Updated: Nov 25, 2020
Supplemental college essays are additional questions asked by colleges in addition to the primary essay.
They can be anywhere from a seemingly straightforward question such as “Why Our College?”, to a highly specific one such as “Design a Course We Don’t Already Offer” and can range from one question to several.
Whichever one it leans towards, colleges are looking for depth and original thinking.
Here are some common mistakes made on supplemental essays:
1. Cut and Past Approach
A common mistake is to use a “cut and paste” approach and trying to fit one answer across the board.
In doing so, you end up with an answer that is at best too generic to show any genuine interest in the college, or at worse, completely ignores the question asked.
For individualized questions that go beyond “Why Our College?” treat them as if they are as important as the main application essay (in some cases, supplemental essays may be almost as long.)
Although all colleges will accept the main essay on the common app, some colleges want to get a sense of how well you fit into their environment with questions that are specific to how they view themselves.
For that reason, this makes some supplemental essays even more important than the primary essay for that college.
2. Shallow Answers
Providing a shallow answer such as “my friends go there and they’ve told me great stories about how much fun they’re having”.
An equally poor answer would be “I want to make a lot of money and graduates from your college tend to earn higher salaries.”
3. Repeating Selling Points
Repeating the college’s selling points in their “Why Our College?” essay with no specific reason as to why you wish to attend.
For example, “I want to go to ABC College because it has a great program in environmental science”.
A better answer would be:
"I read about some interesting research being conducted by Professor Williams in your Environmental Sciences department on the effect of climate change on urban areas and the impact on their economies. I would love to participate in similar research and believe ABC College is at the forefront in this area of study.” Or “While visiting the campus I sat in on a class on how climate change is affecting the polar ice caps. The professor was engaging and the class responded with a lot of questions and lively discussion. This is the kind of environment I want to study in."
In either of these examples, adding how you would contribute to the campus is key. “I’d love to apply what I’ve learned from my independent study on climate change to educating my peers on how we can lower our carbon footprint on campus.”
4. Proper Grammar, Spelling, and Vocabulary
As with all essays, appropriate grammar, spelling, and vocabulary are important. Using slang, “emojis”, uncommon terminologies, or abbreviations detract from the content and hurt your essay.