Common App Tips - The Supplemental Essays


Yes! You've completed your personal information on the Common Application, filled in the Activities section, and put the final touches on your Common App essay. Finished, right? Not likely. Most of the colleges to which you are applying will have supplemental essays. My first bit of advice when it comes to supplemental essays is that, even if they are listed as "optional", do them. You don't want to look lazy or like you couldn't be bothered to write any more. You have more to share. So let's buckle down and get these done.


Here's that burning questions again - why do colleges make you do a supplemental essay if you had to write your personal statement essay already? Chances are the supplemental essay is more specific to the school, or even the program, to which you are applying. The Common App essay goes to all your schools. The supplemental goes only to the one it is for, meaning they can make it more relevant to their school's mission, core values, and learning approaches. This is also another opportunity for you to share a little bit more about who you are as an individual.

Share a Secret

No, I don't mean let the application reader know your deepest, darkest secrets, but tell them something they can't find anywhere else in your application. Remember, they've already read through your extracurricular activities list, seen your transcripts and test scores, and heard from your teachers, coaches and counselors in their recommendation letters. What's missing? What is your application's best kept secret?

Possible Prompts

Supplemental Essay Guide

The above link offers an in-depth look at various supplemental essay questions. There is no one method colleges use for supplemental essays. Some colleges ask for one, others ask for multiple. Some colleges give you different options from which to choose, others require you to answer a specific prompt. Whichever approach the schools take, supplemental essays are typically no longer than 250 words, a whole lot shorter than the general Common App essay you wrote. The question can range from "what is your favorite word and why?" to "why this school?" The key to answering both types is to be honest and true to your voice, similar to when you wrote your Common App essay. Don't fall into the trap of writing what you think they want to hear, be reflective and let your personality come through. DO NOT look through the school's mission statement and find a way to reword it as your reason for wanting to attend. They know their mission statement like the back of their hand and don't need it regurgitated to them. If you feel strongly about the mission statement and it's a big part of why you want to attend, dig deeper and determine why you feel that way. Be as specific as possible and relate everything back to you and your story.

Be Different

The number one mistake students make when writing their supplemental essays is copying and pasting a form of their Common App essay. The admission team has already read your Common App essay. By writing the same thing, or even anything remotely close to the same topic, you are sending the message that you just didn't care enough to come up with something new. Again, the last thing you want is for the admission team to assume you were lazy or that their school was not important enough for you to craft an extra 250 words. Remember, this is your opportunity to share more about who you are. I cannot impress this upon you enough. It truly makes a difference.

What Can I Reuse?

Now, if two separate schools have similar supplemental essay topics, feel free to craft them in a way that allows you to use the same essay. Realistically speaking, the different universities will not be reading the others' supplemental essays so you're safe in this situation. As long as you keep your supplemental essays different from your Common App essay, you're golden.

Find Your Funny

There are some strange questions out there, I won't lie. From "what is your theme song?" to "you've just reached your one millionth hit on your YouTube video. What is the video about?" These are fun, but can be tricky. Finding a way to be humorous without demonstrating a forced cheesiness can be overwhelming. You don't need to be hilarious, just find moments of humor that feel right to you and speak your truth, as cliche as it might sound. If comedy is not your thing, don't worry about it! Never force something that does not sound true to your voice. Sticking with who you are is the most important aspect so just answer the question in the way that feels right to you. Your funny might not be the same as someone else's, and that's what is so special about this process.

As always, we are here to help! If you have any questions or want someone to look over your essays, do not hesitate to reach out. Best of luck and happy applying!