Stanford Roommate Essay | Guide and Examples
Stanford admissions officers are always thinking about admitting the most successful class that they can. Even when they ask “fun” questions, such as:
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. (100-250 words.)
Despite our use of scare quotes above, this question actually can be a lot of fun. Our big concern, as college essay coaches, is that you don’t take Stanford seriously when they say they want to “get to know you better.” That’s a trap.
While your essay can indeed be light-hearted and joyful, admissions officers are grading it just like they do any other — for evidence of your potential to succeed.
Follow our steps below to make this one count. (And for answers to all your college essay questions, see our College Essay Help Center.)
What not to do: simply be interesting
The trap with this essay is to take the question too literally.
Come room-assignment time, nobody is going to be reading this essay to help them match you with the perfect BFF. That’s why you should steer clear of simply saying something interesting about yourself.
Here are some invented no-no examples:
- Your love of piano, your obsession with Chopin, and how you’ll be bringing a keyboard to keep playing in college.
- Your love of tacos, how you make them every Tuesday at home for your family, and how you hope to explore the local taco scene in Menlo Park and Palo Alto.
- The reason your lucky charm is the color red, what it represents in your Chinese culture, and the great things that happened on three days you wore all red for luck.
Aren’t these interesting stories? It might be cool to live with someone who could play a nocturne for you late at night, right? Or someone to take you exploring the local taquerias. Or someone who’s integrated this idea of “luck” into their life with such verve.
The problem is that the person reading this essay won’t actually be your future roommate.
None of these kinds of topics — unless handled the right way (see below) — is liable to move your application from the “maybe” pile and onto “admit them now!”
Still being graded: keep the essay basics in mind
Stanford wants to know whether you’ll be successful at their school and within their particular campus community. Every question they ask on their application is about sussing this out — whether it’s your personal statement or a 100-word note to a future roommate.
Asking a playful question is a way to get to these answers about your potential in a playful way.
Therefore, you want your answer here to reflect 1 or more of the 5 traits, just like any other essay would. In fact, talking to a future roommate is a great place to showcase 3 of the 5 traits:
- Intellectual curiosity — things you’re interested in and like to explore.
- Contribution — how you give back and create community.
- Diversity of experiences — your unique background and life story that will expand the horizons of those you interact with.
This essay could probably also reflect Drive (aka grit or perseverance) and Initiative (unwilling to accept the status quo), but the other three are a more natural fit.
Finally, as with everything else college essay-related, make sure the topic you talk about is recent to your experience. If you saved the world while you were in middle school, skip it, and write about something less spectacular that you did more recently.
Have fun, too: brainstorm answers that would show yourself off to a future roommate
With those basics in mind, let’s have fun with this because the Stanford admissions team definitely would like this one to be on the lighter side.
Begin by brainstorming a whole bunch of outside-of-the-box, off-the-beaten-track, off-the-wall topics about yourself that would answer this prompt. Allow yourself a good 15-20 minutes here.
Give yourself a little break — creativity flourishes in a little break — and then come back to it again (maybe 5-10 minutes). This time, use the 3 of the 5 traits above (intellectual curiosity, contribution, and diversity of experiences) to expand on your brainstorming (another 10-15 minutes). Do any other interesting facets of your personality or experience spring to mind?
Once you’ve put in about 30 minutes of brainstorming, you should have some great topics that are authentic and fun from which to choose the very best one that will also strengthen your application.
The whole picture: how will this answer reflect on your entire application?
As you may know, Prompt recommends working on each application college by college (not essay by essay). Admissions teams read each application as a whole, so that’s how you should write them.
With small, creative essays, you want to think about using them smartly as little pieces that bolster your overall application.
Take a look at what else you’re telling Stanford about yourself. Which of the 5 traits are you really focusing on? Do you have any weaknesses you might want this essay to compensate for? How have you “branded” yourself?
For example, if you’ve written a lot about contribution, perhaps writing a personal statement about your community service work, this essay could be a way to show how deep that trait goes with you. You could talk about informal ways that you bring groups of friends together and help nurture strong friendships, and how you hope to do that at Stanford, too.
In this scenario, you’re using this “fun” question to show a more light-hearted, but equally valuable aspect of one of your “serious” traits. This essay will help amplify your brand as a contributor.
Or, perhaps the same contribution person might worry that their community service essay leaves out other exciting things about themselves. You want to make sure that you showcase all the impressive, unique things that you might bring to the table (ie: Stanford’s campus), and this little essay could be a great way to highlight one of them.
For example, if you have a deep interest in film — you could use this essay to showcase your intellectual curiosity in a fun way. You could talk about your love of horror movies, how you pursue that interest with friends today, and how you hope to join the Stanford Film Society and plan horror movie marathons for your roommates.
In this scenario, you add to a serious trait of yours with a more off-beat interest that nonetheless also showcases intellectual curiosity.
BTW, now you see that the three examples of “what not to do” above all could be great essay topics. But only if they showcase your college potential and fit with the rest of your application.
How to write it: Straight-forward, action-driven, concrete
Now that you know what to write, bad news: you don’t have much space to do it!
Stick to these 3 precepts, and you’ll knock it out of the park:
- Straight-forward. College essays do not call for “beautiful” writing. They call for simple, clear sentences that an admission officer can understand while reading quickly.
- Action-driven. Since the point is to show off your college potential, you need to talk about things that you’ve done, whether that’s reading Wes Craven’s autobiography, planning an excursion to a screening of The Exorcist with your friends, or writing up your horror review on LetterBoxd. Actions that you took.
- Concrete. Relatedly, point to things you’ve done, and things you’d like to do at Stanford. Philosophical musings are great, but they take up valuable space and don’t contribute much to your application.
The Chopin-loving pianist might write an essay here that stays away from waxing effusively about how “alive” they feel when they play and how great Chopin was (because this is supposed to be about how great you are). Instead, they can focus on:
- What they do to keep piano in their life, on top of a busy high school schedule — ex: practice 15-minutes every morning, no matter what; and sign themselves up for yearly recitals so they have something to work toward;
- What they plan to do to keep piano going in college — ex: planning to bring their keyboard to their dorm; will be auditioning as a keyboard for campus bands and/or Classical music programs; and
- It will all tend to demonstrate intellectual curiosity and drive.
The taco-Tuesday lover’s essay should stay away from talking about tacos themselves, and instead focus on:
- What it takes to cook tacos every Tuesday for their family, on top of a heavy course-load — ex: they once had to order them from a fast-food place, but they’ve never once let their family go hungry on a Tuesday!
- A note on the rave review they’ve written on Yelp to promote their favorite local taco joint;
- What they plan to do to keep the warm fuzzies of “Taco Tuesday” alive once they get to campus — ex: have a goal of eating at each of Trip Advisor’s top 10 taquerias in Menlo Park and Palo Alto by the end of freshman year; and
- It will all tend to demonstrate contribution and intellectual curiosity.
The red lucky charm person should stay away from going on too long about Chinese culture itself, but instead focus on their particular relationship to it:
- How they wear all-red to take tests because it gives them a feeling of connection to their culture — and is also light-hearted and fun, helping them to relax on big test days;
- How they convinced others at their school to join in, making test days more fun for many of their classmates;
- How their grandmother loves that they’ve brought this traditional aspect forward in their lives, and it serves as a point of connection between generations;
- How they plan to continue this tradition at Stanford; and
- It will all tend to demonstrate diversity of experience as well as contribution.
Bonus: this guide will get you through Stanford’s other two short questions, too
Congratulations on having read all the way down. Great news: everything you read for this question will apply to the other two as well (both 100-250 words):
- 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.
- Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why.
So go off and write two more killer short essays. And, now that you know what really matters, be sure you also have an absolute blast while doing it.
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