Applying to the Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program: Everything You Need to Know [2022 – 2023]

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Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program Overview

Knight-Hennessy Scholars at Stanford application essay tips [2022 - 2023]

Everything you need to know about the Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program


Application elements:

What is the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program?

The Stanford KnightHennessy Scholars Program is a unique opportunity to join a cohort of graduate students from interdisciplinary backgrounds who plan to tackle some of the world’s most complex and pressing issues, including the environment, healthcare, education, inequality, and/or social justice. 

Those accepted to this program receive full tuition reimbursement as well as a healthy stipend for the entirety of their graduate degrees at Stanford. In addition to their academic studies, Knight-Hennessy Scholars are also exposed to a specialized curriculum related to leadership, professional development, interdisciplinary dialogue, and entrepreneurship. The program aims to generate academic and technical expertise in individuals committed to using their knowledge to become public leaders who go on to make impacts far beyond the university. 

Becoming a Knight-Hennessy Scholar is a truly unique opportunity to shape your experience of graduate school, and it is also incredibly competitive. 

As the rest of this post explains, the application for Knight-Hennessy Scholars is a complex puzzle of small components that must add up to create an image of you as a highly driven and visionary individual. In order to put together a strong set of materials, take the time to strategize the big picture of the application before you start the writing process. Together, every aspect of the application can be used to draw a larger picture of you as the whole of many parts. If you take the time to build connections within the content of each of the application components, you will be able to pull the reader through a cohesive message about how your past experiences have shaped your future goals, and why those goals matter.

Applying to grad school? Schedule a free discovery call to find out how Accepted can help you!

Who is eligible to apply?

If you earned, in January 2016 or later, a U.S. bachelor’s degree or its equivalent from a college or university of recognized standing, you are eligible to apply. U.S. military (active or veteran) applicants who earned their undergraduate degree in 2014 or later are also eligible. 

This year, Stanford has opened eligibility requirements so that any student who has already been admitted by and deferred enrollment to Fall 2023 or any current Stanford PhD student who is entering their second year can submit an application to KHS. Furthermore, current Stanford graduate students who wish to add a second full-time Stanford graduate degree that starts in Fall 2023 are also eligible.

Based on program limitations, a few graduate level applicants are not eligible for consideration when applying to KHS, these include: 

  • Applicants to the Honors Cooperative Program
  • Applicants to the Master of Liberal Arts
  • Applicants to the Doctor of Science of Law (JSD)
  • Current Stanford students applying for coterminal graduate study
  • Current Stanford PhD students adding an MA or MS degree in their current discipline

Technically, there are no other eligibility requirements. However, KHS clearly outlines the kind of person that will be a competitive candidate in the “criteria” section of their website. Three important qualities that Knight-Hennessy Scholars demonstrate are: 

  • independence of thought
  • purposeful leadership, and; 
  • a civic mindset. 

Given the open-ended and brief format of the required essay prompts, it is important to make thoughtful decisions about how to address aspects of yourself and your life that demonstrate these qualities. 

Unique application deadlines and procedures

Applying to participate in the Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program is a completely separate process from that of applying to a specific graduate program at Stanford University. However, most Stanford graduate programs require KHS applicants submit their graduate school application materials much earlier than those who choose not to apply for the award. 

Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program application deadlines

KHS Application Deadline October 12, 2022
Request for a supplementary video statement By invitation only in January 2023

* Graduate program application deadlines for KHS applicants vary based on Stanford’s division of schools, departments, and programs. The application dates and deadlines instructions clearly state that your degree application must be submitted by December 6, 2022 or your degree program’s deadline, whichever is earlier. 

Required application components 

In addition to background information, transcripts, and test scores, the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Application requires the following materials: 

KHS Resume

Since the KHS application instructions are very clear about the format and length (1 page) of the resume, it is extremely important for you to curate the content of this document so that it enhances the rest of your application materials. You do not have to include everything you have ever accomplished in the resume. Instead, consider only including the experiences and accomplishments that are most relevant to your short- and long-term vision of the future and KHS’ criteria. 

KHS Recommendation letters

The KHS committee requests very specific content to be included in letters of recommendation. Given that these types of questions are rarely addressed in academic letters, you should select writers who are familiar with you as a person and make sure that you provide these individuals with KHS’s instructions:  

  1. Please explain how you know and interact with the applicant.
  2. We seek visionary thinkers who demonstrate independence of thought. Describe how the applicant demonstrates intellectual curiosity and creativity to address challenges. 
  3. We seek courageous leaders who demonstrate purposeful leadership. Describe how the applicant takes initiative to achieve meaningful results and effect positive change. 
  4. We seek collaborative community members with a civic mindset. Describe how the applicant acts in service of others to elevate the greater good. 
  5. Is there anything else — positive or negative — that we should know about the applicant?

Reminder note

It is fine to ask the same person to provide recommendations for your graduate program and for the Knight-Hennessy Scholars program, but you must ensure that your recommender submits distinctive letters of reference for each audience.

Institutional letter of endorsement (optional)

Depending on where you went to school for undergraduate study, your campus may have an individual who has been designated as the KHS Campus Contact. This person can advise you on the process of applying and, though this is not mentioned explicitly on the KHS website, your campus contact may also contribute a supplemental Institutional Letter of Endorsement to your application. This would be viewed as a third letter of recommendation. 

Please review this list of campus-contacts and check with your university’s KHS contact about any internal deadlines regarding institutional endorsement letters. 

If your institution is not represented on the KHS campus contact list, then reach out to the person or office that advises students on processes related to selective national awards like the Fulbright Fellowship Program, and the Truman or Goldwater Scholarships. It’s possible that this person or office can submit an institutional endorsement letter for KHS as well. 

Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program writing prompts [2022 – 2023]

The written answers to the questions below serve as the only chance for you to contribute to the narrative trajectory of your life and goals in your own voice. Given the brevity of these statements, you want to make every word count. From my experience working with students and clients on these application components, making every word count means that you will have to resist the temptation to tell stories with flourish. Instead, figure out which details, facts, and specific moments best demonstrate your overarching message and then arrange your answers carefully so that, within the whole application, the details and facts you consider to be most important are all mentioned.

Find out how an admissions expert can help you craft a winning KHS application >>

Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program 3 short answer questions

  1. How will your Knight-Hennessy Scholars experience prepare you to realize your immediate and long-term intentions? (250 word limit)

    This is a pretty straight-forward question about short- and long-term goals. With 250 words you don’t have time to be vague, so I suggest that you provide a very realistic set of short-term goals and clearly show how the Knight-Hennesy Scholars experience will enable you to pursue those more immediate intentions after graduating. Here is an opportunity for you to demonstrate that you know something about the programming offered by KHS. Take some time to review the King Global Leadership Program, previous guest speakers, and the greater Stanford Community. Then ask yourself “how can some of these specific resources or programs prepare me to successfully pursue my immediate goals?” You’ll want to be specific here. Anyone who reads the website will be able to name-drop “the King Global Scholars Leadership Program” as useful, but you want to dig a little deeper. Are there aspects of the leadership model that will be particularly useful to you? Can you identify past speakers that demonstrate community support for your goals? How will you engage with the broader community and why will those dialogues be critical to your success? You might even want to review the current list of scholars and see if any of their research, entrepreneurial projects, and talents line up with your interests and goals. From there, explain how you envision that your experiences with KHS will enable you to succeed with your short-term goals, therefore leading you to achieve your broader long-term goals. Ideally, your future intentions are not completely out of the blue. Rather, it should be easy for the reader to see your goals as a direct extension of some of the work, research, or activism that you have engaged with in the past.

  2. Please tell us when you: a) made someone particularly proud of you, b) were most challenged, and c) fell short of expectations. (150 word limit combined)

    There are a few ways to answer this set of questions. You could tell one story about a series of events in which you did not meet expectations, rose to a difficult challenge, and made someone proud of you. Or you could treat each of these three questions as an opportunity to tell three 50-word stories that stand alone. Depending on how wordy you are, fifty words constitutes about 2-3 sentences. Much as you compose your list of eight improbable facts, I suggest that you treat these stories as an opportunity to mix things up, have some fun, and squeeze in any information that you weren’t able to share in other application components. Remember, not everything has to be about successful, academic, or laudatory accomplishments. The variety in questions shows that KHS wants to know about your personality too.

  3. Please tell us eight improbable facts (things that are unlikely but true) about you. Improbable facts are aspects about you – experiences, beliefs, traits, skills, etc. – that seem unlikely but are true. This does not mean a list of achievements. Use this as a way to show a different side of you. And have some fun! (150 word limit combined)

    I suggest that you wait to write this part of the application until after you’ve solidified your content for answering all of the other questions. This list of eight improbable facts is a chance for you to share some information about your personality, values, lived experiences, and any additional accomplishments that are not displayed in other components of the application. Ideally what you choose to share here will round out your materials with a mixture of fun facts and breadcrumbs of interest for the reader. Given the brevity and multiplicity of application components, I think it’s best for you to review your resume, essay, and short answers to identify missed opportunities that can appear here.

Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program essay question

The essay prompt invites you to reflect deeply on your life’s journey and the people, events, and circumstances that have impacted it.

There is no right answer, topic, or format — only you can tell your own story — and yet we hope you will focus much less on what you have done and much more on who you are. The strongest essays balance introspection with recognition of external influences, and are so personal that no one else could have possibly written it. The essay topic:

Connect the dots. How have the influences in your life shaped you? (600 word limit)

Though this prompt encourages you to reflect on past influences, it is incredibly important for you to keep in mind that your answer should be future-driven. By this I mean that you should only include stories from the past that build up to how you currently envision your future goals. Focus on the circumstances, key influences, mentors, or moments that have taught, surprised, and motivated you to pursue the goals you plan to work towards as part of your graduate degree while at Stanford. This is the largest piece of text that you will be able to submit for the application, so you must address the personal “why” of your future plans. What moments from the past have shown you that your goals matter to people other than yourself? Why do you wish to have the impact that you wish to have? By connecting the dots in this essay, you should be drawing a clear line, from the past to the present, to your anticipated future and the dream goals that go along with it. Reminder Note: The essay helps the Knight Hennessy Scholars application review committee understand who you are – as opposed to what you have done – and provides you with a rare chance for structured introspection. Think about your past and how the people, events, and situations of your life have shaped who you are today. Then tell us a story that only you can tell.

Stanford Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program video statement (By invitation in January 2022)

The video topic is: Teach something to your cohort of fellow Knight-Hennessy Scholars. (up to 2 minutes long)

Recording yourself as you teach something to an audience is a fantastic way to show how you translate complex ideas into a format that can be understood by just about anybody. It is also a chance for you to have some fun as you reveal something special about your interests, hobbies, knowledge, and skills. Since the committee is explicitly not interested in the production quality of this video, your audience really truly wants to get a sense of what you’re like in person, what teaching means to you, and how you present yourself to an audience of strangers. 

Reminder note: After you submit your online application, you will only be able to access information about how and where to record the video statement if you are invited to submit one in January 2023.

If you make it to the finalist level (top 150 applicants), then you will be invited to KHS’ Immersion Weekend. This type of invitation is an incredible honor in and of itself, but it does not guarantee success. To prepare for a weekend of assessed Individual and Group Interviews, Faculty Presentations, Group Activities, and Social Events you’ll want to make sure that you have clear talking points ready to use at any time. Our Mock Interview Packages are a great option for you to generate strategic talking points and practice using them with one of our consultants.

Stanford Knight-Hennessy Program acceptance rate: A brief reality check 

Though Stanford Knight-Hennessy is only in its sixth year of existence, it is one of the most competitive awards for graduate school in the world. This is especially true because anyone in the world who wishes to participate in any graduate program at Stanford is eligible to apply. Considering that only 3,000 people are admitted to Stanford’s graduate school programs every year and that, of those admitted, only 80-100 individuals will be admitted to the Knight-Hennessy Scholars Program, the chances of winning this award are slim. However, taking the time to write such rich materials about yourself and your goals is a great opportunity to build a portfolio of materials that you can use for a number of extramural fellowship and scholarship applications throughout your time in graduate school. That alone makes it worth a shot.

Accepted’s clients received over $2 million dollars in scholarship offers in the last application cycle. We can help you reach your scholarship goals as well. For professional guidance with your Knight-Hennessy application, check out Accepted’s scholarship application services.

Rebecca Lippman Admissions Expert

Student Affairs Advisor and scholarship expert, Rebecca has six years experience reviewing and editing large grant applications, research-based proposals, statements of purpose, personal statements and fellowship materials. Want Rebecca to help you get accepted? Click here to get in touch!

Applying to grad school? Schedule a free discovery call to find out how Accepted can help you!

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