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Tips for Writing Excellent Supplemental Essays

Happy October! My students have been hard at work on their Early Action and Early Decision applications, so I haven’t had much time to post recently. Most of my clients’ recent application work and proofreading has been focused on supplemental essays, which are an important component of most college applications.

What are supplemental essays, you may ask? In a nutshell, they are responses to questions that specific colleges ask their applicants. These essay prompts vary in type and length. For example, some colleges, such as Wesleyan and Middlebury, don’t have any supplemental essays, while others have up to three. Some schools’ responses have a 100-word limit, while Tulane’s supplements have a staggering 800-word limit for EACH of their essays (for comparison purposes, the common app personal statement has a word limit of 650).

There are plenty of helpful resources out there, including those from Ethan Sawyer/College Essay Guy, but my bottom line is that students really have to know about the colleges to write well about them.

Supplemental essays can take a quirky, creative direction. USC, for example, asks you what your favorite snack is and what you plan to binge watch next (among other things)! However, almost always, colleges will ask you something resembling one of these two questions below. (FYI- I don’t usually see both of these questions on the same application- usually just one or the other). Here are some pointers on how best to answer these:

  • Why do you want to attend ABC University (also known as the “why us” essay)?

Do your research about why this school stands out to you. Be sure you know as much as you can before attempting to answer this prompt. If you’ve visited the campus in person, even better; point to specific parts of the tour or information session that really resonated with you and moved this school high up on your list.

Divide your response into two parts: classes/academics and extracurricular activities. Be sure to reference specifics about each.

For academics: Do you know what you plan to major in? Mention some specific courses or programs that the college offers in that department (check out the most recent course catalog) to address why that college is a great academic fit for you.

For extracurriculars, research the school’s website for clubs and organizations that interest you and align with your passions. Tie these into your response to show the college that you are more than someone who only studies.

  • How do you plan to contribute to our community?”

Schools want students who will participate in clubs, organizations, community service, etc. Again, do your research. What clubs and orgs does the school offer that you envision participating in? Whether you love the idea of community service, Greek life, intramural sports or want to audition for an improv group, colleges want to see involved students.

For both types of questions, try to avoid generalizing. The admissions office truly wants to know about you and your specific interests in and out of the classroom, so going on and on about the school's location or the merits of a well-rounded liberal arts education will be downright boring for the committee:)

And now, for the kiss of death: Copying/pasting one of your essay responses into another college's application.... and then forgetting to swap out the name of the college. I can guarantee that this will be an automatic rejection, so don't write about USC in your SCU application or vice versa! Some schools claim to pay more attention to these supplemental responses than they do to the 650-word common app response, so do not rush the drafting and editing process on these.

Good luck getting these supplemental essays and all of your college applications written, proofread and submitted. As always, please reach out to me with questions and/or a 30-minute free consult!

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