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How to Write Great Supplemental College Application Essays

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IvyWise counselors Eric and Zach discuss what admissions officers are looking for in supplemental essays and what students can do to stand out on the Just Admit It! college admissions podcast, giving listeners expert insight from former admissions officers.

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Aside from grades, standardized test scores, and your high school courses, one of the most important elements of the college application is the essay. Supplemental essays give admissions officers the chance to get to know students, and they’re also great gauges for demonstrated interest. So how can students master college admission essays?

What Is a Supplemental Essay? 

While the Common Application and the Coalition Application each have a required essay, many colleges include their own school-specific essays, known as writing supplements. These supplemental essays are designed to help the admissions committee gain a better understanding of who you are and how you will fit in on campus.

Tell Admissions Officers Something They Don’t Already Know

Admissions officers want to get to know applicants. There’s only so much that application readers can deduce from your extracurricular activities, transcripts, test scores, recommendation letters, and other application materials. Many times the best way to get a clear picture of a student’s goals, accomplishments, and character is to hear it directly from the student themself.

Instead of using the essay to regurgitate the information that’s already available, reveal something that can’t be found anywhere else in the application. For example, if captain of the school’s soccer team is on the activity list, don’t write an essay about the biggest game of the season. The admissions officers already know soccer is an interest, so choose a deeper topic that reveals something meaningful.

One example: A student’s top activity on her activity list was horseback riding. Instead of writing an essay about riding, she instead wrote about her faith and how she reconciled that with what she was learning in her advanced science courses.

Approaching “Quirky” Essay Prompts

It’s a college admissions trend that keeps growing in popularity: the quirky college application essay question. From questions about what advice a wisdom tooth would have to inquiries about how students would design their own courses, many colleges are asking applicants some strange questions. For many students, these wild and wacky application prompts can be extremely intimidating. Many struggle with the balance between writing creative, witty responses and sounding cheesy and forced.

When tackling these odd application essay prompts, remember the main goal of the admissions essay — to reveal something not obvious about yourself. These essays are about you, not what you think the college wants to hear, so keep your interests in mind! The same applies to the “short-take” supplement questions (those that seek a one-word or one-sentence response). Dig deep, but remember that your answer doesn’t have to be as strange as the prompt — it just needs to reflect your character and passions.

The Common “Why This College?” Essay

One of the most common supplemental essays that students will come across is the infamous “Why This College?” essay. Whether it’s simply “Why XX University?” or a more specific question about how a student plans to contribute to the campus, colleges are looking for detailed and well-researched responses.

It’s not enough to say, “I want to go to XX University because it’s a great school,” or “XX College is my favorite.” When evaluating these responses, colleges want to know that a student has done their homework on the institution and has really thought about how they will fit into the campus community. If supplemental essays are good gauges for demonstrated interest, this particular type of essay is the most important.

When answering this essay question, use specific details. Mention courses and professors of interest. Students should elaborate on campus organizations or programs that fit certain goals, and specific aspects of the campus community that make it a good social and academic fit. Be as detailed as possible, but be sure to relate these details to specific goals and interests. Don’t just rattle off some course names and expect to wow the admissions committee.

The best writing supplements will add great context and personality to a student’s application, and elevate their chances of admission. Often it can be the difference between the ‘no’ and the ‘maybe’ pile. Research and preparation are key to writing stand-out supplements, so don’t wait until the last minute! If you’re still unsure about how your essay could come across to admissions officers, it’s not too late for our team of expert counselors to review your supplements and give guidance on how to draft and revise your essays. Contact us to learn more.

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