College Essays: Supplemental Essays

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    An Expert Guide to Additional Writing

    Much like the personal statement, admissions officers want to get to know you. Supplemental essays are additional writing opportunities to capture the reader and demonstrate interest. Your supplemental essays should be captivating and creative while also answering the prompt.

    What are Supplemental Essays?

    Supplemental essays are additional pieces of writing that most schools require from their applicants. The length and the prompts for supplemental essays vary depending on the school. Schools will usually require anywhere from 100-700 words to answer their prompts. Even if a supplemental essay isn’t required, it is highly advised that the student completes it. Supplemental essay prompts can be found on either The Common App, the Coalition Application, or on the school’s admissions website. Harvard College’s supplemental essay can be found in an extra document on its application requirements website.

    Some school’s choose a more traditional path for their supplementals by asking questions like:

    “Why this school?”

    “Tell us about your intended major.”

    While schools like the University of Chicago, MIT, and Brown ask more unique questions. For example:

    “Cats have nine lives, Pac-Man has 3 lives, and radioactive isotopes have half-lives. How many lives does something else—conceptual or actual—have, and why?” (University of Chicago)

    “We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it.” (Massachusetts Institute of Technology)

    “Tell us about a place or community you call home. How has it shaped your perspective?” (Brown University)

    Keep in mind that these essays require time and effort. You shouldn’t think of these essays as a requirement but as an additional opportunity to share your story with the admissions officer.

    Getting Started On The Essay

    Before writing any supplemental essays, make sure you’re following all of the rules correctly. Some schools might require two essays while others only require one. In addition, some schools will let you choose your essay prompt while others have more strict guidelines. Staying on track and having a clear gameplan during this process is crucial.

    You should focus on tackling one school at a time. Switching from school to school can get confusing. If you’re planning on writing supplemental essays for the University of Central Florida, try to focus your time on those for a fixed period of time and then move on to your other essays.

    Similar to the personal statement, write your first draft with no regard for grammar, spelling, or word count. The revision process is extensive and you can worry about those things after you’ve put your ideas together. Once ideas start flowing, it’s hard to stop writing. Pace yourself. If you hit writer’s block, come back to your essay with fresh eyes some other time. This will help you limit your thoughts and keep you from writing a 5-page essay.

    Your first draft is never your last. Have several people review and edit your writings. It can be a teacher, your parents, a trusted friend, your manager at work, or whoever you believe can provide tangible feedback. You want to make sure your essays have undergone multiple drafts before finalizing it. 

    Why This College?

    Some of the more traditional prompts require more thought and research instead of creativity. For instance, one of the most popular essays prompts is the “Why This College?” topic. This topic doesn’t have a right answer, but it’s your chance to tell the admissions officer why you wish to attend that particular school. Here are some do’s and don’ts for the Why This College? prompt:

    • Do: Mention specific programs.

      • If the school offers a program that interests you, mention it! This will show that you’ve done extensive research and can relate your interests to what the school has to offer. 

    • Don’t: Mention the school’s prestige.

      • The school doesn’t want to hear that they are highly competitive. They know this.

    • Do: Explain how you’ll contribute to the school. 

      • Colleges are looking for students who can make an impact on their campus. Research their clubs, organizations, and how you can make a difference by being a part of those communities. 

    • Don’t: Talk about a school founder or their history.

      • This ties into talking about the school’s prestige. The admissions officer already knows the school’s history. They want to hear from YOU!

    • Do: Talk about the school’s culture.

      • For example, If these values align with your own, the school will want to know! 

      • Some schools might be interested in philanthropy and giving back to their local community. Reed College, for example, has created programs that donate their leftover lunch food to homeless individuals in Portland. If you are someone who values volunteer work, then schools like this would interest you. 

    This prompt can be easier to answer if you’ve gone on a campus tour. Being able to speak on specific buildings around campus or perhaps a professor you’ve met will make your essay stand out. If you’re unable to make a campus visit, consider a virtual tour. Virtual tours can be accessed directly on This website has access to over 1,000 colleges and university campuses. If a college you’re looking for isn’t on the website, you can always search on the school’s website for virtual tours. 

    Final Thoughts

    To summarize, supplemental essays should be seen as additional opportunities to stand out. Certainly, it can seem like the application process requires a lot, but each piece equates to one unique applicant.

    Students should utilize their opportunities to submit multiple supplemental essays. However, if you are applying to 4+ schools, this could equate to 8+ essays that each need individual attention. Making a thorough spreadsheet that keeps track of your writing developments is the key to success during this process. 

    If you’re struggling with developing your supplemental essays and have additional questions on the college admissions process, reach out to us to schedule a consultation!

    Alix Zevetski

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