Go Deeper with Your Supplemental Essays

Last updated Jul 25, 2023 

You just finished the final edit of your college essay, and you couldn’t be more relieved…until you remember that the colleges you are applying to want you to complete supplemental essays too. While it may be tempting to think that these essays aren’t as important as the rest, the truth is they give you a chance to go deeper and show more of who you are and what makes you a good fit for a college; what you say in these supplemental essays could set you apart and clinch your acceptance in a competitive field of applicants. So, after you pat yourself on the back for completing your essay, read further to get to know supplemental essays better, including why they’re important, what types of questions they ask, and how best to answer them.  

The Importance of Writing Supplemental Essays

Think of your college application with just your personal statement or essay as a black and white movie or a bowl of vanilla ice cream. You need to add technicolor or a cherry on top for color and flavor so that those reading your application can get a more accurate and appealing sense of who you are. Supplemental essays give you that chance to go beyond the broader scope of the rest of your application and speak specifically about your activities and interests and how a particular college will help you cultivate them. Accordingly, crafting impressive and effective supplemental essays is neither an easy nor trivial task that you can breeze through without giving some serious thought and care to your approach. You will need to know how to tackle the most common supplemental essays and helpful writing tips to produce super supplements that will keep your application out of the reject pile.

The Types of Supplemental Essays

Unlike the standard set of Common Application essay prompts, there can be many types of supplemental essay questions. However, a closer look at supplemental essay trends reveals that there are several questions you are likely to encounter.

Why Us? This question is how colleges find out if you are a good match for their school. They want you to demonstrate your interest beyond saying you want to attend, and instead be able to link your specific interests and goals to the courses, clubs, professors, and programs that they offer. Think of it as a give and take—what you will bring to the college in terms of your participation and what you will take from it in terms of the education and personal development it offers.

Activities. Your application already has a list of your activities, but this is where you get to elaborate on which activities are meaningful to you and why. If you wrote about an activity for your essay, pick a different one to highlight in your supplement to show off another side of you. Choose to write about activities that align with the college’s stated mission and values and that illustrate personal strengths such as perseverance, compassion, humility, or leadership.

Community, Diversity, or Identity. As you can probably tell, this type of question can appear in different forms yet always attempts to reveal how you see yourself and how that affects how you interact with the world around you. It’s best not to focus on an isolated event, and instead a pattern of personal development or community involvement. Anything from your unique ethnic identity and community as a biracial Muslim to the family of actors you bonded with during a community theater production can work for an essay as long as you show how you and that community have enriched each other.

Short Answer. Sometimes you will be asked to respond in fewer words to short questions about your academic interests, some personality quirk, or other odd topics. For more detailed tips on how to approach these questions, click here.

The Way to Write Supplemental Essays

To write the best supplemental essays, use these recommended strategies:

  • Start Early. You should get to work as soon as August when most questions become available. However, you can start sooner if you prepare answers to the most common questions presented above. You’ll need the time. With a few supplements per college, you will have lots to prepare.
  • Do Your Homework. Use information gathered from college visits and websites to cite specific aspects of the colleges you apply to in order to show your genuine interest.
  • Show, Don’t Tell. Help readers get a real feel for who you are by offering descriptions that illustrate your points with vivid sensory and emotional details. 
  • Be Yourself. Don’t be pretentious or vague. Be authentic and specific, which means not sounding like you’ve raided the thesaurus and not using broad and generic terms that seem copied from a brochure. Instead, add splashes of humor, vulnerability, and sincerity.
  • Avoid Repetition. You only have so many opportunities to reveal parts of yourself to admissions, so don’t waste your supplements repeating what you’ve listed or said in other parts of your application.

The Next Steps

Writing a winning supplement takes preparation and care. If you need help making your supplemental essays shine in a way that will increase a college’s knowledge and interest in you, then you are in luck! In addition to College Admissions Coaching that walks you through the entire admissions process, A+ Test Prep and Tutoring offers programs designed specifically to support students as they craft and edit their essays. Your college application is one of the most consequential documents you will work on in your lifetime, and supplemental essays are a key component. Now that you know more about them, you are one step closer to finishing your application and securing a spot at one of the colleges on your list.

At A+ Test Prep and Tutoring, our practices are based on the latest developments in educational theory and research. We have an excellent team of tutors who can help you with standardized testing, executive functioning, or achievement in any other school subject. If you want to find out more about our services, we can be reached at 215-886-9188 or email us at office@aplustutoring.com.


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