Vanderbilt University Merit Scholarship Essay Guide

Essay Guides 7 min read
Photo courtesy of Vanderbilt University

In this Vanderbilt University merit scholarship essay guide, I will discuss some tips and tricks on how to respond to the 2020-2021 Vanderbilt University merit scholarship essays. Please keep in mind that you cannot apply to the Blair School of Music via the QuestBridge application. For more guidance on personal essays and the college application process in general, sign up for a monthly plan to work with an admissions coach 1-on-1.

For the Vanderbilt University Supplementary Essay Guide, click here.

Ingram Scholars Program

1. E. Bronson Ingram was known for his innovation in both the business world and through his philanthropic efforts. Describe how you think innovation is best approached and how you have incorporated these principles into your own endeavors. In so doing, also describe how you will approach creating greater opportunities at the intersection of entrepreneurship and high impact philanthropy (250 to 500 words)

Part of the battle with this merit scholarship essay is that there are a lot of points to cover in 500 words or less. As you draft this essay, you should ensure that you are answering all three components of the prompt. The other part of the battle is understanding what “innovation” means to you. No one expects you to have found the cure to cancer or to have invented a device that stops global warming. Innovation can be finding a unique way to approach an everyday problem or identifying an issue and developing a method to address it.

As you write this essay, it would also be valuable to do some research on E. Bronson Ingram so you understand his approach to entrepreneurship and philanthropy. You do not necessarily need to include your findings; however, this research can help you understand characteristics that the Ingram Scholars Program values at Vanderbilt University.

2. Explore what you think it means for individuals AND businesses to, “serve the common good.” How might these commitments inform your personal career aspirations? (250 to 500 words)

When you explain your perspective on how both individuals and businesses should serve the common good, I recommend demonstrating your position through examples rather than a series of statements.

When you discuss the individual component, share an example of how you have demonstrated your belief throughout your own experiences.

When you discuss the business component, perhaps include an example of a specific company that showcases your position. This can then lead you into a discussion of your career goals. You don’t have to know exactly what you want to do; however, you can discuss characteristics you value in your future career beyond Vanderbilt University.

3. Describe a civic/community service project in which you have been involved that you believe may be scaled to greater benefit. In so doing, focus primarily on how that scaling could be achieved. (250 to 500 words)

With this prompt, briefly discuss the premise of your project while focusing on three or four characteristics that are vital for scaling the project to yield greater benefit. Depending on the project at hand, characteristics may include (but are not limited to) improving effectiveness, efficiency, and transmission to individuals. By focusing on a few characteristics, you have more space to better communicate how the scaling should be approached, while showcasing what you think is important to focus on when attempting to achieve more benefit.

Cornelius Vanderbilt Scholarship

Answer only one. If you are applying to more than one school, answer the question for your first-choice school only.

1. For applicants to the School of Engineering, Peabody College of Education and Human Development, and Blair School of Music: Recognizing that you have applied to a focused area of study, please comment on the reasons you are interested in your chosen academic program. In this context, discuss personal experiences, goals, and interests that relate to your choice of major. Please limit your response to 500 words.

The key to answering this scholarship essay prompt is to simply share the journey (past, present, and future) that led you to apply to the school of your choice. Since you are applying to a specific school, the admission committee just wants to make sure you have thoroughly thought about your decision.

To strengthen your essay, you can include specific information on aspects of Vanderbilt’s programs that interest you. However, do not only focus only on what Vanderbilt University can do for you. Use your journey and perspective to communicate how you can add to the community as well.

2. For applicants to the College of Arts and Science: The College of Arts and Science is a liberal arts school committed to introducing every student to a broad range of subjects in the natural sciences, social sciences, and humanities. How will you embrace the breadth of courses offered by the College of Arts and Science? How will this fit into your academic journey or life's passions? Please limit your response to 500 words.

The best way to approach this merit scholarship essay is to get familiar with the broad range of classes that the Vanderbilt University College of Arts and Science has to offer. Based on your current interests and academic goals, it is valuable to find specific classes that could potentially support your exploration. For example, you may be a pre-medical student that plans to major in Biology and take a majority of classes in natural sciences, however, you can find classes in both social sciences and humanities that will help you grow as a future medical professional.

Chancellor’s Scholarship program

1. Create a chart listing activities in which you have participated or actions you have taken that show your commitment to building a strong high school community by bridging gaps between economically, socially, and racially diverse groups. For each listing, please include the following information: activity, role, responsibilities, years of involvement, hours spent on project.

As stated in the essay prompt, this is a simple chart listing your activities. Include only the activities related to the mission of the scholarship. Your complete activity chart from your admission file is part of the review.

2. The values promoted by the Chancellor’s Scholarship are leadership, scholarship, diversity, and citizenship. Please describe how one of your activities from the list above has contributed to your understanding of these values. Please limit your response to 500 words.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that I’ve been emphasizing sharing stories and examples rather than broad statements. A story better communicates your understanding and development, especially of the four values discussed in this prompt. You may not have the word count to share four different stories to address each value independently. Instead, you can share one or two anecdotes, then briefly highlight how they showcase your interpretation of these values.

I would also do some research on the Chancellor’s Scholarship itself in order to determine why these four values are important and to better grasp the purpose of this merit scholarship essay.

For the next two merit scholarships, you are encouraged to also submit the application for Cornelius Vanderbilt merit scholarship to ensure consideration.

Curb Leadership Scholarship

1. Tell a story using a collection of 7 items that demonstrate how you have combined your creativity, entrepreneurship, and leadership talents to create a positive contribution to your family, school, or community. You may include in your document additional links or images that demonstrate creativity in action. Please limit your response to 2,500 words or less.

While this merit scholarship essay emphasizes creativity, a good thing to keep in mind is that your 7 items do not need to be special or complex contraptions. They can be everyday objects or symbols, ones that can help communicate your story of positive contribution. Furthermore, the prompt says to limit your response to 2,500 words; however, you are not obligated to use all that space.

Fred Russel-Grantland Rice Scholarship

1. Please explain how you plan to use your Vanderbilt experience to develop your anticipated career in sports journalism. Include no more than 10 published samples of your work within your document. (no word count included)

Similar to the Cornelius Vanderbilt merit scholarship essay prompts, it is important to do research on the Vanderbilt experience (academics, extracurricular activities, special programs, etc.) to guide your response. With the opportunity to share samples of your own work, think about how your previous experiences can help to enhance your experience at Vanderbilt University.


This Vanderbilt University Merit Scholarship essay guide was written by Rashmi Bharadwaj, Vanderbilt University ‘21. If you want to get help writing your Vanderbilt application essays or Vanderbilt University merit scholarship essays from Rashmi or other Bullseye Admissions advisors, register with Bullseye today.

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