What are your chances of acceptance?

Your chance of acceptance
Duke University
Duke University
Your chancing factors
Unweighted GPA: 3.7
SAT: 720 math
| 800 verbal


Low accuracy (4 of 18 factors)

What Stanford is Looking for in Your Essays

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:



Your standardized test scores, transcripts, and resume will help Stanford determine whether you are qualified to attend the university. However, the essays are the key component of your application that will humanize you as an applicant. 


By providing the admissions committee with your reflections on a unique set of personal experiences, the essays deliver new information that cannot be found elsewhere in your application. In particular, the essays help Stanford admissions officers answer the overarching question: Who do we want to be part of this community of learning? This article will discuss how the admissions committee attempts to answer this and how this affects what Stanford looks for in your supplemental essays


An Essay Topic That Resonates


When selecting a topic for each of your essays, it’s important to reflect on how relevant and appropriate a topic is. For particularly sensitive topics, it might be helpful to consider whether the topic is something you are so passionate about that you would not attend a school that did not align with this opinion. 


Additionally, think about the settings in which this topic of conversation would be appropriate or inappropriate. For instance, would the topic be appropriate for a casual coffee-shop chat, a job interview, or dinner with your grandparents? If the answer is no, then you might want to consider a new essay topic.


It is also important to remember that your audience is the Stanford admissions officers. As you write your essays, you should continuously reflect on how each topic and essay would be interpreted by an admissions officer. You also want to consider whether this topic overshadows the key messages you are trying to convey about yourself. If each essay reveals more about who you are and what you care about, then you are on the right track.


Values That Align with Stanford’s Mission


As you write your essays, use these three questions to guide you. Make sure to evaluate each essay as a whole and each paragraph within each essay against these questions:


  • Will you be a positive addition to the campus community?
  • What proof do you have of demonstrating personal qualities like determination and resilience?
  • What authentic reasons do you have for wanting to enroll at Stanford?


To craft essays that address these questions, it can be helpful to review Stanford’s mission statement, vision, and vision themes. Use these articulations of Stanford’s ethos to identify and reflect on the intersections between Stanford’s ideology and your personal experiences, values, character traits, and goals. An essay that shows that you share common values with Stanford will help your application stand out.


Proof You Will Be Engaged in the Community


Finally it is important that you emphasize that you will be an engaged and positive addition to the Stanford community. Many essays fail to fully address this point, but it is crucial to your application’s success. To weave a compelling argument for yourself, consider the communities in which you would like to participate in within Stanford or the broader regions of Palo Alto and the Bay Area.  How do these communities relate to the academic, pre-professional, extracurricular, social, and religious communities to which you currently belong? 


You should use your essays as an opportunity to reflect on past experiences of building up various communities and provide evidence for the type of member you would be in the Stanford community. Ultimately, your goal is to help the admissions officer understand how you operate within a community and the value you will add. It is important that the admissions officer is aware of this so they can actively advocate for you as a member of the incoming class. 


For more information and guidance on writing the application essays for Stanford University, review our article: How to Write the Stanford University Essays