Highly-selective colleges and universities often require supplemental application materials. These materials help further personalize the admissions process so that each college’s admissions committee has the information it needs to select a vibrant and diverse incoming class.
In this article, we will look at 10 supplemental essay prompts from top colleges and universities for the 2022-23 admissions cycle. Once you get a better sense of what to expect from a supplemental essay prompt, we will outline key strategies for answering these prompts, as well as provide practical writing tips to help you get started.
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What are supplemental essays and are they important?
Each college has its own sets of values and criteria that it looks for in applicants. This is why determining college fit is so important. By carefully researching each school on your college list and having several clear and compelling reasons for wanting to attend, you will increase your overall chances of admission.
One way that colleges gauge whether or not a student would be a good fit for their university is by posing unique supplemental essay prompts. This is why knowing how to write a supplemental essay is so important. Most colleges with supplemental essays will have applicants write the “why this college” essay.
Many selective colleges will require additional supplemental essays as well. In some cases, you will need to prepare an additional five essays per school, so give yourself plenty of time to complete each essay thoughtfully, write multiple drafts, seek out feedback, and proofread. The college application process can feel overwhelming at times, so make sure you brainstorm ways to stay organized during the college application process.
Although the style and content of the actual prompts can vary greatly, at the core these prompts have one thing in common: They are designed to get to know who you are as a person, what your values are, and whether you demonstrate compatibility with the university’s overall mission.
How to write supplemental essays
If you’re looking for supplemental essay tips, you’ve come to the right place! In this section, we will discuss how to write a good supplemental essay, by providing several key application essay tips.
To start, it’s important to remember that the process of writing supplemental essays is similar to the process of writing a successful personal statement. Review components of a strong personal statement to give yourself a fresh perspective before beginning your supplemental essays.
Tips for writing supplemental essays
Supplemental essays are typically pretty brief. This is why it’s important to learn how to write concisely and powerfully. Having very few words to respond does not mean that you should prepare your responses casually or that your responses shouldn’t include lots of details. Rather, approach each word limit creatively. Whether you have 50 words, 200 words, or 500 words, try to use each sentence and detail to your advantage. One of the best ways to do this is to begin by freewriting. Write down everything that comes to mind. Take time to fully flush out your ideas. Then review what you’ve written and see what feels most important. These are the details you will want to highlight in your response.
Some colleges will require three to five additional essays. Maybe even more! This is why it’s important to be prepared and plan ahead. Supplemental essays are an important part of your college application and they require a lot of time and effort. While some supplemental essay prompts may be similar between schools, in general, you want to avoid recycling your college essays. Admissions officers can tell when a student is tweaking an existing essay to fit a prompt.
While some essay prompts are required, others are optional. In general, try to answer each prompt thoughtfully and creatively. After all, it’s no secret that college admissions are highly competitive so it’s great to give your application “an edge” whenever possible. That said, there are times when you should pass on writing an optional essay. If you’re not sure whether or not you should submit an essay for an optional prompt, begin by drafting a response. Then ask yourself if the essay feels forced or genuine. Does the essay convey something new about you that isn’t included in the rest of your application? If the question doesn’t seem to apply to you and you are genuinely unsure what to contribute, you should probably skip that particular essay. After all, no one wants to read an uninspired essay that doesn’t contribute to your overall application.
2022-23 supplemental essay prompts
As mentioned, supplemental essay prompts can vary significantly. Some prompts ask you to respond in 50 words while other prompts ask you to respond in 500 words. Some prompts focus on academics while others ask you to reflect carefully on your cultural upbringing or life philosophies. Still, other prompts will ask you to introduce who you are as a person or discuss something that you enjoy.
Just as supplemental essay prompts vary in style, your responses will also vary. Some prompts will require you to be thoughtful and serious, while other prompts may encourage you to be humorous or creative. It all depends.
Brown University supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Brown University requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:
Brown’s culture fosters a community in which students challenge the ideas of others and have their ideas challenged in return, promoting a deeper and clearer understanding of the complex issues confronting society. This active engagement in dialogue is as present outside the classroom as it is in academic spaces. Tell us about a time you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond? (200-250 words)
Columbia University supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Columbia University requires the following supplemental materials: 1 list of 75 words, 1 list of 125 words, 3 essays of 200 words each, and 1 short answer of 35 words. One of their supplemental essay prompts is as follows:
For the following questions, we ask that you list each individual response using commas or semicolons; the items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order. No explanatory text or formatting is needed. (For example, it is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications. No author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed.)
List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)
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Dartmouth College supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Dartmouth College requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:
“Be yourself,” Oscar Wilde advised. “Everyone else is taken.” Introduce yourself in 200-250 words.
Duke University supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Duke University requires at least one supplemental essay, with the option to submit an additional two supplemental essays. One of the optional supplemental essay prompts is as follows:
What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?
Emory University supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Emory University requires two supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:
Emory If you could witness a historic event (past, present or future) first-hand, what would it be, and why?
Harvard University supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Harvard University requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:
Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words)
MIT supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, MIT requires five supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:
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.
Princeton University supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Princeton University requires three supplemental essays and three short responses. One of the short-answer prompts is as follows:
Please respond to each question in 75 words or fewer. There are no right or wrong answers. Be yourself!
What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?
What brings you joy?
What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?
Stanford University supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Stanford University requires three supplemental essays and five short answer responses. One of the short-answer prompts is as follows:
How did you spend your last two summers? (50-word limit)
UPenn supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, UPenn requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:
Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge. (We encourage you to share this note with that person, if possible, and reflect on the experience!) (150-200 words)
Yale University supplemental essay prompt
As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Yale University requires the following supplemental materials: 1 list; 6 short answer questions; 1 additional short essay of 400 words. One of the short answer prompts is as follows:
Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What would you ask them to discuss? (200 characters or fewer)
Supplemental essay examples
One of the best ways to prepare your supplemental essay responses is to look at successful past examples. In this section, we will look at three examples and explain why each response is successful.
This first example was submitted as a part of Harvard’s college application. This essay is in response to the prompt: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words).
Feet moving, eyes up, every shot back, chants the silent mantra in my head. The ball becomes a beacon of neon green as I dart forward and backward, shuffling from corner to far corner of the court, determined not to let a single point escape me. With bated breath, I swing my racquet upwards and outwards and it catches the ball just in time to propel it, spinning, over the net. My heart soars as my grinning teammates cheer from the sidelines.
While I greatly value the endurance, tenacity, and persistence that I have developed while playing tennis throughout the last four years, I will always most cherish the bonds that I have created and maintained each year with my team.
This essay uses rich, descriptive language to evoke a clear sense of movement and place. The first paragraph shows a creative and expert control of language, whereas the second paragraph uses straightforward language to highlight key characteristics. Overall, this response is creative, well-balanced, and uses each word to its advantage.
This essay was submitted as a part of an MIT college application. The supplemental essay prompt that it addresses is: Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?
We were moving away from my home of thirteen years to go miles and miles away, from my whole life. Worst of all: away from New York City – the only place in the world worth knowing – or so I thought.
The town might as well have been called “Miniscule Ville”. I resented every second of it. The real shocking thing to me was almost that anything existed outside of New York City. NYC is a world of its own, with its own pulses and lifeblood. I still think it’s a great place, and I’ll likely at least visit it someday, but right now, I want to visit everywhere.
My move humbled me. I began to love nature walks, the friendly camaraderie of the small town, and saw a world I never imagined. I thought I knew it all just because I lived in New York. Here was a great place, hidden from view. I loved experiencing that new world, learning local history, and most of all, learning the life stories of my new neighbors, each one of whom had a fascinating life.
My greatest dream is to be a journalist, covering other countries, and learning about new worlds and neighbors. My old perspective feels so limited. If I can share global stories, I can open up my perspective, and I can share those stories with a thousand homes so readers can learn about other perspectives as well. The world is full of different lives. Everywhere is somebody’s home.
This essay covers a lot of material; most impressively, it shows a shift in perspective and its effect on the student’s lived experience. It also clearly explains the student’s academic and professional goals. The tone of this essay is both confident and humble. It demonstrates who this student is as a person, what their goals are, and what they value.
This essay was submitted as a part of a Duke college application. The essay addresses the prompt: What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?
Most teachers who taught me talked a big game about wanting students to engage in debate, or “dialectic” as they called it, and to challenge their ideas. In my experience, most of this was a fabrication. The best essay grades and participation marks were found through parroting what was dictated from on high. Did the teacher think such-and-such is the “correct” interpretation of a novel? You did, too, or you lost points.
None of that was true for Ms. Jackie Winters. The first essay I sent her came back with the note, “This doesn’t sound like you; it sounds like me.” I asked her about the note, and this initiated a marvelous learning environment, in which I grew faster than I ever have in any other class.
Discussions were lively, and the more I presented my authentic views, the more I was respected. My grades were dependent on being backed up by rhetoric, sources, and logic, not by compliance. Due to this engagement, this was the most enjoyable English literature class I had, and I feel like my viewpoints were challenged. I learned to question my ideas and dig into a text for the best results.
Best of all, I was putting in more and more effort to find good, quality sources to back up my arguments. I was held to a high standard and shown respect, and I believe that those qualities made for the best learning environment possible
This essay clearly shows a shift in perspective and the effects it had on this student’s ability to think, speak, and write critically. Structurally, this essay uses an anecdote to introduce and contextualize a topic, but the essay itself isn’t overly narrative. Rather, the student explains, in detail, how this teacher’s encouragement and guidance have influenced their willingness and ability to engage with the source material and academic discourse.
Key takeaways and moving forward
Supplemental essays are an important part of your college applications. In fact, they are a key factor in what college admissions officers look for in an applicant. Highly-selective colleges and universities use supplemental essays to further personalize the college admissions process. After all, thousands of qualified students apply to Ivy League institutions each year and only a small fraction are admitted. Supplemental essays allow you to share more about who you are as a person and as a student. Use each prompt as an opportunity to add something new to your college application. If you feel like you could benefit from professional guidance throughout this process, reach out to learn more about our services.
Frequently asked questions and answers
Still have questions about supplemental essays and the effects they have on college applications? Review the following frequently asked questions and answers for further insight on supplemental essays.
How important are supplemental essays?
Supplemental essays are an incredibly important part of your college applications and should be properly prioritized. If a college didn’t care about your response, they wouldn’t ask you in the first place. Put plenty of time and care into your responses. Write several drafts, seek out feedback, and always proofread.
How long should supplemental essays be?
Always follow directions. Colleges will specify how long each supplemental essay should be, usually right after the prompt itself. Depending on the college, and the prompt, a supplemental essay’s word count may range anywhere from 50 to 500 words.
Do supplemental essays change every year?
It all depends on the college. Colleges often reuse past prompts, but there are no guarantees. This is why it’s important to plan ahead and make a list of supplemental essay prompts early on in the college application process.
Are supplemental essays required?
Sometimes colleges will have both required and optional supplemental essays. That said, the essay prompts are clearly labeled. In short, each college will specify whether supplemental essays are required.
Do all colleges have supplemental essays?
No, not all colleges have supplemental essays. Highly-selective colleges, however, often require at least one additional essay.