Vitality Approach Essay

High school students often have a lot of confusion as to what exactly “intellectual vitality” means when they are preparing to write their all-important college application essay. What on earth are they looking for, and how can you show you’ve got it?

Relax! Intellectual vitality is your curiosity about the world and your approach to discovering the answers to questions you have. It doesn’t mean having a genius IQ. As far as your selection board is concerned, it’s not so much a matter of what you’ve got, but how you use it! The key is to show them that you not only have a brain, but you also know how to utilize it. Here are some ways that indicate you have intellectual vitality:

New Ideas Fascinate You

  • When you come across an interesting new idea, you can’t leave it alone until you know absolutely EVERYTHING there is to know about it. Who dreamed up the idea? How, when, and why did they come up with it? How can it be used, and how well will it work? How does it impact other things?
  • You’re always thinking about things, analyzing them, looking for links, similarities, differences, and relationships.
  • You turn things over in your mind and look at them from every angle. No piece of information you process isn’t put through a process of analysis, and you never accept information without first questioning it.

You Always Want to Know The “Why” of Things

  • After finding out the why, you don’t stop asking questions and seeking new information. If something interests you, you don’t stop until you know a whole lot more, or even everything there is to know about it.
  • You know why you believe what you believe and do what you do.
  • You don’t just follow the crowd. You form your own opinions through rational thought, and you look at things from every possible angle. Once you’ve thought things through, you make up your mind and take action.
  • You don’t mind having your ideas challenged, in fact, you relish it.
  • You’re not someone who spends listening time thinking about what you’re going to say next. In a debate, you can argue any angle, even if you don’t actually agree with it. You’re always interested in other people’s reasoning, and you’re not afraid to change your mind in the face of evidence.

How Do Your Write All That Into an Essay?

Your college application essay is a chance to talk about yourself. The best way to do that is to tell little stories or anecdotes about yourself to illustrate the kind of person you are, By doing this, you have the opportunity to show this quality in your stories.

It’s important to remember that whatever you decide to write about, be honest. Talk about real-life events and show your intellectual vitality by showing how you applied it. Don’t try to make something up — it will almost always come across as unauthentic.

Here’s an Excerpt That Fits Me

“My grandmother always impressed me by knowing the names of plants. Aged 14, I decided I wanted to know everything there was to know about plants. I soon found it was impossible! Was I deterred? No! It was just what I always wanted, a topic that you could study for years, decades, even lifetimes, and still not know everything. That’s when I decided to study natural sciences.”

“To narrow my field a little, I decided to learn about edible plants, especially edible native plants. I used to horrify friends and family by eating strange berries (after I verified a positive ID, of course) because I wanted to know what they tasted like, how they could be used, and whether there was a reason why they weren’t grown commercially. Often, it was because they either weren’t very nice, or didn’t stay fresh for long.”

Gosh, I’m starting to enjoy this! I could go on…

What About You?

Maybe you used to love taking things apart to see how they worked. Maybe you were even able to put them together again! Perhaps you took on an intellectual challenge (even a fairly simple one) and worked tirelessly till you could be the best at it. Perhaps you identified a common problem and found a novel solution. Maybe you were your school’s debating champion and could argue any side of any debate effectively. Only you will know what events and achievements demonstrate your intellectual vitality.

There are many ways to demonstrate intellectual vitality and include it in your essay. Just remember, the selection board doesn’t want to know how clever you are as much as they want to know how you think.

Show this by identifying times in your life when you solved a problem, discovered something, or became passionate about a field of learning, even if it doesn’t relate to your coursework. It’ll only be difficult to write about if you try to invent something. It’s always easier to tell the truth!

Good luck with your college admission essay. Have fun writing it, and show them what you’re made of by being yourself.



Like many institutions, Stanford requires applicants to answer several short essays and questions. Unlike single-prompt supplements, supplements with multiple short prompts require you to utilize several different topics. Thematically, you should not write all of your essays about the same thing, whether that’s an extracurricular passion or a particular facet of your personality that you wish to highlight.


Instead, your essays should work like a portfolio, each one acting to highlight a different portion of your application or personality, with a collective effect that conveys what you want. The short answer questions should also fit into this portfolio, as they allow you to reinforce key themes from your essay or introduce additional components of your life or personality.


The Rapid Fire Questions


Briefly respond to the following seven inquiries so we can get to know you better. Do not feel compelled to use complete sentences.

Name your favorite books, authors, films, and/or artists. (50 word limit)

What newspapers, magazines, and/or websites do you enjoy?
(50 word limit)

What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)

How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)

What were your favorite events (e.g., performances, exhibits, competitions, conferences, etc.) in recent years? (50 word limit)

What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)

What five words best describe you?


These short answer questions are nice in that they don’t necessarily have any wrong answers. For the most part, it’s okay to answer these questions truthfully, so long as you avoid potentially controversial or offensive responses. These questions are designed to give admissions officers a brief look at your personality, and each answer reflects a different portion of your personality or application.


For the most part, your answers can be very straightforward. For example, if you said that you wish you could have witnessed W.E.B Dubois’ “Talented Tenth” speech, then the Stanford admissions counselors will know that you are interested in history and questions related to race and racial relations. Normally with short answer questions, you might want to avoid writing an extremely advanced work of literature or erudite publication down as your “favorite.”


However, because you have 50 words to work with, you can afford to list several different books, publications, and the like. If possible, try to strike a balance between things that are pure enjoyment and things that are educational. Also, if you decide to feature a particular theme for your application, you should try to make sure that some of your answers to these questions reinforce that theme.


Princeton’s app has a similar rapid-fire section — for further tips, check out the CollegeVine blog post How to Write the Princeton University Supplement Essays 2015-2016.


Briefly elaborate on one of your ECs…


Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (150 word limit)


This essay is similar to the extracurricular prompt that used to be on the Common Application. One option for writing this essay is to choose the most meaningful or in-depth extracurricular on your application and then write about that. However, if your Common Application essay significantly addresses this activity, you should try to move on to another on your resume. You can choose almost any activity; however, you shouldn’t be writing about a superficial experience just because it fits with your major – focus on something more meaningful.


With regards to the content of the essay, your focus is on specificity. Don’t just recount your accomplishments in that activity (that belongs on a resume); instead, focus either on what you learned from it, what it says about you, or a specific event or project within that activity that illustrates your ability to execute key projects or your ability to work well with others.


Another option is to write a descriptive anecdote about a particular moment or accomplishment during one of your extracurricular activities. This option doesn’t offer as much in the way of highlighting your accomplishment or skills, but instead allows you to show off your writing prowess.


The Intellectual Vitality Prompt


Stanford students possess an intellectual vitality. Reflect on an idea or experience that has been important to your intellectual development. (100 to 250 words)


The focus of this essay should be how and why the idea impacted you, not necessarily discussion and explanation of the idea itself. If possible, you should spend maybe 50 words discussing the idea and then the remainder of the essay analyzing its impact on your intellectual development. And with regards to the latter aspect, you should either discuss how the process gave you an important skill, or how it made you fall in love with a field (ideally one that’s tied to your major).


For example, you could discuss the idea of quantitative easing (a monetary policy tool, or more broadly an economics idea) to either discuss how it gave one the ability to be analytical or how it made you fall in love with economics (your major). Your idea need not be so academic. The term “intellectual development” can be applied loosely to almost anything you like. For example, you could talk about a type of dance move, and how your persistent perusal of the internet looking for tips on successfully performing said dance move inspired you to become a music major. 


A 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 — know you better. (100 to 250 words)


This essay is as much about what not to say as about what you should say. The key thing to avoid in this essay: anything that could disqualify you in the eyes of the admissions committee. While you don’t want to write something that’s bland and clichéd, you should avoid discussing illegal or unsavory activities.


Conversely, you shouldn’t be afraid to explore your quirky side. Good topics are always unique hobbies or interesting personality quirks, and it’s perfectly fine to get a little weird. You can also talk about your favorite experiences with friends and how you’d enjoy similar experiences with a hypothetical roommate.


But you should probably stay away from things like politics. You can say you’re politically motivated if you are, but don’t indicate which party or ideology you tend to support. Also, try not to talk about specific political issues, especially if you hold a conservative viewpoint. It’s very easy to offend someone with politics.


What matters to you, and why?


What matters to you, and why? (100 to 250 words)


While it may seem as though this essay is asking you to discuss a social justice cause or some sort of “problem” with the world, the actual prompt is a lot broader. Basically, Stanford wants to know what’s at your core and the things that take up the majority of your mental desire.


The focus of this essay should be on the “why” portion of the essay. The “what” is important, but your explanation of the “why” is ultimately what will convey something new about you. Pretty much any topic, so long as you can legitimately describe why it matters to you, is fair game.


When writing about potentially controversial topics such as religion and politics, your focus should be explicitly on yourself. It’s okay to discuss how Christianity, for example, helped you gain a new appreciation for the value of personal discipline, but you shouldn’t discuss your deep-held desire to convert others to Christianity, because the idea of religious conversion could be offensive or controversial to some.


With these tips, you should be well on your way to writing the perfect Stanford Supplement. Best of luck from the CollegeVine team!


Want to get your admissions essay reviewed in less than 24 hours? Submit your essay today or reach out to work 1-on-1 with one of CollegeVine’s Stanford essay specialists.


0 Thoughts to “Vitality Approach Essay

Leave a comment

L'indirizzo email non verrà pubblicato. I campi obbligatori sono contrassegnati *