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  • Writer's pictureSusan Treadwell

Writing Supplemental Essays: Are We There Yet?

Updated: Jan 11, 2022

For high school seniors, writing supplemental college essays is like going on a long road trip–at some point, you stop noticing the scenery and all you want to do is arrive at your destination.

These essays generally average about 200-350 words, but don't let their mini-size fool you. They are important.

Every college has classes, programs and opportunities that are unique to them, and it takes time to research and make assessments about your potential fit.

What vision do you have for your college experience? The colleges on your list need to sync up with your vision. Think about how you will make a positive contribution on each campus.

How will studying at a specific college help you accomplish your academic and personal goals? Supplemental essays should reflect why you truly want to attend that school.

There are different kinds of supplemental essay prompts. Here are some typical areas of focus:

Why Us Essays (Why Do You Want to Attend Our College?)

Do –

Do your research so you can write meaningfully about why you want to attend the specific college.

Envision yourself on campus, and describe how you will contribute to the school.

Describe how your academic, extracurricular, and professional goals sync up with the college.

Don’t –

Don’t rehash marketing points from their website.

Don’t simply list what you’d like to do there.

Don’t write about the weather. (Seriously.)


· academic focus – majors and minors

· courses, programs

· professors, specific classes

· research opportunities

· internships

· study abroad programs

· career pathway support

· clubs, activities, organizations

· sports, arts

· campus life

· community life - college town/city

Essays About Your Potential Major/s

Describe why you chose your potential major/s. What’s your story? This is a very personal decision, and your response should be unique to you. Think about how the college’s programs will support your academic goals.

Essays About Community

Consider the different ways you have been involved in communities. First, there are many ways to define community. You can think on micro and macro levels. Within your school community, you may also be part of a club. Those are two intersecting communities. Explore all areas of extracurricular involvement. Be specific, and share your unique contributions. Did you collaborate with others for a greater purpose? As a result of your involvement, how did this community grow? Reflect on how they contributed to your growth, too. Share details.

Essays About Diversity

Diversity essays share similarities with community-focused essays. Colleges want to know how you will interact positively on their campus. Consider aspects of your personal background: ethnicity, socioeconomic, gender, geographic, cultural, spiritual. Your values, traits and experiences have shaped the person you are today. Share your story and envision how you will contribute to the diverse community on campus.

Essays About Leadership

This is a question for both introverts and extraverts. Some students lead in traditional ways. Perhaps you're a leader in a club or organization. Or maybe you exert your influence “under the radar.” Both are valid! Your goal is to provide examples and context for your leadership experience. Describe the impact, results or outcomes due to your involvement.

Essays About Initiative

Initiative is about assessing a situation and taking action. You may be the kind of person who sees something wrong and decides to fix it. Or you envision a solution to a challenge in your family, school or community that requires collaboration. No matter how small or large the scale, honor your ability to spark change. What points do you want to include in your story? In a short essay, the challenge will be keeping it succinct.

Essays About Extracurricular Activities

Think about why you are engaged in the extracurricular activity. Do you find that time loses all meaning when you’re engaged in it? Maybe it brings out a side of you that is new and unfamiliar. As a teen, you’re trying things out, learning and evolving. Reflect on the ways this activity has shaped you. Does it connect to others in a meaningful way? Is it related to potential career path? Keep in mind, if your main personal statement covers this topic in depth, don’t repeat it here.

Essays About a Challenge

These essays require context. Be honest about your challenge and describe the way you overcame it. Strike the right tone in your response. Don’t overly dramatize your experience to make an impact. Instead, frame the challenge with an objective eye, and authentically reflect on how you dealt with it.

Quick Takes and Short Answers

Sometimes students think the quick-take questions are really trick questions in disguise. This is an opportunity to share another side of you. Some topics may include your favorite movies, books, characters and music. You get the idea. Be genuine. Honor your unique interests and passions. Don’t try to impress them by pretending to be someone else. Be yourself – since no one does that better than you!

For each college on your list, learn the nitty-gritty details and provide context for your choices. If you're not sure what to write, then there’s a good chance you’re thinking too generally. The road to clarity is paved with research. You'll know you have arrived when you can mesh your interests with their offerings in a meaningful way.

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