How to Write A Great Supplemental College Essay

How Do You Get Started?

Supplemental essays vary substantially from school to school when it comes to the type of question being asked, the number of supplemental essays, and the length of each that is allowed. Below are some general rules that will serve you well for how to approach supplemental college essays.

First, Remember Supplemental Essays Can Be As Important (or more so) than the Common App Essay

The particular school you are applying to has specifically chosen this prompt or set of questions, because they believe that they best reveal the fit of the applicant they are looking for. Do not simply try to get through these as quickly as possible but instead take your time and use your space to fully prepare a response that will stand out and impress admissions committee readers.

What Topic Should You Choose To Write About?

Make sure that whatever you choose, it is not simply a re-writing of one of your experiences listed on the C.V. or common app. This is an opportunity to show the committee something new, unique, and different than what they have already read about you. For instance, if playing the violin is already an experience you listed elsewhere in the application, writing the essay once again about this does not add much to your application since they are already aware that this is an interest of yours. Instead, someone who has already discussed their interest and skills in music in their application might instead choose to discuss a moment where their perspective was changed during a volunteer experience. This is always dependent on the prompt and what is reasonable to discuss, but you can often ensure that you discuss something new in your application in this portion.

How To Answer the “Why Us?” Essay

A common supplemental essay prompt is the essay type that asks you to explain why you specifically want to attend that program or university. They key here is to stay clear of generic statements only such as “the great culture at this institution”, “the excellent academic opportunities”, or the “amazing abroad experiences offered”. Admissions committee members read hundreds of essays, and these are unlikely to stand out and worse yet demonstrate that not enough effort was taken into researching the program.

Instead, make sure you take the time to research that program closely, and show the reader that there are specific reasons that have drawn you to that school in particular. For instance, if you are interested in abroad programs, name a specific program location and the courses offered there that you wish to pursue. If it is community involvement, discuss the program in detail and explain what makes you passionate about contributing to it. This is the way to demonstrate you have done your research, and are a good fit for that organization.

Tackling Unconventional or Quirky Question Prompts

There are many colleges in recent years that have employed the use of different prompts to draw unique responses out of applicants. For instance, the University of Pennsylvania has had a supplemental essay prompting you to answer the question ‘You have just finished your 300-page autobiography. Write page 217’. Others, such as UC Berkeley, have utilized the prompt ‘If any of these three inanimate objects could take, how would your room, computer, or car describe you?’.

In each of these cases, remember that your response or essay doesn’t need to be as strange and quirky as the prompt. The point remains that you want to utilize it to exhibit something about your passions or personality. That being said, many students do find this kind of essay prompt difficult. If this is the case, a team of expert counselors is can help review supplements and give guidance on how to best revise your most challenging essays to express your ideas effectively.

Frequently asked questions

Since universities can receive thousands of applications, and many of these applicants all have average or above average GPA and standardized test scores, the personal statement is an important differentiator that lets the admissions committee know who you are as a person and what you can uniquely contribute to their institution.

Many admissions experts agree that the secondary essays for specific colleges are even more important than the personal essay in the common application. The reason for this is that the college in question has specifically posed these essay questions because they believe that they reveal a more telling story regarding their applicants. Since this determines who they will then want to accept at their institution, it is important not to rush through the secondary essays and make the best effort possible in standing out in your essay.

Absolutely. You should have multiple people review your essays for grammar and spelling errors, transition quality, and overall message. The most polished essays that are application-ready have usually been through at least 2 or 3 revisions prior to submission.

The most common format for college interviews is one-on-one or panel interviews (two or more interviewers with one applicant). It is important to prepare and practice answers to the most common college interview questions.

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