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How to Ace the 2023-2024 Vanderbilt Supplemental Essay

Vanderbilt University is a very competitive private school with a 7% acceptance rate. If you hope to gain acceptance into this top-tier school, you must have an exceptional application. Do not underestimate the importance of a stand-out Vanderbilt supplemental essay!

Let’s break down Vanderbilt’s prompt and how to craft a response that’s sure to impress. 

Also see: How to write an essay about yourself

What to expect from the Vanderbilt supplemental essay prompt

Vanderbilt University expects applicants to respond to one personal essay prompt and respond to one short answer question. However, do not worry because you actually only need to write one response for Vanderbilt! The personal essay they require of students is the Common Application or Coalition personal essay so there is no need to write anything additional for Vanderbilt’s personal essay requirement. 

There are two short answer questions you can choose from and only one needs to be answered. Regardless of which essay choice you choose, they need to be answered in approximately 250 words

Short answer choice #1

“Vanderbilt University values learning through contrasting points of view. We understand that our differences, and our respect for alternative views and voices, are our greatest source of strength. Please reflect on conversations you’ve had with people who have expressed viewpoints different from your own. How did these conversations/experiences influence you? (250 words)”

Try and think of a time in which someone had a different perspective on a topic you discussed or argued. Write about this conversation by detailing a narrative of what exactly the conversation was about. Describe your thoughts and feelings about the conversation and how it was resolved (if it was!). 

It does not have to be a life-changing argument about a controversial topic. Rather, it can be just a discussion in which someone has expressed viewpoints that differ from your own. 

Be careful not to focus too much on the negatives of this experience such as negative emotions towards the other person or group but rather you should discuss your feelings objectively. 

Once you have described this conversation and the admissions officer now has context, it is important to focus on how you dealt with this conversation and what you learned from it. Describe your emotions during this conversation and what you might have done differently if given the opportunity. 

Ultimately, Vanderbilt doesn’t want to hear you attack and berate someone for their differing perspective, rather they want to see that future Vanderbilt students understand that everyone has diverse experiences and perspectives. Use this essay as an opportunity to highlight how you are able to learn from and work with others even if they have different beliefs. Additionally, describe how you would use what you have learned from this experience to better your time at Vanderbilt. 

Questions to consider: 

  • How did this conversation impact how you will communicate with others in the future? 
  • What did you learn from this experience? 
  • What will you do differently at Vanderbilt? 

Short answer choice #2

“Vanderbilt offers a community where students find balance between their academic and social experiences. Please briefly elaborate on how one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences has influenced you. (250 words)”

Unlike some schools’ intimidatingly broad prompts, this is as straightforward as it gets. Vanderbilt wants you to describe a particularly meaningful involvement you’ve had. However, it can be tricky when more than one engagement comes to mind. 

A good way to start is by looking at the Activities section on your Common Application. Highlight the experiences that have been most impactful to you. Jot down what you enjoy about each one and what they’ve taught you. Describe any anecdotes that you associate with them. Be sure to highlight progression throughout your participation in this activity, such as being elected to a leadership position. 

Since this is the only supplemental you will be responding to, be strategic with which activity you choose. If your intended major is computer science, it may be wise to discuss a related experience. You could describe the robotics club you were a member of in high school. It would be a great time to flex any awards you received at a robotics competition, too. 

On the other hand, you may want to showcase a different side of your personality that speaks more about your character. For example, discussing a volunteer experience that inspired a cause you now champion would also be a great avenue. 

Above all, pick an activity that is special to you, not what you think admissions wants to hear. Writing what you find important about your background will come across sincerely and ensure your voice can shine through. 

After you have chosen the perfect activity or work experience to write about, make sure you focus on how it has influenced you. Has this activity become a staple in your life? Do you hope to pursue this activity at Vanderbilt? Has this experience helped you realize what you want to do in your life? 

Ultimately make sure you are detailing an extracurricular activity or work experience that means something great to you and has influenced you in any way. 

Questions to consider: 

  • Did you hold a job that solidified why you want to pursue your intended career path? 
  • Has one of your hobbies taught you a new skill you cherish? Or allowed you to find community? 
  • What has devoting much of your K-12 life to playing a sport instilled in you?

Next steps for students

After our deep-dive on the Vanderbilt supplemental, we hope your ideas are flowing. Get your thoughts out and don’t be afraid of a rough first draft. You can revise for writing quality and word count later, so get started!

Additional resources

As you apply to colleges, there are a lot of decisions to make in order to ensure you end up at the right school for you. Luckily, we can help you make them! Check out our guide on what looks good on college applications, how many schools to apply to, how to find safety, reach, and match schools, and how to schedule college visits. We can also help you fill out the Common App Additional Information Section and offer you an inside view of what happens inside an admissions office.

Finally, once you get your admissions decisions back, we can help you narrow down your choices. Try out our guide to making a college comparison spreadsheet, how to interpret your financial aid award letters, and how to appeal for more financial aid. We can also help clarify the differences between public and private schools and offer you some insight into making your final choice of a college. Good luck on your educational journey, and don’t forget to apply for all the scholarships you are eligible for!

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