How to Stand Out on Your Supplemental College Essays


There’s lot of advice floating around about the main Common Application essay, including our own, but most students don’t spend as much time or energy on their supplemental essays. These essays can often have just as much weight in your application, and need to be tailored to each individual school. This means they’re an entirely different beast than the main Common App essay, and often require more research and preparation before writing that first draft. Where do you find the supplemental questions? On the Common Application, each school has more specific questions and options when you click on their tab. If there are extra essays required (not all schools have supplemental essays), you’ll find them here, under the writing section. The good news? Most (but not all) prompts are available and updated now, or use the same questions year-to-year. Start a document with each essay and don’t forget to check their recommended word count -- you don’t want to give a 250 response to a question that requests 600, or vice versa.

Our biggest piece of advice? Tailor each essay to the school as specifically as possible. Show that you’ve researched not only the school but their departments, courses (the catalog is a great place to start for this) and majors. Make sure to use the right names and details. Admissions counselors will recognize this effort and know that you really are interested in components of their health science or dance program and not just those programs regardless of school.

Another effort? Make them narrative and detailed -- try to tell a story, even if it’s just the story of your interest in the school or how you hope it will help you get where you want to go. Try to make the supplemental essays as engaging and creative as your main Common App essay. It will pay off later! You can often reuse basic essay structures, but making sure that you carefully consider why you’re applying to that school in the first place. Planning ahead for these might seem difficult, but making a list of traits and specific programs you like in a school can help you narrow your school list. Another nice perk of the supplemental essays? Writing about why you’re choosing that school, in the midst of a long and sometimes arduous process, can reignite your passion for it and remind you what made you want to apply there in the first place.