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The Importance of the Supplemental College Essays

Maryline Michel Kulewicz and Tracy Sullivan of College 101 Admissions Consultants

Every part of a successful college application requires equal attention: a balanced college list, a well-written personal statement, and a robust activity resume, all the while keeping an eye on the deadlines. However, one of the most important parts of the application is the supplemental essays and unfortunately many students just don’t devote enough time to them. The supplementals rank in importance with the GPA and course rigor. 
Super tip #1: Absolutely do not wait until the last minute to answer your supplemental college essays.  Just like Murphy’s Law, 2 exams and a major project will be due on the college application’s submission date. 
Supplemental essays are located in the Common Application on the college’s specific information page OR on the college’s website. It is a way for the admission staff to get to know the student better. The college admission staff usually writes these questions, so it would make sense that they are very interested in the students’ answers!  Student responses to the college supplemental questions help the admissions team determine the level of interest a student has for their school. With that in mind, colleges care tremendously about their yield (percentage of accepted students who enroll) as it helps predict what courses they can offer, tuition, and housing availability. So, a well-researched and well-written essay could tip the scale in the student’s favor. 
Generally, the most selective schools will contain several supplemental questions. Although, the good news is some schools don’t require any. On average, a student will complete 5 supplementals, again, generally more if applying to a higher number of selective colleges. A rule of thumb to control the number of supplemental essays is to create a balanced college list - an even amount of likelys, probables, and selective/reach schools. Colleges update their supplemental questions on August 1st. Three of the most common essay prompts are: “Why do you want to attend our college?”, “What is your favorite extracurricular activity and why?”, and “What is your intended major and why?”.  
 Super tip #2:  If the supplemental essay is optional and the school is a top interest to you–- then it is not optional.   
I am going to dive deeper into the “Why” essay, but the approach can apply to most questions in preparation for an interview or researching a major.  
“The Why Essay” tips:
• “The Why Essay” is your opportunity to convince the admissions committee that you are a good fit.
• Do not think of “The Why Essay” as the “Why this college is perfect for me” essay.  As Nicole Buenzli from Union College perfectly stated, “You probably don’t need to tell us about the beautiful Nott Memorial. I pass the Nott every day, it’s on every brochure we create, and we all know it has 16 sides. Instead, think of this as a ‘Why we are perfect for each other’ essay”.  
• Do your research and be specific. For example, you could state, “I want to go to XYZ College because of the amazing Economics Department”.  But even better - research the college website, look up syllabuses, and cite a specific Economics class they offer and how you would benefit from it.  If studying abroad is important - be specific. For example, state that you want to participate in their May-mester program to study sea turtles in Costa Rica. 
• Make your answers unique, which is the combination of in-depth knowledge of the college and a compelling demonstration of personal interest.  Do not mention the weather, location, ranking, or reputation because it is what everyone else is writing. 
• The supplemental essays offer an opportunity for the admission staff to learn something different about you - so avoid repeating your personal statement message.
• Do not reiterate facts or copy information from the website - it may show that you read through the website, but the college prefers to see how you relate to their college. 
How to research for “The Why Essay?”: 
• Go deep into the college website - so much interesting information.  
• Research the Fiske Guide to Colleges 2023 or The Princeton Review - The Best 388 Colleges 2023.
• To learn more about student perspectives, visit or
• Visit campuses in-person, attend a college virtual tour, or visit social media sites, such as YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, or Facebook.  
• Email or call the admission office or the regional college admissions representative (staff is listed on the college website) and ask thoughtful questions, not questions where answers can easily be found on their website. College representatives like hearing from students and the regional representatives are the ones who will often read your application and will remember your name. 

I have only skimmed the surface of ways that students can approach the supplemental responses. Please contact us if you would like our FREE supplemental essay document. Good luck and enjoy the journey!   
College 101 Admissions Consultants LLC. Website:  Email: [email protected]
Phone: (508) 380-3845.
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