Chances are you've never heard of the term "supplemental essay" before applying to college in the US... and that's okay! We're here to help you understand what it's all about and how to best answer some of the more common prompts.
A common misconception of the college application is that you just fill out a form, submit your transcript, maybe write one personal statement and call it a day. WRONG.
The beauty of today's college application, especially for US based colleges and universities (and even some Canadian universities now) is that they no longer care only about test scores. Schools have acknowledged that the best fit student for their community is not just one who does well academically, but one who will add diversity to their college campus through varied interests in extracurricular activities, racial / religious / social identities and lived experiences. But how do they learn about these aspects of applicants? ESSAYS.
By now you're probably familiar with the Common App Essay or Personal Statement, which is that "main" essay that you write once and gets sent to all of the schools you apply to. But that's not the end. Supplemental essays are additional pieces of writing that is specific to a university. This means that they are only submitted to and seen by the school prompting you to write them. They can be just as revealing and important as your personal statement, so don't take them lightly!
Here are our quick tips for the top most common supplemental essay prompts:
In a nutshell, this essay is asking why you'd like to attend a particular college or be admitted to study in a particular program. For the most part, these questions are very straight forward but depending on the word limit, they may require some creativity. Here are our tips for the best approach:
Example of straightforward "why" prompt from University of Massachusetts - Amherst: Please tell us why you want to attend UMass Amherst?
Example of non-straightforward "why" prompt from Howard University: The college of Arts & Sciences is comprised of four divisions: Fine Arts, Humanities, Natural Sciences, and Social Sciences. The curriculum of the College is designed to meet the needs and interests of a diverse, multicultural student body. Explain what interests you in the Arts or Sciences, and how studying at Howard University will help you achieve your overall goals?
This prompt remains more or less the same and is fairly straightforward! It typically asks you to give details on an extracurricular or work experience of your choosing. You want to ensure that this essay focuses not on the activity, but rather on how the activity has helped you to grow, learn, overcome or solve some problem.
It typically reads, "Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences." Here's our advice:
Beware that this essay prompt may be hidden in other areas of the application! Ensure that you look through the entire application before submitting so you don't miss anything.
This type of prompt is typically asking how do you think you will add diversity to the campus. It can also take the form of asking how have you added to your own at home community's diversity and therefore add to that of the school's. Either way, this question is asking the same thing: What about your identity (past) will contribute to building a more diverse college campus (future) should you be accepted?
Many students see the word "diversity" and think that because they don't fall in the category of "racial minority" that they cannot add to a diverse community. Do not fall for this trap!
Diversity is NOT only an indication of race. Diversity can take many forms including race, religion, culture, language, nationality... but it can also include interests, passions and experiences.
Here are our best tips:
Example from the University of Oregon: The University of Oregon values difference, and we take pride in our diverse community. Please explain how you will share your experiences, values and interests with our community. In what ways can you imagine offering your support to others?
Example from the California Institute of Technology (CalTech): The process of discovery best advances when people from various backgrounds, experiences, and perspectives come together. How do you see yourself contributing to the diversity of Caltech's community?
This essay has a tendency to throw some students wayyyy off. This type of essay can at first appear to be so incredibly unrelated to college that you'll be asking yourself, "Why would they even ask that? What's the point?" But remember that college is more than just a classroom.
Colleges are not just building classes. Colleges are building communities when they select the students that will receive acceptance letters. Therefore, they want to get to know you, your interests and your personality. Why? Because colleges pride themselves on the highest 4-year retention rate possible (the percentage of students who make it to graduation).
Colleges don't want students to drop out or transfer because they hate the environment that they're living in for four years on their own. So they go out of their way to ask seemingly absurd and quirky questions so that they can figure out if you'd be a good fit on their campus (at least a good enough fit to want to stay until graduation).
Here's our advice:
Example from Emory University: What is your favourite fiction or non-fiction work?
Example from Elon University: If you could create a food truck, what type of food would you serve? Name the truck.
And with all of that said, supplemental essays for the 2022-2023 application season are now available! So get writing!
to see a list of all the supplemental essays for this application season.
Need help brainstorming or editing your essays? Book a session with any one of our expert Essay Coaches! They'll help you get on track with the best ways to express yourself specifically for your college applications.