How do I Write a Supplemental College Essay?
- 15 Aug
How do I Write a Supplemental College Essay?
What are supplement essays?
These are essays that certain colleges require in addition to the main personal statement.
How long are these essays supposed to be?
Unlike the personal statement on the common app, which limits you to 650 words no matter which topic you choose, the length of supplemental essays can vary significantly. Some supplemental questions ask for a only few sentences. Others want a page-long response. In general, however, these essays tend to be shorter than the main personal statement.
What are some common supplemental essay topics?
First up is the “Why Us?” essay. This essay provides an opportunity for you to explain why you are excited to attend a particular college. Many schools ask some variation of the “Why Us?” essay. Here are a couple of examples:
Northwestern University: In 300 words or less, help us understand what aspects of Northwestern appeal most to you, and how you'll make use of specific resources and opportunities here.
Columbia University: Please tell us what you value most about Columbia and why (300 words max).
Why is this essay important?
Colleges are putting more weight on these answers to determine if you would choose them over other schools if accepted. More likely to attend = more likely to be accepted!
How do I write a strong “Why Us?” essay?
First off: be specific! If you are writing about why you want to go to University of San Francisco, for example, don’t simply say that you want to attend an urban, midsize Jesuit school and call it a day. Go deeper. Look up specific clubs, classes, research projects, and programs (for example, maybe you’re an aspiring lawyer and USF’s accelerated 3+3 BS/JD program really stands out to you). Show that you’ve done your research.
Be sure to use the college website as a research resource
In addition, be sure to connect these specific opportunities to your background, interests, and dreams. Don’t just tell the college how awesome it is--get personal!
What about other types of supplemental essays?
Another common supplemental essay topic asks you to expand on one of your extracurricular activities. Here is a typical example of this type of essay:
Harvard University: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences (150 words max).
Ok, so what activity should I write about?
Ideally, you should choose an activity that:
--You are genuinely passionate about
--You have achieved some degree of success/recognition for
--You have not written extensively about in another application essay
If multiple activities satisfy these parameters, write about the one that is less common. A unique topic is more likely to stand out to admissions officers, many of whom have to read dozens of applications a day. If you are both an avid spelunker and avid piano player, for example, go ahead and write about the spelunking!
Do this for fun? You’ll probably want to write about it!
Finally, be sure to write about both the details of the activity and why the activity is significant to you.
Here is an example of a successful activity essay:
Those of the American River College saxophone section are very different people: Manny, a smiling Spanish grandpa; Stan, a tattooed motorcycle rider, and me, an outgoing high school student. But when we play, we are all jazz musicians, pouring our souls into our saxophones, revealing our personalities through the notes. The drummer snaps his high hat, counting off the ensemble in A Night in Tunisia. Manny’s rich, slow swing is as warm as his grandfatherly manner. Stan’s gruff character is reflected in his heavy, brassy tone. My robust crescendos speak to my loud, bright nature. We sway to the music like charmed snakes, eyes closed, swinging to the beat of the bass. Our diverse personalities and unique interpretations of the music blend together, creating one captivating sound. At that moment, I realize why I am drawn to jazz: it fosters fusion of the individual expression—even a grandpa, bachelor, and student need not compromise their individual interpretations to make rich music.
What else might a college ask about?
Some colleges will require students to answer creative supplement questions. These are meant to gauge the way you think--as well as your inventiveness. For example, the University of Chicago is famous for its unexpected prompts. Here are a couple from previous years:
Were pH an expression of personality, what would be your pH and why? (Feel free to respond acidly! Do not be neutral, for that is base!)
Little pigs, French hens, a family of bears. Blind mice, musketeers, the Fates. Parts of an atom, laws of thought, a guideline for composition. Omne trium perfectum? Create your own group of threes, and describe why and how they fit together.
Questions like this also help select an applicant pool that is a good fit for the school. If you are intrigued by these unorthodox questions, it might mean that the University of Chicago is a good fit for you.
The University of Chicago is known for its unconventional essay supplements
Here are some additional creative supplemental questions:
Stanford University: Virtually all of Stanford's undergraduates live on campus. Write a note to your future roommate that reveals something about you or that will help your roommate—and us—know you better (250 words max).
Oscar Wilde said that there are two tragedies in life: not getting what one wants and getting it. Tell us about an experience of not getting what you wanted or getting it and why it was a tragedy. (600 words max)
Emory College: In the age of social media, what does engaging with integrity look like for you? (150 words max)
How about an example?
You got it. Here is a successful response to the above Stanford prompt:
If you opened my application, filled with scores and other numbers, you might think that is who I am. And yes, a number might tell you a lot of things, such as:
3 states I've called home
82 emails in my inbox starred as "to do"
10 too many wild blackberries I eat each bike ride
5 times I've read and reread the wrinkled pages of Jane Eyre
23 notes slightly off-key when I sing my favorite song
11 times I've walked the halls of the capitol building
1 sister, with whom I share 87 inside jokes and the same eyebrows
3 people who blur the line between friend and brother
But a number cannot tell you everything. It cannot tell of the secret hideouts, little mementos, and pieces of me left behind with each move. It cannot share how Joni Mitchell’s voice reminded me of our place on the carousel of time as my best friend left for college or why the song Circle Game still brings tears to my eyes. It cannot convey the sense of empowerment of standing before a senate committee, speech in hand. It cannot explain why the vulnerability of Rochester's blindness compels me to open the book again though I can recite the entire plot. It cannot even remotely express the struggles overcome that explain why I define family not in terms of blood, but in terms of love.