ACT & SAT Prep and College Admissions Blog

How to Write Effective Supplemental Essays

Posted by Melissa Baumgart on Fri, Dec 06, 2013 @ 11:46 AM

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I recently spoke with a former college admissions officer who mentioned that a lot of applicants fail to give supplemental essays their proper attention. Instead, these students focus all of their energy on the main essay. While it’s obviously important to have a knockout personal statement, overlooking the supplemental essays could be a fatal error in judgment. Every individual piece of your application matters. Here’s how to maximize the positive impact of your college application supplemental essays.


The personal statement isn’t your life story – it’s one story, hopefully with a lot of character and detail, but still – just one story. The supplements allow you to mine from other stories in your life – various skills, interests, or challenges you’ve overcome. Use your quirks, your passions, and your unique life experiences to give your application greater depth. It’s an opportunity to share another side of yourself – something that wouldn’t necessarily be on your resume. Doing so will give the admissions committee a fuller picture of who you are. Your supplemental essays should help illustrate the many facets of your personality, and you’ll leave the impression of a real person instead of just grades on a page.


The most common supplemental essay question is “why this school?” or some variation of it. In this essay it is crucial that you illustrate your familiarity with what makes the school unique – and how your own individual strengths will complement it. By combining those two points, you demonstrate how you will thrive as a result of being a part of the school’s community and how the school will benefit from adding you to their student body. Be specific (always! Specificity is the key to avoiding the trap of being forgettable) about aspects of the school that appeal to you, and about the qualities you possess that make you a good match for the school.


There must be substance to your supplemental essays. It’s easy to write something vague in these answers – you don’t have a lot of words to work with and not, having been to college yet, it might be difficult to articulate what aspects of a school truly matter to you. That’s why it’s important to do the research and to answer the question as directly and succinctly as possible. Being vague or generic reads as insincere – like you’re just filling out another application. Colleges want individuals who bring something to the table and who know what they want to get out of a great education. Always ask yourself “Why?” – why do you believe this answer to be true? Come up with concrete answers. The more you refine your “why” statements, the better.


If you can’t come up with specific, exciting reasons to be there, why are you even applying to the school in question? Are you excited about the school’s curriculum and its opportunities for growth or leadership in both academic and social realms? Don’t focus on what’s expected of you by other people – like following in your family’s footsteps or the earning potential a degree from the school will give you. Focus on your individual growth potential. Show them you want to challenge yourself to become a better person by the time you graduate, and how you believe the school will help you achieve that goal. 

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