The following application was submitted to Stanford in 2018 by Reddit user u/NOICEST. Click here to view more examples of college applications that worked.
Common App Essay: Share an essay on any topic of your choice. It can be one you’ve already written, one that responds to a different prompt, or one of your own design. (650)
For my entire life, I have had the itch: the itch to understand.
As a kid I was obsessed with a universe I knew nothing about. In elementary school, my favorite book was an introduction to fulcrums for kids. Like the Pythagoreans who had marveled at the perfect ratios of musical notes, I was enamored with the mathematical symmetries of fulcrums. The book inflamed my itch but I had no means to scratch it.
I was raised a San Francisco Hippie by musicians and artists. I learned to sing the blues before I knew the words I used. Without guidance from any scientific role models, I never learned what it meant to do science, let alone differentiate science from science-fiction. As a kid, it was obvious to me a flying car was equally as plausible as a man on the moon. When my parents told me my design for a helium filled broomstick would not fly, they could not explain why, they just knew it wouldn’t. My curiosity went unrewarded and I learned to silence my scientific mind to avoid the torture of my inability to scratch the itch.
Then, in Sophomore year, I met Kikki. Before Kikki, “passion” was an intangible vocab term I had memorized. Ever since she lost her best friend to cancer in middle school, she had been using her pain to fuel her passion for fighting cancer. When you spoke to her about oncology, her eyes lit up, she bounced like a child, her voice raised an octave. She emanated raw, overwhelming passion.
I wanted it. I was enviously watching another person scratch an itch I couldn’t.
I was so desperate to feel the way Kikki did that I faked feeling passionate; AP Physics 1 with Mr. Prothro had sparked my old Pythagorean wonder in mathematics so I latched on to physics as my new passion and whenever I talked about it, I made my eyes light up, made myself bounce like a child, purposefully raised my voice an octave.
Slowly, my passion emerged from pretense and envy into reality.
Without prompting, my eyes would light up, my heart would swell, and my mind would clear. One night, I was so exhilarated to start that night’s problem set that I jumped out of my seat. I forgot to sit back down. I spent that night bent over at my desk, occasionally straightening out, walking around and visualising problems in my head. Five whiteboards now cover my walls and every night, I do my homework standing up.
Once learning became my passion, my life changed. Old concepts gained new beauty, the blues became a powerful medium of expression. Mathematics became a language rather than a subject. I rocketed from the kid who cried in class while learning about negative numbers to one of two juniors in an 800-person class to skip directly into AP Physics C and AP Calculus BC. I founded Lowell Physics Club, which became one of the largest clubs in the school. Over the summer at Stanford, I earned perfect marks in Ordinary Differential Equations, Energy Resources, an Introduction to MATLAB, and an environmental seminar, all the while completing the Summer Environment and Water Studies Intensive. Now in my senior year, I am earning my AS in Mathematics and Physics at the City College of San Francisco.
As I enter college, the applicability of my field of physics offers me a broad array of high-impact careers. Given that by 2050, 17% of Bangladesh’s land will be underwater displacing twenty million people, I have settled on energy resources engineering.
All of this is natural progression from one development – I learned to scratch my itch.
What is the most significant challenge that society faces today? (50 word limit)
RECOGNIZING. CLIMATE. CHANGE.
How did you spend your last two summers? (50 word limit)
2016: Working with the head of IT at Golden Gate Parks and Rec to renovate the social media program and redesign the website. (sfrecpark.org)
2017: Studying at Stanford High School Summer College, building a family in two months.
What historical moment or event do you wish you could have witnessed? (50 word limit)
The Trinity test, the first detonation of the atomic bomb. For one, an opportunity to meet my role models: Oppenheimer, Feynman, Fermi, etc. But also, to witness the 4 millisecond shift to an era of humanity that could eradicate itself. “Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.”
What five words best describe you?
I don’t conform to arbitrary boundaries.
When the choice is yours, what do you read, listen to, or watch? (50 word limit)
From my bookshelf, Youtube subscriptions, Netflix history, and Spotify.
The Feynman Lectures MF Doom Ephemeral Rift Tank and The Bangas The Eric Andre Show Lightnin’ Hopkins Hubbard and Hubbard’s Differential Equations and Vector Calculus Thích Nhất Hạnh Kamasi Washington 3Blue1Brown Al Green Band of Gypsys Oxford Press – Very Short Introductions
Name one thing you are looking forward to experiencing at Stanford. (50 word limit)
Representing an ideal.
Stanford is a gathering place of people working towards a common ideal; one of engagement, passion, intellectual vitality, and devotion to progress. This is what I stand for, so I want to help Stanford represent it.
(Also those cream cheese croissants from CoHo.)
Imagine you had an extra hour in the day — how would you spend that time? (50 word limit).
One extra hour is thirty minutes extra of daylight.
The US has 28 GW of installed solar capacity. With the extra daylight, there will be a 4% increase in national capacity, an entire GW added. This small increase alone powers 700,000 homes. I’m spending the time investing in photovoltaics!
The Stanford community is deeply curious and driven to learn in and out of the classroom. Reflect on an idea or experience that makes you genuinely excited about learning. (100 to 250 words)
It’s in the mail.
I rip open the package.
It feels sleek along my fingertips. Three volumes. Gorgeous red binding with stunning silver lettering.
THE Feynman LECTURES ON PHYSICS The NEW MILLENIUM Edition
I had heard about them previously, but a Quora thread on “essential physics texts” convinced me to invest in them. I thought I was buying a textbook, but I was buying a new way of life. That night, while I laid in bed, Feynman changed my entire perspective of the universe. In the first lecture.
Not only was he a Nobel prize winning physicist with a unique approach to the subject, but his pedagogical capabilities were perfectly suited to my personality. When Feynman teaches, he does not just teach physics, he teaches how to think and understand. He helped me recognize that my passion wasn’t for physics, it was for a passion for learning and understanding.
Spoken directly from the source: “I don’t know anything, but I do know that everything is interesting if you go into it deeply enough.”
Reading the Lectures rouses within me the most intense feeling of elation I have ever experienced. When I open the Lectures, any bad mood is erased, any haze in my mind is cleared away, and I become the person I strive to be.
Now, I always have at least one of the Lectures on me. At festivals, in backpacks, in carryons, if I am there, so are the Lectures.
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)
Don’t be alarmed if you glance over at my laptop late at night displaying a plague doctor examining a watermelon with a stethoscope, meticulously listening for a heartbeat.
I apologise for waking you, but before requesting a room change, allow me to explain. This twisted scene is innocently my favorite video on YouTube. I have ASMR, Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It is a euphoric, calming sensation triggered by visual and auditory stimuli like whispering and fine movements, which I use to aid my insomnia. This plague doctor, played by youtuber Ephemeral Rift, has movements as he inspects the watermelon that are as calming to me as a mother’s lullabies are to a child.
I know we will both have our strong, unique personalities with our individual quirks like this. However, I guarantee we have a fundamental similarity which lead us to becoming Stanford students.
We have passion for learning. Even if two people are polar-opposite personalities, they can become family if they have this.
That said, I have a feeling we won’t be polar opposites. I love jamming on my guitar, going out to parties, playing video games, messing around with soccer, and a hodgepodge of other hobbies. I’m sure we’ll have some common ground to start off but either way there will be plenty of time to grow together!
P.S. I am a whiteboard fiend. I hope that’s okay.
Tell us about something that is meaningful to you and why. (100 to 250 words)
A meaningful discussion can be found deep in the jungle of YouTube, during an obscure “CBS This Morning” interview with Bill Murray.
“What do you want, that you don’t have?” – Charlie Rose
Bill Murray – “I’d like to be here all the time, and just see what I could get done, what I could do if I really, you know, didn’t cloud myself… if I were able to… to not get distracted. To not change channels in my mind and body, to be my own channel.”
Death is scary but my slimy, monolithic, Lovecraftian fear is unengagement. I only have a brief time to experience life and I know I will find the most fulfillment in “[seeing] what I could get done.” When I feel that signature fuzzy, tired feeling in my head, I am reminded of my old night terrors; I would be awake yet unable to interact with my surroundings.
In sophomore year, when I discovered my passion for physics, I found a powerful way to stay engaged. Developing a passion fundamentally requires me, as Murray puts it, “to be my own channel.” Problem solving, understanding difficult concepts, having intense discussions all demand your mind to be present and I am more than happy to oblige.
Intellectual vitality is not my application buzzword, it is my lifestyle.
Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (Max 150)
One month into AP Physics C Mr. Shapiro’s cancer came out of remission. With no teacher for the rest of the semester, I offered to give a few lectures. The first try was a huge success and I was hooked on teaching.
Following my newfound addiction, I started Lowell Physics Club (LPC). Our first lecture attracted 50 students, with 40 returning the next week!
A victim of grandeur, I designed an environment more than a club. It had to be innovative, attractive, and have a tangible payoff. We tutor students in physics, connect those looking for fun projects, prepare students for the F=ma Olympiad, and sometimes I give lectures which expand rather than repeat. This year two students qualified.
Mr. Shapiro returned this semester and continued teaching. I can now relax in the back of the room listening to his engaging lectures, occasionally giving one of my own.
You may use the space below to provide any additional information you wish to share. (650)
It is just a little over two years since I discovered my passion. I have been dealing with puberty for longer and I barely have a handle on that. Passion is the primary motivating component of my personality, and the most demonstrative of who I am. As a consequence, I have focused most of my essays on how I developed that passion rather than talk about other events that have shaped my personality. I will use this space to address the three most significant external influences in my life, dealing with public school bureaucracy, dealing with home life, and dealing with family life.
Public School Bureaucracy After sophomore year, I was enrolled for AP Physics 2, ecstatic to continue on my path. However, I was kicked out of the course due to a lack of spots. This is understandable as they do not have unlimited space, however, physics was my passion and I was willing to fight for it. It seems reasonable to me that anyone willing to actually fight for the course should be prioritized, as many enrolled do not really care for the course. I went through the entire administration all the way up to the principal, and at every turn encountered hard “no’s”. Ms. Johnson, my recommender, helped me find a way around. The only way to continue on my path in physics was to skip AP Physics 2 and go directly into AP Physics C. This also required skipping precalculus and going directly into Calculus BC. I committed to it. I have dealt with this “scholastic inertia” throughout my life, and maneuvering it has helped me develop confidence and conviction when working with my education.
Home Life I live with my sister and father. My dad is an unemployed musician, I love him, but he is entirely absent as a parent. I see him perhaps twice a week, and mostly in passing. The money he is making is nowhere near enough to live in San Francisco, so most of our rent and necessities are paid for by my Grandma who conveniently lives about 50 miles away. Every two weeks, she gives my sister and I $200 to support us. I have lived with my father since starting high school. While perhaps not preferable, the situation has given me the perfect environment to develop the most efficient methods of approaching adult responsibilities. I’m responsible for shopping, cooking, cleaning, and occasionally paying the bills (my dad forgets to pay the electricity bill a lot). I have been planning meals since sophomore year, and in my humble opinion, I have become a master chef. Doing the shopping has resulted in a lot more awareness of the necessities of life and managing finances. This year, my sister moved in as she started high school at my school. While raising her at the same time as writing college apps and school is difficult, surprisingly enough, cooking is much easier for two than one.
Family Life I made the decision to push myself harder than ever before at Stanford High School Summer College, and took 13 units of accelerated college credit at one of the most prestigious universities in the world. Halfway through the summer, my mother’s alcoholism progressed to an almost fatal point, and she enrolled into rehab after 30 years of dependence. (The only reason she chose her center over any other is because it was the place where Jerry Garcia died. That’s my family in a nutshell for you.) I spent 4 of the 8 weekends at Stanford commuting 50 miles up north to visit and support her. This was my first encounter in my education with pushing myself too far, and I knew I could not fully take advantage of the Stanford courses if I had to manage 13 units, so I dropped down to 12. I ended up with a 4.0 overall.
GPA and Test Scores
- GPA: 3.75 Unweighted
- ACT: 35
- Founded a Physics Club
- Founded a Guitar Club
- Reading the Feynman Lectures
- Playing the Guitar
- AP Distinction