It captures her unwavering dedication to learning, emphasizing her resolve to comprehend, irrespective of the topic or time of day.

Former Stanford Admissions Officer Reveals Proven Tips for Crafting a Memorable College Essay

May 7, 2024

The college essay is your golden ticket. It's more than just words on paper; it's your voice, your story, your chance to make a lasting impression. While grades and test scores play a role, your essay brings color to your application, making you more than just a number. And guess what? The most memorable essays aren't always about grand achievements. They're genuine, unique, and come straight from the heart. However, in the quest to stand out, many fall into the trap of common college essay mistakes, from cliched narratives to lacking authenticity. As you embark on crafting this pivotal piece, remember that it's not about showcasing perfection, but rather the authentic moments, challenges, and insights that have shaped you. Let's delve into the art of creating a standout college essay, one that resonates and leaves an indelible mark, while sidestepping those common pitfalls.

A student pondering future possibilities
Dedication to learning is the key that unlocks the door to endless possibilities

Inspiration from a standout essay

A narrative from a former Stanford admissions officer:"While working at Stanford, I was captivated by an essay from a student who struggled in a music theory class, a subject unfamiliar to her. One evening, in her boarding school dorm, she repeatedly played the B flat note on her keyboard, trying to recognize its sound. As it grew late, to avoid disturbing her roommate, she moved to the restroom, continuing her practice. In a humorous twist, she discovered the toilet flush matched the B flat note, leading to an amusing dormitory commotion. This essay wasn't just a quirky story; it showcased a student's dedication to learning, highlighting her determination to understand, regardless of the subject or the hour.”

This story wasn't just about winning big awards or getting lots of praise. Instead, it was about genuine effort, a love for learning, and the lengths one would go to grasp a concept. The student showed real hard work and determination. She loved learning so much that she even used a toilet's sound to understand a musical note. It's a reminder that sometimes, the real, simple moments in life can tell us the most about a person's character and passion. And just like this student, you too can find unique moments in your life that can make your college essay stand out. Let's dive deeper into what makes an essay memorable and how you can craft one that truly resonates.

Key elements of a memorable essay


It's all about being genuine. When you're writing, it's essential to be you. Share your true experiences, feelings, and thoughts. Colleges are looking for real people with real stories, not just perfect scores or resumes. Remember the B flat story? It stood out because it was genuine. It wasn't about trying to impress but about sharing a real moment of learning and discovery.


Your essay should connect with the reader on a personal level. It's not just about telling a story; it's about making the reader feel a part of it. Whether they're laughing at a funny memory, feeling inspired by your determination, or nodding in agreement with a shared experience, your essay should evoke emotions. When readers can see themselves in your story or feel moved by it, that's when you've truly made an impact.


In a sea of essays, what makes yours different? Think back to moments in your life that were unexpected, surprising, or taught you something new. Maybe it's a hobby you picked up, a challenge you overcame, or a quirky family tradition. These unique experiences, just like the unexpected discovery of the B flat note in a toilet flush, can make your essay stand out from the rest. It's these twists and turns in your story that will make it memorable and leave a lasting impression.

Starting with a strong message

Every compelling essay has a heartbeat: a clear moral or message that gives it depth and resonance. This central theme is what remains with the reader, long after they've finished reading. It's not just about recounting events or experiences; it's about the larger lesson or insight those events convey. For instance, in the Stanford student's tale, the story wasn't merely about a late-night music practice or a humorous discovery in the restroom. At its core, the essay conveyed a message of unwavering commitment and a deep-seated passion for learning. It told readers that when faced with challenges, this student wouldn't easily give up but would persevere until she achieved her goal. Such a narrative becomes memorable because it's anchored in a strong, relatable message. As you craft your essay, think about the lasting impression you want to leave and ensure that your central message shines through clearly.

🚀 Example
Imagine an essay about a student who spent a summer helping rebuild a community after a natural disaster. On the surface, it's a story about physical labor, coordination, and rebuilding. But the core message could be about discovering the strength of community, understanding the resilience of the human spirit, or realizing the impact of collective effort. The student could write about the moment they saw a family return to their newly rebuilt home, the tears of gratitude, and the realization that even small individual efforts, when combined, can bring about significant change. This underlying message of unity and resilience would be what sticks with the reader, making the essay memorable. As you pen your story, always circle back to your core message, ensuring it's clear and impactful.

Tips for crafting your college essay


Start by taking a trip down memory lane. Think about the experiences that made you laugh, cry, or even those that made you see the world differently. Were there challenges that turned into learning opportunities? Moments of triumph after relentless effort? Jot down these memories, no matter how big or small. From this list, identify the ones that truly define your journey and can showcase your growth, determination, or unique perspective.

🚀 Example
Imagine you spent a summer volunteering at a local animal shelter. While the initial intent was to simply give back to the community, the experience transformed your perspective on responsibility and compassion. You recall a particular incident where you nursed a sick puppy back to health. This memory stands out not just because of the joy of seeing the puppy recover, but because of the dedication, patience, and love you poured into the process. This could be a potential topic for your essay, showcasing your commitment, growth, and the profound impact of a seemingly small act.


Begin with raw emotion. Let your feelings flow onto the paper without overthinking. This ensures the authenticity of your narrative. Once you've captured the essence of your story, it's time to refine. Revisit your draft, focusing on clarity, coherence, and ensuring your core message shines through. Remember, it's not just about telling a story, but making the reader feel a part of it.

🚀 Example
Start with the raw emotions. "The first time I held the frail puppy in my arms, its weak whimpers tugged at my heartstrings. I felt an overwhelming mix of sadness, anger, and determination." Once the essence is captured, refine it. "Holding the fragile puppy, its soft whimpers echoed in my ears. I was flooded with emotions - from sadness at its plight to a fierce determination to help it heal."


Share your essay with someone who knows you well – a teacher, a mentor, a family member, or a friend. Their perspective can help you identify areas that might need more detail or clarity. They might also point out strengths in your essay that you hadn't noticed. This feedback is invaluable in ensuring your essay is both genuine and compelling.

🚀 Example
After sharing your essay about the animal shelter experience with your favorite teacher, she points out that while the narrative is touching, you could delve deeper into how the experience influenced your future actions. Did it inspire you to pursue veterinary studies? Or perhaps it ignited a passion for community service? Incorporating these insights can add depth to your essay, showcasing not just a singular experience but its lasting impact on your life choices.


1. How do you write a Stanford "something meaningful" essay?

Writing a Stanford "something meaningful" essay requires you to reflect on an experience or aspect of your life that has had a profound impact on you. Follow these steps:

  • Choose your topic: select a specific moment, event, or aspect of your life that has shaped your values, perspective, or goals.
  • Personal reflection: share your personal connection to this experience. Why is it meaningful to you? How has it influenced your character or choices?
  • Show, don't tell: use descriptive language and storytelling techniques to make the reader feel the significance of this moment. Describe the emotions, thoughts, and lessons learned.
  • Connect to Stanford: explain how this experience aligns with your aspirations and how it could contribute to the Stanford community or your academic and personal growth.
  • Revise and proofread: review your essay for clarity, grammar, and style. Ensure that your writing is concise and engaging.

2. How to write Stanford historical moment essay?

Writing a Stanford historical moment essay requires you to discuss a historical event or period that has influenced your perspective or identity. Follow these steps:

  • Select a historical event: choose a specific historical event or period that has impacted you personally or shaped your worldview.
  • Personal connection: describe your personal connection to this historical moment. How did you become interested in it, and why is it significant to you?
  • Reflection and impact: discuss how this historical event or period has influenced your values, beliefs, or goals. Explain the lessons you've learned or the insights gained.
  • Relate to Stanford: explain how this historical perspective aligns with your academic and personal interests at Stanford. How might it contribute to your growth and the university's community?
  • Edit and proofread: carefully review your essay for clarity, coherence, and grammar. Ensure that your writing effectively conveys the impact of the historical moment on your life.

3. What do Stanford admissions officers look for?

Stanford admissions officers seek a diverse and dynamic student body, and they look for several key qualities in applicants:

  • Academic excellence: strong academic performance, including high grades, rigorous coursework, and standardized test scores.
  • Intellectual curiosity: demonstrated passion for learning, intellectual pursuits, and a desire to explore new ideas.
  • Leadership and initiative: evidence of leadership roles, community involvement, and the ability to take initiative.
  • Authenticity: genuine and authentic personal statements and essays that reflect the applicant's true self and experiences.
  • Impact: a history of making a positive impact in your community or pursuing meaningful projects or activities.
  • Diversity and inclusivity: a commitment to diversity, inclusivity, and contributing to a diverse and inclusive campus environment.
  • Fit with Stanford: an understanding of how Stanford's programs, values, and opportunities align with your academic and personal goals.
  • Character and resilience: demonstrated qualities of character, resilience, and the ability to overcome challenges.
  • Recommendations: strong letters of recommendation that provide insights into your character, achievements, and potential contributions to the Stanford community.
  • Passion and drive: passion for your chosen field of study and a clear sense of purpose in pursuing your education at Stanford.
  • Writing skills: effective communication skills demonstrated through essays, personal statements, and other written materials.
  • Interview performance: if an interview is part of the application process, demonstrating strong communication skills and the ability to articulate your thoughts and experiences.

Remember that Stanford values individuality, so it's important to showcase your unique qualities, experiences, and perspectives in your application.


A well-crafted college essay can be a game-changer in your admissions journey. It's more than just words on paper; it's a reflection of who you are, your experiences, and your aspirations. By approaching the essay-writing process with deep introspection, creativity, and a commitment to authenticity, you not only present your best self to the admissions committee but also embark on a journey of self-discovery. As you navigate the challenges and joys of college life, consider joining Aha to further enrich your academic and personal growth. With the right resources and mindset, the sky's the limit for what you can achieve.

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