Tips for Writing Supplemental Essays

Below are some tips to help college applicants write their supplemental essays.

Now that college application season is in full swing, many students have finished their personal statement and are hard at work on their supplemental essays. We offer our students the following tips to help move them through the writing process with calm and confidence. We also offer some strategies to help answer three common supplemental essay prompts.

Do some research. We like this article that provides one admission officer’s perspective on college supplemental essays.

Be discerning. Before you sit down to brainstorm and draft, make sure you are absolutely certain you would consider attending that school if accepted. Put your effort into writing supplemental essays for schools that appeal to you.  

Keep track of due dates. It is critically important to know the application due dates. Tackle ones with the earliest due dates first.

Collect and read all of the supplemental prompts.Group the prompts and reuse verbiage. You may think you have to write 12 essays, but if you review all of the prompts, you may realize that different schools use the same prompt. Group the prompts according to their similarities. Reuse text from one essay to the next as much as possible. 

Common supplemental prompt #1: The “Why Us?” PromptGo to the school’s website. Many of them have a “points of pride” page that lists what they have to offer. Select one or two of the items listed and write about how that special feature of the school connects with your goals, interests or dreams. Another strategy is to find a professor, course or extra-curricular opportunity that appeals to you. Mention why that offering is appealing, citing the specific professor, course or opportunity. You can use the same general strategy across different schools.  

Common supplemental prompt #2: The Community PromptYour community can be defined in part by choices made by others before you were born: your hometown, ethnicity or a specific set of circumstances you faced. But some of the communities you belong to came by choice; like a hobby you discovered or a cause you support. In addition to thinking about your “born-into” communities, consider writing about your communities-by-choice, noting how you have connected with others through these pursuits.

Common supplemental prompt #3: The Quirky PromptSchools that provide quirky, creative prompts are looking for you to think expansively – to pen something other than a standard response. Be bold! Try some humor if it feels right to you. But always remember that your audience is an admission office, so write within the bounds of propriety.

Write. Revise. Repeat. The first draft is usually not the best draft. Make sure you write and revise over multiple sittings across several days or weeks.

Get a second set of eyes.This advice extends to all writing for college essays and beyond. Make sure you show your work to someone else. Ask them to comment on a specific concern you have for your draft.

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