NOV 11, 2020 • 10 min read
You’ve written and re-written your Common App essay and finally have something you’re ready to submit to all the US universities you’re applying to. Great! Now it’s time to tackle your supplemental essays.
Beyond your Common App materials, supplemental essays give admissions boards a better understanding of your personality and critical thinking skills. They’re usually shorter than your Common App essay, but are arguably more impactful: coming up with thoughtful responses — and articulating them clearly — can make or break your application.
This may sound intimidating, but luckily, we’ve identified the most common supplemental questions from all the top US universities our students have applied to. We’ve also compiled some tips for answering them from our leading admissions strategist Gabe Gladstein, a Harvard grad and essay expert who’s helped hundreds of Crimson students get into their dream schools.
These questions are often asked in tandem because they’re two sides of the same coin. Admissions committees want to know what specifically drew you to their school (‘Why us?’) and what you’re going to contribute as a student (‘Why you?’).
For the former, you’ll want to start by identifying what they offer that appeal to your interests, passions, and values. Then explain how you’ll take advantage of those things as an active member of their community. For the latter, just reverse the order! Outline what matters to you as an incoming student and how those needs will be fulfilled by their unique offerings.
This prompt essentially asks what you plan to study and why. Even if you haven’t chosen a prospective major, the function of this essay is to explain what interests you academically, what your goals are for the future, and how pursuing this course of study will help you achieve those goals.
Whether or not you know what you want to do in your career, you can strengthen your essay by painting a picture of where you see yourself after graduation and how you plan to get there. Use detailed examples of how a particular school’s courses or programs are essential to building that future.
When filling out the Common App, you will have already listed the extracurricular activities you’re involved in. This question asks you to choose one and elaborate on how you’re involved, why you’re involved, and what you’ve gained from being involved.
This is a perfect opportunity for you to move away from listing accolades and accomplishments and instead share something that’s important to you. Authenticity is paramount here: write about the extracurricular activity you’re most passionate about, discussing what you’ve learned from the activity, how it positively impacts you and others, and something it illustrates about you that we can’t learn elsewhere on your application.
There are few places in the world that exemplify the word ‘community’ so much as a college campus. This prompt seeks to find out the role you’d play — and what you’d contribute — as a student at your dream school.
Much like the ‘Why us?’ question, you’ll want to think about what draws you to this university’s community. What do they offer that makes you feel confident and excited to be a part of their community? Make sure to explain how the communities you’re already part of inform those you’d like to be part of as a student.
Typically the longest supplemental essay, this one is characterized by a broad prompt that might ask you to write about a person who has inspired you; an experience that has shaped you; or a phrase or quote that’s meaningful to you.
Writing this essay is like writing a second Common App essay, but it should be markedly different in terms of the topic and themes. Try not to reiterate the same lessons learned, perspectives gained, or goals accomplished from your primary Common App essay.
Brevity is an important skill that’s perfectly illustrated in your response to a question like, ‘What are two words your friends might use to describe you?’ Colleges will often ask you to answer a question like this in 100 words or less, in which case you want to make sure every word is just as important as the last.
For short takes, make sure you don’t repeat or rephrase the question; don’t use metaphors or elusive phrasing; and don’t focus too much on background information. Be direct and concise, as though you’re answering the question in person and have only one minute to do so.
Of all the most typical supplemental questions, this one shows your personality the most. You probably wouldn’t talk to a peer the same way you’d talk to an Admissions Officer, so take this opportunity to write in your authentic voice with a theme and style that reflect who you are outside of the classroom.
Consider what you’d want your future roommate to know about you and how you’d make a good impression before meeting them. This is a great place to mention the interests and quirks that define your personality!
We’ve already covered the most common supplemental questions you may encounter, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t curveballs. Even for unusual prompts, there’s one fundamental tip that will help you write a strong answer.
Make sure what you write is personal, humble, and genuine. Resist the urge to list your accomplishments or reiterate information that’s already on your Common App. Supplemental essays aim to draw out your personality — so don’t stifle it!
These tips are the foundation for writing great supplemental essays that enhance your college applications. However, these essays are only one piece of the package you’ll deliver when you click ‘submit.’ To learn how Crimson can help you tick all the boxes for a strong college application, click the link below and schedule a free one hour consultation with one of our Academic Advisors.