Five Tips for Writing Knockout College Essay Supplements

With the main essay done, it’s common for a school to gauge applicant interest by requesting a supplementary essay. While some prompts are specific––asking questions about career goals, academic focuses, or any other particular elements––most essay topics down to one typical question: Why are you applying to this school?

There are ways to answer this question that help you put your best foot forward.

1. Research the School

This seems simple but you’d be surprised how many students overlook this crucial step. If you can, do more than just a Google search. Visit the campus, chat with alums, connect with current students. Once you learn about the school on a personal level, you’ll be able to find things to talk about in your own voice. Even better, you’ll find things about the school that either truly excite you (and will make for a passionate essay) or you’ll realize that perhaps this isn’t the best school for you (and you may decide to take it off your list). Research is one of the most important steps in the admissions process. Be sure to do it thoroughly!

2. Demonstrate Interest

Demonstrating interest is a way to be proactive and end up on a school’s radar. Things such as talking to admissions counselors, visiting campus, and attending info sessions are some of the physical things you can do to indicate that you would love to be a student on campus.

In the essay world, demonstrating interest means discussing these things directly. If you’ve visited campus, let them know! If you’ve struck up a relationship with a group of alums or current students, feel free to mention it. Never invent anything, but certainly feel free to be creative in how you tell schools what you’ve done. The “Why X?” supplement is the method of choice for schools to determine who is truly interested.

3. Personalize Each Essay

Yes, while some things will remain the same across several schools––what you plan to major in, which student groups you’re looking forward to joining––you need to do more than just copy/paste your response between schools. Instead, delve into the intricacies of what makes each school unique. What makes their student groups unique? How do their academic courses stand out? This can be tricky and take some digging, but it’s well worth it. If you can show the school exactly how you’ll make use of what they offer, then you’ll elevate yourself in the eyes of admissions officials.

4. Avoid Writing About Superficial Things

Please don’t tell the school how much you love their website or how you’ve always wanted to live in the city where their main campus is located. These things aren’t unique enough, and worse, could make it look like you skimped on your research. Instead, talking about concrete things that are unique to each school. Talk about the professors who teach there or special course opportunities for freshmen. Write about how you would make use of specific programs and resources. Ultimately, make it clear that you’re a serious student and that you have a plan for how to continue your academic career. You don’t have to have all of the answers, but do show that you’ve put some thought into it.

5. Make Them Want You As Much As You Want Them

This is the final piece of the puzzle. When schools ask “Why Us?” they’re also hoping that you really are excited to attend! The supplemental essay is the perfect place to communicate what an ideal match you are for their institution. If there is a particular club that you would like to join, mention it, and then discuss how its activities are similar to things you’ve done in high school. If you appreciate how a particular school values an open curriculum, or a course load focused on seminars over lectures, talk about why you thrive in environments like this. Choosing a college is about finding a best fit for both you and the school.

That’s All!

In the end, don’t overthink it. Many times colleges keep the word limits low for these essays (typically 250 to 400 words), so you’ll need to find a way to communicate these points quickly and to the point. If you’ve done your research, your passion for the school will shine through.