What Vanderbilt Admissions Officers Look for in Essays

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

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If Vanderbilt University, also known as Vandy, is one of your top-choice schools, you may be wondering how to craft your admissions essay to help you stand out. Vanderbilt is incredibly selective, so they look for students who demonstrate what they can contribute to the diverse campus community academically and otherwise. Your response to these essays contributes to the holistic review of your application, so it’s important to put a lot of thought into them. 

Keep reading for more information about the Vanderbilt essays and some strategies for writing them, including tips from one of our IvyWise counselors.   

What Are the Vanderbilt Essays?

When you apply to Vanderbilt, you can expect to write at least two essays — additional essays are required if you apply for scholarships. The first essay is a response to one of the personal essay prompts on the Common App, Coalition Application, or QuestBridge, and the second is a response to one of two supplemental essay questions that are unique to Vanderbilt University. First-year and transfer students will have different personal essay prompts, but the supplemental essay prompts are the same for both.  

The Vanderbilt supplemental essay is designed for the admissions committee to get to know you on a deeper level and gain a better understanding of how you’ll fit in on campus. It’s important that your essay does not repeat information that admissions readers will find elsewhere in your application. However, it is in short answer format, so it needs to pack a punch. 

How to Write The Supplemental Essay Prompt for Vanderbilt

Unlike your personal essay from the Common App, Coalition Application, or QuestBridge which is sent to every school you apply to  the supplemental essay prompts are exclusive to Vanderbilt University, allowing you to tailor your response to Vandy’s unique culture. IvyWise Master College Admissions Counselor and former Admissions Officer at Vanderbilt University, Carolyn, shares these tips for writing the supplemental essay:

  • Develop content ideas for both of the essay prompts, then decide which of the drafted topics would add the most new and positive information to your application. 
  • Regardless of which prompt you choose, answer the provided questions directly and completely. 
  • Draft a response that is close to the word limit (250) without going over. 
  • Avoid repeating any information that is already evident from the other pieces of your application. 
  • Get straight to the point, and include as much information in this small space as you can. 
  • Proofread your final draft meticulously before submitting. 
  • Remember that the supplemental essays are opportunities to add new and helpful information to your profile, but they are not nearly as important as the academic pieces of your application (such as your transcript and test score). In other words, make it good, but don’t spend too much time stressing out over it.

2022–2023 Vanderbilt Supplemental Essays — Analyzed

Prompt #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?

This prompt is meant to assess how willing you are to engage with people who have opposite viewpoints from yours. Identify a time you had a difficult conversation with someone about a polarizing topic. Focus on the impact this conversation had on you  if you walked away with a better understanding of their perspective or learned a better approach to having these types of conversations. Tie this into Vanderbilt’s culture of valuing and celebrating diverse perspectives.     

Prompt #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.

This is a standard prompt about extracurriculars. In fact, you may see similar prompts on other college applications — but if you repurpose your answer, remember to change the name of the school! Choose an activity for this essay that you haven’t already mentioned in your personal statement. It must be meaningful to you, and you should be able to discuss how this activity helped you grow. For example, did it teach you leadership skills or direct you toward a new purpose and/or passion? Connect this example to what you hope to contribute to the Vanderbilt community. 

How to Answer Vanderbilt Scholarship Essays?

If you’re applying for any of Vanderbilt’s merit-based scholarships, you will need to write an additional essay for each one. The Vanderbilt scholarship essay prompts for fall 2023 admissions give you a good idea of what to expect, though the prompts are subject to change each year. 

Based on her experience reading applications for Vanderbilt, IvyWise Counselor, Carolyn, offers these scholarship essay tips: 

  • Do your research on each of the three scholarship programs Ingram Scholars, Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholars, and Chancellor’s Scholars and apply only to the program(s) for which you think you would be a strong fit. 
  • If you think you would be a strong fit for one of the more focused merit awards Carell Family, Curb Leadership, or Fred Russell-Grantland Rice  submit an application for the Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship, through which you will be considered for all other available awards. 
  • Do not reuse essays or ideas from your Common Application. The scholarship committee will have access to both your scholarship and Common App essays. 
  • If you are applying for the Ingram Scholars Program, make sure your passion for business, philanthropy, and innovation are evident in all of your scholarship essay responses, as well as in the various pieces of your Common Application.
  • If you are applying for the Chancellor’s Scholarship, make sure your passion for and experience in bridging gaps across various communities within your school is evident in your scholarship essay response, as well as the various pieces of your Common Application.
  • Submit both your admission and scholarship applications early (ideally by early November), even if you are applying Regular Decision. 
  • Make sure your essays respond directly and completely to the given prompt and come close to the word limits without going over. 

How Long Should My Vanderbilt Essay Be?

For the supplemental application essay prompts, your response should be approximately 250 words. It can be a challenge to write a meaningful essay with such a limited word count, so it’s important to be as informative, focused, and concise as possible.   

The scholarship essays have varying requirements for word length anywhere from 250 to 2,500 words depending on which scholarship you’re applying for:

  • Ingram Scholars Program: 250500 words
  • Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship: 500 words
  • Chancellor’s Scholarship Program: 500 words
  • Curb Leadership Scholarship: 2,500 words maximum
  • Fred Russell-Grantland Rice Scholarship: no limit specified, but 10 published sports journalism samples must be included 

Can I Get Into Vanderbilt With Low Stats but Good Essays and Extracurriculars?

Vandy is among the most selective schools in the U.S., so when considering how to get into Vanderbilt, your academic performance in high school will matter more than your college essays and extracurriculars. They receive thousands of applications each year and have an acceptance rate of approximately 7%. 

More than 90% of the students who are accepted graduate within the top 10% of their high school class and tend to have high standardized test scores. As a prospective student, you would also need to submit a letter of recommendation from your guidance counselor and two from teachers who can speak to your academic abilities.     

Is Vanderbilt on your college list? It can be difficult to gain admission, but our expert counselors are available to help you present yourself as a compelling and desirable applicant. All of our IvyWise counselors have worked as admissions officers at some of the top schools in the U.S., so they know how to help you stand out. Schedule an Initial Consultation today to see how we can help you gain admission to your top-choice schools. 


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