Intellectually Curious Essay Contest


  • Stanford considers Intellectual Vitality Critically Important
  • MIT looks for activities that Confirm Applicant Intellectual Curiosity
  • Intellectual Curiosity and Leadership is a Rare, highly Desired Tandem
  • Intellectual Curiosity must be Genuine

According to the IECA’s (Independent Educational Consultants Association) ’Top Ten Strengths and Experiences Colleges look for in High School Students,’ number nine is “Demonstrated intellectual curiosity through reading, school, leisure pursuits, and more.” Stanford is even more direct about its desire to find students with a vibrant intellectual curiosity. On its Common Application supplement, question one states, “Stanford students are widely known to possess a sense of intellectual vitality. Tell us about an idea or an experience you have had that you find intellectually engaging.”

To thrive at a school like Stanford, a student should have an expansive intellectual curiosity supported by the variety of books read, authors referenced, websites visited, and research undertaken. An intellectually curious student possesses motivation to solve arcane engineering problems, examine and analyze the Crimean War, or write C++ code to create a software program for calculating economic cycles. None of the students I’ve worked with who have eventually been offered admission to Stanford have had a problem with the intellectual vitality question. They didn’t sit in their chairs wondering what intellectual curiosity meant or how to approach the prompt. Most came up with examples quickly and needed little assistance in formulating a response.

In the past, a student didn’t necessarily have to show extracurricular pursuits outside of the classroom to prove they had strong intellectual curiosity, now most do. In fact, at MIT, applicants are ranked in four different areas: Academics, Co-curricular Activities, Extracurricular Activities, and Interpersonal Skills. ‘Co-curricular activities’ are defined as educational activities that take place outside the classroom.  Applicants are ranked on a scale of 1 to 5, with ‘5’ being the highest. To be a serious contender at MIT, you really must participate in intellectual pursuits outside the classroom. Some students pour themselves into a variety of such activities that include: science or math Olympiad, model UN, debate team or mock trial group, writing for a website or local newspaper, attending a writing workshop, submitting original fiction, poetry, or drama to a writing contest, such as Scholastic’s, or entering artwork in a contest…the possibilities are almost endless.

Admissions officers become very excited by applicants with unique interests, born from intellectual pursuits, who also have the drive to organize, from scratch, activities, clubs, or businesses to pursue their passions. In essence such candidates bring strong intellectual curiosity and leadership to the table. That is a rare and powerful confluence.  For example, if you fervently are interested in Tibet, and you personally invite the Dali Lama to come to your school, that is strong evidence of intense intellectual curiosity coupled with bold action. That is exactly the type of person most highly selective schools want on their campuses.

Admissions officers also like to see this kind of intellectual vibrancy in as many of your endeavors as you can muster the energy. If you’re in a U.S. History class and you pull together a presentation on U.S. Grant, and you not only read the textbook materials and articles you found while searching in Google, but actually read his two-volume memoir and write, independently, a contrast and compare essay about Grant and Robert E. Lee, and have it published in the local newspaper, your intellectual curiosity will soar on your application.

Naturally, as you note these activities on your resume, you will let your counselor know of your activities as well as those teachers who are willing to write your recommendations. This will verify to the admissions office that your intellectual endeavors are genuine and warrant mentioning across all areas of your application: recommendations, essays, and, of course, in your interviews.  

Intellectual curiosity isn’t something that can be faked; it really must be genuine, which is why it is such a convincing piece of the application puzzle. If the admissions office notes a genuine curiosity about learning in a candidate, the appeal of that applicant rises above the crowd of equally qualified candidates, and the possibility of gaining admission rises just as high.  Intellectual curiosity might rank only ninth on a list, but its import in the admissions process is incalculable.


  • Stanford 입학에 중요한 “지적 에너지”
  • MIT에서 찾고 있는 “지적 호기심”
  • 중요한 2가지: 지적 호기심과 리더쉽
  • 지적 호기심은 창의적이어야 한다

대입 사설 컨설탄트 협회에 따르면, ‘고교생에게 필요한 10가지 요소들’에서 9번이 “독서, 학교, 레저 등에서 보이는 지적 호기심”이다.  Stanford는 이러한 생생한 지적 호기심을 가진 학생들을 찾는데 직접적이고 열심이다.  Common application의 보충자료에 나타난 질문을 보면 알 수 있다: “Stanford학생들은 지적 생동력을 갖고있다.  여러분이 가진 지적 생동력에 관한 경험이나 아이디어를 표현하여라.” 

Stanford 같은 대학에서 성공하기 위해서는 다양한 책과 작가들, 웹싸이트, 리서치에 대한 대단한 지적호기심이 필요하다.   지적 호기심이 있는 학생은 공학문제를 풀거나 크리미안 전쟁에 대한 분석, 혹은 C++ 코드를 만들어 내는 동기유발이 있다.  필자에게 상담하고 Stanford에 들어간 학생 중에 지적 생동력에 문제가 있어보이는 학생은 없었다.  그 학생들은 지적호기심에 무엇인지 고민하거나, 어떻게 접근할 지 몰라서 당황하지 않았다.  대부분 즉각적으로 예를 제시하거나 반응을 표현했다.

과거에는 지적 호기심을 나타내기 위해서 학생들이 교실 밖에서의 특별활동을 할 필요가 없었으나, 요즈음은 대부분 그렇게 한다.  사실, MIT응시자는 4가지 영역에서 나타내야 한다: 학업, 교과 활동, 특별 활동, 인간관계 기술.  교과활동이란 바로 교실 밖에서의 교육활동이다.  응시자들은 각 영역에서 최고점 5까지 점수를 받는다.  MIT의 경쟁자가 되기 위해서는 교실 밖에서의 지적 활동에 반드시 참여해야 한다.  예를 들면, 과학, 수학 올림피아드, 모의 UN, 디베이트 팀, 모의 재판, 웹싸이트나 신문에 글쓰기, 글쓰기 세미나, 소설시드라마 대회나 예술 대회에 참여하기 등등 가능성은 끝이 없다.

입학심사관은 지적 추구에 있어서 클럽을 조직하거나 사업을 시작하거나 등 창의력을 중시한다.  중요한 것은 이런 지적 호기심이 지도력을 가져온다는 사실이다.  지도력은 돋보이는 강력한 그룹을 만든다.  예를 들면, 정말 티벳에 관심이 있다면, Dali Lama를 여러분의 학교에 초청하여 오게 할 수 있다.  이 경우 지적 호기심이 용감한 행동으로 이어지는 증거가 된다.  이런 학생을 명문대에서는 원한다.

입학사정에서는 여러분이 여러 분야에서 이런 지적 생동력을 보이길 바란다.  만약 US History 과목에서 Grant장군에 관한 발표를 한다면, 교재와 구글에서 찾은 기사를 읽는 것  뿐만 아니라 그가 쓴 두 권의 책을 읽기를 바라며, Robert E. Lee장군과 비교 분석하고, 글을 신문에 싣기를 기대하며, 이런 것을 원서에서 보길 원한다.

여러분의 이력서에 이런 것을 반드시 넣어야 하며, 카운셀러에게도 알리고, 추천서를 쓰는 교사에게도 알리는 것이 좋다.  그래서, 여러분의 지적 노력이 진짜이며, 추천서, 에세이 인터뷰에 나타날 수 있어야 한다.

지적 호기심은 속일 수 없는 것이다.  그래서 원서 구성에 있어서 설득력을 갖게 한다.  만약 입시담당관이 응시자의 지적 호기심이 진짜임이 판명된다면, 그 응시자는 수 많은 자격있는 응시자들 중에서 우위를 차지할 수 있다.  지적 호기심이 리스트의 9번째이지만, 입학사정에서의 중요성은 무한하다.


Each college admissions essay has one goal in mind, no matter the actual topic: demonstrating who you are and who you want to be. The Common App essay prompt #4 is no different. Through discussing your problem-solving techniques, show admissions officers why you care deeply about an issue and what personal goals you hope to achieve by resolving the problem. In other words, you want to share your personal motivations and aspirations. You also want to show that you’re the type of person who has a unique perspective and personality to offer your prospective college community. To help you write a compelling admissions essay, the following guide provides a few pointers on how to answer the Common App essay prompt #4! For additional resources regarding other Common App essay prompts and the college admissions process, feel free to visit our Resources Page and our College Admissions Editing Page.


Describe a problem you’ve solved or a problem you’d like to solve. It can be an intellectual challenge, a research query, an ethical dilemma—anything that is of personal importance, no matter the scale. Explain its significance to you and what steps you took or could be taken to identify a solution.” 1. PUZZLES THAT IGNITE A FIRE WITHIN YOU This question is about problems, but it’s quite different from prompt #2 (dealing with setbacks and failure) and #3 (handling core beliefs and ethical dilemmas). Here, explain your approach to problem-solving. That is, what motivates you to care so much about an issue and how critically have you thought about developing an action plan to resolve the problem? A common mistake is to discuss the problem in the abstract. Admissions officers don’t actually want to know how global warming can be solved. Instead, they want to know why you care so deeply about it, based on your personal experiences and knowledge, and what your thinking process is for developing a solution. You could be motivated by family reasons, nostalgia, a desire to face your fears, etc. 2. HOW YOU APPROACH PROBLEM-SOLVING In your opening paragraph, you should introduce (1) the issue you want to explore and (2) why you care deeply about solving the problem. Rather than concentrate on the issue, make sure to focus on the personal impact this issue has. Why would solving this problem be meaningful to you as an individual? What personal goal do you hope to accomplish by addressing the matter? You don’t need to have solved the problem. Rather, emphasize the personal journey you underwent or would have undergone during the problem-solving exercise. Show your concerns, your fears, and aspirations. What is it that you wanted to or would want to prove to yourself in this quest? You can talk about global issues or something emotional as overcoming the fear of taking a shower after a near-drowning incident. 3. YOUR UNIQUENESS AS AN ASSET Based on your experience(s), are you the curious type that seeks out meaningful challenges in life to grow intellectually and emotionally? Are you committed enough to persevere, no matter the outcome? How does the way you think about important questions demonstrate your uniqueness? Show the type of person you aspire to be and how you plan to cultivate a well-rounded personality. Identify the college experience you hope will help you in this endeavor and how you desire to contribute to your future community. Remember that this is YOUR story. Each word should focus on your critical thinking skills and motivations. Show commitment, ingenuity, and optimism. Will you be an asset to your new environment? If so, prove it!

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