Of all the creative college application supplements out there, perhaps the most deceptively simple is this infamous prompt from Stanford University:

“Letter to your Roommate -- 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)”

Many students interpret this as a straightforward assignment and write something generic, missing the larger opportunity to strengthen their application. To help you brainstorm for this essay, let’s break down the prompt into what it's not vs. what it is.

What the Roommate Essay is NOT:

It's not A roommate preference survey

Many colleges and universities will send their matriculating students a roommate preference survey to help Student Services make more optimal roommate pairings. This survey includes questions like, “What time do you like to wake up and go to sleep?,” “What is your preferred studying environment in your room?,” and “How often will you be in your room during the day?” Using the Roommate Essay to share your cohabitation ground rules and preferences is probably the most common way students misinterpret this question! In general, the responses to these questions will be generic and non-specific - we want to make sure that the Roommate Essay highlights your unique personality and interests. 

it's not An actual note to your future roommate

To dispel a common misconception, your future roommate will never see this essay (unless you show it to them!) if you end up matriculating at Stanford. Your audience for this essay is the admissions committee, not a fellow high school senior.

What the Roommate Essay IS:

This essay is a chance to share something new about yourself.

College essays are like mini-interview questions, and you only get so many chances to showcase what makes you special. Though academic rigor is obviously important for Stanford admissions, almost equal importance is placed on selecting students who will thrive in and enhance Stanford’s unique campus culture. Many students have unique interests, hobbies, and experiences that don’t fit elsewhere in their college applications, but are still important for the admissions committee to get a holistic picture of that student. The Roommate Essay provides a rare chance to show the committee who you are (beyond your grades and test scores) and how you’ll be a valuable contributor to the Stanford community.

But how do you fit all of that into just 100-250 words? First, you want to pick out which of your awesome traits you want to highlight. Think about the following questions to kick start your brainstorming:

  • What would your friends and family say makes you special?
  • If you had a completely free day, how would you spend it?
  • What habits, rituals, or quirks do you have?
  • Do you have a “life motto” or words you live by?
  • What kind of things do you have on your walls/your desk at home?
  • What could you give a talk about for 20 minutes, without any preparation?

The framing of your unique trait/experience/habit is the crucial difference between a generic essay and one that helps your application come alive, even with the exact same initial topic. For example, if the only thing Student A can say about their habit of waking up early is that they have to do it to be on time for school, the most we can say about them is that they are punctual for their commitments. On the other hand, if Student B writes about how they leap out of bed every day at 5:30am to catch a glimpse of the rare owl species that lives in the tree behind their apartment complex, we suddenly have a vibrant picture of a bird-loving individual who is so motivated by their passions that they are willing to wake up at odd hours. Think back to your personal statement - how did you use storytelling to convey the message you were trying to communicate?

Next, think about why it’s important for someone to know this fact about you. Do you enjoy sharing your early morning adventures with others? Does this example represent a larger joy of exploring your surroundings that you look forward to continuing at Stanford? The key is to relate this trait to how you will engage with your fellow students and the Stanford community.

Finally, it’s time to structure this unique part of your personality in the form of a letter. Common ways to start and end this essay include “Dear Roommate,” and “Sincerely, (your name),” but don’t be afraid to show off some personality in the salutations! Keep the body of the letter concise (remember your word limit), and don’t forget to address your roommate from time to time using the second person point of view (at least one of the pronouns “you,” “we,” or “us” should appear in your essay). 

Done correctly, the Roommate Essay is a unique opportunity to show the Stanford admissions committee who you are at heart - don’t be afraid to share your true self!

Comments

topicTopics
academics study skills MCAT medical school admissions SAT expository writing college admissions English MD/PhD admissions GRE GMAT LSAT chemistry strategy writing math physics ACT biology language learning test anxiety graduate admissions law school admissions MBA admissions interview prep homework help creative writing AP exams MD academic advice career advice study schedules summer activities history personal statements premed philosophy secondary applications Common Application computer science test prep organic chemistry supplements PSAT admissions coaching economics grammar ESL law statistics & probability psychology SSAT covid-19 legal studies reading comprehension 1L CARS logic games Spanish USMLE calculus dental admissions engineering parents research Latin mathematics verbal reasoning DAT excel political science French Linguistics Tutoring Approaches chinese DO MBA coursework Social Advocacy academic integrity biochemistry case coaching classics diversity statement genetics geometry kinematics medical school mental health quantitative reasoning skills IB exams ISEE MD/PhD programs PhD admissions algebra astrophysics athletics business business skills careers data science internships letters of recommendation mentorship social sciences software engineering tech industry trigonometry work and activities 2L 3L AMCAS Academic Interest Anki EMT English literature FlexMed Fourier Series Greek Italian MD vs PhD Montessori Pythagorean Theorem STEM Sentence Correction TMDSAS Zoom admissions advice algorithms amino acids analysis essay architecture argumentative writing art history artificial intelligence cantonese capacitors capital markets cell biology central limit theorem chemical engineering chromatography class participation climate change clinical experience cold emails community service constitutional law cover letters curriculum dental school distance learning enrichment european history executive function finance first generation student fun facts functions gap year harmonics health policy history of medicine history of science hybrid vehicles information sessions institutional actions integrated reasoning intern international students investing investment banking logic mandarin chinese mba mechanical engineering meiosis mitosis music music theory neurology operating systems pedagogy phrase structure rules plagiarism poetry pre-dental presentations proofs pseudocode quantum mechanics resume school selection science simple linear regression sociology software study abroad synthesis teaching technical interviews time management transfer typology units virtual interviews writing circles