Nailing Your College Supplemental Essays

August 22, 2023
By AdmissionSight

Nailing Your College Supplemental Essays

College supplemental essays allow you to add some extra dimension to your application and provide a deeper understanding of who you are. They offer a space to share your passions, interests, and experiences with the admissions committee.

Writing strong supplemental essays can give you a competitive edge and show the admissions team why you would be a great fit for their college community. This blog will provide tips and tricks on writing standout supplemental essays, common pitfalls to avoid, and other helpful information.

What is a college supplemental essay?

What is a college supplemental essay? At its core, a college supplemental essay is more than just an additional piece of writing; it’s a strategic tool used by universities and colleges across the globe. These essays come into play after students have already submitted their main Common Application essay, which often provides a broad overview of their academic achievements and personal motivations for higher education.

However, with the sheer volume of applications received by top-tier institutions, admissions committees need more granular insights into the applicants.

This is where the college supplemental essay steps in. Designed to probe further into an applicant’s persona, aspirations, and character, these essays are tailored by institutions to retrieve information that the Common Application might not necessarily provide. They allow the college to peek beyond the surface – to see past the GPA, the SAT or ACT scores, and extracurricular achievements.

A male student studying and writing with a cup of coffee

For instance, while the main essay might highlight a student’s passion for biology, a supplemental essay might delve into why they are particularly interested in marine biology, based on a transformative experience they had during a summer internship at a coastal research facility.

Such insights are invaluable for admissions committees, as they paint a clearer picture of the student’s dedication to their chosen field of study and how it aligns with the college’s programs.

Moreover, the questions posed in these supplemental essays often reflect the ethos and values of the institution itself. Some colleges might emphasize community engagement, prompting applicants to discuss their experiences and contributions to their local communities.

Others might have a strong focus on global perspectives, urging applicants to reflect on their international experiences and their viewpoints on global issues.

However, applicants should also be prepared for variability. The length of these essays can range from concise 150-word responses to more extensive 650-word reflections. Similarly, the format can differ; while some prompts may ask for traditional essays, others might request more creative formats like a letter to a future roommate or a list of books the applicant has read in the past year.

While the Common Application essay offers a panoramic view of the student, the supplemental essays zoom in, capturing detailed snapshots that, together, create a comprehensive and vivid portrait of the applicant. This holistic understanding enables colleges to craft a diverse and dynamic student body, enhancing the educational experience for all.

Do supplemental essays matter a lot?

Do supplemental essays matter a lot? The supplemental essays you submit are a very important component of your application. Your application provides schools with the opportunity to see the foundation of your ethic through data (grades, extracurriculars, accolades, and more), but it does not provide any indication of your personality.

Your supplemental essays provide the first opportunity to give an institution a sense of who you are and what interests you the most.

When applying to highly competitive colleges where the majority of applicants have good marks, having excellent college supplemental essays might tip the scales in your favor and put you ahead of the competition. Your application will stand out from those of other people if you write an in-depth and proper essay.

a man sitting on the floor with his a laptop and notebook on his legs

Different Supplemental Essay Prompts

Each year, prospective students at each college are given a series of one-of-a-kind essay prompts to respond to as part of the application process. The majority of supplemental essay prompts, however, adhere to the fundamental structures.

The following explains the types of supplemental essays that are most frequently used:

The “Why Us?” Essay

The essay question “Why Us?” or “Why This School?” is one of the most prominent essay prompts currently being used.

When the admissions committee of a college asks you why you want to attend that college, they are interested in learning a few things, including the following:

  • The particular aspects of this educational institution that pique your interest
  • The aspects of college life at this institution will you bring to the table
  • How attending this school will assist you in accomplishing both short-term and long-term objectives

This is your chance to demonstrate to the admissions committee how important their institution is to you, which programs and classes are of the utmost interest to you, and how the school will assist you in cultivating your passion and achieving your objectives.

The “Why This Major?” Essay

Although this question is extremely similar to the one that asks “Why Us?” your answer should be centered on the reasons you’re enthusiastic about your degree. Consider the essay you are about to write as an opportunity to tell the story of how you came to be passionate about something.

a student writing in her notes on a table with a white laptop

The Adversity Essay

The adversity essay, considered one of the most difficult college supplemental essays, asks students to reflect on a trying period in their lives and describe the steps they took to triumph over the challenges they faced.

For some people, the most difficult aspect of responding to this topic may be deciding which difficult situation to discuss. Keep in mind that everyone experiences misfortune in their own unique way.

To be able to write an effective essay about overcoming adversity, your narrative does not need to be particularly heartbreaking; rather, you should approach the problem from the perspective of personal development.

Community/Diversity Essay

Colleges can gain a deeper understanding of your one-of-a-kind point of view by using essay prompts that ask about your experiences in your neighborhood. Many educational institutions aim to foster a varied atmosphere to enhance their students’ educational experiences and ensure that students from all backgrounds feel welcome on campus.

Consider the experiences that have significantly contributed to your unique identity. You may, for instance, write about your hometown, a family tradition, a community event, a narrative passed down from generation to generation, or anything else that seems the most genuine to you.

The Extracurricular Essay

A great number of educational institutions are curious about your extracurricular activities and interests. Although extracurricular essays are extremely prevalent as supplemental essays, students frequently struggle with building a full essay out of their various extracurricular activities. Extracurricular essays are quite common. Because of this, it’s essential to engage in creative thinking and develop a story.

How do you choose the right topic?

How do you choose the right topic? Choosing the right topic for your supplemental essay isn’t just a step in the application process; it’s a strategic move. The topic you pick can either set you apart from other applicants or make you blend in.

While the main essay gives a general overview of your journey and aspirations, the supplemental essay is an avenue to delve deeper, shedding light on facets of your personality and experiences that make you the perfect fit for the institution you’re applying to.

guy in plaid shirt contemplating with pen and notebook

A Reflective Start

Your first step should be introspection. Consider moments in your life that were transformative, interests that drive you, or experiences that align with the ethos of the institution you’re aiming for. This could be anything from a community service project that resonated with the college’s emphasis on social responsibility to a personal challenge that reflects resilience and growth.

Research: Your Key Tool

Arming yourself with knowledge about the institution is essential. An in-depth exploration of the college’s website can offer insights into the programs they’re proud of, research initiatives they’re undertaking, clubs and societies they emphasize, and even the language they use to describe their student community.

These nuances can guide you in framing your essay in a way that resonates with their values.

Connecting with the Community

While websites and brochures provide valuable information, personal stories can offer a unique perspective. If possible, reach out to current students or alumni. Their firsthand accounts of life at the institution can give you a clearer picture of the community, challenges, rewards, and opportunities. These narratives can also inspire topics or angles you hadn’t previously considered.

Brainstorming and Narrowing Down

With your research in hand and reflections noted, brainstorm potential topics. List down experiences, anecdotes, or interests that align with the college’s values or programs you’re interested in. The goal is to find an intersection between your journey and what the institution stands for.

As you go through these ideas, remember that your supplemental essay should offer something new. It should delve into areas of your life or experiences not already covered in your main essay. This differentiation ensures that the admissions committee gets a holistic understanding of who you are.

Ensuring Authenticity

Lastly, ensure that whatever topic you choose rings true to who you are. Authenticity is key. The admissions committee reads thousands of essays, and they have a keen sense for authenticity. Essays that reflect genuine interest, passion, and alignment with the college are bound to stand out and make a lasting impression.

In conclusion, while choosing the perfect topic may seem daunting, viewing it as an opportunity rather than a challenge can make the process enlightening and even enjoyable. It’s your chance to showcase a unique aspect of yourself, making you more than just an application number in the admissions process.

How can you make your supplemental essay stand out?

How can you make your supplemental essay stand out? When you’re applying to colleges, your supplemental essay can set you apart. It’s not just about showcasing your achievements but also about revealing your personality. Here’s how you can ensure your essay stands out:

Tailor to the School

Don’t write a one-size-fits-all essay. Each college is unique, and your essay should reflect that. Dive into the college’s website, understand its culture, and show in your essay why you’re a great fit.

Tip: Mention specific programs, traditions, or aspects of the college that resonate with you.

Stay True to Yourself

Honesty wins. Don’t write what you think the college wants to hear. Share genuine experiences and aspirations. Remember, it’s your unique perspective that makes your essay special.

Tip: Think of moments in your life that shaped you and share those stories.

Asian beautiful woman thinking idea with laptop computer in coffee shop

Use Real-life Stories

Instead of just stating facts, narrate experiences. If you say you love something, back it up with a story that proves it.

Tip: Remember the first time you discovered a passion for something? Start there.

Get Feedback

Show your essay to someone you trust. Fresh eyes can spot things you missed and offer a different perspective. But in the end, make sure it’s your voice shining through.

Tip: Choose a mix of people – teachers for technical feedback and friends or family for personal insights.

In the end, your supplemental essay is a peek into who you are beyond your grades. Make it count. Make it you.

What should you not do in a supplemental essay?

What are some things you should avoid doing in your college supplemental essays? Even if you make a mistake in your essay, such as misinterpreting the prompt or repeating material you’ve previously provided in your application, your chances of being accepted into the program could be affected. Continue reading in order to ensure that you have not made any of these typical mistakes.

1. Don’t repeat.

This is a piece of advice that can be used for any form of extra essay. Repeating the same concepts (favorite subject, activity, etc.) in your supplemental essays is one of the most common blunders that students make after creating a fantastic essay or personal statement for the Common Application.

Make sure you use a variety of topics in your essays by giving them some sort of structure. This may require you to alter the content of the essay you submit with your Common Application.

2. Don’t just answer the question.

Any time you write an essay, you can tell a tale and share information about the kind of person you are and who you are as a whole. There is a purpose behind why educational institutions have you compose this information in an essay, and that purpose is to provide you with the opportunity to showcase your unique voice and creative side.

3. Don’t tell that… tell why.

If all you do is tell colleges that you enjoy something, they won’t comprehend why you prefer that object. They will want to know why you, as a human being, are ideally suited for that area of interest and what aspects of that area of interest appeal to you the most. Always ask yourself “why” rather than just “what” to better understand a situation.

4. Don’t be afraid to overwrite and cut.

Because college supplemental essays are supposed to be shorter, students often believe that they cannot include as much relevant information in their responses and underwrites. This is one of the misconceptions that students have while writing supplemental essays.

The best method to approach these kinds of essays is to first compose a lengthy piece in which you write whatever you need to write in order to convey your point, and then to cut away the excess and go straight to the point.

5. Don’t settle for boring answers.

Make an effort to diversify how you discuss different topics. Ask yourself how you can make the questions entertaining while you answer them and how you can put your personality down on paper so that the supplemental essays can assist you in getting into the schools you want to attend.


Supplemental essays are a valuable opportunity for applicants to showcase their personality, interests, and experiences to admissions officers and demonstrate their fit for a specific college. They can help applicants stand out in a competitive admissions process and increase their chances of being accepted.

However, it is important to approach the supplemental essays with care and thoughtfulness, ensuring that the writing is clear, concise, and representative of the applicant’s unique voice and qualities.

Here at AdmissionSight, you’ll have the opportunity to gain a comprehensive understanding of what it takes to be a successful college applicant and increase your chances of being accepted into your dream school. So, don’t wait – book your initial consultation today!


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