Got Supplemental Essays? 7 Pro-Tips for Writing Outstanding Supplementals

Writing your supplemental essays might feel like the bane of your existence.

However, I’d like to present them as a form of flattery.

These essay requests are a college’s way of saying “We care so much about you that we want to learn more about who you are. We want to make sure you’re a fit for us and we’re a fit for you.”

With that in mind, my advice to you is to get authentic. Like really authentic. Like “dig-deep-into-your-soul” authentic. Tell the admissions team things about you that are unique to you, and couple it with a story.

Are you obsessed with board games? Do you refuse to watch horror movies? Do you want ot be a filmmaker because you are an epic Snapchat story creator? Do you want to be a nurse because secretly enjoy hanging out with old people? Do you create recipes with your grandma? Are you always losing bookmarks? Do you want to be an editor because you like to find flaws in books?  Do you fear gravity? Does your desire to be a designer stem from creating your family Christmas card? The details you give are what make you human and are what make you relatable.

College applicants have a tendency to write supplemental essays that they think colleges want to read but that have nothing to do with who they truly are. They’re distance, stiff, and predictable.

For example, if you are answering a supplemental that asks you why you are picking a certain major, it’s easy to talk about the major, the class offerings, and professors without inserting yourself into the equation. Then it becomes a response that anyone could say instead of one that details who you are and how you’ll fit in on their campus. If you've been following a professor's blog, say so! What is it about a class that makes you want to take it? 

Admissions teams see your standardized test scores, your GPA, your extracurricular activities, and your recommendation letters. These paint a picture of you, but a big part of the puzzle is missing. How you see yourself and the stories you tell about yourself are important to the admissions process because admissions teams want to build a versatile incoming freshman class. There is a misconception that they are looking for one type of student.

Use your supplemental essays as a way to detail a variety of aspects about your character or personality. If you have a number of supplemental essays for a school, use this as an opportunity to plan what qualities you’d like the admissions team to know about you.

Are you quirky, charismatic, adventurous, and introspective? Are you compassionate, positive, open-minded, and driven?  Are you a leader, an activist, a team-spirit fanatic, and a good listener? Find a mix of what makes you unique and plan to insert different aspect of your personality into your supplemental essays.

Here are some “Pro-Tip Guidelines”:

  1. Answer the question the way you would answer it not the way you think it should be answered. There is no “wrong way” to answer provided it responds to the prompt, but there are “better ways” to answer. Authenticity is key.

  2. Read the prompts, and ask yourself, “What do I want an admissions team to know about me that’s MISSING from the rest of my application?”

    1. Write down 10 aspects of your personality that you like.

    2. Find a moment from your life where you displayed one or more of those qualities that answers the prompt.

    3. Tell that story and reflect.                     
  3. Get to the heart of WHY. If you’re fascinated by Harry Potter, ask yourself why. What is it  about your personality that draws you in? Which character do you most relate to? If you enjoy eating lunch with a large group of friends, ask yourself why. Are you an extroverted only child with parents who work late? Do you enjoy the inside jokes between friends?  Whatever it is, keep asking under you get past the surface go-to response.
  4. Get excited! If you’re not excited or inspired by what you have to say, then don’t expect anyone reading your essay to be. The more real you get, the more you’ll touch, move, or inspire the reader. Pick essay topics that evoke an emotion in you.
  5. Tell a story. Even if it’s a 250 word response, you can use storytelling elements to engage your reader and make yourself likable. Instead of talking about what you think, show the reader what you think and feel.
  6. Take a risk. If you have an offbeat topic or an essay structure that you want to try, AND you think you can pull it off well, then go for it. It says you’re willing to take a chance.
  7. Every word matters. If you have short supplemental essays between 100-300 words, make sure each word counts and serves a purpose. When you need to cut words, look for ways you can say things in a more concise way or where you can completely omit sentences.

Remember that admissions teams are looking for a good fit. The truer you are to yourself, the more likely you are to find the school that's going to be right for you! 

Happy Writing!

This blog was written by Jaclyn Corley, Founder of The College Essay Captain and digital course creator of College Essay Playbook

The College Essay Captain helps teens overcome their fears and limiting beliefs around writing college application essays, so they are free to authentically share their stories with admissions teams.