When it comes to writing your supplemental essays, one of the most important—and most overlooked—steps comes before you begin typing a single word: Research, research, research. And then research some more. Unless you want to give the impression that you plucked a college off CommonApp at random, you should be prepared to invest a good chunk of time researching the colleges to which you’re applying. (Each. Of. Them.) But if the word “research” sends you spinning, don’t despair! With a little creativity and social media savvy, this process can and should be painless…and perhaps even fun.
By this point in your journey, you’ve likely been introduced to certain timeworn college research mainstays—the Fiske Guide, the U.S. News & World Report, your college counselors at school, etc. While I encourage you to utilize all of these resources, you’re not limited to books and lists and word of mouth. In fact, when it comes to getting a realistic and vivid sense of what these colleges are really like in the day-to-day—beyond rankings and statistics—you’re very likely holding your most valuable tool in your hands. Here are creative ways you can incorporate different social media platforms into your college research:
Pull up TikTok or Youtube. In the search bar, type “Day in the life of a (XYZ university) student,” and I’m willing to bet that you’ll find a treasure trove of student-uploaded content. For certain popular majors at larger universities, you might even be able to target your search (e.g., “Day in the life of a UT Austin McCombs student”). While you may have to sift through some corny jokes and dining hall lunches, these videos can offer invaluable nuggets of insight that you can draw upon in your supplemental essays.
Ah, Twitter. Whether you’re chronically online or prefer to live under a nice, warm rock (join me!), when properly leveraged, you might think of this app like a distilled record of the things a particular university emphasizes and celebrates. Often, universities will post links to recent news articles and alumni stories; these can be particularly useful as you’re tackling the “why us?” prompt. Different departments and organizations usually have their own Twitter profiles, too, so don’t stop at the general university page—follow as many as you can to get an in-depth sense of not only the university’s overarching achievements, but also the most up-to-date information coming out of your potential major(s).
While Instagram can function a lot like Twitter—colleges will often cross-post—I tend to use IG most often when helping students do a research deep-dive on a particular club or organization they hope to join. Often, clubs will post tons of info about recent events and campus-wide initiatives on their pages—far more, generally, than you can find on the university’s organization hub or even the club’s external website.
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Vanderbilt University (Summa Cum Laude)