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10 Tips for Tackling Supplemental Essays

10 Tips for Tackling Supplemental Essays

“Supplemental Essays” is a catch-all term for the essays on a college application in addition to the Personal Essay. They are specific to each college and serve to provide the school with more details and nuance about you, your interests, character, and aspirations. They are often creative and wide-ranging, though they can also be rather straightforward (e.g., “Why Us?” essays). There is variation in how many Supplemental Essays each school requires, and sometimes additional Supplemental Essays are required for particular programs (honors programs, etc.) and/or scholarships within a given school. 

While these essays can seem daunting, they really do serve an important purpose. In fact, Supplemental Essays can often be more important than the main personal essay, since they’re specific to a particular school. They should be seen as an opportunity rather than a burden, a chance to tell the school more about who you are, your personality, interests, and accomplishments, beyond what is included in the ubiquitous Personal Essay. The types of questions a school asks can also give you insight into their culture, focus, and institutional priorities. 

Supplemental Essays are a crucial component of a college application and should be treated with utmost seriousness and care. A common error is to put a lot of time and work into the Personal Essay only to be more haphazard or quick with the Supplements; this is a mistake! Supplemental Essays should be given equal attention, and the level of writing should be consistent. They are a major part of your overall preparation for the college process.

(Wondering how prepared you are for the college application process? Try out our free Application Readiness Assessment now and find out!

Here are some tips to help you approach your Supplemental Essays:

  1. Understand the prompt. Supplemental Essays are often very specific and require you to answer a particular question or focus in a particular way. Before you begin writing, take the time to carefully read and understand the prompt and make sure you fully understand what is being asked of you.
  2. Start early and plan ahead. Give yourself plenty of time to brainstorm ideas, draft your essays, and revise them multiple times. Avoid waiting until the last minute to start working on your essays, as this can lead to rushed and poorly-written responses. Additionally, there may be ways in which you can recycle Supplemental Essays that have similar prompts. By starting with making a list of all the Supplements you need to write, you can find prompts that are similar in topic and reduce the amount of original writing you need to do. 
  3. Show your personality. Admissions representatives want to get a sense of who you are beyond your scores and grades. Treat the Supplemental Essays as an opportunity to showcase your unique voice and perspective, and to highlight why you’d be a good fit for their particular institution. It’s also an opportunity to say something about yourself that’s different than what you cover in the Personal Essay
  4. Highlight your strengths. Again, approach the Supplemental Essays as opportunities, not burdens. Highlight your interests, special skills, accomplishments, and experiences that make you a strong candidate for the particular college or university. Focus on what makes you stand out and how those traits can contribute to a campus community.
  5. Research! Familiarize yourself with the college or university to which you are applying and tailor your essays to that institution’s values, mission, and culture. Think about why they’re asking the questions they’re asking. Show the admissions office that you have done your research and are genuinely interested in attending their institution. If it’s a “Why Us” essay or the like, make sure you really show that you have done your homework and explain specifically why you’re a great match. (A good litmus test is to make sure that you can’t simply replace the name of the school with another.) Lastly, if there are “optional” Supplemental Essays on a school’s application, make sure you find out whether it is really optional, or if you should make sure to not leave it out.
  6. Be authentic. When writing Supplemental Essays, it can be tempting to try to say what you think a college wants to hear. Yet, the best essays are those that are authentic and showcase a student’s true self. Be honest and don’t be afraid to share your unique perspectives.
  7. Show, don’t tell. Rather than simply listing your accomplishments or characteristics, use specific examples to illustrate them. Instead of saying you are a leader, for example, talk about a time when you organized a successful event or project and the lasting impression it made on you or lesson you learned.
  8. Seek feedback. As many times as you read your own work, you won’t catch all the errors or areas for improvement. Have someone else read and provide feedback on your Supplemental Essays. This can be a teacher, counselor, or trusted friend or family member. Use their feedback to improve your essays and ensure that they are clear, concise, and well-written. 
  9. Proofread and edit. This is so important! Once you have written your Supplemental Essays and received feedback from other readers, take the time to edit them carefully. Check for spelling and grammar errors, and make sure your essay flows well and is easy to read.
  10. Take your time. While writing Supplemental Essays might feel tedious and you may be tempted to knock them out quickly, make sure to take your time and put effort into each one. Once again, this is an opportunity to show your stuff, so don’t skimp and don’t be hasty.

Writing Supplemental Essays can feel daunting, but with careful planning, thought, and attention to detail, you can craft strong and compelling essays that showcase your strengths and help you stand out in the admissions process. Be sure to not neglect this important part of your college application process!

If you’re wondering how prepared you are for that process, take our free Application Readiness Assessment now and find out.