What are supplemental essays?

Supplemental essays are short essay prompts and/or short questions applicants may have to submit as part of their admissions application in addition to other writing samples, including the personal statement. Supplemental application essays may be required by the university, respective school, major or even specialty/honors program. On average, applicants write one to two supplemental essays per selective college, each with word counts that typically range from 100 to 300 words – but can be up to 650 or even 800 words. While the format of supplemental essay prompts can vary, sometimes utilizing historical or literary quotes and references, for example, the responses are used by admissions offices to better understand any of the following: Why are you interested in their institution or a particular major at their institution? What do you think you can contribute to their campus community? What values and ideas will you bring to the university?

Why are supplemental essays important?

Supplemental essays are considered a very significant and important component of the college application process and are typically required by the majority of selective institutions, yet most applicants often do not devote enough attention to preparing these essays. Supplemental essays provide admissions officers a more in-depth look into who you are as a person and a student. It is not uncommon for applicants to have a considerable amount of help with their main essay/personal statement, and thus supplemental essays – where students do not typically receive advice and critiques from English teachers, school counselors or parents – are increasingly used by admissions officers to assess your writing ability, authentic voice and institutional fit. Do not neglect putting effort into these essays because you assume they are inconsequential. If a university requires supplemental essay(s), it is interested in your answer(s)!

How should you approach these essays?

Be clear and concise. The biggest challenge lies in the short word limits, which require you to be brief and write straight to the point. You do not want to waste space – or words – by including trivial details that do not add value to your essay. It’s not necessary to use fancy descriptive language or jargon that may inadvertently muddle the essay response.

Be personal. Reveal details about yourself that are not made apparent from other components of the application. This could be the perfect opportunity – depending on the prompt, of course – for you to show how your academic, extracurricular and personal experiences intersect to inform your perspectives.

Be aware of the prompt. Ensure that you are responding to all aspects of each essay prompt. Read through each prompt carefully and review it a few times before you transition to brainstorming response ideas.

Research. For school- and program-specific questions, gather a good amount of information before you write. Visit campuses and explore school websites thoroughly. The best essays are always produced by informed writers.

About the author
Obi Eneh

Obi has a BA in psychology and Asian studies, as well as an MPA, from Clark University. Additionally, Obi received an MA from Columbia University Teachers College, focusing on international educational development. Obi worked as an admissions reader at Johns Hopkins University and an admissions consultant for EducationUSA.

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