How to Answer Occidental College’s Supplemental Essays

When applying to selective institutions, supplemental essays are a huge part of the process. It is imperative that you take the time needed to write, edit, and revise a stellar supplemental essay. Supplemental essays are an essential tool admissions officers use to assess student fit. Think about it: every other part of the application is relatively generic. Every college will receive the same information from the student including their name, demographic information, transcripts, SAT/ACT scores, and personal statement.

Supplemental essays dig a bit deeper into the student’s personality, passions, etc. As such, these additional questions should be taken seriously. The college took the time to craft these questions on top of all the information they will collect through the application. They allocate resources and time for more information about you. It is important to use these essays to your advantage and prove to the school once more why you belong at that institution.

Use these essays to add another layer of depth to your essay. Think critically about what other facets of your personal life you would like admissions officers to know about you. Be strategic and specific in your answers.


About Occidental College

Occidental College is a small liberal arts college in Los Angeles, California. Occidental’s beautiful campus has been the setting for many movies, including “Clueless,” “Jurassic Park III,” and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock.” 

Besides a gorgeous campus, Occidental has one of the only residential academic semester programs. In the program, students take classes at Occidental while maintaining a full-time internship at a U.N.-related agency. Students can also take courses at Caltech to enrich their learning experience. 

Affectionately called “Oxy” by students and professors alike, Occidental sends students off to pursue higher education at Columbia, Harvard, UC Berkeley, USC, and more. Oxy graduates stand next to notable alumni such as Barack Obama, Ben Affleck, and John Kemp. 


Supplemental Essays

Why are you applying to Occidental? What are your intellectual curiosities and why do you think Occidental is the right place for you to pursue them? (200 words maximum length)

You should recognize this prompt as a “why this college” essay. Use this essay to talk about your connection to the school. This connection may be about the culture, a personal experience with the school, a visit, or a talk with an admissions officer. If you have not had the opportunity to visit, perhaps there are student support systems that appeal to you or alumni you look up to. There are many ways to approach this question, try to be as creative and specific as you can in your response. 

 Do not use this essay to brag to the university about how prestigious they are or how cool their campus is. What else matters to you about the institution? Do you like the culture, the classes, programs, majors? 

A key point to highlight in this prompt is why Occidental is the right place to pursue your intellectual curiosities. It may be helpful to do some research on your potential major and Occidental’s educational approach. Perhaps they have classes, professors, programs, or opportunities that excite you. It is important to talk about them and connect them to your own educational goals. Don’t just say you’re interested in learning from Professor Smith because of his research in Space technology, tell them why. Perhaps your life dream is to work for NASA or help Elon Musk with SpaceX. You need to make a clear connection between Occidental’s spectacular education and your own wants and needs. 

Oxy’s central mission emphasizes the value of community amidst diversity. What do you value in a community and how do you see your perspectives and life experiences enhancing it? (200 words maximum length)

Occidental is very clearly telling you they value the community. They want to make sure you do too. Be sure to answer both questions in your response. The first question: What do you value in a community may require some self-reflection. Perhaps you value cohesion, communication, or honesty. There is no one right answer. Whatever you choose to discuss is perfectly okay. Your explanation of why the value is important to you is more important than the value itself. Therefore, you cannot just say you value communication, you have to tell the admission committee why. 

The second part of this question is a bit more personal. They are asking you about your identities and experiences. What do you bring to the table that makes you special or different? In other words, how will you diversify and improve the Occidental community? You can use cultural, ethnic, gender expression, sexual orientation, personal experiences, or insights that you believe will enrich the community. Try to choose something you strongly identify with and feel comfortable talking about. For example, perhaps you have been working with homeless communities and have a lot of knowledge about American poverty. You may say that your experiences cause you to encourage others to be more empathetic and kind. 

Quirks, idiosyncrasies, peculiarities. They help differentiate us. What is one of yours? 

Again, it really doesn’t matter what you say here. What matters more is what the admissions officer learns about you. It is important to connect your quirk to something bigger. For example, you may share that your quirk is that you talk too loud. You may connect the quirk to yourself by saying you talk too loud because communication and genuine human connection excites you. As a result, you may hike your voice up a few octaves because you’re eager to learn more about the person sitting in front of you.

Don’t use this prompt to humble brag. In other words, don’t say your quirk is that you care too much about school or you’re overly involved in school. Those are not quirks and will not impress admissions officers. 

Your response to this question reveals a bit more about your personality. If you are funny, you could make this essay funny or silly. Remember, admissions officers are trying to get to know you. Be open, honest, and personable. 


Students must answer one of the following questions

Research is an integral part of an Oxy education. Completing a senior comprehensive is a requirement of every Oxy student. Additionally, there are opportunities with the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, the International Richter Grant, the Summer Undergraduate Research Center, and other departments to conduct research. What is something you would like to research and why?

If you are unsure or uninterested in research, it may be better to skip over this question. If you are interested in research, you are not constrained to your intended major. For example, if you are majoring in engineering but you want to research the effects of art therapy, that is fine. Be as creative as you want. 

At the heart of this question, Oxy is trying to learn what are deeply interested in. Feel free to mention some of the research the Institute for the Study of Los Angeles, the Urban and Environmental Policy Institute, the International Richter Grant, or the Summer Undergraduate Research Center is already performing, if you’d like. But if you choose to mention research they are already doing, you will want to add what additional research you would like to conduct or other ancillary research you would perform.

Be sure to include why you want to perform certain research. What about the research or subject matter interests you? 

Briefly describe a current event or social movement that is affecting a city, town, or place that is important to you. Describe its significance to the community as well as its future implications for that community.


If you are a socially aware person, this is a perfect question for you.

This essay has a relatively low word limit; you must use your words wisely. Don’t spend too much time setting the stage for the current event or social movement. Spend more time explaining its significance. Significance can be widely defined. You may want to discuss the social, political, or economic effects of the movement. You do not have to treat this as an academic, however. There is no need to spend hours finding sources and data to support your claims. Admissions officers just want to know what you care about, what you’re aware of, and what you’re passionate about.

What is the first song you would play for your roommates on move-in day? 


This is just another fun way to learn about you. Do not stick to the Top 100 nor should you pick the first song that pops into your head. Try to think about a song you can connect to the situation or your personality. 

For example, you may choose “Dreaming of You” by Selena because your mom used to play that song for you as a child. 

Or, you may choose “Year 3000” by the Jonas Brothers because you are excited to look toward the future with your roommate. 

Again, this is an awesome prompt to showcase your personality and interests a bit better. 

If you had your own food truck or restaurant, what would it be called?


This is an awesome question to showcase your imagination. Be creative and exciting! Think further than the restaurant name. Why are you naming the restaurant the name you’ve chosen? Perhaps you name your restaurant “Lola’s” because that was your grandma’s name and you want to cook food your grandma cooked.

Another way to think of this question is how can you use food to explain something more about yourself? Perhaps cooking is a really important part of your family or to you. Perhaps cooking is a means of celebrating your culture or community. This essay would be a great place to highlight how food matters in your life. 

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