If you are applying to Stanford, you must have probably heard about Stanford’s popular roommate essay, one of three supplemental essays required to use. The roommate essay is infamous for its unique premise—write a letter to your future roommate—that many applicants find challenging to tackle.
The roommate essay causes uncertainty among Stanford students because it is entirely unlike most essays that college applicants are generally asked to write, including the Common App Essay. Rather than presenting the typical challenge or extracurricular activities, the roommate essay allows applicants to talk about more daily or “normal” aspects of their lives.
You get a valuable opportunity to reveal something about your personality and interests beyond the usual resume-building fare.
This chapter will look at what qualities make a Stanford roommate essay stand out and discuss what students will want to avoid. We will also go through a successful essay from one of our students, break down exactly why it works, and help you understand what lessons you can take from this example.
Check out: How To Get Into Stanford
What can you write in the roommate essay?
With an acceptance rate under 5 percent, it is easy to say that Stanford has their pick of astonishingly qualified applicants. By adding the roommate essay prompt, Stanford is looking to see what qualities besides outstanding academics and extracurriculars you will bring to campus: in other words, how students will contribute and fit into student life.
In drafting the essay as a note between roommates, Stanford asks you when they are relaxing by themselves or hanging out with friends at the end of the day.
Because it’s directed towards a peer, it is more than fine to use an informal, fun tone in writing this essay. This is a great space to include offbeat elements of humor—but only if they represent your personality. You should sound like yourself. Stanford even states on their website, “We want to hear your voice in your writing. Write essays that reflect who you are and write in a natural style.”
We want to caution you against writing only about what kind of roommate they would be. I know it seems easy to spend 250 words describing your sleep schedule or management habits, but we ensure that this kind of essay is a sign that they have taken the prompt too literally.
Remember that Stanford indicates something about itself as an establishment, even as it asks you to do the same. It’s saying: community matters here, and people matter. Social skills matter. Who are you, and why should we let you into the school and the club?
Similarly, writing about how your child can’t wait to share typical Stanford experiences like lazing about beneath the California sunshine with their roommate doesn’t reveal much about your child other than…well, that they want to go to Stanford or getaway their Midwestern winter. As such, we recommend staying away from platitudes like “I can’t wait to sit together at football games” or “I look forward to studying for finals together.”
Instead, you must focus on personal, intimate details about yourself to write a standout roommate essay. Think: what would your close friends know about them that others wouldn’t? You can also use help from an English essay writer to help you draft content for the essay.
For instance, maybe you are a gaming nerd and always talk about video games. Perhaps you like to sit under the stars late at night when your parents are sleeping, and sometimes you tinker with an electronic skateboard in the garage. Or maybe you cannot go to bed without laying out your clothes and essentials for the next day—and perhaps you have some unique kind of well-known costume among your friends. These are the kind of minute details that are less likely to make it into the usual personal statement but reveal glimpses into your personality.
- Here are some questions to help you brainstorm what those details might look like:
- What about you would surprise other people? This could be an interest, a habit, or a goal.
- What’s in your room that no one knows about? (And is it something appropriate to share on a college application?!)
- What daily routines do you have? Is there something you can’t go without in the morning or evening?
- What do you like to do for entertainment or to relax (other than extracurricular activities)?
- Do you have a code or unique way of talking to your friends?
- What is your favorite inside jokes?
- Where do you and your friends go to blow off steam?
- What are you most excited about sharing with a new friend or roommate?
- How do you know when you’ve clicked with someone? What’s the sign that you two are now true friends?
Once you have brainstormed some exquisite personal details, you should write out the motives or reasons behind these habits. In other words, your roommate essay should not only give Stanford a sense of what you are like in your day-to-day life but also provide a larger structure or context explaining what those details say about them.
Also, parents should always give their children some distance when letting them prepare their college essays, especially here. This is a common social topic. A parent standing on top of their child will result in a challenging, awkward, and uncool essay.
Tell your child to get feedback by encouraging them to read the essay with older friends, admission advisors, counselors, or favorite teachers. But this might be one where you need to step away to let their personality shine.
Stanford Roommate Essay, Example
Let’s have a look at a real-life example of an excellent roommate essay, and observe how an idea of how these concepts can be applied.
The actual Stanford roommate essay prompt:
Essentially 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. (100–250 words)
Here’s what our student, Angelica, wrote:
Dear Future Roommate,
When first meeting me, most people describe me as “quiet.” I’m glad I have this chance to tell you that this isn’t the case. Don’t get me wrong: I know how to relax with a good book and a cup of tea, and—don’t worry—I always wear headphones when I study. My family and close friends will tell you that once you get to know me, I have plenty to say.
As an aspiring psychology and philosophy double major, long analytical conversations are my jam. People fascinate me, so I love to talk with my friends about what everything from our favorite cereals to our phobias says about us (by the way, that would be Rice Krispies and spiders—any interpretations?). If you don’t feel like sharing, though, it’s fantastic. I make sure to journal every night before bed and write down my dreams when I wake up.
You could say I’m a sucker for human expression. I would be delighted if you ever want to go to a museum or take a poetry class together. I’m looking to try new things in college, though, so if you’d instead bond by going rock climbing or to a comedy night (or whatever you’re into), I’m game.
I look forward to learning about what makes you you
What's great about Angelica’s essay? Let’s cut it down:
Paragraph 1: Angelica’s essay starts by immediately laying down a hook: outsiders think she is quiet, but that isn’t the case. Not only does this grab the reader’s attention and lure them to keep reading, but it also sets up the rest of the essay by creating a structure for Angelica to explain how she is not what she seems. See how she also manages to hide in a few specific details of things she enjoys.
Paragraph 2: Now, we start to get an idea of who Angelica is. Though she does choose to write about how she enjoys something fairly common—long conversations with friends—she makes it unique to her by grounding the activity in her interests in psychology and philosophy. By writing about her daily habits of journaling and recording her dreams, we get a picture of her as someone who naturally loves analysis and interpretation, even outside the scope of academic work.
Note: though we have demonstrated why the roommate essay is a valuable space to discuss interests other than academic or extracurricular ones, if your child can tie such interests or activities to their personality in a completely natural way, as Angelica did, it’s outstanding. It’s proof that their intellectual passions are organically related to their personal and private lives.
Paragraph 3: In this paragraph, Angelica does a great job of moving seamlessly through a sequence of ideas. First, she further explains why she loves long analytical conversations: she is interested in human expression. Not only does this first sentence help explain the previous paragraph, but it also sets up space for her to discuss other subjects and activities she enjoys, like art and creative writing. In turn, by framing these interests as possible activities with her future roommate, Angelica can naturally write about how she hopes the college will be a place to try new things.
Paragraph 4: A standard one-line to demonstrate that she is keenly interested in learning about other people. This sentence seems completely honest and in line with what she’s already shown us about herself.
Why it works
Angelica’s essay works because she uses intimate personal details to create a larger story about who she is. She gives the reader a sense of what she likes to do and why these things matter to her. Through this, we come to understand her personal qualities. In reading Angelica’s essay, we get a sense of her as initially reserved but ultimately chatty, interested in other people, analytical, creative, and open-minded.
Angelica uses an easy, conversational tone with the occasional dash of light humor. As such, her essay doesn’t read like it’s trying too hard to be something it’s not and instead just sounds genuine.
She also takes advantage of the prompt to show humility and friendliness. Her parentheticals show a sweet but not put-on awareness that it won’t just be her interests and biases that drive the new roommate relationship.
As with other successful college essay examples, Angelica’s essay also shows us that writing a compelling roommate essay doesn’t have to involve detailing a super obscure or quirky interest or activity (though that’s lovely too). Instead, it demonstrates that something ordinary can be interesting so long as your child can show why that topic reveals something important about who they are.
The roommate essay gives a unique opportunity for you to demonstrate that they will bring more than just a fabulous resume to Stanford. Though many applicants initially find the roommate essay challenging, many students often report that it is among their favorite college essays once they have completed writing it. With lots of brainstorming, attention to detail, and self-reflection, you can find something unique to say.