This is the second post in Dr. Barash’s series on supplemental essays. To access the previous post, click here.
In addition to the 650-word Common Application Personal Essay and essays about why you are applying to a specific college or major, many college supplements ask for more information about you.
There are hundreds of different questions asked by different colleges, but they are completely manageable if you work through the following five steps, which I will discuss in greater detail in our upcoming webinar.
1. What type of question is it? There are five main types of supplement questions. Each of them is asking for a different part of your story:
- Activities. You have already shown what you have accomplished in the Activities section of your application. If the essay asks you to elaborate on an activity that is important to you, find a story that shows why that activity is important to you and how it has shaped you.
- Issues. My favorite version of this question is from Pomona College: If you had your community’s undivided attention, what would you tell them? What matters to you? Around which issues do you plan to make a difference and why? The most powerful versions of this essay tell a story about how this issue came to be important to you.
- Influences. There are two types of influence essays—people who have influenced you and works of art, literature, or science that have influenced you. Remember that the Influence essay needs to be about you, so make sure to show how the influence has informed you and what you have done as a result.
- Community. Colleges ask about the communities that you are a part of now, as well as your ideal community. The Community question is really asking: What difference are you going to make as a member of this college community? This is really the most important question of all, and one worth thinking about as you complete your college applications.
- Other writing and/or optional essays. There is a common phrase in college admissions: Optional is not optional! Whenever you are given the chance to add another dimension to your application, you should take advantage of the opportunity. But don’t send schoolwork or other papers unless the college specifically asks for them. Application essays are personal essays, a completely different type of essays from the ones you write in school.
2. What are they reading this essay for? Sometimes the answer to that question is obvious. For instance, if a college asks for a graded essay from one of your high school classes, they want to see what type of writing you do in school and what type of feedback you get from your teachers. Often—as with the Tufts’ new “YOLO” question or Chicago’s notoriously wacky questions—it’s pretty hard to figure out “what the college is looking for.” I think that type of second-guessing is really a waste of time. What admissions officers are always “reading for” is a glimpse into your unique personality, something that reveals who you are as a person.
3. What is the most important thing this college needs to know about me that they don’t already know? To provide the college with a sense of who you are, try asking yourself what else can I show them that they won’t find somewhere else in my application? What is something that distinguishes me from other students who on paper are the most similar to me?
4. What is the connection between what I’ve already done and what I will do at that college? Whenever you can, show how your unique passions and ambitions will flourish at that particular college. Go past the surface and find the deep, authentic connections between your experience and what the college offers—and what it values. Imagine you have been admitted to that college and tell the college what you are doing from that place.
5. Which moment reveals that connection? Once you know what you want to tell the college, and you have found how you will make a difference there, ask yourself: Which moments from your past show the connection between what you value and what you will do in the future? Which stories from your past show where your personal journey is leading? Tell those stories and your essays will connect powerfully and authentically with admissions readers.
Remember each question is an opportunity to reveal a different aspect of your character to the college. You do that by sharing stories from your personal experience and connecting them with the specific life and learning you will pursue at each college you dream of attending.
Other popular resources on supplement essays:
Supplement Monday: University of Chicago Essay – The U of C prompts, broken down, one by one.
Breaking Down Supplement Essays – Sign up for our webinar on supplemental essays, October 15, at 7 p.m.
Carol Barash, PhD, founder and CEO of Story To College and author of Write Out Loud, has taught over 9,000 students–from first-generation college students to the children of bankers and CEOs–and teachers from around the world how to tell their stories and write essays that win admission and scholarships at their top choice colleges.