What It Takes to Write Fantastic Supplemental College Application Essays

December 7, 2021
By AdmissionSight

What It Takes to Write Fantastic Supplemental College Application Essays

The college application process is much more involved and time-consuming than many high schoolers imagine. Not only do you have to take the time to narrow down your potential college choices, but you also have to fill out the application and gather all of the required documents and preparing for supplemental college application essays.

On top of that, you have to get everything turned in in a timely manner to meet the strict deadlines set by colleges. It’s understandable that many high schoolers roll their eyes when learning about supplemental college application essays. Yes, you already have a few essays to answer on the Common Application, but the vast majority of colleges come up with their own supplemental essays too!

Here, we’re going to take a look at the purpose behind supplemental college application essays and provide you with some strategies to ensure your responses stand out from the crowd. We’ll even throw in an example of an excellent essay response so you can gain a better idea of what college admissions officers like to see.

What are supplemental college application essays?

Supplemental college application essays are open-ended questions colleges require from applicants. These supplement essay questions usually come in addition to the standard queries on the Common Application.

The exact contents of the questions range from college to college, but they’re usually aimed at you, your personality, your background, your academic goals, and your desired professional trajectory.

A man with a laptop in front of him is writing on a paper.

The specific number of supplemental college application essays you’ll have to write is completely dependent upon the school to which you’re applying. Although this essay prompts are always open-ended, the length is usually decently short.

What’s the point of supplemental college essays?

Anytime you come across another requirement during the college admissions process, it’s a natural reflex to question its purpose. Although it’s easy to brush this off as a rhetorical question, it’s worth digging into.

Understanding the purpose of a college admissions requirement can make it easier to give college admissions officers exactly what they’re looking for which, in turn, improves your chances of getting into the school of your choice.

A woman stopped writing on her notebook to think and look outside.

So, what’s the point of supplemental college application essays? Well, if you consider the rest of the contents of your application, you’ll notice they’re not really insightful about who you are as a person. GPAs, standardized test scores, transcripts, and other dry documents don’t reveal much about the person behind the application.

If admissions officers only had these metrics to weigh various applicants, it would be an incredibly difficult process. To give admissions committees a better understanding of each applicant, colleges have students fill out supplemental college application essays.

The purpose of these essay prompts is to help admissions officers learn more about what makes each student unique. You’ll notice many of the essay topics hover around fairly personal topics such as your background, struggles, friendships, dreams, and much, much more.

With a better understanding of the human behind the applications, admissions officers can make better informed and more accurate decisions about who is a good match for the university and who isn’t.

Supplemental college application essays are one of the best opportunities you’ll have during the whole application process to demonstrate why you’re the perfect student to attend the schools to which you’re applying.

Tips for writing fantastic supplemental college essays.

Read the prompt (at least) three times.

After spending months preparing for your application, requesting dozens of documents, organizing all of the requirements, and filling out various forms, you’re not psyched about having to fill out these supplemental college application essays…to say the least.

A male student writing down information from a book.

Although it’s tempting to rush through them in one go to get it out of your way, it’s crucial to take your time. Read through each prompt a minimum of three times before answering to ensure you understand what it’s asking.

Many prompts seem fairly basic at first but have hidden questions you might not catch on the first read-through. If you rush to answer the question, you run the risk of only responding to part of the prompt which won’t reflect well on your application.

Start with an outline.

If you’re the kind of person who needs to put all of your ideas on a page before diving into the writing process, don’t fight that natural impulse. Start off with an outline of what you want to say and what topics you want to cover.

This outline can double as a brainstorming session as you have time to materialize all of your thoughts, bounce different ideas around, and test their relevance against the essay prompt. Outlining also helps ensure your response maintains order either in terms of chronology or development.

Don’t go off-topic.

The open-ended nature of supplemental college application essays gives you some flexibility to respond how you see fit. At first, this seems like a major advantage since there’s technically no right or wrong answer. However, it’s quickly evident just how easy it is to stray from the topic.

Whether you’re recounting a story or delving into a passionate opinion of yours, you might notice yourself getting carried away when responding to supplemental college application essays. It’s a great sign that you’re engaged by the topic, but you want to catch yourself before going too far from the subject.

Refer back to the prompt often when writing your response. Not only is off-topic material detracting from your already restricted word limit, but it’s also giving admissions officers the information they don’t want or need. Save yourself the trouble and time by ensuring you remain on topic.

Stay within the word limit.

One of the first things you’ll notice about supplement college application essays is their restricted word limit. Although it varies between colleges, most prompts don’t allow for answers over a few hundred words.

And that’s on the longer end of the spectrum. Many questions limit answers to under 100 words! It’s critical to remain within this word limit as going over will show admissions officers that you struggle to follow simple directions or, even worse, that you don’t care to.

A woman is holding papers on both hands,

Thinking about the word limit while writing your response can stifle creativity and reinforce writer’s block. A great way to get around this obstacle is to start out by answering the prompt without considering the word limit. Let your response flow naturally.

Once you have everything written out, go through and take out any content that’s either repetitive, not essential to the story, or not in line with the prompt. Go through this cutting and editing process over and over again until your story is trimmed down to the essentials. You’ll find it fits within the word limit much easier than having to cram it in from the beginning.

Work with a college admissions expert.

Sometimes, it helps to get a second eye on your supplemental college application essays, especially when that second opinion is coming from a college admission expert like AdmissionSight.

We know exactly what college admissions officers are looking for on supplemental essays. We’ve been helping students improve their responses for decades with the ultimate goal of increasing their chances of getting into the school of their dreams.

Whether you consider yourself a talented writer or you’ve always been self-conscious about your prose, we can help! We offer comprehensive and professional essay editing services so you can rest assured that your final product is up to snuff for what colleges are looking for.

What are some different types of supplemental college essays?

As mentioned before, each school has unique supplemental college application essays. In fact, colleges even come up with new essay prompts each year. This not only keeps applicants from getting bored answering the same questions over and over again, but it also makes it easier on admissions officers who have to read thousands of responses.

Despite this difference between schools and the annual change within colleges, there’s still some overlap in the content of supplemental college application essays. After all, there’s only so much variety you can come up with over decades and decades.

A male student writing in his notebook with books on the desk.

Identifying some of these common supplemental essay topics can help you better understand the prompt and improve your answer when you identify them. Here are some of the most common college essay topics to keep an eye out for when applying to college.

The quirky prompt.

One of the newest trends in college admissions is the quirky college essay. Admittedly, this is a rather broad category but it’s an undeniable characteristic of many supplemental essay prompts. Many colleges employ this type of question to shake up an otherwise straightforward admissions process to encourage some creative and interesting answers from applicants.

For some students, the quirkiness of these questions can end up having the opposite effect by causing more stress and uncertainty. All you want to do is provide the best answer possible to improve your chances of getting into the university of your choice. Fun, goofy, and unexpected essay questions can cause students to overthink their responses, leading to unnecessary anxiety.

When you’re responding to these types of essays, keep in mind that the whole point of the essay is to help admissions officers learn more about who you are. As a result, your answer should reveal something about yourself that isn’t obvious on your application and something that will position you as an ideal candidate for the school.

If you’re not sure whether your response will come across as too light-hearted or cheesy, it’s a great time to consult a college admissions specialist at AdmissionSight. We can help you find the perfect balance between quirkiness and seriousness so you can answer these types of essays with confidence.

The rapid-fire response prompt.

You have all the time you need (relatively speaking) to answer supplemental college application essays. However, some prompts feel like rapid-fire response questions. Many colleges request one-sentence or even one-word answers to a series of questions. It might sound like fun at first, but it causes a lot of headaches for students who aren’t sure what admissions officers want.

The key here is to remember that there’s no inherent right or wrong answer. Of course, there are better and worse answers, but admissions officers are solely interested in learning more about who you are. When responding to prompts with extremely limited responses, don’t overthink the answer.

And keep in mind that the answer doesn’t have to be as quirky or goofy as the question itself. Be honest about the answer, but don’t feel forced to put a double meaning behind it or some other humorous component. Your response only needs to say something about you, your interests, your goals, or your personality.

For example, if asked to give a one-word answer for the best invention of all time, you don’t have to weigh the social impact of the most important inventions in the world and come up with a suit-and-jacket response. That’s not only boring but also doesn’t say anything about you.

If you’re passionate about music, maybe you could say the guitar was the best invention in the world. Don’t worry about having to give an explanation. Admissions officers won’t expect to have the entire context of your response when it’s only one word. Just make sure it’s unique to you.

The “why this college?” prompt.

Colleges absolutely love this essay prompt. That’s why you’ll see a version of it used by nearly every college you apply to. The question itself can be asked in several different ways, but the core question revolves around you explaining why you’re choosing to attend this school.

Sometimes, the question is direct such as “Why are you choosing this school?” or “What makes X college unique for you?”. Other formulations such as “What will you contribute to our campus?” are more specific yet still contain the same overarching theme.

Simply saying that the school is fantastic isn’t enough to impress college admissions officers. They already know that their school is great. They want to know why it’s a good fit for you. You can’t tell them anything they don’t already know about their school. Instead, you have to explain why it’s the perfect match for your academic goals and personal preferences.

This is where your in-depth research on the college will come in handy. You should reference specific offerings of the school to explain why you’re applying. Maybe there’s a unique degree you can’t find anywhere else, a ceratin research opportunity in which you want to participate, or world-renowned professors whose classes you want to take.

Whatever your motivations are for attending the school, you should convey them in your response to a “why this college?” prompt. The purpose of these essays is to give admissions officers a better idea of whether you would be a good fit for the school and vise versa.

The more details you can provide justifying your intention to attend the university, the easier it will be for admissions committees to see you as a successful and contributing member of the school community. Make sure your response includes specifics about courses, instructors, majors, minors, clubs, and anything else about what draws you to the school.

What does a successful supplemental college application essay look like?

To give you a better idea of what a successful essay response looks like, we’ll actually let you read one from a real Harvard applicant! Before we dive into the actual contents of the essay, we’ll explain why it worked so well.

First and foremost, you’ll notice that the essay is 100% unique. No other student could have written something like this student did. It revealed a lot about the author’s history, background, culture, and personality.

Secondly, it’s a blast to read! No admissions officer is going to fall asleep reading this. Perhaps most importantly, the essay response perfectly responds to the prompt. As you read it, ask yourself what parts stick out to you.

Question: What would you want your future college roommate to know about you?



“Hi Roomie!!!!

You probably have noticed that I put four exclamation points. Yes, I am that excited to meet you, roomie!

Also, I don’t believe in the Rule of Three. It’s completely unfair that three is always the most commonly used number. Am I biased in my feelings because four is my favorite number? Perhaps. However, you have to admit that our reason for the Rule of Three is kinda arbitrary.

The Rule of Three states that a trio of events is more effective and satisfying than any other numbers. Still, the human psyche is easily manipulated through socially constructed perceptions such as beauty standards and gender roles. Is having three of everything actually influential or is it only influential because society says so? Hmm, it’s interesting to think about it, isn’t it?

But if you’re an avid follower of the Rule of three, don’t worry, I won’t judge. In fact, if there’s one thing I can promise you I will never do, it’s being judgmental. Life is too short to go around judging people.

Besides, judgments are always based on socially constructed beliefs. With so many backgrounds present on campus, it really would be unfair if we start going around judging people based on our own limited beliefs.

My personal philosophy is “Mind your own business and let people be,” So, if you have a quirk that you’re worrying is too “weird” and are afraid your roommate might be too judgy, rest assured, I won’t be.

In fact, thanks to my non-judginess, I am an excellent listener. If you ever need to rant with someone about stressful classes, harsh gradings, or the new ridiculous plot twists of your favorite TV show (*cough* Riverdale), I am always available.

Now, I know what you are thinking. A non-judgmental and open-minded roommate? This sounds too good to be true. This girl’s probably a secret villain waiting to hear all my deepest and darkest secrets and blackmail me with them!

Well, I promise you. I am not a secret villain. I am just someone who knows how important it is to be listened to and understood.

I grew up under the communist regime of Vietnam, where freedom of speech and thought was heavily suppressed. Since childhood, I was taught to keep my opinion to myself, especially if it is contradictory to the government’s. No matter how strongly I felt about an issue, I could never voice my true opinion nor do anything about it. Or else, my family and I would face oppression from the Vietnamese government.

After immigrating to America, I have made it my mission to fight for human rights and justice. Back in Vietnam, I have let fear keep me from doing the right thing. Now, in the land of freedom, I won’t use that excuse anymore.

I can finally be myself and fight for what I believe in. However, I can still remember how suffocating it was to keep my beliefs bottled up and to be silenced. Trust me, a conversation may not seem much, but it can do wonders. So, if you ever need a listener, know that I am right here.

See, I just shared with you a deep secret of mine. What secret villain would do that?

See ya soon!!!!!

[Name removed] : )

P/S: I really love writing postscripts. So, I hope you won’t find it weird when I always end my emails, letters, and even texts with a P/S. Bye for real this time!!!!!



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