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How to Write the Stanford University Application Essay Prompts for 2019-2020: Ready or Not, Here They Are–

In Essay About a Problem, Problem Essay, Stanford Application, Stanford Application Essays on June 22, 2019 at 9:25 am

Who should read this post: Anybody who is applying to Stanford in 2019-2020, with a bonus focus on the Problem Essay which appears in multiple Ivy League and other elite college applications.

I confirmed with Stanford yesterday that they will be using the same essay prompts as last year. In addition to the three, 250-word supplemental essays, Stanford features a series of short answers, which I will also discuss below. In addition, I will offer a preliminary comparison of selected essay prompts from elite schools to suggest how you can begin reusing essays in whole or part–or reusing ideas. Here are the Stanford supplemental essays for this year:

Stanford Short Essay Questions for 2019-2020

Please write a short essay in response to each of the below three essay topics. There is a 100-word minimum and a 250-word maximum for each essay.

  1. 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.
  2. Virtually all of Stanford’s undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better.
  3. Tell us about something that is meaningful to you, and why.

The first thing that I would point out is that these prompts have not really changed for years. To see what I mean, take a look at the Stanford shorts from seven years ago: Stanford Short Essays, 2012-2013.

This year’s “deeply curious” prompt 1 was in 2012 the prompt 1 “intellectual vitality” prompt, which asked for an idea or experience that fascinated you. The only real difference is in the wording. The roommate question has remained basically the same for a decade, and the only change in prompt 3 has been to alter “what matters to you” to “something that is meaningful to you.” With that in mind, let me suggest that you read all of that post to the 2012-2013 prompt that I link above. Most of what I say there still applies.

I have another analysis of the Stanford prompts in the next link; scroll down this linked post to see additional links to ideas for approaching these prompts, including writing about intellectual interests: Stanford. But keep in mind that constrained, 250-word limit.

So little change over so much time–What does this mean? It means that Stanford feels it has found the best essay prompts possible. But I think it is also tied to the length of the Stanford essays. Having assisted with editing these for the last twenty years, I can say that this is a truly fiendish wordcount–just long enough to be an essay, but too short to allow for anything extraneous. Getting a good Stanford essay down to 250 words can be a hellish exercise in compressing meaning through changes in word choice and syntax pruning. Or just cutting a paragraph you thought was great but which is not necessary, comparatively speaking. In short, you can write an essay with a clear, bright “flavor” but not many layers. I add that the short essay and short answer prompts together do force you to respond in a personal way.

Speaking of short answers, in addition to the three, 250-word essays, Stanford also has a series of short responses most with a 50-word limit. Here is last year’s Stanford short answers, with word counts:

1) What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)

2) How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)

3) What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit

4) What five words best describe you? (Max 10 words [!])

5) When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 word limit)

6) Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 word limit)

7) Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50 word limit).

8) Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words)

For this post, I am going to limit myself to looking at short response #1. Here’s why: a number of elite colleges will use longer essay prompts this year that allow you to focus on a problem you’d like to solve, or help solve, or that just concerns you. I address this basic kind of question under the idea of the “problem essay” which I have discussed in multiple posts in the past, and will be writing about again soon. Here is an earlier example: Writing the Problem Essay. Think of this short response as a chance to come up with a great hook for an essay of 300-500 words. If your Stanford 50-word response is well done, use it as the opener for a longer essay on another elite college application. Nothing wrong with doubling down, with one caveat–Turnitin.com will find it. But borrowing from yourself is not a crime, and I assume you will write a great essay that develops from that hook–which itself can also be expanded as you fit it to a different word count.

As I write this, I still await confirmation on Ivy League prompts, but from last year, here are some examples that tie in with the problem essay topic:

Dartmouth, 2018-2019

  • In the aftermath of World War II, Dartmouth President John Sloane Dickey, Class of 1929, proclaimed, “The world’s troubles are your troubles…and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.” Which of the world’s “troubles” inspires you to act? How might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it?

Georgetown, Walsh School of Foreign Service Question, 2018-2019

APPLICANTS TO THE WALSH SCHOOL OF FOREIGN SERVICE: Briefly discuss a current global issue, indicating why you consider it important and what you suggest should be done to deal with it.

While Princeton in 2018-2019 defines its problem essay as a social essay:

  • “One of the great challenges of our time is that the disparities we face today have more complex causes and point less straightforwardly to solutions.” Omar Wasow, assistant professor of politics, Princeton University; founder of Blackplanet.com. This quote is taken from Professor Wasow’s January 2014 speech at the Martin Luther King Day celebration at Princeton University.

Keep in mind that some of these prompts I list just above may change this year, but on the other hand, most won’t, and you can get started on a problem essay by writing a nice, 50-word definition that has plenty of “hook.” Also be aware that many colleges are using Turnitin.com and will notice not that you are plagiarizing but that you are reusing essays. This could impact how the view your Demonstrated Interest or Interest Quotient. More on that later.

That’s it for now. Among other things I will be posting about how to write a problem essay soon, so come back for that, if it applies. In the meantime, start writing your 250-word essays.

How to Write the Yale Supplemental Essays for 2018-2019 (And a bonus look at the Dartmouth Supplemental Essay for 2018-2019)

In Community Essay, Problem Essay, Uncategorized, Yale Application Essay 2018-2019, Yale Supplemental Essay on July 6, 2018 at 11:59 pm

Who should read this post:  Anybody applying to Yale or Dartmouth and anybody who needs to write about community or about a problem that needs solving.  In my previous post, I discussed sorting prompts into categories in order to save time by creating reusable essays, or at least some reusable language.  To summarize the basic point, many prompts have overlapping topics that allow you to reuse material, which saves time and suffering.  In that spirit, this post will focus on connections between the Yale and Dartmouth prompts for 2018-2019.  For a link to  a discussion on how to write about a problem, scroll to the bottom of this post.

Background to This Year’s Yale and Dartmouth Prompts:

No doubt if you are reading this, you have already visited the Yale and perhaps the Dartmouth site, and seen this year’s application essay prompts.  Yale and Dartmouth have both launched their essay prompts ahead of their Ivy League peers, as well as Stanford, a move that suggests they are interested in seeing the effects on their application numbers.

Yes, the others have essay prompts up, but they are last year’s prompts, and even though little change is expected for essay prompts this year, I advise that you wait until each school’s prompts  are officially released for this year before you write an essay, so that you do not find that your topic has disappeared.  It have seen this happen.

The reason for the early launch by two Ivies is  easier to guess than, say, why Amazon is changing the prices of product x or y at Whole Foods:  Yale and Dartmouth want a boost in applications this year, by getting the work-intensive part of their applications up early.  Yale has often been a bit tardy in getting their essays out, so it is even more noticeable, at least to me (I do pay attention to this stuff, after all.  It’s my job).

For more on last year’s Ivy League application data, as well as a bit on Stanford, have a look at my recent post on early versus late applications, here:  Ivy League and Stanford Application Data for 2017-2018.

So why would Yale get out there to stir it up and boost numbers?  In my opinion?

There have been identity issues in the Ivies, and there has been some discussion of Yale’s brand slightly declining against those of its immediate peers due to a perception that it is not “STEM-y” enough.  Yale also sends a high percentage of grads into the financial industry in New York, which is a pure blessing for its alumni donations, but a mixed blessing reputationally.  Or maybe those folks in  Yale admissions have just been drinking a lot of double espressos (on ice, given the weather of late) and are operating at a hyper-caffeinated pace.   There is further evidence of another intent within the Yale prompts that is perhaps related to reputation, however, as well as to the kind of student the most elite schools have been working with.

Yet it is not like Yale is the only school struggling with some identity issues.  Harvard had a notorious cheating scandal–and you can see these institutions dealing with their own paradox:  it is so hard to get into most Ivies that some people will do almost anything to get admitted, and some continue their anything-goes-to-get-my-grades habits during their college years.  These things  may explain why so many essays this year can be sorted into the “community involvement” or “do good for humanity” category.

Yale, for example,  has three supplemental essay prompts, but two of them are really about being part of a community.   Note, by the way, that this makes a total of three essays for one Yale application (the Common App 650 or the Coalition App essay, then two of the three supplementals).

And what does Dartmouth have as a supplemental prompt?  Three of the five options are in some sense about being part of a larger community or purpose.  Of course, Dartmouth had its own cheating scandal, in an ethics class, no less.   Satirists take note.  The messaging  in the choice of prompts that the schools are choosing is clear.  Have a look at the Boy Scout Oath if you have any further questions.

Yale and Dartmouth Essay Prompts for 2018-2019

To save you the effort of toggling between windows, here are the supplementals for Yale, followed by a brief analysis, then Dartmouth:

Yale

After a series of short responses with an emphasis on academics, Yale presents this:

Applicants submitting the Coalition Application or Common Application will select from the following topics:

  • Think about an idea or topic that has been intellectually exciting for you. Why are you drawn to it?
  • Reflect on your engagement with a community to which you belong. How do you feel you have contributed to this community?
  • Yale students, faculty, and alumni engage issues of local, national, and international importance. Discuss an issue that is significant to you and how your college experience might help you address it.

Applicants submitting the Common Application: Please choose two of the topics above and respond to each in 250 words or fewer. (The bold print here is mine)

Let me point out why I sort two of these essays into the same basic category:  Both the community essay, which is the second option, and the significant issue essay, the third option are about engagement with the greater world.

Please notice as well that, when you begin to talk about being part of a community, it may involve things like food and music and family and geography, but it also tends to involve specific challenges–all communities have to be maintained and all communities face problems.  A quick look at our politics shows you that, whether we are talking about decaying mining communities in the Appalachian region or immigrant communities in Oakland:  place, music, food, all the elements of culture are there, but so are a specific set of problems that define the communities.

I do have something for you to consider as a counter-zeitgeist move, though–instead of talking about what it means to be part of some sub-group, is it possible to talk about what it means to be American?  Is that a community anymore?

I am asking this seriously.  I heard a teacher from a highly diverse high school interviewed recently, and he observed that his non-anglo students did not identify with the term “American,” seeing it as a code word for “white”.  So one thing I might challenge you all to think about his what means to be “American” today.  I qualify that as well, by pointing out that, in South America, people tend also to think about themselves as “Americans” in some sense, as this link will show you: “What Does American Actually Mean?”

I also point out that the question of community identity is behind many of the troubled headlines today–tied to the fear of the Other.   (What else is the fear of migrants in, say, Bavaria, when you look at it?  Well that and manipulation by fear-mongering demagogues, which might also be a topic for this year, if you have been paying close attention and can avoid writing a rant.   For the record, for those of you who read the article linked here, I have been to Duisburg and Berlin and did not see the rampant crime claimed by certain Bayerisch politicians.  Felt safer in both places, in fact, than I have in more than a few American cities).

This fear of others is a world-wide phenomenon now, not just an American problem.  Just beware of preaching or going off as if this were a class discussion in Civics or history.   And please note  that this kind of problem or community essay needs to have a strongly personal foundation in  you, your family, your sense of place within a community or within a term like “American,” and that none of these topics ask you to sermonize.

As an addendum to this short discussion I can also suggest that you listen to a short essay by the great linguist Geoffrey Nunberg–words and identity are inseparable, and Nunberg talks about tribalism as his word of the year for 2017 (which involves both a problem and deals with what community is) here.

 

Everything he said in 2017 seems totally relevant now.  He has a lot to say about related topics if you keep clicking.

If you have an appealing or interesting personal and family history, that also has a place in this kind of essay, but of course you may have crossed that box off already for your Common App or Coalition main essay.

Dartmouth Supplemental Essays

Here they are:

1. Please respond in 100 words or less:

While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: “It is, Sir…a small college. And yet, there are those who love it!” As you seek admission to the Class of 2023, what aspects of the College’s program, community or campus environment attract your interest?

2. Please choose one of the following prompts and respond in 250-300 words:

A. “I have no special talent,” Albert Einstein once observed. “I am only passionately curious.” Celebrate your curiosity.

B. The Hawaiian word mo’olelo is often translated as “story” but it can also refer to history, legend, genealogy, and tradition. Use one of these translations to introduce yourself.

C. “You can’t use up creativity,” Maya Angelou mused. “The more you use, the more you have.” Share a creative moment or impulse—in any form—that inspired creativity in your life.

D. In the aftermath of World War II, Dartmouth President John Sloane Dickey, Class of 1929, proclaimed, “The world’s troubles are your troubles…and there is nothing wrong with the world that better human beings cannot fix.” Which of the world’s “troubles” inspires you to act? How might your course of study at Dartmouth prepare you to address it?

E. In The Bingo Palace, author Louise Erdrich, Class of 1976, writes, “…no one gets wise enough to really understand the heart of another, though it is the task of our life to try.” Discuss.

F. Emmy and Grammy winner Donald Glover is a 21st century Renaissance man—an actor, comedian, writer, director, producer, singer, songwriter, rapper, and DJ. And yet the versatile storyteller and performer recently told an interviewer, “The thing I imagine myself being in the future doesn’t exist yet.” Can you relate?

So let’s sort these as well:  Prompt 1, the short response, is clearly of the “Why Us” variety which I discussed in my previous post. It is also really  short, so look closely at a few programs/aspects of Dartmouth that appeal and good luck.

Prompt 2 has a clear “problem” essay in Dbut this problem also implicitly demands a degree of awareness and engagement with the larger world.  So, a community aspect, define that as you will by the problem you want to address (and those you therefore want to help).  Again, watch the preaching.

As for community prompts here, that starts with B–history, legend, tradition are all community things.  Sure, it is about you, but it is about what has been transmitted to you and what you are part of.

Prompt E is also in about connecting to somebody else, whether because they are an outsider, or as part of just connecting, to which I add that some sense of shared connection, some sense of empathy  is always what underlies a community.    (Warning for this essay:  Beware of a Kumbaya overdose, for which the antidote is a good sense of humor).

And finally, Danny Glover in E.  Maybe what Glover was thinking about that does not exist is just being a person in America, without all that other stuff he often talks about as a comedian, like always having a hyphen attached to his identity, or what one has to do while black in America.  Think about what it would be like to have an America where that did not happen and Danny Glover was not an “African-American” comedian, but instead was just an American comedian.  Or just a great comedian.

Before I leave, I have written about the Problem Essay long ago.  Some topics not have changed  much, which says a lot.

If time allows, I will discuss problem essays at more length in the coming weeks.  But hey, when Yale gets its application prompts out this early, I may be busy pretty soon.  Speaking of which, if you are seeking editing help, Contact Me sooner rather than later, as my book will start to fill up soon.

 

 

 

 

Topic Generator #1 For The Problem Essay and The Essay On What You Care About

In Essay on Books, Essay on Intellectual Development, Essay on What Matters to You, Issue of Concern Essay, Problem Essay, Significant Experience Essay, What I Care About Essay, What is Important to Me Essay on July 12, 2012 at 11:37 am

Many universities use application essay prompts that ask you to write about either a problem of some kind or something you care about.  I encourage my  clients to try to come up with at least one counterintuitive essay, so let’s do something completely unexpected and go with  a retro subject that could fit both of these prompts:  libraries.  There is nothing more cool than bringing back something retro, right?  And what could  be more retro than a place full of printed material?

More specifically,  here’s my first idea for a problem essay or an essay on an issue everyone should care about:  The Decline and Fall of Libraries.

I use an e-reader, have a blog, follow news online, etc, etc, etc, but still: I believe, nay, I know that traditional  libraries are important.  If you think this makes me sound totally 20th Century, then read on–below you will find an annotated list of links to brilliant essays,  articles and a book, all of which defend and explain the purpose of libraries and all of which are full of ideas that you could use to develop your own essay.  Read them for ideas and information relevant to essay prompts ranging from the Personal Influence and Intellectual Experience  to prompts about Problems of Local or National Importance.  If a librarian has influenced you, this subject could also work for Common App prompt three.

Here are links to essays and opinions on libraries (and of course on books, as well):

Grazing in the Stacks of Academe–Here music critic Ben Ratlif offers a great example of how to write persuasively and evocatively; he also provides enough ideas for half-a-dozen new essays.  Example: How ugly can be good (even beautiful). Click the link to check it out.

North West London Blues  In this piece, published both in the print version of The New York Review of Books and as a blog post, Zadie Smith, the author of White Teeth, writes about the unremarkable but vital library in her community.  Her introduction is a bit roundabout, and some of her references are obscure for those who do not follow British politics, but the problems are similar to those we have on this side of the pond, and she makes the importance of her library and libraries in general very clear.

The superb book critic and social commentator Laura Miller has a good piece on the value of libraries in Salon: Why Libraries Still Matter. Read it and be persuaded.

Did you know that the destruction of print didn’t actually start with the internet or even with the computer?  Did you know that old print material is often destroyed by a machine called “the guillotine?”  Nicholson Baker can tell you all about it and  why places that store print materials on shelves are irreplaceable. Baker is no luddite fuddy-duddy; he was an early proponent of both e-readers and Wikipedia.  He also likes video games and has written about them.  Yet he strenuously defends the value of books as objects and he has written an entire book himself on the destruction of libraries:  Double Fold. You can glean a great deal of information about Double Fold  just by reading this excellent review in Salon:  Stephanie Zacharek on Double Fold.  You could also buy the book from this superb bookstore:  Double Fold at Powell’s Books.

Next up is Lions in Winter.  Big changes are in store for New York City’s public library system, and in this fine piece from the superb n+1, Charles Petersen gives an extremely detailed and fair-minded assessment of the changes proposed for NYC’s libraries, and in the process gives you excellent background and perspective on libraries in general and on how the world of information and books is changing.  Petersen understands the need for change but also knows the value of what may be lost, and describes it eloquently.  If you have trouble getting your teeth into this because of the lengthy introduction,  you might actually start with Part II of this article here–Lions in Winter Part Two– and then return to Part I.

The changes planned for the NYC library system have, of course, provoked a lot of response from journalists at the New York Times and in their opinion and letters sections.  You can get a variety of opinions on the value of libraries there, including but not limited to:

Sacking a Palace of Culture by Edmund Morris–he sounds a bit too much like a cranky old guy when he complains about the aroma of coffee, but he also offers an eloquent and even moving defense of the traditional research library, based on his own experience.  You don’t bump into a new idea or book in the same way online or via the Apple store or Amazon as you do in the library, something Morris and a number of other writers I link point out.

These kinds of changes have been going on for some time; meet a book robot here, and assess the different views of it:  A Robot Will Be Happy to Find that Book for You

On a more fantastical note, you might find this article, again by Laura Miller in Salon, which deals with the idea of a library for imaginary books: The Greatest Books that Never Were.

And as a final, tangential recommendation, check out this article, about an attempt to get a copy of every physical book and preserve it:  An Ark Full of Books.

That should be enough to get you started on an essay about how libraries (or a librarian) have influenced you, or why they are important, or how their diminishment and destruction is a local, national and international problem.  Keep checking back as I will be adding  posts which provide new topic and source materials, and I will be addressing this year’s prompts as they are released–most universities will release their essay prompts between now and August 1st.  As an example, I expect to see something from Stanford in the next week or so.