Unlocking the Hidden Power of Supplemental Essays

Forbes has a list of 80+ schools that do not require supplemental essays.

College-bound teens who hate writing essays or believe that essay writing is not their strongest suit rejoice!

By choosing strategically, they can apply to college without writing a single literary word.

Unfortunately, chances are you may have to write several of them if your college list contains selective schools, given that most of them require supplemental essays.

Secondary essays.

College-, school-, or institution-specific essays.

Regardless of the name, these are the same things. They’re all supplemental college essays.

If a college asks for one (or more in most circumstances), you must submit it.

Many college admissions agree that supplemental essays account for about 25% of the weight of your college application as they provide information about you that your GPA, class rank and test scores can’t.

It also allows college admissions officers to see whether or not you know the school you’re applying to.


College Essay vs. Supplemental Essay: What’s the Difference?

A college essay comes in different names.

They include:

  • Common App essay
  • Coalition App essay
  • Application essay
  • Admissions essay
  • Personal essay
  • Personal statement

You can call it any name you like, but a college essay is an entirely different type of written composition from a supplemental essay, though both can help you get into the college of your preference.

It Only Takes One College Essay to Apply to All

A college essay is anywhere from 250 to 650 words or 500 to 650 words.

It all depends on which college application platform you intend to use or the college of your liking accepts — the Common Application has a lower minimum word requirement than the Coalition App (250 vs. 500).

What’s nice about a college essay is that you must write it only once.

The one you include in your college application will reach all the colleges you apply to.

So, in other words, college admissions officers from different institutions will read the same essay, although those who don’t consider it in the application process won’t look at it.

That’s nice — just one essay for all the schools on your college list!

However, including colleges that require supplemental essays on your list changes everything.

Supplementals are Usually Shorter but More Than Just One

As mentioned, supplemental essays are also called school-specific essays.

That’s because they’re exactly that — you write each essay with a particular school in mind.

Compared to personal statements, supplementals are usually shorter, although it’s not uncommon for some colleges to set the maximum word count to 650 or sometimes more.

But then most of them are anywhere from 35 to 250 words long.

There are shorter ones (sometimes just a single word!), which is why they’re called short-answer questions.

Although you usually need fewer words to write a supplemental essay, you often have to write more than just one supplemental essay when applying to a single college.

On average, colleges require two to three institution-specific essays.

Applying to ten postsecondary institutions requiring supplementals could leave you writing anywhere from 20 to 30 college supplemental essays in a single admissions cycle!


Why Supplemental Essays Matter in College Admissions

College admissions officers, especially at competitive schools, want to know applicants in a certain way.

They want to learn not only about your academic accomplishments, personal achievements, unique life experiences, individual strengths, core values, and prospective goals.

They also like to know how those would fit on the campus of the specific school you’re applying to!

Due to this, supplementary essays are college-specific.

Colleges Want to Know How You’ll Fit on Campus

Your college essay alone may not reveal how you would make a perfect addition to a specific campus.

Again, every college you send your Common App or Coalition App to will be able to read it, which is why it’s crucial for your personal statement to focus on you as an individual and a learner, not the institution you like.

On the other hand, a supplemental essay should focus on what makes you a good fit for the college.

If you may, think of a writing supplement as an opportunity to convince college officers that you are a better choice than another applicant with the same academic profile as yours.

Show that your positive traits, hobbies, interests, and personality all fit on campus.

Talking about your weaknesses is fine, too, although it would be a great idea to point out you are working on them and how attending the college you are applying to can turn them into your strengths.

Of course, you won’t be able to write about how you’ll fit on campus without knowing the college.

Colleges Also Want to Know How Much You Know Them

College admissions officers want to know what you can add to the campus community.

Similarly, they want to know how the school can meet your academic and career goals.

Supplemental essays are an opportunity for you to discuss both and prove to your top-choice college that you are applying to the right school and also show that you are the right applicant.

For this, you must know what sort of academic program can make your professional dream happen.

It’s vital to know, too, which type of campus community can make you a well-rounded student and equip you with the skills necessary to succeed beyond college.

You can tailor your college application to fit the school’s needs through supplementals.

They allow you to demonstrate how you will fit with its culture, values, and mission.

Ultimately, they let you express why sending you an acceptance letter is worth it.


Increasing Your Admissions Chances Through Supplementals

Because supplemental college essays are major role players in the admissions process where they are required, I cannot stress enough the importance of giving your best when writing them.

What you say in them can spell the difference between an acceptance and a rejection.

College application is stressful, and writing various supplementals can make it even more nerve-racking.

But avoid panicking.

It’s of utmost importance for you to take a deep breath, compose yourself, and then pay attention to blowing the minds of college admissions officers with your supplemental essays.

That can be a challenge, but totally doable.

The secret is to know the steps necessary to nail those supplemental essays.

  • Research. Before writing a supplemental essay, ensure you have researched the college or university enough. Study its values and culture. Examine its alumni members. Look into its programs and facilities.
  • Introspect. It’s not enough that you know about the college — it’s also a must to explore why you intend to go to it. Determine what you want academically, socially, and professionally.
  • Stick to the prompt. Most of the time, institutions allow applicants to pick from various supplemental essay prompts. Choose well and ensure that you talk about what your selection asks of you.
  • Be genuine. No matter how tempting it is to exaggerate your achievements and capabilities to increase your admissions chances, don’t! Showcase your true self and write what you believe the college needs to know.
  • Write well. Besides your writing supplement’s content, your writing skill also counts. Mind your grammar, punctuation, and sentence structures. Remember to draft for flow and organization.
  • Proofread. Misspelled words, missing punctuation marks, grammatical slip-ups, etc. — they can take away from a well-thought-out and well-written supplemental college essay.
  • Get feedback. Before college admissions officers read your supplementals, ask others like your parents, teachers, or mentors to check them out and provide suggestions.

Supplemental essays allow your application to stand out, so grab the opportunity in every way you can!

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of the College Reality Check.

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