Understand the goal of these essays before you start writing.
It took enough time and effort for your student to write their personal statement, also known as the admissions essay. Now your teen has found that a few of their colleges have more prompts and questions. Why?
At some of the more competitive colleges, admissions officers are looking at too many qualified candidates. As they try to create a diverse freshman class, they need more info to tell the applicants apart. That is where the supplemental essays come in.
In some cases, colleges just want to know an applicant is really interested in their school and didn’t pick it on a whim. Most supplemental essays have a maximum word count of 250, so they’re much shorter than the personal statement. Here are some tips on how to write solid supplements.
Read the prompt carefully Know what the college is asking specifically, then respond as directly as possible. This is not the time to be a politician and answer without answering. If you’re having trouble understanding what’s being asked, a common problem for many high school seniors, Google “[college’s name] supplemental essays” and you’ll find a few sites that offer guidelines. It’s not cheating, it’s making sure you tell a college what they want to know about you.
Be creative where possible Don’t go all out to answer each supplemental essay in a totally unique way. But when a college has more than three prompts, and some do, you can probably try answering one in a poem or in verse, or other artistic manner, if that feels natural for you. Again, as long as you give a direct response to the question.
Some colleges will suggest that a specific prompt can be answered in a song, poem, video, etc. instead of an essay. If you are creative enough, take the bait and give it a shot. Write an essay if you think that’s the best way to reflect who you are.
Know why you’re applying The most common supplement prompt is “Why this college?” If you don’t have a list in your head, then please do your research. On the college’s website, look up your intended major and read about the goal of the program, the facilities, review the curriculum and the course catalog for classes offered and concentration options, and maybe learn about a professor or two. Then check out the extra-curriculars, often found in the Student Life section. Find a club or activity that you’d like to participate in. Look at the Residence Life page and see what appeals to you about living on this campus. If you’re commuting, what services do they offer commuter students that grabbed your attention? Use that information to formulate your answer. If you visited the campus, definitely add something from your tour that excited or interested you.
Pick your major and career Unless you’re going in undecided, you should have a good idea of why you picked your major and what career path you’d like to take. Because, in my experience, this is the second most popular supplemental essay prompt. No one expects you to have your life all planned out, but think about a couple of job or career options that you’d like to pursue with this major.
Expand on your personal statement Sometimes what you’re asked in a prompt is a question you’ve already covered in your admissions essay. In that case, consider including some of the material you cut if your essay was too long. Or expand on what you wrote, but refer back to the main essay. “As I said in my personal statement…” is fine as long as you use most of the supplemental essay to say more, not repeat the same thing.
Reuse your supplements This is the most important piece of advice. Because colleges often ask the same question in their supplements, feel free to change the name of the school and make any other necessary adjustments to personalize your response for each college. The answers to “why this college” and “your career plans” can easily work on more than one application. Don’t devalue your efforts by not reusing where possible.
The supplemental essay is short but shouldn’t be dismissed. It’s another important piece of your application.