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How to Approach Writing Supplemental Essays

Just when you think you’ve made headway on your college applications - filling out your information, getting letters of recommendation, writing your personal statement - supplemental essays hit you. These supplement essays for college can seem overwhelming. Many schools require multiple essays, and many offer multiple prompts. So how should you approach writing supplemental essays?

1. Make a list of all of the supplements you’ll have to write

Compiling a list of all of the essays you have to write will help you plan out your writing process. Some schools don’t require essays; some schools require five or six. Understanding the requirements for each school on your list is a first key step. Set yourself internal due dates for when you plan on finished each set of supplemental essays.

Once you have all of the prompts together, you will be able to see how you can reuse certain material across prompts for different schools. If given the choice, consider choosing prompts for different schools that are related to one another. That being said, make sure you are tailoring your essays to individual schools. Never copy and paste.


2. Write your supplements by school

Each application that you turn in should look different because each school you are applying to is different. The supplemental essays are your opportunity to tailor your application to specific schools. Each school is going to have a unique personality in the questions it’s asking. Getting to know what the school is looking for is the first step towards tackling its supplements. You should look to the admissions website for ideas.

For example, Stanford’s supplemental essays are different in nature to Yale’s supplemental essays. On Stanford’s website, it states: We want to hear your individual voice in your writing. And the nature of the questions, such as the “Write a letter to your future roommate” question suggest that. Stanford is looking for you to show your individuality and how you stand out from other candidates. Yale, on the other hand, asks supplemental questions that are almost all focused on finding out how each applicant will contribute as a member of the Yale community and how he/she will align with the school’s values. Both schools are looking for unique individuals, but the tone of their questions varies.

You should think about how all of your supplements for each school will then build off of each other and fit together. And while it is perfectly fine to recycle essay material from school to school, make sure that each set of supplements are tailored towards the individual school you’re applying to. 


3. Addressing the Why This College? Essay

Most schools requiring supplemental essays will ask a version of the “Why this college?” prompt. These essays should be addressed in two parts: 1) What can you, as an applicant, add to this school and 2) What can you, as a student, gain from this specific school?

One major mistake you should avoid in these essays is being too vague. Rather, you want to show that you have researched specific programs, classes, professors, etc. at each individual school. Show what you can add to these schools and what you can learn from them. Especially for your safety schools, you want to make sure that you’re displaying genuine interest.

Another mistake is writing comparatively across schools. Instead of comparing School X and School Y, or even School X and “other schools”, focus only on the individual school. Comparatives tend to take on a negative tone, and you want to keep your application as positive as possible!

Writing supplemental essays can be a daunting task. Set yourself deadlines, tackle the writing on a school-by-school basis, and tailor each essay to the individual school. For more insights into the admissions process, see this article, outlining 51 college admissions tips.

Hannah Smith is a graduate of Stanford University and an Admissions Expert at InGenius Prep.