Vanderbilt Essay Examples

Vanderbilt Essay Examples – Introduction

If you’re looking for Vanderbilt essay examples and Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples, you’ve come to the right place. Vanderbilt is a private research university located on a beautiful campus in Nashville, Tennessee. Vanderbilt puts students in the heart of Nashville, a city known for its thriving music scene and foodie culture. With 70 majors across four academic schools, Vanderbilt offers rigorous academic options for students looking to study in any discipline.  

In this article, we’ll go over some Vanderbilt essays that worked. We’ll provide several Vanderbilt essay examples for you to review. Then, we’ll discuss why these Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples succeeded.   

Vanderbilt Supplemental Essay Requirements

Before we get into the Vanderbilt essay examples, let’s first take a look at the Vanderbilt supplemental essay requirements. Then, we’ll discuss our Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples in more detail.

In addition to the Common Application essay, Vanderbilt also requires one short essay based on one of two essay prompts.

Vanderbilt Essay Requirements:

Short Answer Essay 1 (250 words):

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?

Short Answer Essay 2 (250 words):

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.

Past Vanderbilt essay prompts

In the past, Vanderbilt has required one longer essay focusing on extracurricular activities. The Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples in this guide reflect that older prompt. That said, they can still be helpful to you as you approach the current style of the short Vanderbilt supplemental essays. We are sure you will find the Vanderbilt essay examples below are quire similar to an essay you might write for the second prompt.

In this guide, we’ll focus on the Vanderbilt essay examples from previous years. We will also present you with tips on how to use these Vanderbilt essay examples to write your Vanderbilt supplemental essays. Through studying these Vanderbilt essay examples, you can learn how to write the best possible Vanderbilt supplemental essays. 

Vanderbilt Essays that Worked

Now that we’ve covered the Vanderbilt supplemental essay questions and how they’ve changed over the years, let’s move on to some real Vanderbilt essay examples. 

Vanderbilt Essay Examples #1

This August, a member of an organization where I volunteer became a headline: 16th trans woman killed in 2019. Every time I leave this organization, I pray that everyone lives another week. After losing this person, I’m not prepared to lose another loved one. 

Immediately after this person’s passing, I was scared of returning to my organization. With time, I started to accept that I couldn’t save this person and that I can’t give anyone at this organization the life they deserve. However, that didn’t mean I couldn’t make a difference. 

After strategizing with my friends, I started a project that didn’t give homeless communities what outsiders thought they wanted, but what they actually needed. Because my city is so spread out, well-known organizations are inaccessible. 

I engineered an online resource guide so anyone experiencing homelessness can access needed assistance. My guide discusses ways to acquire free/subsidized metro passes and groups organizations by type and geographic area, highlighting lesser-known ones without a substantial online presence. But contributing to words on a webpage isn’t everything. My goal for my work at the organization where I volunteer is to help all of them see themselves the way I see them: deserving, valuable, and resilient. 

I didn’t just want to cater meals for the young people at my organization. I wanted to cook them myself. Each week, I take requests for what I should prepare for the following Saturday. Members need to know someone cares about them enough to spend hundreds of hours in the kitchen for them. 

I didn’t just want to host drives for this organization after I witnessed the demoralizing effects of low-quality donations. Believing you are worthy is difficult enough after your family throws you onto the streets, but it becomes almost impossible when you’re only given everyone else’s scraps. 

After these conversations, I started a clothing revitalization initiative where I use outside materials or other donations to up-cycle usable parts of low-quality clothing donations. That way, our members receive only the best possible items. I don’t want poor donations to make them feel less than what they are. 

I couldn’t save this person. I can’t give anyone at my organization the life they deserve. But I can still make a difference. A bowl of pasta and a pair of jeans might not be much, but it’s the little things like these that help me honor her.

Why this essay worked

The first one of our Vanderbilt essay examples is an extracurricular activities essay example. In this Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples, we learn that this student cares deeply about their community. The student puts a lot of thought into how best to give back to their local community of houseless people. 

Another reason why the first of our Vanderbilt essay examples worked is because it demonstrates leadership and impact. When writing your Vanderbilt supplemental essays make sure to write about an activity where you have made an impact or been a leader. This Vanderbilt essay example explains how the student identified a problem within their community and created solutions for it. They created an online database so houseless people could more easily access resources, prepared home-cooked meals for people in need, and started a clothing revitalization initiative. 

Depth and breadth

In this one of three Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples, we learn that this applicant doesn’t just care about giving back in theory. Instead, we learn they are committed to creating new initiatives that will improve the lives of vulnerable populations. 

This example of one of our Vanderbilt essays that worked also employs a thoughtful structure. It starts with a hook, continues into the body of the essay, then ends by bringing the reader back to the initial hook. In this Vanderbilt essay example, the “hook” is a headline about the murder of a member of the homeless shelter where the student volunteers. This hook shocks and draws in the reader at the same time. In doing so, it provides an emotional tether to the story. 

Ultimately, this Vanderbilt supplemental essay example tells a well-structured story. It shows us how a student took initiative to make an impact in their community. 

Now let’s take a look at the second of our Vanderbilt essay examples. This one will explore another set of characteristics that made this a Vanderbilt essay that worked. 

Vanderbilt Essay Examples #2

Hundreds of eyes rested on me, the chatter of the crowd slowly descending into silence. My hand clenched around the wooden stick, a “tambo,” and a shallow exhale escaped between my teeth. Today was the day I would get my black belt. My Italian friends looked on, expectant. I gave a slight bow, signifying the start of the “kata,” a series of moves, like an imaginary fight.

I opened my eyes and suddenly I wasn’t in an Italian high school gym, surrounded by hundreds of strangers. I was back in Berkeley, on the familiar dojo mat, practicing for the thousandth time. Retreat, high block; diagonal strike, strike, reverse — and my body fell into a familiar pattern, a rhythm indelibly etched into my muscles.

My tambo whipped and whooshed through the air with deadly precision. I felt myself bow again, and realized it was over. A beat of dead silence, and then applause erupted, filling the gym to the ceiling. Pride swelled inside me, my taut muscles relaxing. A wide grin settled on my face. It was for moments like this that all the hard practice, all the bruises and accidental kicks to the face, all the long nights of training, the endless repetition, the exhaustion – that it was all worth it. 

When I began martial arts, I thought it would end as my other brief stints with gymnastics and fencing had: with the realization that I wasn’t cut out for it. But one fateful Tuesday in August, the summer before eighth grade, I was dropped off for my first class. I learned how to escape a wrist grab: turn your arm in the direction of the attacker’s thumb and shift sideways. I was enthralled.

As I learned how energy could be shifted and redirected, as my techniques became swift and powerful, I knew I had found my sport. The easy flow of a hip throw and the powerful intensity of a stamp kick became my life for one hour, four days a week. I became part of the dojo community, friends with people of all ages. I flew to Atlanta for the training camps where I ate, slept, and breathed back rolls, side drops and front kicks.

Earning my black belt after years of commitment felt right, a symbol of my passion and dedication. While some people play soccer or baseball, I am an artist. A martial artist.

Why this essay worked

The second of our Vanderbilt essay examples does not focus as intensely on leadership or impact. However, one crucial feature makes this one of the Vanderbilt essays that worked: it keeps the “personal” in “personal essay.” 

The aim of the Vanderbilt supplemental essays is to get an in-depth look at one of your extracurricular activities so that the Vanderbilt admissions committee can learn more about you. This one of our Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples is essentially the opposite of a resume: it goes into great detail about one aspect of this student’s life. This one of our Vanderbilt essay examples demonstrates genuine, invested interest in martial arts. 

Immersed in the narrative

Do you notice how when you’re reading this Vanderbilt supplemental essays example, you feel like you’re right there with the student in the gymnasium? The entire first half of this one of our Vanderbilt essay examples describes the victorious moment when the student finally got their black belt. The student does an incredible job making the reader feel like we’re right there with them. As you read the second of our Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples, note the use of detail: sights, sounds, smells. We know exactly how the student feels, physically and mentally, as they begin this nerve-wracking performance. 

The second of our Vanderbilt essay examples also numbers among our Vanderbilt essays that worked because it demonstrates a change in the student’s perspective. Where previously they thought that they weren’t cut out for sports, taking martial arts classes allowed them to learn commitment and dedication. The student is now able to think of themselves as an “artist.” 

For the next one of our Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples, we’ll examine a different take on what makes this essay one of the Vanderbilt essays that worked. 

Vanderbilt Essay Examples #3

I was lost. Utterly and completely lost. After wandering the narrow, cobblestoned streets of Viterbo, Italy for almost an hour, I could confidently say that I had no idea which way was home. On this second day of school in a new country, I had yet to learn these winding, medieval streets; the city’s labyrinthine design was intentional, to confuse invaders and outsiders. At that moment, that was me – an outsider.

Eventually I found my way home, to the apartment I would live in during the coming months. It was not the last time I would be lost (due to my lack of navigational skills), but as the weeks passed, I slowly let go of my identity of  “outsider” and embraced my new home. 

Learning the language was the first step. Being surrounded by it helped, but I still spent hours memorizing vocabulary and grammar rules. And of course I made mistakes — asking to towel-dry the gelato instead of sample it (asciugare vs. assaggiare), and telling my host mother she was going to take a shower instead of informing her that I was (fai vs. faccio).

I recognized that learning a language is not a process that can be forced or rushed; it is a progression of knowledge that builds on itself, a mastery that cannot be feigned. I would receive no prize for speaking the best Italian, only the satisfaction of knowing that I was able to communicate in another language. Perhaps that is why languages appeal to me so much.

I don’t master a skill to prove that I am better than someone else. I do it for me. My reward for learning a language is being able to talk to so many more interesting people, to think from a different perspective, to order extra basil on a pizza margherita.  

As I learned the formal and informal, gerunds and impersonals, I began to understand the world of beautiful sounds I lived in. And by understanding, I embraced more fully the new culture of my life. The double kisses I gave and received began to feel natural, and the unintentional forehead bumps abated.

My daily cappuccino became as much a part of my routine as brushing my teeth.  I could now walk through the town’s winding streets without a second thought, knowing where each previously-indistinguishable alleyway led. My new school helped me with this assimilation — as we translated the Aeneid in class, I saw scenes from it brought to life in marble while visiting the Vatican; my childhood obsession with Greek myths was rekindled in Sicily as I gazed in awe at the colossal temples we had studied in Art History.

The richness and abundance of Italian history and it’s tangible remnants constantly surrounded me. Each magical location I visited, each Italian friend I met, and each plate of pasta I ate folded me deeper into the culture of La Bella Italia.

Living abroad taught me many things. Perhaps the most important lesson is that each maze I encounter will resolve itself with time and effort. No incredible skill, no deeper understanding, no complete mastery will come on the first day.

As a child, I would erupt in frustration when I didn’t immediately understand a math concept, or when an ornament dropped from the Christmas tree because of my hastiness to decorate. But I now understand that no matter how hard I work or strain to understand, true learning requires time for new information to simmer and stew, and finally solidify into knowledge. Patience.

As I look ahead to the next few years of my life, I know that I will have my fair share of labyrinths to tackle, whether they be challenging classes or completely new cities and campuses. I could read the textbook or memorize a map, but to learn and understand the complexities of multi-variable calculus or which café serves the best sandwiches, I’ll need to engage in the class and explore the city. And I can’t wait.

Why this essay worked

For the third of our Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples, we travel with a student to Italy, where they discover that learning a new language might take patience, but it comes with a great reward. It differs in certain ways from our other Vanderbilt essay examples, but it nonetheless succeeds.

So, what makes this one of our Vanderbilt essays that worked?

In the third of our Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples, this student does a great job of reflecting on what they have learned. When writing your Vanderbilt supplemental essays, you’ll discuss your extracurriculars in detail, albeit in fewer words. The third of our Vanderbilt essay examples goes into great detail of what it’s like to learn a language. It also highlights what this student learned about themself in the process. 

Packed with personal detail

Your Vanderbilt application should showcase as much about you as possible. Think about how much more the Vanderbilt admissions committee can learn from this Vanderbilt supplemental essays example than a transcript that simply states: “Italian – One Semester.” 

The Vanderbilt admissions committee hopes to understand your story as a person and a candidate from your application. Just like the students did in these Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples, think about your Vanderbilt supplemental essays as one puzzle piece in your application. When only looking at your SAT scores and Common App essay, what does your application leave out? What piece of your personality, passions, or values does not appear? Once you identify that piece, you have a great basis for your Vanderbilt supplemental essays. Then, you’ll be one step closer to writing one of the Vanderbilt essays that worked.

Writing Extracurricular Activities Essays

vanderbilt supplemental essays examples

Our Vanderbilt essay examples and Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples fall within the category of “Extracurricular Activities Essays.” This essay prompt might ask you something like: “Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.”

In the past, the Vanderbilt supplemental essays have consisted of one long essay about extracurricular activities. According to our advisors from Vanderbilt, the Vanderbilt admissions committee really values applicants who make an impact in their communities. They look for students who are passionate about non-academic activities, as you’ve seen from our Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples. The extracurricular essay allows you to showcase who you are outside of the classroom. Our extracurricular activities essay examples do just this. 

This year, of the two shorter Vanderbilt supplemental essays, one is about extracurricular activities. So, make sure to review our Vanderbilt essays that worked as you write. That way, you can see Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples that successfully described the applicants’ extracurriculars. 

A common essay prompt

The extracurricular activities essay is a common college essay prompt. To learn how to get into Vanderbilt, you should master this style of essay. Learning more about the extracurricular activities essay won’t just help you with Vanderbilt admissions; schools like Stanford, Northwestern, University of Florida, and Princeton all ask for similar essays that focus on extracurricular activities. With our Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples, you’ll learn how to write great extracurricular activities essays for all universities. 

When the Vanderbilt admissions committee reads your Vanderbilt supplemental essays, you want them to come away with a basic understanding of who you are, what you value, and what you would bring to the Vanderbilt community. These Vanderbilt supplemental essays, the extracurricular activities essay in particular, provide the opportunity to share more detail about yourself and your interests.

Tell a story

Additionally, the extracurricular activities essay allows you to showcase growth and demonstrate what you have learned through your involvement in leadership roles within your community. The best essays tell a story about a personal realization or change. The extracurricular activities essay is a great place within the Vanderbilt supplemental essays to accomplish this. 

Vanderbilt essay reflection questions: 

  • Does your Vanderbilt application essay expand meaningfully on an activity you mention in your application?
  • Do you use your extracurricular activity to reveal more about who you are and what matters to you?
  • Do you describe why your chosen activity was important to you in concrete and specific terms?
  • Does your reader learn more about you by reading your Vanderbilt extracurricular essay?

If your Vanderbilt supplemental essay answers all of these questions, you’re one step closer to writing a great extracurricular activities essay. If you’re still stumped, don’t worry. Return to our extracurricular activities essay examples for guidance. 

How to use these Vanderbilt essay examples to write your Vanderbilt supplemental essays

vanderbilt essays that worked

Keep in mind that the Vanderbilt application process is competitive. Ranked number #13 in the United States by the U.S. News & World Report, Vanderbilt is described by the website as a “most selective” school. With such a high ranking, it’s no surprise that the Vanderbilt acceptance rate is quite low: under 5%. To learn how to get into Vanderbilt, you will need to take advantage of their holistic admissions process by writing stellar essays.

This year, when writing your Vanderbilt supplemental essays, you will need to focus on answering two questions in 250 words. Though our Vanderbilt essay examples were extracurricular activities essay examples, we can still learn a lot from Vanderbilt essay examples on how to write successful Vanderbilt supplemental essays.

The Vanderbilt essay examples that we have discussed largely focus on answering the second question; as such, they are extracurricular activities essay examples. So how can we apply what we’ve learned through these Vanderbilt essay examples to answer the first of the Vanderbilt supplemental essays as well?

Reflect on moments of change

The first of the Vanderbilt supplemental essays questions encourages you to reflect on diversity and difference. Even though we haven’t covered how to answer this question directly in our Vanderbilt essay examples, all of our Vanderbilt essays that worked reflected on moments of change and lessons that the student learned. Wait, that sounds familiar– this is exactly what the first essay question asks you to reflect on!

The supplemental essay is a crucial component of your Vanderbilt application. Supplemental essays, are a way for the Vanderbilt admissions committee to get to know you better as an applicant. Each of the Vanderbilt supplemental essays is a way for you to showcase your passions, your skills, and what makes you unique. Since the Vanderbilt acceptance rate is only 5%, you want to use your supplemental essays to help you stand out. 

Vanderbilt Essay Examples: Five Key Tips

If you’re still wondering how you can use these Vanderbilt essay examples and Vanderbilt essays that worked to help you write your supplemental essays, here’s some tips: 

Vanderbilt essays that worked tips

1. Show your personality

In each of these Vanderbilt essay examples, we learn so much more about the student’s passions that we would from just reading a resume. Take the opportunity in your Vanderbilt supplemental essays to show the admissions committee something unique about you!

2. Keep structure in mind

Whether you open and close your essay with the same hook like the writer did like the first of our Vanderbilt essays example, or start strong with a “show don’t tell” anecdote like in the second of our Vanderbilt essays that worked, a thoughtful structure keeps your reader engaged. 

3. Be specific

Imagine if in reading the second one of our Vanderbilt essay examples the student had said “Even though I was nervous, I showed off my moves, and then was awarded the black belt.” That’s a much less engaging retelling. Instead of skipping over details, the writer of that essay tells us exactly where they were during the black belt test, what their body felt like, what moves they did, who was there watching them, and how they felt throughout. Detail makes your essay way more interesting! 

4. Talk about a moment where you learned something or changed

Just like a story, even the shortest essays should have a beginning, middle, and end. In your Vanderbilt supplemental essays, you should start at a place, and describe a change before you reach your resolution. You can see our student do this in our third essay example: the student begins the essay completely lost in Italy, then learns Italian, and is able to fully explore the city in a way they never imagined they could. 

Our Vanderbilt supplemental essays examples aren’t the only resources out there. Check out this CollegeAdvisor article on how to get started within your writing process. 

Other CollegeAdvisor Resources on Extracurricular Activities 

When thinking about how to get into Vanderbilt, there are many factors to take into account. First, consider: the Vanderbilt application requirements, the Vanderbilt acceptance rate, SAT scores, and grades. Another aspect of your Vanderbilt application is your extracurricular activities.

After reading these fantastic Vanderbilt essay examples, you might be wondering: what kind of extracurricular activities should I list on my Vanderbilt application? 

As part of the Vanderbilt application requirements on the common app, you should list your 10 most significant extracurricular activities. But what makes an extracurricular activity significant? 

A strong extracurricular activity is one in which you have demonstrated leadership, impact, and have spent many hours participating. Some students make the mistake of trying to join a bunch of new clubs senior year. It is obvious to admissions when students try and get more extracurriculars for their Common App at the last moment. Instead, focus on spending more time and achieving leadership positions in the extracurriculars you already participate in.

In our extracurricular activities essay examples, you can see how passionate the students are about their activities. Use these extracurricular activities essay examples as inspiration for what kind of extracurriculars you can pursue. You can also look into what extracurriculars Vanderbilt offers and what life is like on campus. Then, you can use that to inform your extracurricular activities in high school. 

If you’re looking for more resources on extracurricular activities, CollegeAdvisor can help. Check out this article on how to showcase extracurricular activities in your college application. 

Vanderbilt Supplemental Essay Guides & Vanderbilt Resources

If you’ve read our Vanderbilt essays that worked and you’re still feeling unsure, don’t worry! We have lots of different resources to help you as you prepare your Vanderbilt application. 

For more essay guides, check out this article that offers more advice on writing supplemental essays for Vanderbilt. If you’re looking to get a merit scholarship from Vanderbilt, check out the link below. In this article we discuss how to master the merit scholarship essays

Once you’ve brainstormed, taken inspiration from our Vanderbilt essays that worked, and written your first draft, it’s time to edit. Our webinar on essay editing can help. And if you need inspiration, read our profile on Jacqueline Huang, a student who successfully got into Vanderbilt.

Vanderbilt Essay Examples – Final thoughts

We’ve given Vanderbilt an A+ rating as a college for its fantastic academics, diversity, and value. But if you want to know how to get into Vanderbilt and impress the Vanderbilt admissions committee, you need to take a look at the Vanderbilt application requirements. Don’t be discouraged by the low Vanderbilt acceptance rate. Using these Vanderbilt essay examples, you can put together a great Vanderbilt application.

We hope that in reading these Vanderbilt essay examples you gain a better understanding of what makes a great supplemental essay.


Vanderbilt Essay Examples

This article was written by Rachel Kahn. Looking for more admissions support? Click here to schedule a free meeting with one of our Admissions Specialists. During your meeting, our team will discuss your profile and help you find targeted ways to increase your admissions odds at top schools. We’ll also answer any questions and discuss how CollegeAdvisor.com can support you in the college application process.