Sitting down to write an essay is a daunting task, and you might fare better if you have seen how others have solved the blank page problem, perhaps by perusing some Vanderbilt supplemental essay examples.
There is no perfect approach to how to write a college essay, and you need to find your own way forward. One of the best college essay tips, paradoxically, is finding your way by looking at how other people have approached their own essays.
So, in this article, we will show you sample college essays for Vanderbilt, including one for the Common App essay, one for the Coalition Application, and all of Vanderbilt’s exclusive supplemental essay prompts. We will also talk about how to write essays, including tips for Vanderbilt in particular.
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There are several prompts for the Common Application. We have selected one (bolded & italicized, below) to write a sample for, but we have included all prompts for your edification.
Word limit: The Common Application has no hard word limit. We recommend approximately 500 words; for the sake of brevity, don’t exceed 650.
I need to lose weight. I need to love my body. I need to be my authentic self and not worry about what other people say, but I’ve got a doctor spitting out a pile of health complications that are hard to ignore. My therapist is telling me that self-acceptance is so important, though. Meanwhile, although my friends at school say, “You’re beautiful!” in every social media selfie, I know I can hear whispering and snickering when I pass by.
All I get are conflicting messages about my body, and it’s my body, but I don’t know what to think. The event that brought all these thoughts to the surface came when I was jogging and my mp3 player shuffled up Adele’s song Rolling in the Deep. I started to cry in the middle of the trail. Adele was a plus-sized woman who lost weight and shed fans with pounds as a bunch of people piled on her for “betraying” the body-positive community.
How can any of us win? If you lose weight, you’re a traitor, and you’re not “living your truth,” but if you gain weight, you increase your chances of diabetes and heart disease. No matter what you do – get in shape or accept yourself – you’re vilified, maligned, talked about, observed, given advice, poked at, prodded, belittled, put down, and obsessed over.
Is anybody sincere? When they tell you, “You do you, girl!” do they mean that? Or if I start to lose weight, will people start to hate me? Will they hate me as much as they seem to while I am overweight?
An Adele song during an exercise session seems like an odd place to have a personal revelation, but there I was, having a total breakdown for exactly that reason. That’s the weird, personal event that set me off.
The worst part is that I don’t think I have any good answers. We live in a world where bodies are policed, particularly women’s bodies, and I can’t do anything about that. That’s the brutal truth that is unfair.
What is revolutionary, however, and liberating about that realization is that I cannot control other people, only myself. Therein lies my lesson: I can control myself. The more I think about it, the angrier I am that anybody gets to tell me anything about who I am.
After I cried, I walked home, and I didn’t jog for a few days because I didn’t know who I was exercising for: me, my doctor, or just peer pressure and advertisers? So, I took a few days to really think about what I wanted and who I wanted to be.
Here’s where I’m at: I missed the jogging, so I jog. The endorphin release, the improved lung capacity, and the gains I’m making while running are all things I enjoy, so I’m doing that. I want to be healthier, and I like having these moments to myself while I just hit the trail.
This might be a cliché, but I don’t care: I am focusing on ignoring other people and allowing my own voice to thrive. Ignorance is bliss, they say, and so I am putting anybody who wants to opine about my physique on ignore.
All that conflicting information about whether to lose weight or keep it on, or whether or not to listen to which group of people is something I am putting away, one chaotic voice at a time. I will improve me for me, listen to good advice, and just be myself.
The Coalition Application also has several prompts. As before, we have included all prompts, and will give you one sample (bolded & italicized, below)
Word limit: Like the Common Application, the Coalition Application has no hard word limit, but we recommend you aim for 500 and do not go over 650 words.
I worked through my problems one note at a time, my fingers on the fretboard, bending and warbling notes until I could get them close to the timbre of a human voice. This might seem like a superficial reason to get the blues, but my cat died last year, and I had had her since I was a little boy. She was very special to me, and her loss left a trench in my life.
One of my interests is the guitar, something I have played since almost as long as I had the cat – my dad is a session musician, my mom a music teacher – and so I picked up my instrument when it was time to mourn. Blues music came out in ways that I couldn’t manage before. It was true what they say; my grief was a propellant that accelerated what I could do, and what I felt in my guts and my throat came out of my fingers, converted into aural paint across the air.
The loss of my cat is less piquant now, although still with me, but my love of guitar music has been reignited, and I immerse myself in my art. It started as obsession, and I practiced more and more than I ever had before, notes piling up inside my room next to the scattered laundry. My teachers thought I might be aimless, but my aim was precise; I just had a different target in mind than they did.
My parents, naturally, understood the musical impulse, but they did ask me if this interest was professional or personal. When I said, “Both,” they said, “Perfect,” and wanted to know what I wanted to do with it. Most boys my age would have happily had designs on being the lead player in a band, but that’s not for me. Not that it doesn’t sound fun, of course, it’s just that I don’t want that for my profession.
Here’s where I want my obsession to carry me: I want to be a music therapist and help people manage their grief and trauma through the polyphonic bliss of such a beautiful art. I want to start choirs and orchestras of broken people who heal with each other and with their own music. I am not learning harmony, intervals, and chord inversions for my own benefit or because I want a single in the Top 40, but because I don’t want anybody to grieve for their cats alone.
I have a long way to go, but I know that what I need is to understand psychology as well as symphony; I need to know the human soul as well as how to solo. I have been taking psychology courses, and I have been speaking with the music teacher at my school, and the school’s counsellor, about trying some experiments with music therapy at the school already. Maybe I should be writing you a letter about who I want to become, but I feel like I should waste no time in putting out goodness and healing into the world. While I won’t be the leader yet, and I cannot be a therapist without training, I can at least get the work started so that I can step into that role when I am ready.
In the meantime, I’m working on my licks, my therapy studies, and even picking up my room once in a while, just so all the notes have somewhere to go.
This next one goes out to my old cat, Jynx.
Looking for more tips? Check out the infographic below:
Vanderbilt Short Answer
This essay is meant to show how you engage with your community. There are two possible prompts to select from.
Word limit: approximately 250 words for each short answer essay
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?
Debate club brought me into contact with a lot of viewpoints I was uncomfortable with and made me defend several of them. It taught me to engage with different ideas, back up my own arguments, and understand the vast variety of thought that exists in the world. It did not prepare me for fighting with my best friend.
When Salman Rushdie was stabbed – attacked by a fanatic who didn’t like a book – I was ranting about this with my friends. Obviously, as a debate club member, free expression is important to me. My friend Samuel agreed that what happened to Rushdie was awful. “But,” he said, “there ought to be more hate speech laws; that would stop stuff like this from happening.”
That floored me, and it started an argument that lasted for weeks and nearly cost me the friendship. I thought I would end it by saying that free speech was fundamental, but Samuel didn’t back down.
He showed me a picture of his pen pal from Phoenix. The kid’s name was Abdul, and he was a Muslim. Samuel told me that Abdul didn’t have the right to free speech, because he risked hate just by walking around. Hate speech laws would help him.
I realized that I prided myself on seeing “both sides,” but I still had biases and blind spots. While I still believe in free speech, I have reminded myself to be open-minded, even against myself, and to understand others.
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.
Combining sport and horses, polo is my all-time favorite game and has been my obsession for years. Every spare hour, I dedicate myself to this game, and threatening a curtailing of polo is always an effective way for my parents to goad me into finishing my homework or doing my chores.
There are many aspects of polo that I love. Training, riding, and befriending animals has taught me to respect all creatures and to find care and camaraderie in every being. My fellow athletes have taught me teamwork, grace in victory or defeat, and the value of healthy competition. I have benefited physically, mentally, socially, and emotionally from the game.
When I was telling all of this to my friend Marie, I learned something else: polo is a privilege for people with stable, high-income backgrounds – like myself – and not for someone like Marie. We’ve been friends since the start of high school, and never have we let our different social “status” come between us, but in a few, small words, Marie quietly let me know that polo was not an option for her.
It was hard to enjoy the game for some time after that conversation because it stuck with me. I, of course, offered to help Marie with any resources she needed, but she didn’t necessarily want to play – she’s more bookish than athletic – and she wasn’t upset, she just wanted me to hear her words.
Polo has also, indirectly, expanded my empathy.
Want to review more advice for college essays? Take a look at this video:
General Essay Writing Tips and Specific Tips for Vanderbilt
When thinking about how to start a college essay, begin with a good opening sentence that draws in the reader. Then, continue with an opening paragraph that details the main ideas at play in the coming essay.
Smoothly transitioning is a great general practice, which will take you into the body of the essay. There, you will flesh out the ideas you started with, tell the bulk of your story, answer the prompt, and show your personal growth and connections.
Finally, cap it off with a conclusion that wraps up, or fulfills the “promise,” of the opener. You want to leave the essay in a place that makes the admissions committee feel like they would want to know more, not because the essay lacks closure, but because they are more intrigued than ever by you as an applicant, thinking that you will fit perfectly at Vanderbilt.
Vanderbilt has given you a requirement of only two essays, so the first thing to consider is what they are looking for. While it may seem that they are limiting your scope, they provide an interesting variety of prompts. However, in looking at the “personal essay” prompts, despite the number – seven for the Common Application and six for the Coalition Application – the same ideas crop up in each list: challenges faced, times of change, and personal growth. This speaks volumes about what Vanderbilt has chosen to learn about you.
The second essay – the short answer that Vanderbilt specifically asks for – is about you and your community.
Taken in aggregate, we can see that what Vanderbilt wants emphasized is your personal life; specifically, they want to see how you affect and are affected by your world. When you compose your essays, focus on these aspects of your life – change and community – for maximum effect with Vanderbilt.
Giving yourself the time to write, the training to write, and even hiring a college essay review service will help you write your essays, but taking a look at the examples and tips above will give you the boost you need to succeed.
1. There are maximum word counts; are there minimum word counts as well?
Sometimes yes, sometimes no. In the case of Vanderbilt, they do not give a minimum word count for their short answer essays. However, because 250 words is not a lot of space to fill, a good rule of thumb is to aim for close to the maximum. After all, it they preferred a 150-word essay, they would have specified that.
The Common App specifies 250–650 words, while the Coalition Application specifies 500–650 words. With such a range, these are not considered hard limits, but do respect them anyways.
What is most important is to give yourself the writing space to explore your prompts and topics fully. Part of requesting a long essay and a short one is to test whether you are capable of expanding and exploring concepts in depth as well as delivering a brief, concise message.
2. Vanderbilt states “approximately” when referring to their short essay word count; can I go over 250 words?
Don’t, even if it is allowed. Respect that they have provided you with a limit. Even if it is a gentle suggestion, you should realize that they are also checking to see if you can follow instructions and keep to their paradigms. Can you fit your ideas into a smaller word count? They want to know that, too.
3. The Coalition and Common Apps give me the option of writing an essay of my choice; when should I pick that option?
You can’t submit just any essay into that slot; you need to have something in mind that will show off yourself, your character, your personal growth, or challenges you’ve faced. You might have a story that doesn’t fit one of the other prompts but does speak to those elements of your life; in that case, you can write an original essay on that topic.
Two things to keep in mind if you choose this option: make sure your essay is not about one of the existing prompts, even inadvertently, and be sure that your original idea is really strong.
4. How long does it take to write a good essay?
Well, first off, you’re not writing a good essay, you’re writing a great one. But to your point, the essay should be crafted over a period of a few weeks – two or three – spending time each day to work on the text. It takes time and careful consideration to build an essay.
5. How important are essays to my application?
Every aspect of your application is important, and you should consider each facet to be necessary and imperative. Don’t neglect any aspect. Each application section has its own, unique purpose. Transcripts show your academic standing, for instance. Essays show you off as an individual – something which no other area in your application will do in such a thorough way. You can use your own words and story here, as opposed to just listing your interests and extracurricular activities.
6. Can I submit the same essay to multiple schools?
Yes, and in some cases you will. The Common App essay, or Coalition App essay, will be sent to multiple schools. However, if your Vanderbilt secondary essay will serve another school’s prompt, you may reuse it. Just make sure that it truly fits the other prompt, that it is devoid of school-specific references, and that your word/character counts still apply. In fact, double-check it, because you don’t want to scuttle your chances of acceptance because you just hit copy-paste.
7. What is the difference between the Common App and the Coalition App?
They are very similar. Both the Common App and Coalition App are centralized services to streamline prospective students’ applications. The Common App is more widely used, while the Coalition App is geared toward underprivileged students – students who come from backgrounds that are not represented at, or may have a more difficult time getting into, post-secondary institutions.
8. Should I apply through the Common App or Coalition App?
Check which schools you’re applying to first. If you’re applying to schools that are only available on the Common App, that’s your choice made for you. Choose the Coalition App if you can make use of their additional services or think they will better serve you as an underprivileged student or member of an underrepresented group.
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