My 5 year old asked me, “Isn’t it funny, that 1 + 2 = 3, and when we count we go 1, 2, 3?” It was a statement framed as a question. I’m only supposed to agree: it’s funny. And when I thought about it: maybe. He’s at an age when saying ordinary things that are true is still remarkable to him. I wish we never grew out of that age, but here we are, grown up, and faced with what feel like harder supplemental essay questions.
But I’d like to help you make your supplemental essays feel easier and maybe, if you hit your stride, compelling.
Writing all the college supplements requires strategy.
Here are my top 2 supplemental essay strategies:
1. Compile all of the supplemental essay questions in a single document, labeled with school name and word count or character count limit, and deadline. The word and character count is a real and important part of your struggle. Ultimately, it’s an exercise in specificity and concision.
2.Throw darts at it!
Now that you got that out of your system, let’s try again.
If that doesn’t get you done, try these supplemental essay strategies
Pre-work: take some deep breaths, or do anything simple that helps you acknowledge your stress and release some of the clenching. I like pretending to jump rope.
Don’t stare down the computer for more than 25 minutes in one session. Stand up, take a five minute break, laugh at something, start again.
- Compile all of the supplemental essay questions for the schools on your list in a single document. Label each with the school name and word count or character count limit.
- Then color code or group them by similarities: examples, “your most meaningful activity” type questions; “community you come from” type question. There may be some outliers.
- Visit the website of each school on your list with the following goals for the “Why This School?” questions. Allot maybe only 2 schools per session. Otherwise, it can all blur into one Giant School.
- A. Find a professor whose research or course is actually interesting to you. Write down the exact name and gist of what’s covered in the course. Connect this to some academic area in which you have interest or experience. Be sure you explain WHY this course or professor was interesting or attractive to you. Trust your instincts.
- B. Find a club or extracurricular that dovetails with something you have ACTUAL experience in. Explain the WHY.
- C. Find one thing about the place where that school is that is actually inviting to you– mountains? urban? near a museum you love? A jewish cultural center? Does not matter what. Explain the WHY.
- D. If they have a mission or values page, find ONE THING from the mission or values and relate it to your own values system. Explain the WHY.
^^you collect that information on a spreadsheet, if that makes you feel on top of things, or just keep a running document with this information.
Always label your docs with a clear title (say, “OMFG ALL THE SUPPLEMENTS!!?!” though we suggest something more objective and professional).
When you’re done, take a break; notice how you’re doing; begin again.
Quick Tips for “School Fit”
Some of the supplemental essays are longer (650); most are closer to 200 range. That’s at least, but often no more than, a solid paragraph. You can’t cram your whole life in. You have to pick. You’re pointing out why you are a fit for them.
Remember colleges are looking for MAKING A MATCH. They are yentas. That is: what unique experience, interest, or values do you bring and how does that match with what they are about? Look at your notes from each school and start connecting the dots.
For example (and there should ALWAYS be an example): If you went to an animal rescue center once to care for dogs, that doesn’t demonstrate a real commitment. If you shadowed your uncle who is a vet, that does. If the school has a fascinating animal behavior program, you might write about that as a match.
For another example: Who cares if your target school has a great sociology program? Well, you do, because you did a project studying food banks in HS, and became fascinated but where food and public health intersect and…great, put it in a paragraph.
Also: be honest. If you’re entirely BS-ing on these questions, schools usually know.
(Unless you’re amazingly talented at BS-ing, in which case, multiple career paths may already be open to you. :))
So what do the colleges really care about for the supplemental essays?
Don’t tell them what they already know about themselves or try to gas their heads. They are most interested that you:
1. Actually know what their school is about.
2. Actually went as deep as you could into their college’s website/virtual tour.
3. Were thoughtful and self-reflective.
Make your writing goals explicit!
Also: make your application goals for the day and week explicit. Write them down, put them in a visible place, and keep to them like you would a workout.
Post them on the wall: i.e. Thursday 6PM, CU “community” supplement; Fri, Marist; Sat, U Chicago if you were a goldfish prompt; and so on.
When you finish researching each one, put a huge red slash through it.
Next is drafting. If you’ve done enough work on the front end, this will be so much less painful. 🙂
Need more help?
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Then throw darts.