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How to Tackle College-Specific Supplemental Essays

This article discusses college-specific supplemental essays. You can read our guide to acing the Common Application personal essay here!


If you’ve put the finishing touches on your Common Application personal essay, you might be looking ahead to supplements. You also might be absolutely dreading writing them, because why do you have to write so many more essays?


Good news: they don’t have to be so hard! Supplemental essays are typically short in length requirement—you might encounter prompts with word limits ranging from 150 to 400. Many schools require them, and many don’t, so you have some flexibility as to whether or not you’ll be writing extra.


Colleges often use their supplemental essays as a way to find out more about you beyond your grades, scores, and activity list. They are also able to gauge your intent—what you plan to study and why, for instance. So, these essays are your chance to really bring your A-game. Below, find our tips on how.


Make sure your supplement reveals something about you.


Many prompts will ask you to describe an extracurricular activity in which you were involved. It’s easy to pick the most impressive thing you’ve accomplished or the club in which you had the highest leadership position, but make sure that your descriptions also tell us about you! Pick activities that highlight your best qualities. For example, being part of an art club might be something you view as insignificant, but you can actually use that to showcase your organization, attention to detail, and observational skills.


When discussing your activities, write with lively detail.


This shouldn’t read like a resume or a LinkedIn profile—don’t simply list your duties. Paint a vivid picture of a day in your club or sport. If you were involved with the debate team, don’t just tell us that you were responsible for researching and writing arguments—show us what that looked like. Were you up late, scanning sources? What did it feel like to debate your opponent? How does it feel to win?


Try to highlight something that you haven’t yet discussed.


If you already talked about the summer program that inspired you to choose your major in a different essay, now is the time to spice it up. Different parts of your application will showcase different parts of your personality. This means, too, that you don’t always have to discuss an impressive activity. Sometimes, there will be questions about what your favorite movie or book is. Use these to flesh out the image of yourself as a real human with real interests, not just another applicant.

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If a school asks you why you want to go there, do your research.


“The programs and opportunities offered at X school are so intriguing to me!” is far too vague—be specific. Admissions officers are seeking students who are passionate about the school. They want to know that you want to be at X school, and they want to know exactly how you’re going to make use of your time there. Take it beyond major and career interest, too—if your school is strong in the health sciences and you’re hoping to pursue a pre-medical track, don’t just say “X school is amazing at health.” Look up professors who lecture in your department. Have they done any research that you’re interested in? Mention that! Or maybe you’re a writer, and one of the English professors wrote a book you love—talk about it. Writing about specific coursework or aspects of the curriculum that appeal to you can be quite effective, too; tell them how excited you’d be to explore the liberal arts through the core curriculum.


We also recommend researching and mentioning school-specific opportunities that you can’t find elsewhere. If the school offers a unique semester-abroad program, for instance, discuss how you wouldn’t be able to pursue that dream at a different college. And finally, talking about campus life can be the icing on the cake. Mention a weird tradition in which you’d love to be involved; describe how you can’t wait to cheer on a sports team and experience that game-day environment.


Approach personalization carefully.


It can be tempting to write one short essay about an extracurricular activity, throw in a sentence about how you’re “excited to pursue X activity at X school”, and then swap out different school names for different applications. But we strongly advise against this. Why? It might be a time-saver, but your lack of effort will show through. You’re much better off doing a bit of research than lazily slapping on one half-hearted sentence. Plus, doing this means you run the risk of accidentally sending an essay with another school’s name in it—if Penn State receives your Pitt essay, you’re definitely not getting in.


Most of all, have fun with it.


Of course, this is much easier said than done. Writing countless essays doesn’t sound fun. But it can be a way to dive deeper, to explore what you’re interested in pursuing at different colleges. It can also be an opportunity to figure out what values and qualities you appreciate most about yourself. Take these supplements as a chance to brag a little. Celebrate yourself and your hard work—you deserve it!

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Author: Julianna Chen

Julianna Chen is currently in her second year at Emory University, where she studies creative writing and Chinese. She is the managing editor of Lithium Magazine and a contributing writer for When not writing, she is watching a movie or eating a stroopwafel, sometimes both at the same time.