A Strong Vanderbilt Essay Example from an Accepted Student
Consistently ranked as one of the best schools in the nation, Vanderbilt University is world-renowned for exceptional academics. A top-tier reputation leads to a highly selective admissions process, so to get into Vanderbilt, you need more than just strong grades and test scores—you need stellar essays that set you apart from other academically excellent applicants.
In this post, we will share a real essay submitted by an accepted Vanderbilt student. We will go over what this essay did well, and where there is room for improvement.
Please note: Looking at examples of real essays students have submitted to colleges can be very beneficial to get inspiration for your essays. You should never copy or plagiarize from these examples when writing your own essays. Colleges can tell when an essay isn’t genuine and will not view students favorably if they plagiarized.
Read our Vanderbilt essay breakdown to get a comprehensive overview of this year’s supplemental prompts.
Essay Example – The Power of Story
At an intersection in Oakwood, an elderly Asian man walks on the sidewalk. Behind him, a man in a black hoodie follows. Without warning, the man in the black hoodie pushes the Asian man to the ground, his face landing flat against the sidewalk, motionless.
Pausing the video, I watch my friends’ faces flicker between confusion, anger, and hurt. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the rise in anti-Asian hate crimes became personally painful for my Asian American friends. We encountered news of elderly Asian Americans violently thrashed and berated with slurs. But beyond our circle, conversations about these occurrences were absent. And despite the South Asian community being relatively safe from these crimes, I shared the sobs of my friends.
A few years ago, I joined a nonprofit that empowers minorities to be civically engaged citizens. Engaging with this group of passionate individuals, I was inspired by their unrelenting dedication to improving others’ lives through community-building.
Eager to foster solidarity among Reno’s AAPI community in light of these tragedies, we pioneered a march against hate, where we invited student speakers to share their stories of racial discrimination. Listening to my peers’ journeys, from finding confidence as an immigrant to navigating implicit bias in the classroom, I became captivated by the power of story.
Bonding over the commonality in our journeys and in our activism, I yearn to persist in championing the use of dialogue to build community in the face of adversity at Vanderbilt.
What the Essay Did Well
This “Extracurricular Essay” does a great job of telling a story. The beginning draws the reader in by including details like “an intersection in Oakwood,” and “a man in a black hoodie,” to help us visualize the scene. In the next paragraph, we realize that we are watching this situation through the eyes of the student. By first providing readers with the terrible situation directly, the student arouses our own emotions, which allows us to immediately understand the student’s shock and anger once we realize we are actually in their shoes.
The second paragraph goes on to provide good background on the student’s personal connection to the situation, which allows readers to understand their motivation for engaging in the extracurriculars described in the third and fourth paragraphs. By showing us the pain their friends felt (“I watch my friends’ faces flicker between confusion, anger, and hurt”) and explaining that this issue was at the forefront of their mind, but ignored by many others (“But beyond our circle, conversations about these occurrences were absent”), we get a tangible sense of the student’s connection to the issue.
Then, the essay shifts to discussing the student’s extracurricular activity. The point of this kind of essay is to help admissions officers see that you are involved in your activities to grow and learn about the world, rather than pad your resume. Because the student took the time to explain their passion for AAPI activism and demonstrate their compassion for others in the previous paragraph, we can clearly see that this nonprofit is genuinely meaningful to them.
Finally, although this essay just asks about an extracurricular, this student was still able to infuse elements of their personality into the essay in the way they told it. From the details included, we know this student is compassionate, an activist, and values justice and diversity. Being able to show the reader all that without telling us these aspects of their personality outright makes for an engaging, informative essay.
What Could Be Improved
The biggest thing this essay needs to improve is the shift in focus from the cultural context of the first two paragraphs to the student’s involvement in the extracurricular itself. Right now, that transition is rather abrupt, so although the topics are related, the reader is left to tie them together on their own.
For example, while the detail in the introduction describing the instance of hate is captivating, in such a short essay, that space could be used much more wisely. A better hook would immediately place the reader in the extracurricular activity, possibly like this:
“STOP ASIAN HATE. PROTECT ASIAN LIVES. I AM NOT INVISIBLE. Hundreds of cardboard signs blocked out the strong Reno sun, the feeling of change hanging in the air. My throat sore and mouth parched after hours of chanting, I couldn’t help but smile knowing that we made this march possible.”
With this introduction placing the reader in the middle of the action (a technique called “in medias res”), the rest of the essay could then be spent providing more details about what the student did as a part of the nonprofit. They tell us they “pioneered a march against hate, where we invited student speakers to share their stories of racial discrimination,” but a stronger extracurricular essay would delve into the specific role the student played in planning these events.
Similarly, rather than ending the third paragraph by just telling the reader that they became “captivated by the power of story” through listening to others, this student could have demonstrated how that power tangibly affected their own actions, by adding a sentence along the lines of:
“Inspired by the stories I had heard, I encouraged my friends to submit their own stories as opinion pieces to our school newspaper, while I created flyers for the march that included photos of myself as a child, to humanize our movement.” Notice how this version both shows us what the student did and provides more insight into their character.
With a word count this low, you need to understand exactly what the prompt is asking for, and make sure everything you say is helping provide that. Background context is important, but if the prompt is asking about your extracurriculars, most of the essay should be dedicated to your actual involvement in the extracurricular.
Where to Get Feedback on Your Essay
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!