Are you preparing your college application for Stanford University? If so, you’ve probably heard about the Stanford roommate essay, which you must complete as part of your application. The Stanford roommate essay is a unique essay that asks every applicant to write a letter to their future roommate.
In this article, we’ll talk about what the Stanford roommate essay is, show several Stanford roommate essay examples, and offer tips for making your response stand out from the thousands of other Stanford applicants.
What Is the Stanford Roommate Essay?
The Stanford roommate essay is one of four essays you must write as part of your Stanford University college application.
Let’s take a look at the actual text for this essay question:
"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—get to know you better."
The Stanford letter to roommate prompt has a minimum of 100 words and a maximum of 250 words. Other than that, there are no specific guidelines for how you should answer the question.
What Is the Stanford Roommate Essay Question Asking (and Why)?
Since Stanford doesn’t give any specific examples of what they’re looking for in responses to the Stanford roommate essay prompt, you might be wondering what you should write about for the question and why they’re asking it in the first place.
The Stanford roommate essay is definitely unique—and you should take that as license to write about topics you otherwise wouldn’t in your college application.
The admissions committee includes this prompt to get an idea of what you’re like with your peers, as well as how you’ll fit in with Stanford’s student body. This prompt is an opportunity to show a different side of yourself than what you emphasize in the rest of your application.
The question isn’t concerned with your plentiful extracurricular achievements or spotless academic record; rather, it’s asking about what you do after you’re finished studying or practicing. What do you like to do when you’re just relaxing? How do you spend your free time? How do you interact with your peers? What are the quirks that make you you?
Asking this question gives the admissions committee a better picture of the whole you, rather than just the student who will be attending class.
This essay question is a great opportunity to talk about unique aspects of your personality and interests that weren’t showcased in the rest of your application. If you have a special talent for, say, racking up quadra-kills in League of Legends, this essay is the time to share that.
If you've always wanted to write about your love for video games, your Stanford roommate essay is the time and place to do so.
Stanford Roommate Essay Examples, Analyzed
Stanford roommate essays look very different from other types of college application essays. It’s not often that you read about a student’s aptitude for a frog impression or their addiction to Bubble Trouble in a college essay.
Let’s take a look at two different Stanford roommate essay examples (both of which resulted in admission to Stanford) and see what made each of them stand out.
Stanford Roommate Essay Example 1
This Stanford roommate essay example comes to us from Reddit user u/ChunkySpaghettiSauce. ChunkySpaghettiSauce wrote this essay as part of his 2016 Stanford application. He was accepted to Stanford.
Dear Future Roommate,
First things first: my Starburst is our Starburst.
Feel free to grab some (but don't touch the lemon) off my desk whenever. I hope this works the other way around too.
I have my own quirks as do most people. For starters, I can do a hyper-realistic frog impression. (Don't worry, I'll chase out any frogs that happen to hop inside.) Also, I prefer socks and sandals over sneakers because I like having a breeze around my toes.
You'll often find me reading old issues of Model Airplane News or munching on weirdly delicious food combos such as strawberries and black pepper. I hum minor-key Bach fugues while studying but sing Disney songs in the shower. I can probably make you groan with terrible interdisciplinary science jokes. For example, what happens when a mosquito bites a mountain climber? Nothing; vectors cannot cross scalars.
Beethoven is my jam and l often subconsciously start humming along to his symphonies. I may even start trumpeting "BAAA DAA DAA DUMMMM" when the brass comes in. If I start humming or trumpeting while you're studying for your o-chem final, tell me and I'll stop.
If you don't mind biking out on 3AM donut runs (lemon cream filled is my favorite, by the way), we'll get along just fine. Here's to four years of groaning over p-sets and doing everything we can to keep fun alive, even if it appears to be on life support during finals week.
Let’s take a look at what makes this essay great.
First of all, the writer includes very specific details that make him easily identifiable and relatable. After reading this essay, you get a great idea of what the student would be like as a roommate. You can picture him having a bowl of Starburst on his desk and storing his bike at the foot of his bed.
Above all, your Stanford roommate essay should paint a full picture of who you are as a person.
This essay does an excellent job of describing the writer holistically. In addition to talking about his academic interests, it shows what he’s like after the problem sets are completed and the homework is turned in.
The juxtaposition of the phrase "four years of groaning over p-sets" with "everything we can to keep fun alive" shows that the student will not only work hard but also take part in Stanford’s campus life.
The writer peppers in specific examples, such as his favorite flavor of donut, which add realism and personality to the essay. By the time you’re finished reading it, you get the feeling that this essay couldn’t have been written by anyone else but its original author.
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Stanford Roommate Essay Example 2
This Stanford roommate essay example comes to us by way of a HuffPost blog post.
TO MY FUTURE ROOMMATE:
IF YOU HAVE EVER—
l. Kidnapped your best friend at 3:00 a.m. with a bunch of buddies and taken him/her for an emergency milkshake run?
2. Made snow angels in the nude on the school ski trip when it’s 0 degrees outside?
3. Told tourists that if they "pee in the ocean," they’ll attract great white sharks?
4. Re-enacted Monty Python and the Holy Grail in its entirety before your history class?
5. Taken apart your broken MP3 because you are sure that you can fix it?
6. In the middle of the summer, dressed up in all of your ski clothes, gone to the nearest 7-Eleven to buy ice blocks and joined your friends to slide down the nearest grassy hill, all the while complaining how cold it is?
l. Memorized the first half of Whitman’s Song of Myself, because there was nothing better to do?
2. Spent three days arguing with your friends about the socio-political ramifications of the word “Chick?”
3. Stayed up until 5:00 a.m. because the conclusion of your English paper just wasn’t right?
4. Received a parking ticket because you had to respond to a piece of racist graffiti in a public bathroom?
5. Spent the entire day at a cafe re-reading a book by your favorite author?
6. When you were a second grader, explained to a classmate’s mother why you thought screaming at her kid was inappropriate while she threatened to spank you for being so insolent—
THEN WE’RE GOING TO GET ALONG JUST FINE!
You can tell right away that this essay isn’t your normal college application essay. The writer is playing around with structure, tone, and voice.
The Stanford roommate essay is a great place to break from traditional essay rules. You don’t need five fleshed-out paragraphs here; you can write in a way that feels authentic to you as an applicant.
Remember, this essay is written to your roommate, not to your parents or your teachers. You talk differently to people your own age than you do to people of other ages. Your writing should reflect that.
Another thing that this essay achieves is specificity. Each of the incidents the writer describes is vivid and real. Instead of saying that he or she "works hard on an English paper," the author describes staying up until 5:00 a.m. to correct the assignment. Instead of saying that he or she loves spending time with friends, the essay describes a specific incident that perfectly illustrates that point.
Being specific adds authenticity to your work and fleshes you out as a person.
Finally, the author does a masterful job of peppering in information about his or her habits as a student in a fun and playful way. For instance, the anecdote about taking apart the MP3 player indicates curiosity, a trait highly prized by the Stanford admissions committee.
Similarly, the anecdote about staying up late to finish an English paper shows that the student works very hard and cares about grades and the quality of submitted assignments.
Potential Topics for Your Stanford Roommate Essay
We know what your Stanford letter to roommate essay shouldn’t be: a long-winded, formal recollection of your greatest achievements as a high school student. But what should you write about then? Let’s take a look at potential topics for your Stanford roommate essay.
#1: Your Unique Quirks
Your Stanford roommate essay is a great time to show off your unique quirks.
Do you do 30 pull-ups before going to bed each night? Meditate each morning? Always slightly undercook your cookies?
Whatever the quirk, the Stanford roommate essay is a great place to share it. Bonus points if it’s funny!
Don’t just think about the quirk itself but the motivation behind it: do you do 30 pull-ups because you’re looking to increase your strength to try out for college intramural sports? Do you undercook your cookies because your grandma always did it that way?
Adding that extra spin to the description helps to round you out and gives an extra opportunity to share more about your interests and motivations.
#2: Your Relationship With Your Peers
The admissions committee wants to get a sense of how you’ll fit in on Stanford’s campus—not just in the academic classes but in the overall community as well.
The Stanford roommate essay is a great place to discuss your relationships with people your age.
You can talk about how you interact with your classmates. Maybe you formed a relationship with another student who you always stayed late after band to practice with. Or maybe you formed a homework club with other students who also sucked at Latin.
You can also talk about how you interact with your friends. You can share funny stories about ordering too much food while going out to eat, or how you guys always get front-row seats for the latest Marvel movie.
Remember, the examples you pick should show that you’re a well-rounded and fun person. If the rest of your application focuses on your academic achievements, then you'll want to talk about something different in your Stanford roommate essay.
#3: Your Favorite Things to Do Just for You
The rest of your Stanford application will indicate your academic and extracurricular achievements. This essay is a great place to show what you do for you.
Maybe you spend every Friday night building out a new board game or write fanfiction on Tumblr. Maybe you’re teaching yourself Photoshop or like watching YouTube videos about photographers. Maybe you read lots of fitness blogs and are chasing a new marathon PR, even if you don’t run track on your school’s team. Maybe you just watch a lot of Netflix.
Whatever you like to do for fun, the Stanford roommate essay is a great place to share it. Talk about how you spend your down time and what you like to do to relax.
3 Essential Tips for Writing Your Stanford Roommate Essay
While your Stanford letter to roommate essay can and should look different from the responses of your peers, there are certain tips you can keep in mind when completing the assignment to ensure that you produce the highest quality essay possible.
#1: Be Specific
Your Stanford roommate essay should paint a very specific and vivid portrait of who you are as a person.
The point of a college essay is for the admissions committee to have the chance to get to know you beyond your test scores, grades, and honors. Your Stanford roommate essay is your opportunity to make yourself come alive for the essay readers and to present yourself as a fully fleshed-out person.
Don’t try to emulate what you think the committee wants to hear or try to act like someone you’re not.
Stick to telling real stories about the person you really are, not who you think Stanford wants you to be. The more details you can add, the more real you’ll seem.
#2: Be Real
Don’t worry about sounding impressive in your Stanford roommate essay. The admissions committee isn’t expecting every student to spend their time Googling strategies for world peace or outlining their best-selling novel (unless that’s what you’re actually doing).
Don’t try to make yourself seem more important than you actually are. If you try to make things up to sound better, you’ll come across phony and insincere.
The admissions committee would much rather read about the real you—the one who spent 20 hours capturing every nearby creature in Pokémon Go—than a made-up person who you think the admissions committee wants to see.
It should almost go without saying, but you want to make sure your Stanford roommate essay is the strongest example of your work possible. Before you turn in your Stanford application, take time to edit and proofread all your essays.
Your work should be free of spelling and grammar errors, so don't forget to run your essays through a comprehensive spelling and grammar check.
It’s a good idea to have someone else read your Stanford roommate essay, too. You can seek a second opinion on your work from a parent, teacher, or friend. Ask them whether your work represents you as a student and person.
Then, have them check to ensure you haven’t missed any small writing errors. Having a second opinion will help your work be the best it can be.
Remember, even though your Stanford roommate essay should be fun, it still needs to be well written!
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Hayley Milliman is a former teacher turned writer who blogs about education, history, and technology. When she was a teacher, Hayley's students regularly scored in the 99th percentile thanks to her passion for making topics digestible and accessible. In addition to her work for PrepScholar, Hayley is the author of Museum Hack's Guide to History's Fiercest Females.