Dos and Don’ts of Supplemental Essays

You’ve finished your narrative essay and pasted it into your Common App, but your application isn’t complete! Whether they’re under the “writing” tab or hiding under “additional information,” you still need to complete the shorter supplemental essays. Here are a few tips to take into account as you work through these college-specific essays.

Do: be specific. You won’t be able to use the full effect of your volunteer experience if you only say how many hours a week you worked; in order to fully capitalize on your efforts, you should be explicit about what it entailed. Did you pick up trash? Tell your reader about it. Did you get sweaty? Was it stinky? To impress upon your reader the effort you put in and what it meant to you, you have to go into detail.

Don’t: be cliché. While many supplemental essays do focus on academic topics and challenges, be sure to avoid phrasing the way you learned about leadership or overcame a challenge as simple perseverance. What steps did you take, and how did your behavior change? We all work hard at what we do; how did you put that work into effective areas to overcome what you were struggling with?

Do: be engaging and authentic in your writing. Sure, these are short supplements. You might get a space of four hundred words, and you might only get one hundred fifty, but if you have two hundred words, you can fit in a one sentence hook.

Don’t: “tell” instead of “show.” This advice applies to any writing, of course, but it’s worth reiterating. Your reader doesn’t want to hear just that you went to a circuit board manufacturing plant, they want to see you examining the broken circuit board to solve the problem in their mind’s eye.

Do: include research about the program you are applying to. This doesn’t apply to every supplement (such as Texas A&M’s “tell us about the person who has most impacted you and why”), but it applies to any supplement asking about why you chose your major, or what your areas of academic interest are. Connect your experience to an area at the school where you could build on what you’ve already learned.

Don’t: throw in research that doesn’t fit your supplement - it will sound like you didn’t care enough about the university to put the work in to find courses or opportunities that apply to your interests.

Although these supplemental essays may seem like a walk in the park compared to your narrative essay, they still deserve (and require!) your full attention. For more tips on how to handle these supplements, reach out to us here. 

Looking for more guidance as you traverse the tricky terrain of the college essay process? Learn more about our college counseling services here!

Hillary K.

Essay Specialist

University of Virginia

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