Admit it: you, me, and possibly everyone else thinks the college application supplemental essays sometimes suck, and so you may be leaving them to tackle last, after your core essay is polished and powerful. Then (now!) you face a daunting
sucky pile. But as is true for the rest of the application process, supplemental essays don’t have to make you gag, stall, and then use hyperbole to compensate. It’s up to you to make them work, and worth your time to do so, since many students have upward of twenty to write. Here are our tips on writing these essays successfully.
First, why do they suck (and merit such a low-brow verb)?
Because the supplemental essays violate an important maxim:
Ask a good question, get a good answer.
Unfortunately, the supplemental essay questions are often dry, and so get your dry responses. And the human urge to spout grand life plans and BS a bit.
Students often get trapped responding to the “Why Our School?” essay, which can require anywhere from a painful 150 to a brutal 500 words, with one of the following unsuccessful moves:
- Copy-pasting text from the school’s website (I think they may have read that already).
- Sharing your grand Life Plans (think ALL CAPS).
- Spewing a healthy load of BS praise (“This school has a STUPENDOUS anthropology program!!!!”).
The issue with each of these approaches is:
- You told them what they already know. (But they are really glad you took the time to Ctrl-X, Ctrl-V).
- Your long-term ambitions and Big Dreams are not as relevant or important here as your immediate ambitions and actions.
- BS cannot sound like anything but BS. Admissions officers are hired for their BS detectors. Also, Schools are not like dogs– they are not hoping for your praise. You are hoping for theirs.
Luckily, we can call on a powerful, effective and simple recipe to get us through– since we are stuck with these supplemental essay questions for now (Hallelujah to U Chicago, and the other schools who find clever ways to elicit student creativity and individuality!! Hallelujah!). Your tools? Honesty, Specificity, Immediacy, and Knowledge.
For strong supplemental essays, try these moves instead:
- Be honest. Say what you really connect to and like about the school, and what of your personal qualities and experiences fit there.
- Be specific. Mentioning a particular class you looked up is more specific than mentioning an entire field of study.
- Be immediate. What do you want to study next year? What interest is tugging at you that the school can fulfill?
- Know their professors– who does what there? With a LITTLE investigation you can find out. Name one or two of their people strategically.
They are looking for evidence that:
- You read the question. The one they asked. Your answer should NOT sound like it could apply to ANY school on your list nor fly off into irrelevant info you think they should know.
- You looked beyond the surface– beyond that photo on their homepage, beyond their school motto. Investigate at least one, two, or three (go boldly!) clicks further.
- You are not lazy. This means you did both number 1 and 2.
- You are an individual person, not an ideal person. That is, you are not trying to be what you think they want, but instead show them why they should want who you really are.
Still confused? Still annoyed? Still think your essays are dull, and don’t reflect you so well? Not sure if you’re flirting with your prospect school or turning them off?
Smile, and contact us for sympathy and writing advice. We love helping you figure out the big WHY? (in your essays and beyond. But don’t get us started on the beyond.)