of the community. Stanford is looking to find students who will be engaged members of the student body and carry out the community’s core mission, values, and projects, so this essay can be an opportunity to highlight how you would contribute to Stanford. 


Be Specific


Be specific in your choice of idea or the way in which you describe an experience. For example, a response that focuses on the joys of learning philosophy is too broad to be particularly memorable or impactful. However, the mind-body problem looking at the debate concerning the relationship between thought and consciousness is a specific philosophical idea that lends itself to a rich discussion.