A successful college application works in two directions: Use supplemental essays both to reveal your character and to show colleges that you are a good fit for them. That’s why the supplemental essays are so important. Many students labor over their personal statement, then rush through the supplements at the last second, sending in work that is sloppy and not focused on any college in particular.
Here are 10 tips to complete supplements that show colleges why they need to admit you:
1. Research each school. Start with the website, take a virtual tour, and get past the obvious. Check out professors’ syllabi and publications, listen to the school band’s music, and see what’s hanging in the student art gallery.
2. Talk to people. It helps to talk to current students before you answer the “Why I want to attend your college” question. Take advantage of email and live chat to get to know students’ points of view.
3. Organize your key points. What are the two to three important points you want to convey in each essay? Bring your resume to life by making connections between your current activities and your future hopes and dreams.
4. Make each college’s supplements work as a package. If a college has several supplemental questions, think about them as one cohesive whole. Someone who reads them all should get a clear sense of how you will make a difference in their community.
5. Emphasize specifics. Talk about a club with the exact name it is called at that college. Which of these students would you be more inclined to admit: “In college, I want to get involved in community service” or “I organized a dance marathon at my high school for over 200 students. I plan to leave a lasting mark at Penn State by expanding the THON tradition, bringing together hundreds of students, and raising thousands of dollars for cancer research.”
6. Show what you’ve already done. Make that last example even better with a moment that shows what you’ve done: “The sun was rising over the gym, and I started to clean up from the project that had consumed me for months: our school’s first-ever dance marathon to raise money for the Trevor Fund, in memory of my friend Dale.”
7. Create a future. Best of all, show how you will make a lasting impact on the college: “Combining my love of young children and my commitment to modern art, I would like to work with students and the administration to bring NYC public school students to the Grey Art Gallery to teach young people about art.”
8. No highfalutin language. This may seem counter-intuitive, but it is usually stronger to say, “Our family friend Jonelle Jackson ’12 suggested that I apply to Scripps,” rather than, “I am attracted to the proud tradition of women’s colleges.” Keep your answers simple, honest, and real.
9. Name names. If you have spoken with a specific admissions officer, or if he or she has visited your school, say so. Include snippets of conversation that made a difference and influenced your decision to apply. Nothing cheesy or unctuous (sorry, I love that word and don’t get to use it very often!)—just reminders of normal everyday conversations.
10. Proofread. One thing that will surely sink your application is the name of another college that somehow slipped through. Leave plenty of time to make sure you send the right essays to the right places because once you press “send,” there’s no taking it back.