Tagged: Supplemental Essays

5 Common Mistakes to Avoid in Supplemental Essays

Blog Post by

Deadlines are weeks, if not days away, and we know that many of you are rushing to complete those other essays- those supplemental essays that seem to get in the way of you clicking “submit.” To help you, here are some mistakes we often see students make. Hopefully, knowing these ahead of time will save some revision time, and better yet, help you write high quality supplements that will wow admissions officers.

Mistake 1: Drop in Writing Quality

You’ve probably put a lot of effort into your Common Application essay. However, want to know what makes an admissions officer really nervous? When they read a flawless college essay followed by a sloppy or underdeveloped supplement. This makes them wonder how much help you may have had with your first essay, or whether you are taking their application seriously. Approach the 150-200 word count as a challenge to be the most concise, persuasive, and committed applicant you can be!

Mistake 2: Talking about Superficial Stuff in the ‘Why Us’ Essay

In fairness to colleges, if you’ve done your research, you SHOULD have a compelling answer to this question. However, answers that praise the architecture, the dorms, the weather, the location are all generally considered to be superficial. So are emotional pleas like “This is my dream college” or “I can picture myself here.” What they really want to know (and sometimes we wish they’d just say) is

  1. Why are you a match for us?
  2. How will you use what we offer?
  3. How well do you know our school?

For a complete breakdown on how to do this, see my other blog post on the “Why Us?” Prompt.

Mistake #3: Taking Short-Cuts When Recycling Essays

Schools know each other’s prompts. So for example, if you write about (the infamous) spiders for University of Virginia, they’re going to know that you really wrote that for University of Richmond. Also, prompts are long. So for example, if you’re asked to write about a piece of literature, one prompt might ask how it inspires you, another might ask how it reveals a shift in perspective. These are subtleties are sometimes buried 2-3 sentences into the prompt, but paying attention to what exactly the prompt is asking will signal to the schools that you’ve taken their application seriously.

Mistake #4: Not Choosing to Write the Optional Essay

Really, just do it. If you don’t have the time or the answer, you’re likely applying to too many schools or this school might not be the right fit.

Mistake #5: Missing an Opportunity to Showcase Yourself

While you want to respect the prompt, make sure that if you have a supplemental essay, you’re using it to showcase some aspect of yourself that feels essential to your application. Don’t confuse the levity of a prompt with the opportunity it might give to share insights into your candidacy. You can write about training your puppy or tripping over a hurdle in your race, but do so with clear purpose in mind. Also, while they have your grades and your resume, they don’t necessarily have the backstory. If there’s an extra-curricular involvement or academic experience that’s been essential to you, look for opportunities to bring these in. It’s not about boasting, but making sure that if something needs to be said, you say it!

We know the supplements take time, but they are an opportunity to showcase your voice, your interests, and your readiness for a college in a way that’s not often apparent in the rest of the Common Application. Remember, Admitster’s essay review and college advising services can help you develop a strategy, review your writing, and give you the honest advice you need to help you stand out among the applicant pool. Click here to submit your essay, and receive feedback in less than 48 hours. Or, sign up for a free advising consultation!

Expert Advice: Managing Your Supplemental Essays

Blog Post by

By now you’ve very likely narrowed down your college list and are in the midst of completing your applications. You’ve even written, reviewed, and finalized your Common Application college essay. As you log into your Common App Dashboard, you’ve seen which schools have writing supplements, and which ones don’t…or so you think. The reality is that lurking in the “Questions”, “Academics”,  and “Other” sections of the Common App, remains what I call Hidden Supplemental Questions.

Sometimes these require 100 word responses, for example, asking you to elaborate on an extracurricular activity. While you should write and proof-read these responses carefully, they seem manageable. Other supplemental essay requirements, however, can be more demanding. For instance, while Harvey Mudd College doesn’t list a writing supplement on its dashboard, in the “Questions” section, the college does ask prospective students to write two different 500 word essays. That’s like writing two more common application essays! For a student who is just now noticing this requirement, he/she may be feeling panicked about the upcoming January 5th deadline!

spiderBeyond sometimes “hidden” supplemental essays, others are notoriously quirky. For example, the University of Richmond prompts prospective students to “Tell us about spiders” (their mascot). The University of Southern California asks (engineering) students to tell the school about their browsing history. The University of Chicago even has an essay on the “oddity of odd numbers.” Why such topics? The schools are trying to better understand how you think, how you write, and how you will creatively and intellectually thrive at their school.

As admissions experts, we can confirm that your responses to the supplements do matter and, more importantly, that they can “wow” an admissions committee by helping you stand out among other candidates.

Here’s some advice for how to do them well:

Input all of your data up front. Sometimes, program-specific supplemental essays don’t appear until you input your intended major. The more carefully you input your data, the more quickly you can catch something that might otherwise go overlooked.

Have certain answers pre-prepared. For questions that ask you to elaborate on an extracurricular activity, your academic interests, or your personal background, you should develop clear, concise answers that you could both write about in 100 words and discuss in greater detail if you were having a longer interview with and admissions officer. You should use specific details to answer these questions, practice your responses with a friend or family member, and craft written explanations that you can use with multiple schools.

Do your research. There are two questions that always have to be customized:

  1. The question that asks you to explain your interest in your intended major – While you might be certain that you want to major in chemical engineering or English literature, schools distinguish themselves through the varying ways that they structure their programs. Bioengineering at Penn looks different than it does at UC Berkeley. Schools will often have cool interdisciplinary majors and minors that might help you to anchor your response. For example, Rice offers a minor in Global Health Technologies that can be paired with a variety of majors. One way to distinguish yourself as a candidate is to find each school’s unique approach to your intended major, and use this to help focus your essay.
  2. The question that asks “Why (insert school)?” – This is a question that you should NEVER cut and paste from one application to the next. It requires you to do some research up front. Scour the college’s website to learn more about academics, student organizations, research, news, study abroad activities, and campus life. Pair these online resources with any other experiences you’ve had with the school, for instance, a campus visit, interviews, and/or conversations with students and alumni. The more you can be specific and personalize your response, the more you will feel confident about why you’ve selected the school and, by extension, you will present yourself as a smart, informed, candidate.

Keep in mind that college admissions is a two-way street. You should of course provide details about your recent accomplishments and current interests. However, it is equally powerful to present what you want to do in the future. For instance, write about how you want to go into cyber security, start a business, document refugee crises, or design engineering solutions for developing countries – whatever you aspire to! Using specific examples about the school to which you’re applying, let admissions officers know why attending their institution would help you to reach your future goals. Be sure to also elaborate on how you will be an asset to the school during your time as an undergraduate there. Remember, college admissions is a two-way street!

Make a calendar for the next two weeks. While these essays can be brief, they are numerous and cannot be written in one sitting. Plan out your holiday break with well-paced deadlines, and share those deadlines with someone else (perhaps an expert at Admitster) so you hold yourself accountable and don’t write anything at the last minute.

It’s never too late to get help!

We can help you to make decisions, provide expert knowledge of your schools and their admissions processes, and plan and review your essays. You can use both our essay review service as well as personal admissions advising, thereby using your time efficiently to not only manage, but to optimize the potential opportunities that are offered by these supplemental essays.