How to Write a Supplemental Essay for College Applications

Discover tips for tackling writing supplements, and read a sample essay from a current student.

Pretty young student sitting at desk and doing her homework, she is connecting to the internet with a laptop

Getty Images

A supplemental essay gives you an opportunity to tell the admissions committee about something you weren't able to cover in your main essay.

Prospective students are usually aware that they must write an essay as part of the college application process . But they may not know that some schools will ask for additional writing samples such as a supplemental essay.

Avoid These College Application Mistakes

Courtney Rubin and Cole Claybourn July 26, 2023

how to write supplemental essays

These writing supplements are usually shorter than the main college essay , but they're no less important, experts say.

"Every word counts in getting your story across," says Deborah Davis, president and founder of Davis Education & Career Consultants LLC, based in Ridgefield, Connecticut.

Some colleges ask for just one supplemental essay while others may require several.

For example, Wake Forest University in North Carolina had six additional questions for prospective students to respond to on its 2020 undergraduate admissions application. However, a couple of the questions asked applicants to write lists – for instance, a personal top 10 list – rather than a full paragraph or two.

Supplemental essay prompts come in all shapes and sizes. In some cases, schools let applicants choose from several options. For instance, the University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill 's fall 2019-20 application included four prompts – such as "What do you hope will change about the place where you live?" – from which prospective students had to select two.

Davis says two of the most common prompts she's seen are "What do you want to major in?" and "Tell us about a favorite activity."

While word counts for supplemental essays vary, they tend to be limited.

Wake Forest has a 150-word limit for each of its supplements, says Tamara Blocker, the university's senior associate dean of admissions. UNC caps applicants' short answer responses at 250 words each, according to the school's website.

In contrast, The Common Application , a platform that allows students to apply to multiple colleges at once, has a suggested 650-word limit for the main essay and 250 words for others.

These types of written responses are more like vignettes or snapshots, rather than full-blown essays, says Stephen Farmer, vice provost for enrollment and undergraduate admissions at UNC.

"I think – I hope, anyway – that students feel the opportunity maybe in the shorter responses to worry less about form and just be a little more open with us," he says.

To help prospective students familiarize themselves with supplemental essays, U.S. News obtained an example from Tufts University in Medford, Massachusetts. Ryan Sheehan from Wallingford, Pennsylvania, wrote the short piece and is a computer science major in the class of 2021.

As part of his application, Sheehan responded to the following prompt: "There is a Quaker saying: 'Let your life speak.' Describe the environment in which you were raised – your family, home, neighborhood, or community – and how it influenced the person you are today."

"As the son of two journalists, I have grown up under a lifelong inquisition: How is your room such a mess? Can you please stop chasing the cat? Will you come down from the tree already? Granted, those are all from this past year, but the point still stands. Like any good journalists, my parents have also always had a propensity for uncovering the truth. On the third night that I had my license, I decided to go to the library to study. Before 15 minutes had passed, I noticed the librarian peering at me through the shelves before quickly averting her eyes and whispering, "He's here," into her phone. Even so, regardless of how many spies they've hired over the years, I have always looked up to my parents immensely. However, I have found my inherited inquisitiveness to be a trait most useful in a place far from the realm of reporting: the robotics lab. After four years of spending almost more time in the lab than at home, I have learned that nothing is more important than asking the right questions. As a programmer, I need to be able to communicate with my builders. Come press time, if I don't interview them properly, our robot will invariably end up as a hunk of unresponsive aluminum. To make a machine, the team must work as one. So although I may be writing source code instead of a breaking story, I am glad I had such nosy parents after all."

Karen Richardson, former dean of undergraduate admissions and enrollment management at Tufts who is now dean of admission at Princeton University in New Jersey, explained why she liked this response: "This is a great essay because, in just 250 words, it shows rather than tells the reader who Ryan is and the things that matter to him. It gives us a sense of his family life and academic interests, and it even shows us he has a sense of humor. As an admissions committee, we learned a lot about Ryan in just one paragraph."

Here are five additional tips from admissions officers to help prospective college students craft strong supplemental essays.

Answer the Question

This may seem obvious, but applicants should carefully read a supplemental essay prompt and make sure they understand what it is asking before answering it, Richardson says.

Prospective students may want to reuse an essay they wrote for another college, but that doesn't always work because supplemental questions tend to be more tailored to an individual institution, she says.

Start With an Outline

Applicants may have their own writing process, but Davis encourages those she works with to create outlines. She says prospective students should brainstorm the personal qualities, skills or experiences they would like to convey in their supplemental essays.

Don't Repeat Yourself

Supplemental essays are a chance for applicants to give more information to an admissions committee to further show why they are a good fit for a school, Davis says. So prospective students should make sure they aren't repeating something that's already been covered in their main essay.

Narrow Your Focus

Probably the biggest mistake applicants make in supplemental essays is choosing a topic that's too big, Farmer says. For example, he says prospective students may attempt to settle a complex political issue in just one paragraph.

"I think it's better to do something small and do it well than to do something big and skate over the surface," he says.

Maintain Your Voice

It's a good idea for applicants to ask another person for editing help, but too much input can be detrimental to an essay, experts say. If lots of people – teachers, parents, peers – read and weigh in on an essay, they can weaken how clearly a student's voice comes through in the writing.

"It's great to read something that sounds like it was written by an 18-year-old and not by a machine," Farmer says, "or by someone who's trying to be prematurely middle-aged."

Searching for a college? Get our complete rankings of Best Colleges.

10 Ways to Discover College Essay Ideas

Doing homework

College Admissions

  • How to Write a College Essay
  • How to Complete a College Application
  • Use the Common App to Apply to College
  • College Application Essay Grammar Tips
  • See College Essay Examples

Tags: education , colleges , college applications , college admissions , students

2024 Best Colleges

how to write supplemental essays

Search for your perfect fit with the U.S. News rankings of colleges and universities.

College Admissions: Get a Step Ahead!

Sign up to receive the latest updates from U.S. News & World Report and our trusted partners and sponsors. By clicking submit, you are agreeing to our Terms and Conditions & Privacy Policy .

Ask an Alum: Making the Most Out of College

You May Also Like

How to decide if an mba is worth it.

Sarah Wood March 27, 2024

how to write supplemental essays

What to Wear to a Graduation

LaMont Jones, Jr. March 27, 2024

how to write supplemental essays

FAFSA Delays Alarm Families, Colleges

Sarah Wood March 25, 2024

how to write supplemental essays

Help Your Teen With the College Decision

Anayat Durrani March 25, 2024

how to write supplemental essays

Toward Semiconductor Gender Equity

Alexis McKittrick March 22, 2024

how to write supplemental essays

March Madness in the Classroom

Cole Claybourn March 21, 2024

how to write supplemental essays

20 Lower-Cost Online Private Colleges

Sarah Wood March 21, 2024

how to write supplemental essays

How to Choose a Microcredential

Sarah Wood March 20, 2024

how to write supplemental essays

Basic Components of an Online Course

Cole Claybourn March 19, 2024

how to write supplemental essays

Can You Double Minor in College?

Sarah Wood March 15, 2024

how to write supplemental essays

  • College Application

Your Definitive Guide to Supplemental College Application Essays

Including supplemental essay examples to inspire your own.

Supplemental College Application Essays

Supplemental college application essays come in a vast range of topics and sizes and are often the biggest challenge for students after getting through the grueling initial application stages. These essays are crucial in the admissions process, as they provide a more personal and detailed context of your candidacy. They allow you to speak about more specific topics than the more general and broadly-structured personal statement or Common App essay that you submit in your primary application.

In this blog, our college essay advisors go over the general categories and purposes for the various supplemental essays you may have to navigate, and offer examples of short, medium, and lengthy supplemental essays.

>> Want us to help you get accepted? Schedule a free strategy call here . <<

Article Contents 25 min read

Why are supplemental college application essays so important.

Supplemental essay prompts are usually provided directly by colleges as part of the secondary application, after you’ve submitted your primary application. Some colleges ask for multiple essays of varying lengths while others may ask for just one long-form supplemental essay. The specific prompts and word count requirements vary widely between schools. Every admissions committee creates their own supplemental requirements, including secondary essay prompts, to help them form a holistic picture of the applicant and judge how well-suited they would be for their school.

At the outset, it’s vital to understand that the term “supplemental” does not mean optional or second in importance. A supplement fills or makes up for an absence or imbalance, and that’s precisely the role these essays play in your application. Think of it a bit like adding colored paint to a black and white drawing. Your high school resume , transcripts, and test scores have given admissions committees an initial sense of what your candidacy. Supplemental essays, when correctly attuned to the personal statement, create a more nuanced portrait of your as an applicant.

Supplemental essays present a unique challenge as they have to be written in a short period of time, typically in 2 weeks or a month. Colleges send out secondary applications only after receiving your primary application and they provide strict submission deadlines. Additionally, unlike your personal statement, it’s not always possible to write supplemental college essays in advance since colleges frequently change their exact prompts from one year to the next and secondary essays need to always be tailored in response to specific prompts. However, that doesn’t mean you have to wait till you actually receive your specific prompts to start work on the essays.

A good strategy to tackle advance work on supplemental college essays is to spend 2 to 3 weeks writing rough drafts of the most common supplemental college essay types. Depending on the colleges you’re applying to, you can focus on specific prompts they’ve frequently asked in previous years. You can also check out college essay examples to get a better idea of what kind of content you need to come up with.

As you’re working on your primary application in the summer before senior year of high school or in September/October of your senior year, you can spend a few minutes each day brainstorming ideas for the previous year’s secondary essay prompts from colleges you’re applying to and creating a few rough drafts. For instance, most colleges ask for the “why us” essay, so you should definitely brainstorm your answer to that question in advance for all the colleges you’re applying to.

The advantage of following this strategy is that you will probably be wrapping up your primary application, including your personal statement or Common App essay, just as you begin work on your secondaries. Writing an effective personal statement requires a lot of brainstorming, journaling, introspection, free writing, rough drafts, and revisions. In the process, you’re sure to have spent plenty of time identifying key experiences, events, incidents, and people in your life, and also thinking about your own strengths, weaknesses, motivations, ambitions, and failures. Not all of this would have made it into your personal statement, and you can re-use a lot of this rough material as inspiration for your supplemental essay content. Moreover, you would have already honed your structuring and writing skills working on your personal statement, and the basic written communication skills required for the secondary essays are the same.

The goal of this advanced writing process is to have ideas and inspiration ready for when you actually receive your specific essay prompts. All your pre-writing and brainstorming will give you plenty of base material to work with, and rather than starting from scratch, you can spend the critical time before your supplemental deadline tailoring your essays to respond to the specific prompts and word counts. Remember, this is going to be a very busy period for you: while different colleges have different supplemental application dates and timelines, they generally occur within a similar period of time, typically between October and November for early decision programs and December and January for regular applications. So, you’re bound to have some overlap between the secondary essay deadlines for different colleges you’re applying to. You might end up having to work on secondary essays for multiple colleges within the same 1 month period. That’s why it’s all the more important that you complete your brainstorming in advance and create a few rough drafts of essays in response to the most commonly expected prompts.

Now, let’s discuss some general trends and categories frequently used for supplemental college application essays.

How to Tackle Different Supplemental Essays Prompts

While these categories cover the general focus of most supplemental essays, it’s important to note that schools change their secondary and supplemental essay prompts regularly, sometimes every year, and as a result, topics and categories evolve over time. Nonetheless, these are the most common categories both historically and currently.

Here are some helpful tips to keep in mind while working on any essay type:

The School-Specific Supplemental Essay

What is it?

As we mentioned previously, this is one of the most frequently used supplemental college prompts. These are typically between 250-350 words in length, although this varies widely from school to school. This is actually one of the easiest types of secondary college prompts to answer. Students don’t usually choose their undergraduate institutions randomly, rather, they make their choice after careful deliberation and research. To answer the school-specific essays, use that research! Schools want to know you’re engaged with their overall mission and clearly understand their place in the world, as well as what you specifically hope to get out of the campus experience aside from a Bachelor’s degree.

Sample essay prompts

Dartmouth : While arguing a Dartmouth-related case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 1818, Daniel Webster, Class of 1801, delivered this memorable line: \"It is, sir,\u2026a small college, and yet there are those who love it!\" As you seek admission to the Class of 2026, what aspects of the College's program, community, or campus environment attract your interest? (maximum 100 words) ","label":"Dartmouth","title":"Dartmouth"}]" code="tab1" template="BlogArticle">

How to write this type of essay

  • Provide specific details that tie to an overarching theme : It’s very important to set up the connection between your academic ambitions and what the college has to offer. Think deeply about what you hope to achieve and why you’ve identified this specific college. Back up your thesis with specific details about the college. It’s not enough to say – “I love XYZ college, and I’d love to pursue ABC major there.” The why is crucial. Remember, in this essay, colleges don’t want to see you simply discuss you and your journey; they want to know how that journey led you to them. Back up your claims with details about what attracts you to them, which could be anything from the campus and famous alumni, to the college’s unique values, or their innovative curriculum.
  • Go beyond the obvious : This type of essay is, crucially, asking you to do your research and go beyond the obvious. Don’t just talk about a school’s generally known reputation or what’s on their homepage. Instead, try to identify specific projects, academic opportunities, research avenues, extracurriculars, or faculty that interest you, and relate them to your goals.
  • Consider what you can do for them : Think not only about why this college is a great choice for you, but why you are a great choice for them. Why do you think you’ll fit into their campus? Are there college traditions you would be proud to continue? Can you contribute to any on-going projects or initiatives on campus? Demonstrate why they should choose you by using a concrete example.

The Extracurricular Essay

In this essay, you may be asked to talk about a particularly meaningful extracurricular activity. You might have already covered the basic details of this activity in the activities section of your application, but supplemental essays dealing with your extracurricular activities get into more overtly personal territory. Remember, the intent here is not to simply get a rehash of your activities section or transcript; rather, in these essays, schools want you to get into the deeper aspects and psychological nuances of your involvement in those activities.

It’s important to keep in mind that most prompts will not directly reference extracurriculars, but the most likely answer to these kinds of prompt will include a discussion of an extracurricular activity. For instance, some colleges ask you to elaborate on an activity where you demonstrated leadership or what helps you explore your creative side.

University of California: Every person has a creative side, and it can be expressed in many ways: problem solving, original and innovative thinking, and artistically, to name a few. Describe how you express your creative side. (maximum 350 words) ","label":"University of California 2","title":"University of California 2"}]" code="tab2" template="BlogArticle">

  • Pick the right activity : It’s important to pick the right activities to talk about in your supplemental essays. Research the school’s website and social media to see their mission, values, and what kind of qualities they value in their matriculants, and choose an activity that reflects these. While you obviously want to remain genuine in your essays, it does not mean you cannot be strategic. Choose an activity you know will resonate with the college you’re applying to. Another tip: If you’ve already discussed one activity in detail in your personal statement, avoid repeating that here. Additionally, don’t pick achievement-oriented activities just because you think this might impress the admissions committee. You’ve already communicated your achievements in the activities section – in this essay, you have a chance to share another side of your personality and show the admissions committee more of what makes you unique. So, you can either focus on activities you are passionate about but haven’t mentioned elsewhere, such as cooking, woodworking, non-competitive chess playing, and so on. Or pick a compelling angle for activities you’ve already mentioned. For instance, if you’ve noted being a musician in your application elsewhere, this essay would be an opportunity to discuss why and how it’s been meaningful in your life, and potentially the lives of others.
  • Do not be repetitive : Think of the personal circumstances, feelings, failures, and learnings surrounding your extracurriculars and write an essay that elaborates on one of these aspects. For example, even if you do end up picking your top activity from your primary application to write about, make sure the essay you write covers a unique aspect of your experience that you haven’t discussed elsewhere in your application before. Continuing our previous example, don’t just cover the obvious aspects of musical performance, but get into the psychological impact of performing, and of what specific types or music have impacted you through immersive practice or playing. 

Check out this infographic:

This type of essay is often the hardest for students to navigate, and also comes with the longest minimum word count requirement, often 500 or more words. If you’ve had your head down in the grind of coursework and achievement-oriented activities for most of your time in high school, odds are, you haven’t had a lot of time to engage in community service or collective projects outside of school. In a sense, this is a supplemental essay that requires some advanced planning: volunteer or community service work is a widely-understood key to getting admitted to competitive universities, so you will need something to refer to in this regard. Moreover, in this essay more than any other, colleges want to see an account of meaningful experience rather than a mere description of activities performed. They’re looking for long-term involvement, thoughtful self-reflection, and a clear personal growth journey. It’s a lot to ask from a high school student writing a 500 word essay!

However, part of the brilliance of this type of essay is its flexibility. You don’t need to have built a new community center with your bare hands to have impacted your community. Maybe you’ve participated in a group project that benefitted other students, or maybe you took part in planning a school event. Even a part-time job likely had some impact on your neighbors and fellow citizens. You could also discuss “informal” activities, such as helping your elderly neighbor with her grocery shopping, helping your family with a cultural project, your background as a member of a minority group, and so on. Think creatively about the ways you’ve acted in the world, and from that, determine how those actions have impacted others.

MIT : At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world\u2019s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200\u2013250 words) ","label":"MIT","title":"MIT"}]" code="tab3" template="BlogArticle">

  • Find what makes you unique : If you’re having trouble identifying which communities you’ve been a part of, or which part of your identity to focus on, try the “what makes me unique?” angle. This is definitely something you would have brainstormed for your personal statement, so bring those notes out! We are all a part of various communities, whether we realize it or not, and we all contribute to them in our own unique way. You might have a unique skill or talent, or maybe it’s a personal quality that helped you deal with an issue in the community. Alternatively, maybe your background and identity are a key part of your life’s journey, and you have many experiences related to that. There’s no “wrong” community you could discuss, whether it’s a Dungeons and Dragons club you created with your friends, the ethnic community you’re a part of, or the neighborhood where you grew up. The key is to identify what makes you unique.
  • Focus on your growth journey: The easiest way to discuss community engagement in a “meaningful” way is to focus on how you, individually, found growth and learning through your participation in a larger community, and how you simultaneously impacted them. No matter what the community is, the growth narrative is important. There has to be a clear two-way impact that demonstrates how your engagement and contributions affected those around you.

Create Your Own Class Essay

One of the more creative type of essays, these prompts ask students to come up with their own class, reimagine a whole department, conceptualize their ideal lecture series, and so on. This essay is your chance to show your creative and out-of-the-box thinking, while also expanding upon your academic interests and sharing your passions with the admissions committee. This essay is essentially a more creative alternative to the “why this major” essay.

Boston College : Boston College strives to provide an undergraduate learning experience emphasizing the liberal arts, quality teaching, personal formation, and engagement of critical issues. If you had the opportunity to create your own college course, what enduring question or contemporary problem would you address and why. (maximum 400 words) ","label":"Boston College","title":"Boston College"}]" code="tab4" template="BlogArticle">

  • Get creative : You can really use this essay topic to stand out from the crowd. Come up with a creative answer and expand upon it with fun, yet thoughtful details that show your intellectual curiosity and unique perspective on the world.
  • Align your answer with the college : Remember, you’re being asked to come up with a course for the specific college you’re applying to. What’s their mission? What kind of curriculum do they have? What type of learning do they value? Find out the answer to these questions and incorporate these details in your essay. For example, if the college you’re applying to values an interdisciplinary learning environment, try to come up with a course that incorporates both science and humanities concepts.
  • Use your experience : This prompt is also the school’s way to learn more about your personal goals and experiences. Try to ground your motivation for creating this course in your own life. For example, if you want to create a curriculum that covers the influence of fashion on punk rock culture, try to connect it to your own interests or skills, such as a sewing hobby or your love of underground culture.

The Major or Field of Study Essay

This can be a tricky essay type to handle for college students who are still undecided about their major, which is very natural for high school students. Luckily, not all colleges ask for this type of essay. You can expect this essay mostly from colleges focused on a specific stream of study, who want to know why you’re attracted to that field. Some elite universities, like Ivy League schools , also ask this question because they want to see the applicants’ long-term academic ambitions and how well these fit in with their own mission.

Interested in learning more about how to gain acceptance to an Ivy League School? Check out this video!

Sample essay prompt

MIT: Pick what field of study at MIT appeals to you the most right now, and tell us more about why this field of study appeals to you. (maximum 100 words) ","label":"MIT","title":"MIT"}]" code="tab5" template="BlogArticle">

  • Include personal as well as college-specific details : Similar to the “why us” essay, you need to refer to specific details of the college program, faculty, academic curriculum, research opportunities, and campus life. Connect these details with your own experiences and passions and explain why this college or program aligns with your academic or professional interests. Think about key formative events and personal motivators for your interest. For example, if you’re applying to a top science, technology, engineering, or medicine (STEM) college such as MIT, you obviously have a specific passion for one of these subjects. While you can and should expand on your personal ambitions, don’t forget to explain why MIT is the best option to help you achieve them.
  • Focus on the long-term : In a way, this type of essay is analogous to the “where do you see yourself in 5 years?” interview question. If you do have a clear plan of how you see your future academic and professional life developing, this essay is where you share it. However, you need to make sure you don’t just spin a beautiful story that isn’t based in reality. Your ambitions should be supported by thorough research, real-world industry knowledge, and a careful consideration of your own strengths and weaknesses. Additionally, don’t just include grand ambitions for the sake of sounding impressive – back them up with personal motivations, or better yet, include concrete, achievable goals. For instance, if you’re applying to the best undergrad business schools , your supplemental essay shouldn’t simply say “I want to be youngest CEO in the USA” or “I want to feature in a 30 under 30 article” – instead, it should focus on specific business interests and goals, for example – “I want to use my leadership skills, business training, and community engagement experience to eventually pay it forward by expanding the economic and business opportunities in my own community.”

The Quirky Essay

This type of essay is meant to catch you off-guard or ask you to write about something not often discussed in the context of admissions. These essays are often among the shortest in terms of length, and generally hope to evince some humor and self-awareness from the writers. Topics for these essays include odd talents, strange experiences, or hyper-specific situational questions like what superpower you’d choose if given the chance. They can also be quite general: Princeton, for instance, includes a prompt asking, simply, “what brings you joy?”.

Princeton: What brings you joy? (maximum 50 words) ","label":"Princeton","title":"Princeton"}]" code="tab6" template="BlogArticle">

  • Keep the tone light : When responding to such prompts, don’t get too caught up in trying to be ultra-intellectual, serious, or different from the crowd. Be creative, have fun, and try and show a lighter side of your personality to the admissions committee. Match the tone of the question and don’t overthink this one too much!
  • Be genuine : The tricky part about responding to these random and creative prompts is to make your answer humorous while also being as honest and genuine as possible. Sincerity is key – make sure you don’t pick an answer you think sounds funny, or impressive, but that isn’t strictly true and backed up by the rest of your application. For instance, if asked “what kind of bird are you”, if you respond with something like “eagle” and talk generically about your leadership qualities without any specific details, admissions committees will be able to tell you aren’t being genuine. You can give any answer you like here! The important thing is to justify it with real aspects of your personality that add some interesting color to your application.

Now, let’s look at how to structure essays depending on the length. We’ll also go over an example for each essay type. 

Short Supplemental Essay (250 Words or Fewer) Examples

According to our college admissions consulting experts, these can be quite dangerous for some students, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that just because an essay has a short word count, you don’t need to spend much time on it. This can actually be one of the toughest types of essays, since you have very limited space in which to capture the admission committee’s attention and make your point. When you start writing, you might find that by the time you’ve set up your premise, you’re already done with 80% of the available word count! The key here is to include crisp, well-structured sentences to directly address the question being asked. There’s not really any space for a “hook” here, such as a quote, story, or layered personal experience. Only include a story or a personal experience if the question explicitly asks you too. In just 250 words or less, you won’t be able to describe too complex an event or activity, so just cut straight to the point.

Recommended Structure

  • Direct opening sentence : Your first sentence should clearly address the essay prompt and set up the topic. Don’t worry about this being a boring or straightforward strategy – that’s what you need here!
  • Specific details to support the topic : Add personal details and self-reflections suitable for the prompt to support your opening sentence. Remember, every word is crucial here so leave out any unnecessary facts and descriptions – stick to what’s relevant. Try and focus on a single experience, reflection, opinion, or topic, as you really won’t be able to do justice to any more. At the same time, make sure you don’t sacrifice flow to brevity. Each sentence should connect smoothly to the next, setting up a logical pathway from your opening thesis to your conclusion.
  • Conclusion : Add the key takeaway or reflection and tie it back to the prompt.

To see how a short essay should be structured, let’s take a look at this prompt from Brandeis :

“Justice Brandeis once said, ‘If we would guide by the light of reason, we must let our minds be bold.’ Tell us about something bold that you’ve recently done.”

Here’s a sample answer:

Although painting isn't itself an especially wild or bold activity, showing my art for the first time felt very bold indeed. As someone with a motor impairment, I've never been able to draw well, and found art classes throughout elementary school incredibly frustrating and embarrassing. However, discovering the wide and extremely varied world of abstract art a few years ago, I was finally bitten by the art bug, and began experimenting with acrylic paint. At first, I just learned how to operate the varying dilutions and textures of paint, but over time I became obsessed with the idea of color gradients and shading, and how the paint itself can do a lot of work that doesn't depend on a completely steady hand. I amassed a small stack of canvasses, and this past year asked around at the two art galleries in town to see if anyone was interested in putting some of my pieces up. Fortunately, and to my surprise, one independent gallery offered to show my entire collected work for a month. Not only did I receive a tonne of really positive and encouraging messages from visitors to the gallery, but I even sold 3 pieces! I was honestly terrified at every step of the way, but that first sale was about the most confidence-building event I've ever experienced. It felt bold, but also made me hungry to continue making art and sharing it with others. (237 words) 

Medium Supplemental Essay (250-500 Words) Examples

Shorter than your personal statement, longer than a short answer, these essays require you to balance a logical flow with a crisp central narrative.

While the basic structure of this essay can be similar to the long-form 650 word essay, you’ll need to make a few adjustments to suit the shorter length.

  • Opening paragraph : You can choose to add an “anchor experience” for these essays, or you can write it in a more direct style, responding to the prompt and getting straight to the point. It depends on what you want to say and how you want to say it. For example, if your essay is focused on personal experiences, then an evocatively described personal experience could be a great hook. However, if the prompt asks you to provide your opinion about a specific issue or creatively imagine a specific scenario, then getting right to the point is a better idea.
  • Main body : Here, you describe your central thesis and add further details to support it. You have to be very efficient with your choice of experiences and even with the details of any experience you chose to include. Each sentence should be in service of the essay prompt. Review this section with the questions “Is this related to the essay prompt? Does this help to answer the question being asked?”.
  • Conclusion : The key to an efficient, memorable conclusion of a medium length supplemental essay is economy of words. In a single sentence, you should address the question being asked and also communicate your own central thesis, with a focus on what makes you special. Crafting this conclusion will take you time! First, identify the points you want to make, and then figure out a way to compress them into as few words as possible, without sacrificing clarity.

Let’s check out an example of this type of essay.

University of California: Describe the most significant challenge you have faced and the steps you have taken to overcome this challenge. How has this challenge affected your academic achievement? (maximum 350 words)

Growing up as the precocious daughter of hard-working immigrant parents, academic excellence and achievements were always the two key cornerstones of my life. My parents inculcated the importance of doing well in school in me from a young age. After all, it was education that had enabled my parents to escape the poverty and trauma of their homeland and find refuge in this country. With a natural penchant for academics and a love for learning, I never had cause to question this life-long commitment – not until junior year of high school.

That was the year when my parents’ restaurant business took a huge hit, and from a regular middle-class American immigrant success story, we were brought to the brink of bleak poverty. It was a shock to our family that took us through some of the toughest times I’ve ever experienced. We all had to make sacrifices, and one of the most profound changes I experienced in that period was a total shift in my priorities, as I had to work at my parents’ restaurant every day after school to help keep the business afloat. From being a grade-A student, I became a struggling straggler who could barely keep up with tests and exams, much less take on extra credit projects. At one point, I even considered quitting school! The worst part was watching the pain in my parents’ eyes, knowing they couldn’t provide the ideal home environment they had envisioned for me, which they themselves had never received.

However, looking back, I consider that period one of the most significant learning experiences of my life. It tested my commitment to my academic interests, which had previously always been so easy to pursue, and I came through with a system that allowed me to contribute at home and also excel at school. It made me further appreciate the struggles my parents had gone through as immigrants juggling family, work, education, and a major cultural adjustment. And finally, it made me appreciate what a gift and privilege education truly is, and vow never to take it for granted. (347 words)

Want to know a surprising fact? You might actually find the long-form supplemental essays easier to write than their shorter counterparts! These essays are typically 500 to 650 words long, which means you have plenty of space to build a coherent narrative, expand on your thesis, and support it with relevant details. When writing a longer supplemental essay, you can actually re-use many of the same strategies you employed for your Common App essay or personal statement. The basic structure (which we’ll explain in a moment) will be similar, and you can even recycle some of your rejected personal statement ideas to write an exemplary supplemental essay.

You can go for the commonly used 3 to 5 paragraph essay structure here. Include the following:

  • Introduction : For longer essays, it’s critical to have a strong opening that hooks the reader and draws them into your narrative immediately. Admissions committees are reading thousands of essays, so you want to shake them out of their “reading fatigue” by capturing their attention with story, personal experience, unique quote, etc. In this paragraph, you should also clearly set up the central thesis of your essay. Critically for supplemental essays, ensure that your central thesis directly addresses or answers the prompt. Tie the “hook” of your opening paragraph in with this central thesis.
  • Body paragraphs 1/2/3 : While the 5-paragraph structure is the most commonly used essay format for long-form essays, you can include more or fewer, as per the requirements of your specific narrative. Remember to be selective when you choose the experiences to support your thesis. In these paragraphs, you build on the central narrative you set up in introduction, supported with your self-reflections and personal examples. Include only the necessary details that help to build the central theme of the essay. Your essay should be written in a natural, direct style, but you can try and include evocative details and personal reflections to help communicate your point.
  • Conclusion : As with all other supplemental essays, the conclusion is critical. You must include a key takeaway, learning, or crisp one-liner to sum up your answer to the question being asked.

Harvard : An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science, or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you. (maximum 650 words)

“It is the sandbox of men who care not where they are going; they merely want to know where everyone else has been.”

It’s a hot summer’s day, I’m red-faced, sweaty, and out-of-breath, hunched over a pile of earth, delicately brushing away tiny amounts of ancient mud, and John Bishop’s words suddenly pop into my mind. Our project director, Professor Saltzman, had led a brief session that morning concluding with this memorable quote, and it stayed with me for one clear reason: I felt it perfectly encapsulated my own journey, from a guy who cared too much about where he was going, to someone who now primarily cared about the business of these long, long, dead ancient women and their kitchen tools. The irony of the realization made me chuckle a little, disturbing the earth around the little kitchen mound I was excavating, and then I went back to my gentle brushing, once again fully absorbed.

It was simply not a picture of myself I could have believed merely months prior. From a very young age, I had a vision of myself as a lawyer. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of my father and grandfather, carving an illustrious career that would begin, like theirs, at Harvard, and end with me on the Supreme Court. This dream hit a minor snag when, due to a medical absence is junior year, I missed my AP History exam. Mr. Griffin, my history teacher, suggested that I complete a summer archeology program he was affiliated with to make up the credit. And that was how this “minor snag” actually ended up diverting my passions, interests, and ambitions away from law and firmly into the field of archeology.

It wasn’t exactly love at first sight. I was resistant to what I perceived was a distraction from my true interest, the practice of law – I thought then I’d much rather be shadowing my father in a cushy air conditioned office than sweating it out in a desert, digging for broken bits of ancient pottery. But within a couple of days, I found to my surprise that I loved every second of it. The director of the program, Professor Saltzman, liked to walk us through our findings, however minor, at the end of each day. For the benefit of the younger students present, he often delivered lectures expanding upon the critical contextual history of that period. I was amazed at how these small, faded pieces of pottery could tell us so much about the socio-cultural norms of 8000 years ago; from which countries they traded with to what they ate, from their dominant gender roles to the kinds of currency they used.

Most amazing of all, at least to me, was how archeology could actually help envision the lived reality of these people from long ago. Our key findings in that dig were the kitchen utensils of a woman we nicknamed “Leda”, a widowed fisherwoman with two children. Every day, we would discover a new piece of evidence and spend hours classifying, dissecting, and contextualizing it to discover all it could tell us about how Leda lived her life. I realized that all the physical discomforts were worth the thrill of bringing these tiny pieces of history back to life.

In those 4 weeks, I experienced a kind of wonder, and joy in learning, and intrinsically motivated intellectual curiosity, that I had never experienced before in my life. With law, I was primarily attracted to all the perceived prestige and privileges that accrued to the profession; with archeology, the subject matter itself drew me onwards to push past my prejudices and discomforts. Today, I hope to continue to pursue my passion for archeology by continuing my work under Professor Saltzman as an undergraduate at Harvard, and hopefully discover the secret lives of many more Ledas in the future. (643)

The personal statement is a more general essay with a broader scope, typically submitted as part of your primary application, whereas supplemental essays respond to specific prompts and are submitted with your secondary application directly to each school. You only need to write one personal statement (such as the Common App essay) which goes out to all your colleges, and it should therefore never include any college-specific details. On the other hand, each college asks for their own set of supplemental essays, and they may often ask you to expand upon your interest in the specific college, program, or major you are applying to. A personal statement is a single long-form essay of 650 words or more, whereas colleges can ask for multiple supplemental essays that can range in length from 35 to 650 words.

The most commonly used supplemental college essay prompts are:

  • The “why us” essay that asks you to discuss why you want go to a specific college
  • The extracurricular essay that asks you to discuss your activities, talents, or skills
  • The community essay that asks you to expand upon your identity, diversity, community engagement, and so on
  • The “why this major” essay that asks you to discuss your specific academic interests
  • The “create a class” essay that asks you to creatively design a major or come up with your own class
  • The “quirky” essay that can include creative, zany, out-of-the-box, informal prompts

Supplemental college essays can range in length from 35 words to 650 words. Every college has their own prompts and requirements, so you should check the admissions website of your colleges to learn more.

The “why this school” college essay is one of the most common supplemental college essay types. It’s very important to be college-specific in this essay, and to include details of your special interest in the concerned college supported by your knowledge of their unique offerings. You will have to do some research on the college so you can make your essay as specific and unique as possible.

Yes, supplemental essays are a critical part of your application. They help to personalize and flesh out your application, building on your achievements, transcripts, and scores, to show the admissions committee a well-rounded, unique individual. Crucially, supplemental essays are a chance for you to show how well your thinking and experiences align with the college’s missions and values and why you would be an excellent candidate for their program.

A word count of 250 words or less can pose a significant challenge for students. To write an effective short answer, you need to be concise and direct, addressing the question asked while building a logical flow from introduction to conclusion. There’s no space in such questions for fancy opening hooks and elaborate narratives – just stick to the relevant experiences and reflections and always connect back to the prompt itself.

It depends on the topic! It’s not a good idea to copy paste the essay content for college-specific prompts such as “why us” or “why this major”, where the expectation is that you will talk in detail about the unique features of that college which attract you. However, for more generic topics like “what inspires you” or “how did you serve your community”, you can certainly re-use topics and themes between essays. Just make sure you edit each essay to meet the specific word count and include college specific details wherever possible. Additionally, you should always read and understand the prompt thoroughly before drafting your essay. Respond to the spirit as well as the letter of the prompts in your opening and concluding sentences, even if you’ve re-used most of the main body content from another similar essay.

Supplemental college essays certainly afford you greater room to be creative and informal than your personal statement. However, the extent to which this style of writing would be appropriate depends on the prompts. The short answer, zany, creative prompts, are the perfect place to show a lighter side of your personality and introduce a little humor in your application. But an essay about significant obstacles you’re overcome, or your long-term academic goals, might not be an ideal place to get overtly casual and humorous.

You will receive your secondary application directly from the college after you submit your primary application. The deadline to complete secondary applications varies from college to college. Most colleges ask you to submit your completed supplemental application, including essays, within 2 weeks or a month of receiving the prompts. This isn’t a lot of time, especially considering most colleges will be sending out secondary applications in the same rough time period and you’ll have to work on multiple applications at once. However, you can prepare in advance for your supplemental essays by brainstorming ideas and writing rough drafts in response to previous years’ prompts.

Every college has their own unique secondary application requirements. You should check the admissions websites of your colleges to learn more about their specific requirements. Some colleges may ask for just a single 650-word essay, while others may provide 5 or 6 prompts of varying lengths. Generally speaking, most colleges don’t ask for more than 1 or 2 long supplemental essays (500+ words), along with 2 or 3 shorter essays.

Want more free tips? Subscribe to our channels for more free and useful content!

Apple Podcasts

Like our blog? Write for us ! >>

Have a question ask our admissions experts below and we'll answer your questions.

Can extracurricular activities contain sth like assisting family ,and socal activities that doesn't encounter certificate?

BeMo Academic Consulting

Hello Phoebe! Thanks for your question. Yes, you can definitely consider these extracurriculars, depending on the activity you did. For example, if you assisted a family member after an illness or organized social activities like fund raisers.

Get Started Now

Talk to one of our admissions experts

Our site uses cookies. By using our website, you agree with our cookie policy .

FREE Training Webinar:

How to make your college applications stand out, (and avoid the top 5 mistakes that get most rejected).

Time Sensitive. Limited Spots Available:

We guarantee you'll get into your dream college or university or you don't pay.

Swipe up to see a great offer!

how to write supplemental essays

how to write supplemental essays

Supplemental Essays Guide: How to Write, Tips & Examples

Student writing in on paper

Reviewed by:

Former Admissions Committee Member, Columbia University

Reviewed: 9/11/23

Writing stand-out supplemental essays may be your ticket into your dream school. Follow along for our complete guide on writing perfect supplemental essays for college.

A student writing a supplemental essay

If you’re working on supplemental essays, you’ve already spent countless hours perfecting your application. However, even the perfect application must be followed by stellar supplementals to get you into your dream school. That’s right, supplementals are a highly important piece of the application process - so how can you perfect yours? 

In this complete guide, we’ll cover everything you need to know about writing excellent supplemental essays, including examples from well-written essays , tips for common essay prompts, and each possible length. To top it all off, we’ve also included answers to the most frequently asked questions about writing stand-out supplemental essays.

Let’s get started!

What are Supplemental Essays? 

Supplemental essays are additional writing samples that you submit along with the rest of your college application. Many high-ranking schools ask for these essays, as they are intended to be more specific than your personal statement. It’s a chance for you to further demonstrate why you are a good fit for the school you’re applying to.

How Important are Supplemental Essays?

Two students talking

In short, supplemental essays are an extremely valuable part of your application. Your application allows schools to see the base of your work ethic through numbers (grades, extracurriculars, awards, and more), but it doesn’t give any indication of your personality. 

These essays are your first opportunity to give your university an idea of who you are and what you are passionate about. 

Excellent essays can tip the scales in your favor, especially for highly competitive schools where most candidates have excellent grades. An in-depth, well-written essay can set your application apart from others.

What are Colleges Looking For in Supplemental Essays? 

In supplemental essays, colleges look for honesty, specificity, and the ability to answer the prompt accurately and succinctly. We will look at several common prompts that colleges often use: 

  • “Why This Major?”
  • Community/diversity
  • Extracurricular

Using these prompts helps college admissions get a better idea of who you are as an applicant.

How to Write Different Supplemental Essay Prompts

Every college has a unique set of prompts they distribute to their applicants each year. However, most prompts follow core formats. Here are some of the most common types of supplemental essays and how to write them.

The “Why Us?” Essay

The “Why Us?” or "Why This School?” essay is one of the most common prompts in circulation. Top schools such as Brown, Columbia, and Cornell have all been known to ask applicants to answer this prompt as part of their application. So, how do you write the “Why Us?” essay? Let’s talk about it. 

When a college asks you why you want to go there, the admissions committee wants to know a few things:

  • The specific things about this school that appeal to you (have you done your research?)
  • How you will contribute to this school’s college life
  • How attending this school will help you achieve short and long-term goals

With this prompt, avoid listing reasons you want to go to the school unless you are directly instructed to do so. This is an opportunity to show the admissions committee how much their school matters to you, what programs and courses most interest you, and how the school will help you develop your passion and achieve your goals. 

You should do thorough research on the school and consider what sets it apart from other colleges on your list . Avoid providing general reasons that could be said about any other college. 

Writing this essay is your chance to showcase why you are passionate about attending this specific school and why it matters to you. Finally, conclude your essay by explaining how and why attending this school will help your long-term goals. 

‍ “Why Us?” Essay Sample from Columbia University:

“Computer science is at the core of my academic passions and my life ambitions. What I value in life is being around brilliant technologists. At Columbia, I have worked with and befriended the most driven and gifted programmers I’ve ever met. In January, I formed a team with three Columbia freshmen for MIT’s annual strategy-game-playing artificial intelligence competition. Ben, Ryan, Koh and I spent the month reviewing matches, debating approaches and tweaking our models. More than once we coded through the night. Their caliber was clear in the subtle insights that their multi-disciplinary backgrounds gave them and they gave me something to aspire to.
I have many interests that lie outside of my intended major but that I want to continue to pursue, and Columbia provides an environment for those diverse passions. Recently, while at a Columbia math club meeting with Ben, I ran into a political science major, Mathieu. He was elated to point out the insights that a love of math granted him in his courses and his conviction encouraged me to explore the peculiar intersection of the two fields.
I love teachers who love to teach. At Columbia, I’ve seen faculty who have a love for what they do and who care about students. While touring, I sat in on a quantum mechanics lecture. Professor Norman Christ strode into the room at eight on-the-dot and jumped into a discussion of WKB complex value approximation. For three straight hours, he guided us through the intricate world of QM without any notes. His enthusiasm brightened that drizzling Monday morning. That I could follow the lecture at all is a testament to his lucid explanations and extraordinary knowledge. When I came to him with questions afterward, he helped me truly understand a topic that initially felt years out of reach.”

Why this is a successful essay: In this essay , the writer starts by talking about their major and how Columbia provides an excellent program. They continue to add how they could positively impact Columbia if accepted. Take note of how the writer lists their key topic at the beginning of each paragraph and then connects Columbia to each topic. 

This student also mentioned that they enjoyed a Columbia professor's lecture, which is an excellent way of showing their deep interest in the school. Showing in your essay that you are passionate about the program and that you’ve done your research can be a point in your favor. 

The “Why This Major?” Essay

Although this prompt is very similar to the “Why Us?” essay, your answer should focus entirely on why you’re passionate about your degree. Think of this essay as an opportunity to tell the story of how you developed your passion. Try creating a timeline before you start writing to help organize your ideas. It should look something like this:

1. The first time I thought about pursuing this major was: __________________                              

2. I started to get more serious about pursuing this passion when:___________________

3. I’m now applying to this program so that in the future, I can: ___________________

Creating a timeline can help you easily convey how important your major is to you and the journey you’ve taken to build upon your passion. 

You can also include, if it applies, what specific things about your school’s program that drew you to your current selection. However, the main focus of this essay should be how you developed your passion for the subject and what you want to do in this field later on.

"Why This Major" Essay Sample from Yale:

“Literature and anthropology are telescopes into the past; philosophy, a prism into the mind. I want to ask the hard questions: Do I have free will? Is meaning lost in translation? Is there eternal truth? What is an “I”? Am I my mind, body or something more? Literature is an empathetic account of the past, anthropology a scientific documentation of human lives. I want to find commonality in lives separated by time and space, find meaning within them, partake in the collective memory of humanity, and interrogate what it means to be human.”

Why this essay works: 

In this short essay example from a Literature and Anthropology student from Yale, the student gets straight to the point. Demonstrating the questions they have that they hope to answer throughout their education is an excellent way to show that you’ve given your major a lot of thought. 

They’ve also captured the true essence of their major in the last sentence by stating they want to “partake in the collective memory of humanity” and “interrogate what it means to be human.” Whatever major you choose, write honestly about what calls you to the subject and demonstrate that you have a thorough understanding of the genre of material you’ll be studying. 

The Adversity Essay

As one of the most challenging essay prompts, the adversity essay presents students with the uncomfortable task of recalling a difficult life experience and explaining how they overcame it. 

For some, choosing an instance of adversity can be the most challenging part of this prompt. Keep in mind that adversity looks different to everyone. Your story doesn’t have to be overly tragic to write a good adversity essay; you simply need to approach your issue from a place of growth. 

One of the main mistakes applicants make when writing the adversity essay is thinking that their adversity story needs to be overly tragic or complex. Instead of focusing on the actual adversity, your essay should mainly focus on the steps you took to overcome the adversity and learn valuable lessons moving forward. 

If a school asks you to write an adversity essay, the admissions committee wants to know how you handle a challenge. If you buckle under pressure, you may not be able to handle the intensity of a heavy workload. 

Therefore, schools want to know that you are capable of facing challenges head-on and have the capacity to learn from your mistakes. 

Adversity Essay Sample from Harvard University:

“When I was a freshman in high school, I didn't care about school or my education. I couldn't see a future where it mattered whether I knew how to say 'how are you' in Spanish or how to use the Pythagorean theorem. Because I couldn't see the point of these classes, I found myself disconnected from the high school experience as a whole, which resulted in low grades. My parents expressed their disappointment in me, but I still couldn't bring myself to care; I was feeling disconnected from my family, too.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I was depressed. I stopped spending time with my friends and stopped enjoying the things I used to enjoy. I was feeling hopeless. How could I get through three and a half more years of high school if I couldn't even get through a semester? I couldn't stand the thought of feeling this way for so long – at least it felt so long at the time.
After a few failed tests, one of my teachers approached me after class one day. She said she also noticed a difference in my demeanor in the last few weeks and asked if I was okay. At that moment, I realized that no one had asked me that in a long time. I didn't feel okay, so I told her that. She asked me what was wrong, and I told her that I was feeling disconnected from school and classes and just about everything at that point.
My teacher suggested I visit my guidance counselor. So the next day, during study hall, I got a pass to visit with my guidance counselor and told her I was feeling disconnected from classes and school. She asked me what my interests were and suggested that I take an elective like art or music or a vocational tech class like culinary arts or computer coding. I told her that I wasn't sure what I was interested in at this point and she told me to take a couple of classes to see what I like. At her persistence, I signed up for art and computer coding.
It turns out art was not my thing. But it also turns out that computer coding is my thing, and I am not sure I would have realized that had I not gone to see my guidance counselor at my teacher's recommendation. After taking computer coding and other similar classes, I had something to look forward to during school. So even when I still dreaded taking Spanish and Geometry, I knew I could look forward to an enjoyable class later in the day. Having something to look forward to really helped me raise my grades because I started caring about my future and the possibility of applying for college to study computer science.
The best thing that I took away from this experience is that I can't always control what happens to me, especially as a minor, but I can control how I handle things. In full transparency: there were still bad days and bad grades, but by taking action and adding a couple of classes into my schedule that I felt passionate about, I started feeling connected to school again. From there, my overall experience with school – and life in general – improved 100%."

Why this is a good essay: In this essay , the applicant focuses on personal development. They begin by addressing their low grades and poor mental health at a younger age and how the experience affected them. The main focus of the essay, however, is how they found the motivation to get back on track and improve their grades. 

The student has taken this essay opportunity to not only explain the poor grades that Harvard will see from freshman year but has also proven that they have the ability to pull through when times get tough. Remember, the adversity essay should focus mainly on how you’ve learned and grown from a negative experience rather than focusing on the experience itself. 

Community/Diversity Essay

Essay prompts that ask about your experiences in your community help colleges to better understand your unique perspective. Many schools aim to cultivate a diverse environment to enrich the student experience and make sure students from all different backgrounds feel welcome on campus. 

Diversity can relate to your ethnicity, culture, birthplace, health, socioeconomic status, interests, talents, values, and many other things. There is no “correct experience” when it comes to choosing a topic here. In this essay, you have the opportunity to celebrate your unique perspective.

Think about experiences that are important to your identity. For example, you could write about your hometown, a family tradition, a community event, a generational story, or whatever feels most authentic to you. 

Keep this essay authentic; avoid fabricating a story or using someone else's experience. This story needs to come completely from you and let your school get some more information on who you are.

Community/Diversity Essay Sample from Duke University:

“The pitter patter of droplets, the sweet smell that permeates throughout the air, the dark grey clouds that fill the sky, shielding me from the otherwise intense gaze of the sun, create a landscape unparalleled by any natural beauty. I have gazed upon the towering cliffs of Yosemite, stood next to Niagara Falls as the water roars, succumbing to the power of gravity, and seen the beaches of Mexico basked in moonlight, yet none of these wonders compares to the simple beauty of an Arizona rainstorm. To me, our rain represents more than humidity and darkness; its rarity gives it beauty. The uncertainty of when the next day of rain will come compels me to slow down, and enjoy the moment.
Out of the three realms of time; past, present, and future, the present is the only one we can experience, and I take advantage of every moment I have. When I pause my running to enjoy a sunset that dazzles the sky with brilliant colors of purple and orange, when I touch my brush to a canvas and focus on my movements in the present, when I drive home after a long day of improving our robot, and decide to drive around my neighborhood to finish “Garota de Ipanema”, which just popped up from my playlist of 700 songs, I am taking advantage of the moment.
So next time it rains, step outside. Close your eyes. Hear the symphony of millions of water droplets. And enjoy the moment.”

Why this is a successful essay: This essay is an excellent example of pulling a unique experience from your life and expressing its importance. The applicant tells a compelling story about their unique perspective on rain in Arizona and does an excellent job of expressing how special the seemingly mundane event is to them. 

The language used here is visually descriptive, which makes the reader feel as if we are experiencing the event with the writer. This is an excellent way to get the admissions committee to feel connected to your story and get a better understanding of who you are and what you enjoy doing in life. 

The Extracurricular Essay

Many schools are interested in how you spend your time outside of the classroom. Extracurricular essays are quite common as supplemental essays, although students often struggle with how to make an entire essay out of their extracurricular activities. That’s why it’s important to brainstorm and create a story.

Think of a problem that arose while you were participating in one of your extracurricular activities, such as:

  • Your sports team lost an important player
  • You were injured during a dance recital
  • Your music group needed funding 
  • Your local soup kitchen was at risk of being shut down, etc.

The problem you choose can be big or small as long as it lends itself to a story. Think about the problem and how you took steps to solve it with your team or other members of your community. 

Use your extracurricular essay to show how your passion and motivation extend beyond the classroom. You can choose any activity to write about, as long as it was not during regular school hours or related to a specific course. 

Extracurricular Essay Sample from Yale:

“ Haunted romanticism, ravaged gaze, desperation bordering on lunacy, Saturn Devouring His Son first caught my attention as a bored nine-year-old wandering around a museum, and once again as a high-school student, after catching a glimpse of it in a textbook. 
Because after looking at angelic frescos after more Church frescos, I could not stop myself from flipping back to the tiny printing of this unholy piece. I sought to discover the story behind it—what caused this artist to create something so raw and naked, in the age of staid royal family portraits?
I became immersed in unraveling each bit of the story, how Goya had long transitioned from a royal painter, to a harsh, but veiled critic of society, the desolation that occurred during the French occupation of Spain, the corruption of Charles IV— who was really only a puppet ruler to Godoy. I learned how kingdoms rose and fell—and rose again, how art is unafraid to capture the seditious attitudes of the common people, and how it has endured to teach us of past mistakes.
I fell in love with dissecting the messages from the past, and discovering how we still have not listened to them.”

Why this essay is successful: 

The prompt for this Yale extracurricular essay was “Write about something that you love to do,” and the writer has certainly delivered. Here, the writer goes into detail about why they enjoy going to art museums outside of school. They’ve kept their essay focused on the meanings behind the paintings, giving the reader a deeper understanding of not only what fascinates them - but why it does.

The real key to an extracurricular essay is showing your passions outside of school. There is no right answer; you should simply focus on what interests you and explain why. Try to make the reader feel as if they are there with you. Think about the smells, the sights, and the feelings that surround your extracurricular interest and include them in your essay. 

College Supplemental Essay Length 

how to write supplemental essays

All of the essay types above come in different lengths. Some essays will ask only 150 words or less, while some have no word limit at all. Here, we’ll go over how to adjust your writing depending on your word count. 

Short Essay

how to write supplemental essays

There is a broad misconception that writing a short essay is “less work,” which we are unfortunately here to squash. Writing shorter-form essays (150 to 500 words) can be more challenging because you have less room to make your point, and your writing must be concise. 

To write an excellent short-form essay, start by brainstorming your ideas and move on to writing once you have a solid idea of the main points you want to include. Avoid fluff, repeating the question, reciting your resume, and run-on sentences. The best short essays are honest and to the point. 

If your essay is too long when you’ve finished writing, go through each sentence and ask yourself: “Could I tell this story without this sentence?” If yes, cut it completely. If you answered no, find ways to subtract unnecessary words. Having a friend help you edit is a great way to find out which parts are making the text longer without lending anything to the story. 

Medium Essay 

how to write supplemental essays

A medium essay is a sweet spot. Typically, a length of one to three pages flows easily and allows the writer to include all necessary information without repeating themselves or taking anything away. 

Because of this, make sure not to go over or under the word count. Most students do not struggle to keep their writing within these parameters, so it’s important to respect them. 

Although you have more room in a medium-length essay, your writing should still be concise and flow well without including excess information. It’s always a good idea to have a teacher, friend, or family member look over your story. 

Make sure that when they edit, they are looking for things like grammatical errors, run-on sentences, and unnecessary information. They shouldn’t take too much out of your essay because you don’t want the voice of the essay to change. 

Long Essay 

how to write supplemental essays

When tasked with writing a long essay (three pages or more), it can be challenging to continuously provide fresh information and avoid repetition. However, repetition and dragging sentences is the main thing you’ll want to avoid in a long-form essay. To do this, you should rely heavily on planning and your thesis statement.

Your thesis statement sets up your article, allowing you to break the information into parts and tackle each step individually. Brainstorming before you start writing is critical as it ensures you have enough relevant information to fill out the full length of your paper. 

How to Write School-Specific Supplemental Essays? 

It’s a good idea to tailor your supplemental essays to match the expectations of the school you’re applying to. Here are some guides on how to write outstanding essays for specific schools: 

  • How to Write the Harvard Supplemental Essays
  • How to Write the Vanderbilt Supplemental Essays
  • How to Write the University of Michigan Supplemental Essays
  • How to Write the Duke Supplemental Essays
  • How to Write the Princeton Supplemental Essays
  • How to Write the Northwestern University Supplemental Essays
  • How to Write the UPenn Supplemental Essays
  • How to Write the University of Washington Supplemental Essays
  • How to Write the Boston College Supplemental Essays
  • How to Write the Cornell Supplemental Essays
  • How to Write the Bowdoin Supplemental Essays ‍
  • How to Write the Pepperdine Supplemental Essays

These guides will help you write stellar essays!

FAQs: Supplemental Essays

Here are our answers to some frequently asked questions about supplemental essays.

1. Do Colleges Care About Supplemental Essays?

Yes, colleges care about supplemental essays. Your writing gives colleges extra insight into who you are as a person beyond your grades. Strong essays can give you an advantage in your application to many different schools. 

2. What to Include in Supplemental Essays?

Stick to the prompt. Your response should approach each aspect of the prompt while providing genuine information about your life experience. 

Each essay prompt is different, but admissions committees always love to hear a good story. Use descriptive yet concise language to get your points across while transporting the reader into your world.

3. When Should I Start My Supplemental Essays?

You should start planning your essays as soon as you receive the prompts for each. Once you’re confident in your plan, begin writing your essay as soon as you can to give yourself plenty of time to edit before submitting. 

4. Are Supplemental Essays Hard?

For students who are not strong writers, it can be challenging to get started on your essays. However, the most important part of your essay is to remain genuine, tell your story, and be concise. 

5. How Do I Start Writing My Supplemental Essay?

Before you start writing, brainstorm and create a solid plan for what you want to include. This will help you write with ease and remain on track while you’re writing your paper. You can also look at good essay examples for inspiration. 

6. Where Do You Submit Supplemental Essays? 

If using the Common Application, you can submit your essays in the Writing Supplements section. Generally, you will submit your essays along with the rest of your application.

Final Thoughts

Your supplemental essays are an important part of your application and should be given plenty of time and attention. No matter what essay prompts you are given, ensure that you are consistently speaking from the heart and telling a compelling story. 

Keep in mind that your experiences are what make you unique, and you do not have to exaggerate or fabricate anything to craft an excellent supplemental essay.

If you are still struggling with writing compelling essays, you can always seek professional help to get assistance with writing, editing, brainstorming, and overall crafting stellar supplementals. 

Good luck with your essays!

Access 190+ sample college essays here

First name, vector icon of a person

Get A Free Consultation

You may also like.

What Is A Good SAT Score?

What Is A Good SAT Score?

Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose: Key Differences

Personal Statement vs. Statement of Purpose: Key Differences

how to write supplemental essays

  • Search All Scholarships
  • Exclusive Scholarships
  • Easy Scholarships to Apply For
  • No Essay Scholarships
  • Scholarships for HS Juniors
  • Scholarships for HS Seniors
  • Scholarships for College Students
  • Scholarships for Grad Students
  • Scholarships for Women
  • Scholarships for Black Students
  • Scholarships
  • Student Loans
  • College Admissions
  • Financial Aid
  • Scholarship Winners
  • Scholarship Providers

Student-centric advice and objective recommendations

Higher education has never been more confusing or expensive. Our goal is to help you navigate the very big decisions related to higher ed with objective information and expert advice. Each piece of content on the site is original, based on extensive research, and reviewed by multiple editors, including a subject matter expert. This ensures that all of our content is up-to-date, useful, accurate, and thorough.

Our reviews and recommendations are based on extensive research, testing, and feedback. We may receive commission from links on our website, but that doesn’t affect our editors’ opinions. Our marketing partners don’t review, approve or endorse our editorial content. It’s accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted. You can find a complete list of our partners here .

How to Write a Great Supplemental Essay

how to write supplemental essays

Zach Skillings is the Scholarships360 Newsletter Editor. He specializes in college admissions and strives to answer important questions about higher education. When he’s not contributing to Scholarships360, Zach writes about travel, music, film, and culture. His work has been published in Our State Magazine, Ladygunn Magazine, The Nocturnal Times, and The Lexington Dispatch. Zach graduated from Elon University with a degree in Cinema and Television Arts.

Learn about our editorial policies

how to write supplemental essays

Maria Geiger is Director of Content at Scholarships360. She is a former online educational technology instructor and adjunct writing instructor. In addition to education reform, Maria’s interests include viewpoint diversity, blended/flipped learning, digital communication, and integrating media/web tools into the curriculum to better facilitate student engagement. Maria earned both a B.A. and an M.A. in English Literature from Monmouth University, an M. Ed. in Education from Monmouth University, and a Virtual Online Teaching Certificate (VOLT) from the University of Pennsylvania.

How to Write a Great Supplemental Essay

When it comes to your college application essay, there’s a good chance you’ll end up writing more than one. There’s your main personal statement, and then there’s supplemental essays. These are shorter essays required by some colleges and universities. To learn more about supplemental essays and the different types of prompts there are, keep reading. Or if you’d like to jump directly to our tips section , go right ahead!

Also see:  How to write a 500 word essay

What is a supplemental essay? 

Also known as school-specific essays, supplemental essays are additional pieces of writing required by some universities. They’re designed to give admissions officers a better sense of who you are and why you want to attend their school. Supplemental essays are shorter in length than your main personal statement. Word counts can range anywhere from 25 – 600 words, but most of the time they’re 250 words or less. Some colleges ask for just one supplemental essay, while others require several. 

Related:  How to format a college essay

The “why us?” question

Supplemental essays usually ask something along the lines of “why us?”, prompting students to describe why they want to attend a specific school. It’s a common question that you’ll see asked in various ways. Here’s a few examples from different schools: 

Other essay prompt examples

While the “why us?” question is a common prompt, there are many others out there. Prompts may ask about your favorite book, your biggest inspiration, or something as off-the-wall as pie ( see UChicago ). Here’s a few examples of supplemental essay prompts from various schools: 

Tips for writing your supplemental essay(s)

1. be prepared for anything.

As you can tell by the examples above, supplemental essay prompts can ask you just about anything. That means you probably shouldn’t go in with any preconceived ideas of what you’re going to write about. Rather, be adaptable and willing to take on any question that comes your way. 

2. If you’re stuck, try freewriting 

If you get stumped by a certain prompt and you’re having trouble answering, do some freewriting exercises. Spend 10-15 minutes writing nonstop about whatever comes to mind when you think of the prompt. Don’t worry about grammar, spelling, or writing complete sentences. You can even use bullet points if that helps. When you’re done, review your writing and see if there’s anything you can elaborate on. You’re bound to find something that can be shaped into an essay.

3. Tailor your response to the school  

This one applies mostly to the “why us?” question. When answering this prompt, you should craft a response that touches on unique aspects of the specific school you’re applying to. Ask yourself what attracted you to the school in the first place. Was it a specific academic program? Was it the campus culture? What about the extracurricular activities ? Whatever the case may be, make sure you clearly indicate why you’re interested in the school and why you’d be a great fit. 

Also see:  Can you use the same essay for multiple colleges?

4. Choose a narrow focus 

Most of the time, you’ll need to find an angle that can be covered in about 250 words or less. That means now’s not the time to take a deep dive into complex topics like politics or race relations. However, that doesn’t mean you can’t still write about something meaningful. You may not be able to tell your entire life story, but you can probably find a specific aspect to focus on. Even if you’re allowed just 50 words, you should find a way to reveal something positive about who you are. Figuring out how to do that is key to writing a solid essay. 

5. Be concise 

Adopting a narrow focus is easier when you’re intentional with your writing. Since the word limit on supplemental essays is usually pretty low, you need to make every word count to get your point across. If you’re struggling to comply with the word limit, comb through your essay and eliminate every sentence, phrase, and word that doesn’t serve a purpose. If it doesn’t add to the story, cut it. 

6. Don’t repeat yourself

The whole point of supplemental essays is to provide a space for colleges to get to know you better. That means you shouldn’t simply recycle content from your main essay or other parts of your application. It’s fine to briefly mention something again, but make sure you’re adding something new that can’t be found elsewhere in your application. If you can write about something completely different, even better!

7. Be yourself 

As cliché as it sounds, the best thing you can do when writing is to be yourself. Remember that these essays are meant to give insight into your character, so use your authentic voice and let your personality shine through. If it helps, write as if you’re having a chat with a close friend or family member . 

8. Ask for editing advice 

Before you turn in your essay, ask someone you trust to give it a read. Even if you’re 100% sure you’ve corrected all spelling and grammar mistakes, a second pair of eyes never hurts. Just try to limit the number of people who read your essay to one or two. Seeking feedback from too many sources may cause your essay to stray from the original focus.

Additional writing resources

  • How to Write a 250 Word Essay
  • How to Write an Essay About Yourself
  • College Essay Primer: Show, Don’t Tell
  • How to Answer the Common App Essay Prompts

Additional college admission resources

If you’re working on your college applications, you’ve probably got a lot on your plate. Luckily, we’ve got resources to help you through every step of the college process. Our resources include a guide of how many colleges to apply to , how to find  safety, reach and match schools , and  when to submit your applications . We can help you fill out the Common App  activities  and  honors  sections, and  write a successful college application .

Once you hear back from schools, we can help you  interpret your financial aid award letter , write a  financial appeal , and  apply for scholarships . And even once you’re in college, you can check out our resources on  how to get involved on campus ,  how to save money , get a  work-study job , and  create a budget . Finally, don’t forget to be proactive in paying for your education! Apply for as many scholarships as you qualify for while you are eligible!

Start your scholarship search

  • Vetted scholarships custom-matched to your profile
  • Access exclusive scholarships only available to Scholarships360 members

Scholarships360 Recommended

how to write supplemental essays

10 Tips for Successful College Applications

how to write supplemental essays

Coalition vs. Common App: What is the difference?

how to write supplemental essays

College Application Deadlines 2023-2024: What You Need to Know

Trending now.

how to write supplemental essays

How to Convert Your GPA to a 4.0 Scale

how to write supplemental essays

PSAT to SAT Score Conversion: Predict Your Score

how to write supplemental essays

What Are Public Ivy League Schools?

3 reasons to join scholarships360.

  • Automatic entry to our $10,000 No-Essay Scholarship
  • Personalized matching to thousands of vetted scholarships
  • Quick apply for scholarships exclusive to our platform

By the way...Scholarships360 is 100% free!

Don’t Sweat the Supp Stuff: Advice for Crafting Your Supplemental Essay

how to write supplemental essays

It can feel daunting to choose what to write about in your college application essays. How do you sum up the complex, dynamic individual you are with such limited space? 

The short answer: You can’t. But that’s OK. 

The goal of your application is not to share every detail of your multifaceted life. Rather, the process allows you to share your story with the admissions committee about what makes you a strong match for the institution. Each piece of the application reveals something about your academic experiences and personal journey that shows us how you might contribute to the Hopkins community. 

In some ways, the essays help tie together the rest of the application. They offer space for you to tell stories that represent the most important parts of your identity, which provide context for other components of the application. 

Let’s zero in on the supplemental essay . 

The supplemental essay portion of the application is specific to each school. Each institution has intentionally crafted a question (or multiple) to help determine whether a student might be a good match. We look for individuals who share Hopkins’ institutional values but will also bring unique experiences and perspectives to the community.  

Below is the supplemental essay prompt for students applying for entry to Hopkins in the fall of 2024:  

Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community, etc.) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you’d like to pursue in college at Hopkins. This can be a future goal or experience that is either academic, extracurricular, or social. (350-word limit) *

Picture your life in college. What does your community look like? Which aspects of your identity are most important for you to develop and nurture?  

Now jot down some thoughts about experiences or parts of your identity that have had a significant effect on your life. Maybe it’s a hobby you love, a cultural tradition, or an instance when you discovered something new about yourself. 

Once you have a list, think about how each of these will continue to play a role in your college life. Choose one to focus on and spend some time building it out. 

Keep in mind this essay is not an exercise in “tell us everything you know about Hopkins.” While it’s important for the admissions committee to see you’ve done your research and understand what Hopkins has to offer, simply listing what you hope to pursue on campus is only half of the puzzle. Be sure to connect the dots by explaining why you wish to pursue those things, and how they’ll help you remain connected to and grow in your identity. 

If you’re having trouble coming up with ideas or crafting your essay, reach out to your school counselor or an English teacher. They can help you brainstorm and ensure your piece is answering the prompt in a meaningful way. 

Happy writing! 

* An important note about the essay: In this essay question, we are looking for how an aspect of your identity or background has contributed to your personal story—your character, values, perspectives, or skills—and how you think it may shape your approach to college as a scholar, leader, or community member.

Please note that the U.S. Supreme Court recently limited the consideration of race in college admissions decisions but specifically permitted consideration of “an applicant’s discussion of how race affected his or her life” so long as the student is “treated based on his or her experiences as an individual—not on the basis of race.” Therefore, any part of your background, including but not limited to your race, may be discussed in your response to this essay if you so choose, but will be considered by the university based solely on how it has affected your life and your experiences as an individual.

Posts you may also be interested in

Telling Your Story Through Your Application

  • Application Tips

Telling Your Story Through Your Application

how to write supplemental essays

  • College Planning Guide

Application Tips: Applying For Financial Aid

how to write supplemental essays

Understanding College Costs & Affordability

how to write supplemental essays

Quick Links:

  • Majors, Minors & Programs
  • Application Deadlines & Requirements

Think you can get into a top-10 school? Take our chance-me calculator... if you dare. 🔥

Last updated March 7, 2023

Every piece we write is researched and vetted by a former admissions officer. Read about our mission to pull back the admissions curtain.

Blog > Essay Advice , Supplementals > How to Write Supplemental Essays that Will Impress Admissions Officers

How to Write Supplemental Essays that Will Impress Admissions Officers

Admissions officer reviewed by Ben Bousquet, M.Ed Former Vanderbilt University

Written by Alex McNeil, MA Admissions Consultant

Key Takeaway

Welcome to the wonderful world of supplemental essays.

If you’ve made it this far, there’s a good chance that you’ve completed (or at least have begun thinking about) your Common Application personal statement.

But believe it or not, you’re not done once you’ve sorted out your personal statement.

That’s right—many colleges require you to write even more essays as part of your application. These essays are called supplemental essays , and you’ll usually write 0-4 per school you apply to.

Hopefully you’re starting to do the math… If I apply to 10 schools that require an average of 2.3 supplemental essays, then that’s 20+ essays I have to write on top of my personal statement!

And, to make matters more dire, supplemental essays are really important to your application. Schools only require them because they play a critical role in admissions decisions.

That’s why having good supplemental essay strategy matters. There’s no time to waste, and they need to be good.

But thankfully you’ve found yourself here, at the ultimate guide to supplemental essays. We—Alex, Ben, and Kylie—have compiled our years of admissions and essay-writing knowledge to tell you everything you need to know about writing supplemental essays. (And, as you’ll see, we also have more specific guides for the most common supplemental essay prompts.)

In this guide-to-end-all-guides, we start out with supplemental essay basics and then break down the supplemental essay strategies that have worked for our clients again and again. Once you reach the end, you’ll be able to download a free essay tracker to keep you organized and on track.

Ready? Here we go.

What are supplemental essays?

Supplemental essays are a kind of college essay.

As a refresher, recall that there are three main kinds of college essays:

Personal Statement: A personal statement is a singular essay that is the keystone of your entire application. It goes to all the schools you apply to, and it covers a topic that is deeply meaningful to you. Personal statements are typically around 650 words. (For more about personal statements, see our college essay writing guide .)

Supplemental Essays: Supplemental essays are essays required by specific schools. They typically have different prompts than the personal statement and are usually shorter in length.

UC Essays: UC essays are their own beast in the college essay-writing world. Their purpose is a blend of personal statement and supplemental essay. (For more about UC Essays, see our UC guide.)

Supplemental essays serve a unique purpose. The reality is that the majority of your college application has to be written with several colleges in mind, especially if you’re applying to schools through application systems like the Common Application or Coalition.

That means that the majority of the information admissions officers base their decisions on is relatively generic information that doesn’t address why you’re a good fit for their school in particular.

That’s where supplemental essays come in.

Supplemental essays give you the opportunity to tell an admissions officer why you belong at their school specifically. They also allow colleges to ask you questions based on what they’re looking for in applicants.

Imagine that you’re interested in adopting a new dog. You browse your shelter’s online photo gallery, see the statistics about the age and weight of each dog, and read the brief descriptions of their temperament. The online profiles give you quite a bit to go on, but you still can’t quite picture how each one would fit into your family. You need just a little more information. So you drive to the shelter, meet the animals, and ask the shelter staff more questions about the animals you’re interested in.

Okay, college admissions are obviously a lot different than adopting a dog. But you get the metaphor. Sometimes the information on the Common App alone isn’t enough. Admissions officers need more information about which students are going to be the best fit for their college communities. And the one tool universities have to get that specific information are supplemental essays .

In short, some schools require supplemental essays because they want to get more information about how well your academics, extracurriculars, values, or otherwise align with their institution.

What’s the difference between a supplemental essay and a personal statement?

We can look at the differences between personal statements and supplemental essays across three categories: purpose, length, and research.

Supplemental essays serve a very different purpose than personal statements. While personal statements are deeply meaningful reflections that go to all the colleges a student applies to, supplemental essays are school-specific. Your personal statement is a place for you to write about something related to one of your core strengths. Supplementals are opportunities for you to show how your core strengths make you a good fit for a particular institution. Since they have different purposes, you’ll need different writing strategies to approach each kind of essay with.

Essay lengths vary by school and type, but supplemental essays are generally shorter. The Common App personal statement, for example, is maximum 650 words. Supplemental essays, on the other hand, typically range from 100 to 400 words (although occasionally some will be longer). When added together, you’ll likely be writing at least a couple thousand words for your college applications.

Finally, personal statements and supplementals also require different levels of research. Whereas personal statements typically require no research, supplementals require a lot. Because supplemental essays are school-specific, you’ll need to do research about every single school you write a supplemental essay for. We’ll get into that more in a second.

So personal statements give admissions officers a deep insight into who you are, while supplemental essays build on that narrative and sometimes include school research.

How important are supplemental essays?

Supplemental essays are important. At schools with sub-20% acceptance rates especially, they alone can be the difference between a deny and an admit.

Take this story from Ben’s time at Vanderbilt as a cautionary tale:

A prospective engineering student has an unweighted 4.0, near-perfect test scores, and extracurriculars that show both reach and impact. But none of their essays says anything about why they want to study engineering or why they want to go to Vanderbilt. Because they can’t communicate why they are a good fit, they get denied.

Unfortunately, Ben saw this situation time and again.

Sure, you could write your personal statement about how much you love engineering or what a good problem-solver you are. But doing so still doesn’t allow you to talk about why you align with the engineering options at a particular school .

Supplementals are your one chance to communicate this information with admissions officers, so use it wisely.

Types of Supplemental Essay Prompts

Are you feeling overwhelmed yet? Don’t fret. While you’ll be writing a lot of supplementals throughout your application process, you won’t necessarily have to come up with unique ideas for each of them. That’s because most supplemental essay prompts can be broken down into seven common categories: “why us,” diversity, community, academic interest, “why this major,” personal challenge, and extracurricular activities. Because there are similarities between prompts, you can reuse some of your essay ideas and content from school to school—and we have a whole post about how recycle your essays effectively. For now, let’s take a quick look at the prompt types. If you’re interested in any in particular, you can click through to our more in-depth post about each.

These prompts ask students to write an essay that explains why they want to attend a particular institution, school, or program.

Some diversity prompts ask students to write about some aspect of their background or identity that makes them diverse. Other diversity prompts ask students to write about a time they engaged with diverse perspectives.

Community prompts ask students to write about some aspect of the community they come from. Other community prompts ask how a student will contribute to the college community they’re applying to join.

Academic Interest

These prompts ask students to demonstrate intellectual curiosity by elaborating on a particular academic interest.

Why this Major

These prompts allow students to make a case for why they want to study a particular major at a particular school.

Personal Challenge

Personal challenge prompts ask students to write about a moment or period when they encountered a personal challenge. Often personal challenge prompts will encourage students to think about how they grew as a result.

Extracurricular Activities

Extracurricular activities essays ask students to discuss one of their resume items.

Okay, so there’s lots of prompt types that ask you to do different things. But no matter the supplemental prompt type you’re responding to, your supplemental essays will have some commonalities in form and function. We’ll dive into those commonalities in the coming sections.

What should a supplemental essay look like?

Because supplemental essay prompts can be more direct than personal statement prompts, students often get confused about what a supplemental essay should look like.

Let’s use a simple example prompt: “Why do you want to attend X school?”

Since the prompt is formatted in the style of a straightforward question, many students (logically) begin their essays like this:

“I want to go to X school because it is a great academic fit for me. I love the location, and the weather can’t be beat. I know I would be happy there because there are lots of things to do. I would be so excited to work with Professor Y because their research is exactly what I want to do in the future. I love the traditions on campus and can envision myself joining in them, especially the annual puppy days before finals. Overall, I think I am a good fit”

While that essay directly answers the question, it doesn’t have an engaging hook or storyline. When you write a supplemental essay that explicitly addresses the question without paying attention to style and form, it reads more as a short answer question than an actual essay.

Like a personal statement, a supplemental essay should still be an essay. Even for supplemental essays under 150 words, there should still be some kind of essay structure. The essay should begin with a hook, build up a story, and offer a brief conclusion that ties everything together.

So now that you know that your supplemental essays should still be essays rather than short answers, let’s get to the juicy stuff: strategy.

The 3 best supplemental essay strategies

As with any part of the college application process, you should consider approaching your supplemental essays with an explicit strategy from the start.

Since supplemental essays are the main way for you to signal school and academic fit, your strategy will likely revolve around deciding when and how to demonstrate your academic, social, and value-based alignment with the school in question.

Strategic supplemental writing also means balancing your narrative across your personal statement and supplementals. Planning ahead to determine what information will go where can save you a lot of trouble later on in the application process.

Strategy #1: Do strategic school research.

The first step in writing good supplemental essays is knowing how to do school research. It’s also about knowing how to use your school research effectively. In the case of supplemental essays, “school research” means a lot more than simply googling a school and pulling out a few facts and figures. Unlike the research you did when building your school list, your supplemental essay school research is a lot more intentional and targeted.

Think of supplemental school research like the final stages before buying a car. Your initial research—the school list-building research—helped you narrow down all your options to find cars with the right facts and figures for your needs. But now you need to think in terms of specifics. Looking at Car A, you see that the infotainment is perfectly suited for your music-loving needs and the 4-wheel drive will let you drive to your favorite remote hiking destinations. Car B has all the safety features you could ever ask for and has enough cargo space to go on long road trips. For each car, you can explain exactly why you and the car are a good match.

In the same way, your supplemental essays will draw attention to the specific points of connection you have with a school. After reading your supplemental essay, you want your admissions officer to say, “Wow, they really belong here.”

But the mistake most students make when doing supplemental school research is that they look up a few professors or programs that align with their interests, and they plop those brief references into their supplemental essays without actually making it clear why they’re important.

While this method does show some effort and may impress admissions officers at schools with lower acceptance rates, it won’t cut it at schools where the majority of applicants get rejected.

Let’s go over how to do supplemental school research the right way.

How to do school research

This kind of school research may seem a bit elusive. There are so many places on a school website to look that it can be overwhelming. But the key to doing successful school research isn’t about finding those little nuggets of information.

It’s about creating a cohesive story that makes it seem only logical that you be admitted.

And how do you do that?

By looking at the values the institution holds dearly and positioning yourself in clear alignment with them.

It’s easy to find an institution’s values if you know where to look. Most often, they appear in the following places:

a) The school’s motto

We’ll use Lewis and Clark College’s motto as an example. A quick Google search of “Lewis and Clark College motto” informed me that their motto, in English, is “to explore, to learn, to work together.” Right off the bat, that tells us a ton about what Lewis and Clark College values and looks for in students.

If I were to write a supplemental essay (and—surprise!—one of their supplemental essays is actually about the motto), then it’d be easy to draw from areas of my own life that represent the values of exploration, education, and teamwork.

b) The school’s 5-year plan

Schools are future-minded institutions, so they always have plans that discuss where they want to be five or ten years down the road. These plans are written by university leadership and lay out values, goals, and strategic initiatives that the institution will be devoting resources to. They can tell you a lot in a short amount of time.

c) Departmental websites

Don’t just find an interesting professor and call it quits. Take the time to go through and actually read the website for your department of interest. Look at the kinds of research professors and students are doing. Departments often have a list of where students tend to end up after they graduate, so take note. Find anything you can about what the department looks like and values.

For instance, take this press release from the College of Engineering at Georgia Tech. The headline says, “The National Institutes of Health (NIH) is investing nearly $12 million in four College of Engineering faculty members this fall through its  prestigious program for outside-the-box thinkers .” There you go. Without even reading on, you can tell that out-of-the-box thinking is a popular characteristic among these Georgia Tech faculty members. You could then craft your supplemental essay around a time you showed out-of-the-box thinking yourself.

The beauty of this strategy is that it works no matter the kind of supplemental essay prompt you’re responding to. It is as applicable to a “diversity” or “why us” prompt as it is to an “extracurricular” one.

Setting your supplementals apart using school research

Take this example, which we sent out recently in our newsletter .

Say you’re interested in attending Johns Hopkins University to study business.

You set out to answer their supplemental prompt: Founded on a spirit of exploration and discovery, Johns Hopkins University encourages students to share their perspectives, develop their interests and pursue new experiences. Use this space to share something you’d like the admissions committee to know about you (your interests, your background, your identity or your community) and how it has shaped what you want to get out of your college experience at Hopkins. (300-400 words)

You could talk about how devoted you’ve been to DECA and mention a JHU business faculty member whom you admire. But that essay wouldn’t be memorable at all. Admissions officers have likely read hundreds of similar essays.

Instead, using your newfound school research knowledge, you start by googling JHU’s strategic plan . You keep diving deeper. You find that they have a specific initiative to engage more with their local community in Baltimore. You dive even deeper and see that part of that initiative revolves around encouraging the JHU community to shop locally .

Ah ha! You actually created a holiday market at your school and invited local vendors to participate. You brought your community together, and you helped them make the decision to buy from local businesses.

You now have a story that shows your business interests and connects seamlessly with the values at Johns Hopkins University. And it’ll lead to a supplemental essay admissions officers haven’t read before.

Okay, that is a very specific example. Remember, school research needs to be specific to you and your interests. When you are clear about your strengths and keep your own activities in mind, you can point your research towards what the school does that most clearly relates to you.

Strategy #2: Make a case for school or academic fit.

Each supplemental essay should have a specific purpose. We’ve already established this fact in this guide, but it’s worth restating. One of your application essays needs to make a case for school or academic fit. There’s no other way to slice it.

Institutions are like people. They have unique personalities, values, and preferences that attract students and community members to them. A single school will not be the right fit for every student. That’s why it’s so important to take academic and school fit into account when building your school list, and that’s why institutions factor these considerations into their admissions decisions.

What is “academic fit”?

“Academic fit” is particularly important when you’re applying to a specific major (like computer science, engineering, music, etc.). The concept is fairly straightforward.

It measures how well your academic background and interests meet the standards of a particular school or program. While academic fit includes measurements like your weighted and unweighted GPA, the level of rigor you’ve taken throughout high school, and your standardized test scores, it isn’t just about your statistics. It is also relevant to how you talk about your intellectual vitality in your essays.

This could look like showing disciplinary alignment. If you’re dead set on studying business but you’re applying to a school without a business program, for example, then you won’t have good academic fit, no matter how solid your academic record is.

It could also look like showcasing your intellectual curiosity or an academic passion. These kinds of academic values can signal to an admissions committee that you are a good fit for the program.

What is “school fit”?

“School fit” is a way to categorize how well you align with the overall vibe and intellectual community of a school. Academic fit is part of school fit, but school fit encompasses more. It’s like a friendship test. Do your personalities mesh well? Do you have similar values? Can they meet your needs and vice versa? Do your extracurricular activities align? Do you envision yourselves having a future together?

School fit is important because you don’t want to end up at a school that doesn’t align with your wants and needs across these categories. Transferring is always an option, but being mindful of school fit from the start can help you get it right the first time.

When it comes to your supplementals, signaling those intangible measures of school fit can also be one of the best tools in your application toolbox. Because they’re intangible, they’re harder to communicate. But communicating them correctly can help set you apart.

Overall, academic and school fit are application essentials. If your academic background hasn’t prepared you for a particular college environment, or if you can’t clearly communicate why you’re a good academic fit, then an admissions officer might believe that you’d be better off elsewhere. Similarly, there’s no point in applying to a school that you’d be miserable at, and there’s no point in admitting you to a school that you’d likely transfer from anyway. Keeping the concepts of “academic fit” and “school fit” front and center meets student and institutional needs.

How to show academic fit

We’ve written on Reddit  about the importance of academic score in college admissions. While each institution has its own process, academic scores are usually some kind of measurement of a student’s academic success in high school, calculated based on statistics like GPA, number of rigorous classes, and standardized test scores.

Since academic scores are based on things that have already happened, you have very little control over them as you put together your application.

To a certain extent, there’s nothing you can do to overcome a low academic score. That’s why it’s important to put the right schools on your school list . 

But what you do have control over is how you communicate academic fit.

Remember that your entire application should cohere to form a unique personal narrative . Your academic alignment with the programs you’re applying to is part of that narrative, and supplemental essays are a fantastic place for you to drive home why you belong in a particular program.

It’s often easiest to show academic alignment in “why us,” “why this major,” and “academic interest” supplemental essay prompts. But it is possible to accomplish with other prompts, too.

No matter the supplemental you’re writing, consider applying these tips to show academic fit.

a) Think about the academic values the admissions committee will be looking for.

You’ve already done your school research and have probably learned something about the values a school is looking for. Now you can think more specifically about what kinds of values admissions committees will be looking for in their applicants. Make a list of these values.

Here are a few values we’ve looked for as admissions officers to get you started: teamwork, creative thinking, resilience, leadership, communication, intellectual curiosity, real-world applications.

Once you have your list of values, start circling the ones that apply to you and your experiences the most. Then you’ll be able to incorporate those values into your supplemental essays.

b) Consider how your previous experiences relate to your future goals.

Another approach to showing academic fit is thinking linearly about how what you’ve done in high school relates to your future academic and career goals.

Especially with prompts that ask you to reflect on concrete experiences, taking this approach can be a great way to bridge the gap between your resume and academics. Showing an admissions officer why your background experiences make you a natural fit for a specific program can be an effective supplemental essay strategy.

Overall, remember: schools want students. When in doubt, show academic fit.

How to show school fit

How you show school fit will depend on the type of school you’re applying to. There are three main levels: the institution as a whole, individual schools or colleges, and particular majors or programs. Each level requires a different school fit focus. Let’s start by going through the types:

Level 1: The Institution

For some schools, you apply to the institution as a whole. Think liberal arts colleges or other schools that don’t require you to declare a major upon application.

Level 2: Schools & Colleges

Other schools have you apply to a college or school. Think of applications that have you choose a “college of arts and sciences” or “a school of engineering.” These are institutions within an institution, so the dynamics are a little different.

Level 3: Major

Finally, others yet will have you apply directly to the major you want to study. If you indicate the major you want to apply to, or if you’re asked to respond to a “why this major” supplemental essay prompt, then you’re likely applying directly to a major.

For each of these levels, school fit will look different because the community you’re applying to join has a different makeup. So bear those differences in mind as you consider the two following tips about aligning with school fit:

a) Write supplemental essays that connect your extracurricular activities to major or program fit.

One way to demonstrate school fit is by showing that you’ve already been doing what students at that institution do. We’ll pretend that for one of your extracurriculars, you participate in hack-a-thons.

Let’s also say that during your school research, you found that your top-choice computer science major values technical skills and diverse perspectives. Finally, we’ll also pretend that the first hack-a-thon you did was a special event intended to introduce more girls to computer science, and you found it a really empowering experience.

Using what you know about school fit, you can craft a supplemental essay about one of your hack-a-thon experiences that shows the technical skills and diverse perspective that you bring to the table. Writing your essay in a way that highlights a convergence of your background with their offerings is exactly what your supplementals need to do.

b) Write supplemental essays around community values.

Especially if you’re applying to an institution as a whole, you can also consider incorporating institutional values into your supplementals. These values, taken from your school research, don’t necessarily have to be about academics.

Let’s return to our Johns Hopkins example about organizing a holiday market to encourage students to shop at local businesses. That example seamlessly demonstrates school fit because it hinges on values the student shares with the institution. While the example may gesture towards academic fit because a holiday market is inherently related to business, it doesn’t do so explicitly. The focus is more on the underlying community values.

All this talk about fit is also to say that none of your applications will look exactly the same. Because institutions have different makeups and expectations, the shape your application narrative takes will vary from institution to institution.

Strategy #3: Highlight your strengths.

Every college essay you write should be rooted in a strength.

If you’ve read any of our other guides or blog posts , you’ve likely seen this statement before.

We say it again and again because it’s true. And very important.

Admissions officers don’t admit students at random. They admit students who will be good additions to their community. All communities need a range of people and personalities—strengths, if you will.

To help admissions officers know how you’ll add to their campus, it’s critical that you tell them what your strengths are.

That doesn’t mean literally writing, “I am a strong critical thinker.”

What it does mean is writing essays that demonstrate positive characteristics about yourself.

Recall that application strengths can include things like critical thinking, open-mindedness, problem-solving skills, a passion for justice, artistry, and more. These kinds of traits are what you want your admissions officer to learn about you from any piece of writing you submit with your application.

We’ve already covered how to write strengths-based personal statements in our college essay writing guide .

But when you’re juggling a personal statement and several supplemental essays, it can be tricky to balance your strengths in an authentic way.

Juggling Your Strengths

You don’t want all your essays to talk about the same strength. You also don’t want your strengths to seem disparate or unrelated. And you really don’t want to come across as braggadocious.

It’s therefore important that your essays all tie together to form a cohesive application narrative .

So writing strengths-based supplementals requires a certain kind of balancing act.

Picture your college application narrative as a seesaw (stick with me for a second—I promise this is going somewhere). Imagine that your personal statement is the base of the seesaw. Without anything else on the seesaw, it is you in your most genuine, balanced form. It is the fulcrum upon which your entire application narrative rests. But it’s not yet complete. It’s limited in how much information it actually reveals about you.

Now imagine that you add in all your application data—your transcript, test scores, activities list, and letters of recommendation. We get more information, but the application data are heavy, weighing it down on one side. Your application narrative becomes slightly off-kilter. We see the strengths you describe in your personal statement, but they’ve become filtered through the lens of your application data.

Finally, we add your supplemental essays to the other side. They stitch together your personal statement and data to create a roundedness to your application narrative. They restore balance.

That means that the strengths you write about in your supplemental essays have to complement those in your personal statement. And the strengths in both have to make sense alongside your application data.

While your personal statement should be about a core strength, your supplemental essays should be about different strengths that support and cohere with your personal statement. It’s all about how you disperse your strengths across your essays. You want to show depth AND diversity.

Here’s an example breakdown of strengths:

a) Personal statement: problem-solving skills

b) Supplemental 1: passion for justice

c) Supplemental 2: teamwork

Without even reading the corresponding essays, we get a sense of who this person is by their strengths alone. We can envision them primarily as a problem-solver, but we also see that they use their skills to pursue justice. And we understand that they are someone who does all these things alongside others rather than as a lone wolf.

Just one of these strengths alone wouldn’t give the whole picture. It’s about finding the right mix of breadth, depth, and balance.

How to organize your supplemental essays

There are countless spreadsheets out there that can help you track and organize your applications and supplemental essays. It’s a good idea to browse through a few of them and see what format works best for you.

But we believe that one of the most efficient ways to organize your supplemental essays is to categorize them by prompt type.

Sorting your essays by prompt will allow you to group similar prompts together. That means you’ll have an easier time seeing where there’s overlap between essays, which will allow you to reuse ideas or snippets across your applications to write them more efficiently. (Using the same material for multiple supplemental essays is allowed, but there’s a right and wrong way to do it. We have a whole post on recycling your supplemental essays .)

Key Takeaways

There you have it! Everything you need to know about writing a supplemental essay. If you haven’t already, check out our mini-guides that cover the most popular supplemental essay prompts. You’ll find even more specific strategies and examples to guide you on your supplemental essay writing journey.

If you want to see some outstanding supplemental essay examples before you get started, head on over to our college essay examples .

When you're ready, grab your essay tracker and give your supplementals a go. If you need any more guidance, our Essay Academy program is chock-full of more strategies, insights, and examples from our team of admissions professionals.

Interested in more admissions insights? Read our next post , where we go behind the admissions curtain to reveal how admissions offices actually process tens of thousands of applications.

Happy writing!

Liked that? Try this next.

post preview thumbnail

How A Selective Admissions Office Reads 50k Applications In A Season

post preview thumbnail

How to Write a College Essay (Exercises + Examples)

post preview thumbnail

How to Write a Community Supplemental Essay (with Examples)

post preview thumbnail

Touring Colleges: What You Need to Know

"the only actually useful chance calculator i’ve seen—plus a crash course on the application review process.".

Irena Smith, Former Stanford Admissions Officer

We built the best admissions chancer in the world . How is it the best? It draws from our experience in top-10 admissions offices to show you how selective admissions actually works.

WAITLISTED? Act now. Get expert guidance to write a standout Letter of Continued Interest!


Command Education Guide

  • FirstHeading
  • Command EducationGuide

How to Write Every Type of Supplemental Essay

What are supplements, school-specific guides and examples, why are supplements important, intellectual curiosity, drive to improve one’s community, determination and resilience, school fit / how you are a particularly good match for a school’s specific culture, where can i find each colleges’ supplements, the 5 main types of supplemental essays, “why do you want to attend [x] school”, “why are you pursuing [x] major”, “how have you overcome challenges or adversity”, “tell us about your….intellectual interests, most meaningful extracurricular activity or community you belong to, background and/or identity…etc.”, "out-of-the-box", consultations, related guides.

  • How to Create a Balanced College ListLearn to balance a college list effectively with this guide. Discover safety, reach, and match schools through clear examples, and get advice to develop your customized balanced college list.Read GuideA Quick Guide to Merit Scholarships

how to write supplemental essays

Most colleges and universities will ask you to submit, at minimum, one extra essay in addition to the 650 word personal essay. While your grades and test scores lie at the foundation of your college applications, supplements are a key part of the writing “package” that college admissions officers review to decide whether to admit you to their school. Supplemental questions require a range of answers, some as short as 30 words, others, multiple full length essays of up to 1,000 words.

We’ve put together guides for all the top schools! Our school-specific supplement guides go in-depth on how to answer every top school’s supplemental essay question(s), complete with examples!

Your personal statement and supplemental essays are your opportunity to tell your story and let admissions officers hear your voice. Admissions officers rely upon essays to get a sense of your personal characteristics, unique qualities, and your potential to thrive as a student on their campus.

Colleges are looking for students who are outstanding academic performers. That being said, in the holistic review process, they are also looking for evidence of:

The goal of the supplement is to answer one question: “Why are you an especially good match for our school, and not better off at a similar one?” The best way you can improve your odds of admission is to showcase your unique qualities and make a case for why you belong at the colleges you’re applying to through your supplements.

On the other hand, a weak supplement can inadvertently convey disinterest in a school, a lack of care or time invested into the application, and overall is a missed opportunity to help you stand out from other applicants.

If you are not sure where to find prompts for your colleges’ supplements, check colleges’ official admissions websites and the Common App . You’ll typically find prompts for supplements hiding in different nooks and crannies of the Common App, usually under “Writing Supplement” but sometimes under “Questions→ Writing” or “Questions → Activities.” Supplements often take time, research, and multiple drafts– they matter greatly, so as always, start early and seek as much help and as many resources as you need!

Below, you’ll find guides for how to write each school’s specific supplements! Before you jump into the writing process, however, read through our strategic advice for writing winning supplemental essays.

Although it may seem that colleges require an overwhelming amount of writing, bear in mind that most of the supplements you will have to write can be categorized into common categories. This means that you can use the very similar answers to answer similar questions asked by different schools. Strategically recycling your writing will help make your application process much more efficient!

The main types of supplemental questions that come up again and again are:

While you should make sure to tailor your essays very carefully to each school’s prompt and offerings (if your “why school” essay is too interchangeable, for example, it runs the risk of being generic or superficial), reusing the basic structures and stories of your common supplements is a smart strategy.

Other supplements may be much more “out-of-the-box”, such as UChicago’s famous Extended Essay prompts , or other schools’ unique questions about inspirational figures, lists of your best-loved books and media, your favorite snacks, and other esoteric topics. Some of these may be harder to recycle, but surveying all of the prompts for your supplements in advance of drafting and looking for patterns may even reveal recurring unusual prompts–for instance, both Yale University and the University of Virginia ask you to create and explain a hypothetical college course that you could teach.

Your interests will change, but the values of a university are unchanging . If you’re serious about that school, you should know those values. Log on to that university’s website and look through as much material as you can – their mission statement, the college’s leadership, their history, student publications, even their YouTube channel. Talk to as many current students from that school as possible; visit the school and talk to students around campus if you can. While there’s no need to quote their mission statement in your supplements, your writing should be informed by the same kind of mindset and values that you and the university share.

If you are looking for even more guidance on how to respond to common supplemental questions or are seeking out the right strategy for a particular school’s supplement, Command Education offers several resources. Check out our article on “How to Write College Supplements” and read our school-specific supplement guides below to learn how to convince your dream school you’re the right fit for them!

Command Education’s experts take the guesswork out of the college admissions process.

How to Create a Balanced College List

How to Create a Balanced College List

A Quick Guide to Merit Scholarships

A Quick Guide to Merit Scholarships

how to write supplemental essays

  • Privacy Overview
  • Strictly Necessary Cookies


This website uses cookies so that we can provide you with the best user experience possible. Cookie information is stored in your browser and performs functions such as recognizing you when you return to our website and helping our team to understand which sections of the website you find most interesting and useful.

Strictly Necessary Cookie should be enabled at all times so that we can save your preferences for cookie settings. web results only

Web Results

Directory results.

  • Current Students
  • Staff & Faculty
  • Parents & Families
  • Exchange email
  • UR Talent Web

Info for... web results only

Tips for Writing Supplemental Essays

Ah, those pesky supplemental essays. Just when you think you’ve got your college application pretty much all together, you realize that several colleges where you’re applying want you to write another essay. How should you approach this additional task?

In most cases, supplemental essays are either as important or more important than your Common App essay. Colleges use them in different ways – sometimes to draw out a different side of your personality, sometimes to gauge your level of interest in their institution, occasionally to evaluate some specific quality that is important to their community. Usually, the college’s intent is pretty clear in the questions they ask (so don’t worry about trick questions or reverse psychology). But in every case, the fundamental purpose of a supplemental essay is for an admission committee to learn more about you.

Here are some tips to consider as you craft your supplemental essays:

  • Write your Common Application essay early. Most of you will be applying to multiple colleges that accept the Common App, with its choice of seven essay prompts. If you haven’t already begun to craft your “main” essay, now is the time to do that. I recommend having this one more or less finished before your senior year begins – which will leave you more time to focus on your supplemental essays as application deadlines get closer.
  • Strategize the order you write your supplemental essays. Research ahead so you know which colleges require supplements and when they are due. Start with the most immediate deadlines (often Early Action or Early Decision), and move to the later deadlines from there.
  • Spend just as much time writing and polishing your supplemental essays as you do your Common App essay. This is the biggest pitfall of supplemental essay writing – and admission officers are not impressed when they see evidence you didn’t put as much time and effort into your second essay. (At some colleges, this could even lessen the competitiveness of your application, if they perceive it as a lack of interest on your part.) Plan ahead and give yourself the time you need to brainstorm, draft, edit, and proofread.
  • Tell your story. Supplemental essays have the same purpose as the standard ones – to give you an opportunity to share something about yourself. Even if the question is focused on the college, don’t just use this as an opportunity to show your knowledge about the college; use your knowledge of the college to tell your own story. Consider this a second opportunity to share something meaningful about yourself , and consider how you can use this essay to complement your Common App essay and provide a fuller picture of who you are.
  • Don’t just list off a bunch of things you learned about the college from their website. While some colleges are looking to see that you’ve done your homework and are familiar with their institutions, you should consider that a secondary purpose for your writing. This is still a personal essay, and needs to be fundamentally about you. (When colleges ask about your fit at the institution, they’re not looking for an essay about the institution – they’re looking for an essay about your fit . That means it’s got to be about you at the core.)
  • Answer the question/prompt. It’s okay to repurpose other essays you’ve written, if they are generally in line with the question – but be sure to tailor them, carefully, to ensure they answer the prompt seamlessly. You don’t want an admission officer thinking, “Yep, this student copied and pasted this essay from somewhere else and rewrote the first and last sentence.”

With a little planning and some careful consideration of the advice above, you shouldn’t have any problem delivering some excellent supplemental essays with your college applications. And if you're ready to begin crafting your supplemental essay for Richmond, you can find our Richmond Question prompts in the Application Materials .


Choose Your Test

Sat / act prep online guides and tips, purdue supplemental essay: 4 top tips for writing yours.

author image

College Essays


Known for its highly ranked engineering program and huge array of academic programs, Purdue University is an excellent public university to consider for college. To apply here, though, you will need more than just good grades— you will need to write unforgettable essays as part of the Purdue supplement .

In this guide, we go over the current Purdue essay prompts and offer helpful tips on how to write each Purdue supplemental essay you're required to submit. 

Feature Image: Wes Jackson /Flickr

What Is the Purdue Supplemental Essay?

Freshman applicants to Purdue are required to submit two short answers; there's also one optional longer Purdue supplemental essay. You must additionally write an essay in response to one of the Common Application or Coalition Application prompts , depending on which application system you apply through.

In total, then, you'll be writing three to four Purdue essays of varying lengths.

For each Purdue supplemental essay, you'll get a specific prompt to answer . (By contrast, the Common App/Coalition App personal essay offers you multiple prompts to choose from.) Every Purdue supplemental essay prompt has its own word limit and angle.

Here are the prompts for the 2022-2023 application cycle:

  • [OPTIONAL] Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (250 words max)

How will opportunities at Purdue support your interests, both in and out of the classroom? (Respond in 100 words or fewer.)

Briefly discuss your reasons for pursuing the major you have selected. (Respond in 100 words or fewer.)

The first Purdue supplemental essay above must be no longer than 250 words , whereas the two short answers may only be up to 100 words. Note that there is no minimum word count for any of the essays.

Now, how can you ensure you're writing your best Purdue supplemental essay possible?

Every Purdue University Essay Prompt, Analyzed

In this section, we'll look at each Purdue University essay prompt in more detail and give you tips for writing a highly effective response.


Purdue Supplemental Essay

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences.

As a reminder, this longer Purdue supplemental essay can be up to 250 words and is optional (though we highly recommend answering it) . The prompt here's pretty straightforward: just give a bit more detail about one of your extracurricular activities listed on your application.

The activity you choose could be pretty much anything , from a sport or instrument you play to an animal shelter you volunteer at on weekends.

The admissions committee at Purdue asks you to elaborate on one of your activities because they want to see other facets of your personality and learn more about what drove you to do a specific activity.

The key is to pick an activity or experience that has helped define you in some way. The best activity to choose is one that showcases an important and unique quality of yourself, such as your leadership skills, your can-do attitude, your adaptability, etc. You should also be heavily passionate about the activity you choose.

Here are examples of activities you could write about for your Purdue University admission essay:

  • Clubs or organizations you're a member of
  • Volunteer service
  • Arts and music
  • Work or internships
  • Family responsibilities
  • Any activity or experience that is meaningful to you

When trying to decide on an activity, it might help to ask yourself these questions :

  • Do you have a story to tell about this activity?
  • How has this activity positively impacted or influenced you?
  • If you're still doing this activity, why is that? What about it makes you want to keep doing it?
  • Have you already written about this activity in another Purdue essay? If so, consider choosing a different topic for this essay.

Don't feel obligated to pick your most "impressive" activity either. For example, maybe you've been figure skating competitively since middle school and have won many big national awards, but you'd rather write about your more recent experience with trying out for and making your school's basketball team after realizing you wanted to get involved in a new sport.

Be sure to explain what the activity is, when/how you started it, and what kind of meaning it holds for you. You won't have a lot of room here (just 250 words!), so make sure to keep the focus on its significance.

Purdue Short Answer 1

This first Purdue short-answer question is essentially a mini "why this college" essay that's asking you to answer the basic question, "Why Purdue?"

A cogent essay will answer these two questions:

  • What does Purdue offer academically that makes it a good fit for you? 
  • What does Purdue offer in terms of extracurriculars, student clubs and sports, professional connections, contests, etc. that makes it a good fit for you?

Note that you don't need to go into much detail about your major here, as that's what the second short answer is for (see below). But you will still need to identify two key points about Purdue (one academic, one non-academic) that drew you to apply to this university specifically .

To start, do some research on the university by browsing the official Purdue website . Look for any defining features that stand out to you, such as a professor with whom you wish to work, a course you can't wait to take, a club you'd like to join, a study abroad program you want to do, etc. Think about how these qualities, both academic and non-academic, could help support your own aspirations, whatever they may be.

For example, maybe you visited a Purdue art gallery and felt inspired to apply after realizing, as an artist yourself, just how much Purdue values creativity and freedom of expression.

Finally, be extremely specific here . You want it clear that your essay is about Purdue only . So use actual names and places while avoiding generalizations that can apply to other colleges!

Purdue Short Answer 2

This second short-answer question is all about your intellectual curiosity. Admissions officers want to know not only why you have selected your major, but also how studying this major at Purdue will help you achieve your goals .

Like the Purdue supplemental essay above, you don't have a lot of room here (just 100 words!), so you'll need to be concise but effective.

While it's great to mention how you got interested in your field, you should also try to steer your response toward your academic and professional goals. What do you plan to do with your major once you graduate? How will Purdue help you do this?

For example, perhaps you've been fascinated by bugs since you were little and now plan to major in insect biology.

In your essay, you could talk about what propelled your interest (perhaps a bully tried to shove an ant in your face once, but instead of being scared, you were enamored with the insect's tiny body), mention what you've done to further that interest (e.g., taken some classes and built your own ant farm), and then discuss how the insect biology program at Purdue gives you the opportunity to do real fieldwork and participate in the College of Agriculture's Career Fair so you can find jobs in pest management.


How to Write a Great Purdue Supplemental Essay: 4 Tips

To wrap up, here are four tips to help you write a great supplemental Purdue University admission essay.

#1: Write Succinctly and Purposefully

All three Purdue supplemental essays you need to write are pretty short, with one 250-word essay and two 100-word essays. You'll have to really use your space wisely if you want to produce solid and memorable essays in the end. This means that you should practice being more concise.

If you have a tendency to go on and on or add way too many details or flowery language to your writing, take some time to practice writing more directly and more crisply . You likely won't have enough room to throw in any extended metaphors, so don't even try—just write honestly about your passions and goals.

Additionally, be sure to cut out any words, phrases, or sentences that don't directly answer the prompt or reveal more about you as a person.

You might feel that your writing is boring, but as long as you're telling your story openly and with real emotion, you're sure to write an unforgettable Purdue essay.

#2: Be Extremely Specific

One thing lots of students struggle with in their college essays is being specific enough . Especially when it comes to such short essays, you want to ensure you're telling admissions officers the most important and essential information you can give them about yourself.

Remember, they already know the basics about your achievements—they can see your test scores, grades, and extracurriculars. But what they don't have is a clear understanding of what makes you you . It's your job to paint this picture for them.

For example, don't just write that you want to major in Jewish studies because you're Jewish. What specifically drew you to this major over all the others out there?

Maybe you had a special experience that cemented your connection to Jewish history and culture, or maybe somebody you deeply admire inspired you to research your ancestry, making you want to use this knowledge to support and empower other young Jews like yourself.

Whatever you choose to write about for your Purdue essays, just be sure that you give admissions officers the "what" and "why."

#3: Always Bring It Back to Purdue

As we saw with the Purdue supplement essay example we analyzed, it's critical that you bring your essays (mainly the two short answers) back to Purdue and why this school is ultimately a good fit for you, your talents, and your ambitions .

Avoid bland, meaningless compliments, such as "Purdue is very prestigious," and instead focus on the unique and specific aspects that you believe make this school worth applying to.

Here are some qualities of Purdue you could mention in your essay(s):

  • A professor whom you wish to work with
  • A specific class you're excited to take
  • A piece of equipment, facility, lab, etc. you really want to use
  • Opportunities for career building, such as its 30+ annual career fairs
  • Schoolwide competitions or events you want to take part in
  • A student club or organization you plan to join
  • Its emphasis on inclusion and diversity
  • Its vocal support of the arts

Regardless of what aspect of Purdue you choose to focus on in your response to the Purdue University essay prompt, just be sure to tie this characteristic back to yourself somehow and explain how it will help you achieve your goals.

#4: Polish It Up

Our final tip is to spend ample time editing and proofreading each Purdue essay you write.

Once you've written a rough draft, put the essay away for a few days. Then, take it out again and look it over with a fresh set of eyes. Note any irrelevant, incorrect, or unclear places and edit as needed. Do this process a few times until you have a fairly clean draft.

Next, hand your essay off to someone you trust, such as a parent or teacher, and ask them to read it over and edit for content, structure, and grammar. Use their feedback to tweak your essay until you're satisfied with how it sounds.

Right before you submit your application to Purdue, proofread your essay one final time . Follow these tips and you're guaranteed to have one great Purdue supplemental essay!


What's Next?

Want to learn more about what it takes to get into Purdue? Then check out our Purdue admission requirements page to see what GPA and SAT/ACT scores you'll need to aim for.

Applying to other colleges in and around the Midwest? Then it might help to look at our college essay guides for Notre Dame , UIUC , and the University of Michigan .

If you're getting ready to write your long Common App essay , you'll definitely want to read our in-depth guide to all Common App prompts and how to answer them effectively .

Want to write the perfect college application essay?   We can help.   Your dedicated PrepScholar Admissions counselor will help you craft your perfect college essay, from the ground up. We learn your background and interests, brainstorm essay topics, and walk you through the essay drafting process, step-by-step. At the end, you'll have a unique essay to proudly submit to colleges.   Don't leave your college application to chance. Find out more about PrepScholar Admissions now:

Hannah received her MA in Japanese Studies from the University of Michigan and holds a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern California. From 2013 to 2015, she taught English in Japan via the JET Program. She is passionate about education, writing, and travel.

Student and Parent Forum

Our new student and parent forum, at , allow you to interact with your peers and the PrepScholar staff. See how other students and parents are navigating high school, college, and the college admissions process. Ask questions; get answers.

Join the Conversation

Ask a Question Below

Have any questions about this article or other topics? Ask below and we'll reply!

Improve With Our Famous Guides

  • For All Students

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 160+ SAT Points

How to Get a Perfect 1600, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 800 on Each SAT Section:

Score 800 on SAT Math

Score 800 on SAT Reading

Score 800 on SAT Writing

Series: How to Get to 600 on Each SAT Section:

Score 600 on SAT Math

Score 600 on SAT Reading

Score 600 on SAT Writing

Free Complete Official SAT Practice Tests

What SAT Target Score Should You Be Aiming For?

15 Strategies to Improve Your SAT Essay

The 5 Strategies You Must Be Using to Improve 4+ ACT Points

How to Get a Perfect 36 ACT, by a Perfect Scorer

Series: How to Get 36 on Each ACT Section:

36 on ACT English

36 on ACT Math

36 on ACT Reading

36 on ACT Science

Series: How to Get to 24 on Each ACT Section:

24 on ACT English

24 on ACT Math

24 on ACT Reading

24 on ACT Science

What ACT target score should you be aiming for?

ACT Vocabulary You Must Know

ACT Writing: 15 Tips to Raise Your Essay Score

How to Get Into Harvard and the Ivy League

How to Get a Perfect 4.0 GPA

How to Write an Amazing College Essay

What Exactly Are Colleges Looking For?

Is the ACT easier than the SAT? A Comprehensive Guide

Should you retake your SAT or ACT?

When should you take the SAT or ACT?

Stay Informed

how to write supplemental essays

Get the latest articles and test prep tips!

Looking for Graduate School Test Prep?

Check out our top-rated graduate blogs here:

GRE Online Prep Blog

GMAT Online Prep Blog

TOEFL Online Prep Blog

Holly R. "I am absolutely overjoyed and cannot thank you enough for helping me!”

Username or Email Address

Remember Me Forgot Password?

Prove your humanity

A link to set a new password will be sent to your email address.

Your personal data will be used to support your experience throughout this website, to manage access to your account, and for other purposes described in our privacy policy .

Get New Password -->


How to Write Supplemental Essays for College Applications

Jaya Ghosh

  • October 7, 2022
  • College Admission Guidance , Parents Must Read , Under Graduate

The main personal statement for the Common Application is one of the essays you will need to write for college admissions. Many schools include their own school-specific essays, also known as supplemental essays. These are additional pieces of writing that give admissions officers the chance to get to know you better.

What are Supplemental Essays?

Supplemental essays are additional pieces of writing required by many highly-selective universities, and they can be just as revealing and important as your personal statement. 

A supplemental essay gives you an opportunity to tell the admissions committee about something you weren’t able to cover in your main essay. These supplemental essays are usually shorter than the main college essay, but they are equally important. Some colleges ask for just one supplemental essay while others may require several.

For example,  Wake Forest University  in North Carolina had six additional questions for prospective students to respond to on its 2020 undergraduate admissions application. 

Supplemental essay prompts come in all shapes and sizes. In some cases, schools let applicants choose from several options. For instance, the  University of North Carolina—Chapel Hill ‘s fall 2019-20 application included four prompts – such as “What do you hope will change about the place where you live?” – From which, prospective students had to select two. The two most common prompts that are seen are “What do you want to major in?” and “Tell us about a favorite activity.”

Tips for Writing Supplemental Essays

  • Begin with an Outline. Every applicant has their own way of writing and is advisable to create outlines. You must brainstorm the personal qualities, skills, or experiences you would like to convey in your supplemental essays.
  • Find which of your college choices require supplements . Check the essay list on the International College Counselors website and also on the college websites. From August onward, you will be able to see many questions on your applications as you add a school to your list and fill in your major. There will be prompts you’ll need to answer within the school’s supplemental sections.
  • Carefully read the essay prompt.   Some schools ask the reason why you want to attend their college, while others ask about your interest in a particular program or your major.  
  • Write about yourself.  Your essay must present information about yourself that will make the college want you. Tell something positive about yourself.  
  • Do not repeat.  If you want to reveal something new about yourself in each essay, you can re-mention an activity. However, it must add something that can’t be found elsewhere in your app. Supplemental essays give you a chance to give more information to the admissions committee to further show why you are a good fit for a school. So make sure not to repeat things that already have been covered in your main essay.
  • Do your homework.   When a school wants to know the reason for choosing them, give specific details like courses and programs of interest to you at that school. Make sure everything you mention, ties into your goals and interests. You should have a thorough knowledge of the college and what its admissions officers are looking for in their applicants. 
  • Smart recycling of your essays.  If two or more colleges have similar questions, don’t hesitate to re-use one of your stories. Do not be careless and paste.
  • There are no optional essays  even if a college says the essays are optional.
  • Do not exceed the word count.  Many schools do not allow you to submit essays that are over the maximum word count, while many others have minimum word counts which you will need to meet.
  • Keep track of the essays you need to write so as not to miss one on the day of submission.
  • Narrow Your Focus. The biggest mistake applicants make in supplemental essays is choosing an essay topic that is too big. It is better to do something small and do it well. There are essays with 600-words, 500-words, and 150–250-word or other very short essays.
  • Take the help of  College Counselors who can make it easier for you by guiding you on what to write and how to write the essay.

Common Types of Supplemental Essays

Colleges find a hundred different ways to ask a question, but ultimately, the prompt boils down to one of the following common essay themes.

  • Why this college?
  • Why this major?
  • Elaborate on an extracurricular activity or work experience.
  • Discuss a community you belong to that has impacted who you are today.

Why this College?

In the “why this college” essay, your answer should focus on qualities and programs specific to that school. Listing or name-dropping will not be enough. Instead, you need to specify why this college is important to you and how this plays out. Read more about How to Write a Great Supplemental Essay “Why This College” .

Why This Major?

The Most important thing to remember is that admissions officers are not looking for a résumé. This of course does not refrain you from discussing your activities and how they culminated in a passion for a specific major. 

Use these activities to tell a story rather than a mere list of achievements. And to do this, you need to share your thought processes as it is the thoughts surrounding an activity more than the activity itself that show the reader your journey to choosing a major.

Don’t ever say that your reason for choosing a major has money-making. Potential, rather tell about how this major will help you achieve your dreams. If you chose to keep it undeclared, that is absolutely fine. Just be sure to list a couple of potential majors, and explain your interest in those. Under no circumstances say you have absolutely no idea, as that will make you look like you don’t care. 

Elaborating an Extracurricular Activity or Work Experience

There may be an activity or work experience in your application that you have more to say about or a story behind it that you want to tell. Like – How did you become interested in this extracurricular? What is your role in the activity or work experience? Why do you do it? Have you experienced growth within the activity over time?

There are endless angles you can pursue here; but in short, you need to show your motivation behind participating in a certain activity or job. Do not repeat something that’s been said elsewhere. If you have already spotlighted an activity in another essay for a given college, don’t write about the same activity. The goal is to share new information and your breadth of experiences.

Discuss a community you belong to that has impacted who you are today

The community you belong to has an immense impact on the person you are today. The term ‘’Community” can mean many things, with many possible approaches to this prompt. You may respond with a community you are linked to through culture, sports, or a club.

You can stress your personal growth or other aspects of who you are as a person—that contribute to belonging to this community. The goal of the essay should cater to how being part of this group has changed or impacted who you are as a person.

Things to Avoid while Writing Supplemental Essays Around Your Community

You should not discriminate against other communities in your response. 

Avoid talking broadly about your community but focus on your place within this community. 

Never use your essay as a platform to complain but you may choose to talk about challenges in a certain community in a refined way. You can talk about how these challenges have shaped you as a person or how you learned to confront these obstacles in a productive way. 

Your essays are your opportunity to tell admissions officers how you want to be remembered by them. If your SAT results were not up to the mark, or you got a low grade on an honors paper, you can neither change your grades nor your scores. But here the essays are entirely in your control.

You have enough scope and freedom to tell your story and what makes you unique. The aim is to make the essay-writing as stress-free as possible. At the end of the day, your essays should leave the reader wanting to have a conversation with you.

You need to show that you’re a multifaceted, mature person with an interesting story to tell. 

Share this:

Discover more from stoodnt.

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Type your email…

Continue reading

What are your chances of acceptance?

Calculate for all schools, your chance of acceptance.

Harvard University

Your chancing factors


how to write supplemental essays

How to Write the Harvard University Essays 2023-2024

Harvard University, perhaps the most prestigious and well-known institution in the world, is the nation’s oldest higher learning establishment with a founding date of 1636. Boasting an impressive alumni network from Sheryl Sandberg to Al Gore, it’s no surprise that Harvard recruits some of the top talents in the world.

It’s no wonder that students are often intimidated by Harvard’s extremely open-ended supplemental essays. However, CollegeVine is here to help and offer our guide on how to tackle Harvard’s supplemental essays. 

Read this Harvard essay example to inspire your own writing.

How to Write the Harvard University Supplemental Essays

Prompt 1: Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard? (200 words)

Prompt 2: Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (200 words)

Prompt 3: Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (200 words)

Prompt 4: How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (200 words)

Prompt 5: Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (200 words)

Harvard has long recognized the importance of enrolling a diverse student body. How will the life experiences that shape who you are today enable you to contribute to Harvard? (200 words)

Brainstorming Your Topic

This prompt is a great example of the classic diversity supplemental essay . That means that, as you prepare to write your response, the first thing you need to do is focus in on some aspect of your identity, upbringing, or personality that makes you different from other people.

As you start brainstorming, do remember that the way colleges factor race into their admissions processes will be different this year, after the Supreme Court struck down affirmative action in June. Colleges can still consider race on an individual level, however, so if you would like to write your response about how your racial identity has impacted you, you are welcome to do so.

If race doesn’t seem like the right topic for you, however, keep in mind that there are many other things that can make us different, not just race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, and the other aspects of our identities that people normally think of when they hear the word “diversity.” That’s not to say that you can’t write about those things, of course. But don’t worry if you don’t feel like those things have played a significant role in shaping your worldview. Here are some examples of other topics that could support a strong essay:

  • Moving to several different cities because of your parents’ jobs
  • An usual hobby, like playing the accordion or making your own jewelry
  • Knowing a lot about a niche topic, like Scottish castles

The only questions you really need to ask yourself when picking a topic are “Does this thing set me apart from other people?” and “Will knowing this thing about me give someone a better sense of who I am overall?” As long as you can answer “yes” to both of those questions, you’ve found your topic!

Tips for Writing Your Essay

Once you’ve selected a topic, the question becomes how you’re going to write about that topic in a way that helps Harvard admissions officers better understand how you’re going to contribute to their campus community. To do that, you want to connect your topic to some broader feature of your personality, or to a meaningful lesson you learned, that speaks to your potential as a Harvard student.

For example, perhaps your interest in Scottish castles has given you an appreciation for the strength of the human spirit, as the Scots were able to persevere and build these structures even in incredibly remote, cold parts of the country. Alternatively, maybe being half Puerto Rican, but not speaking Spanish, has taught you about the power of family, as you have strong relationships even with relatives you can’t communicate with verbally. 

Remember that, like with any college essay, you want to rely on specific anecdotes and experiences to illustrate the points you’re making. To understand why, compare the following two excerpts from hypothetical essays.

Example 1: “Even though I can’t speak Spanish, and some of my relatives can’t speak English, whenever I visit my family in Puerto Rico I know it’s a place where I belong. The island is beautiful, and I especially love going to the annual party at my uncle’s house.”

Example 2: “The smell of the ‘lechón,’ or suckling pig greets me as soon as I enter my uncle’s home, even before everyone rushes in from the porch to welcome me in rapid-fire Spanish. At best, I understand one in every ten words, but my aunt’s hot pink glasses, the Caribbean Sea visible through the living room window, and of course, the smell of roasting pork, tell me, wordlessly yet undeniably, that I’m home.”

Think about how much better we understand this student after Example 2. If a few words were swapped out, Example 1 could’ve been written by anyone, whereas Example 2 paints us a clear picture of how this student’s Puerto Rican heritage has tangibly impacted their life.

Mistakes to Avoid

The biggest challenge with this particular “Diversity” essay is the word count. Because you only have 200 words to work with, you don’t have space to include more than one broader takeaway you’ve learned from this aspect of your identity. 

Of course, people are complicated, and you’ve likely learned many things from being Puerto Rican, or from being interested in Scottish castles. But for the sake of cohesion, focus on just one lesson. Otherwise your essay may end up feeling like a bullet-point list of Hallmark card messages, rather than a thoughtful, personal, reflective piece of writing.

The other thing you want to avoid is writing an essay that’s just about your topic. Particularly since you’re going to be writing about an aspect of your identity that’s important to you, you’ll likely have a lot to say just about that. If you aren’t careful, you may burn through all 200 words without getting to the broader significance of what this piece of your personality says about who you are as a whole. 

That component, however, is really the key to a strong response. Harvard receives over 40,000 applications a year, which means that, whether you write about being Puerto Rican or Scottish castles, it’s likely someone else is writing about something similar. 

That doesn’t mean you need to agonize over picking something absolutely nobody else is writing about, as that’s practically impossible. All it means is that you need to be clear about how this aspect of your identity has shaped you as a whole, as that is how your essay will stand out from others with similar topics.

Briefly describe an intellectual experience that was important to you. (200 words)

Harvard admissions officers are being considerate here, as they’re telling you explicitly what they would like you to write about. Of course, there are still nuances to the prompt, but in terms of brainstorming, just ask yourself: What is an intellectual experience that’s been important to me?

Keep in mind that “intellectual” doesn’t necessarily mean “academic.” You absolutely can write a great response about a paper, project, or some other experience you had through school. But you could also write about attending a performance by the Berlin Philharmonic, or about a book you read for fun that made a big impact on you. So long as the experience was intellectually stimulating, you can write a strong essay about it.

Once you’ve picked an experience, the key is to describe it in a way that shows Harvard admissions officers how this experience has prepared you to contribute to their classrooms, and campus community as a whole. In other words, don’t just tell them what you did, but also what you learned and why that matters for understanding what kind of college student you’ll be.

For example, say you choose to write about a debate project you did in your American history class, where you had to prepare for both sides and only learned which one you would actually be defending on the day of the debate. You could describe how, although you came into the project with pre-existing opinions about the topic, the preparation process taught you that, if you’re thoughtful and open-minded, you can usually find merit and logic even in the polar opposite position from your own.

Alternatively, you could write about a book you read that had been translated from Danish, and how reading it got you interested in learning more about how to translate a text as faithfully as possible. After watching many interviews with translators and reading a book about translation, you have learned that sometimes, the most literal translation doesn’t capture the spirit from the original language, which to you is proof that, in any piece of writing, the human element is at least as important as the words on the page.

Notice that both of these examples include broader reflections that zoom out from the particular experiences, to show what you took away from them: increased open-mindedness to different perspectives, for the first, and a more nuanced understanding of what makes art, art, in the case of the second. 

A strong response must include this kind of big-picture takeaway, as it shows readers two things. First, that you can reflect thoughtfully on your experiences and learn from them. And second, it shows them a skill or perspective you’d be bringing with you to Harvard, which gives them a better sense of how you’d fit into their campus community.

The only real thing you need to watch out for is accidentally selecting an experience that, for whatever reason, doesn’t allow you to incorporate the kind of bigger-picture takeaway described above. Maybe the experience just happened, so you’re still in the process of learning from it. Or maybe the lessons you learned are too nuanced to describe in 200 words. 

Whatever this reason, if you find yourself unable to articulate the broader significance of this experience, head back to the drawing board, to select one that works better for this prompt. What you don’t want to do is try to force in a takeaway that doesn’t really fit, as that will make your essay feel generic or disjointed, since the “moral of the story” won’t clearly connect to the story itself.

Briefly describe any of your extracurricular activities, employment experience, travel, or family responsibilities that have shaped who you are. (200 words)

This is a textbook example of the “Extracurricular” essay . As such, what you need to do is well-defined, although it’s easier said than done: select an extracurricular activity that has, as Harvard says, “shaped who you are,” and make sure you’re able to articulate how it’s been formative for you.

As you brainstorm which extracurricular you want to write about, note that the language of the prompt is pretty open-ended. You write about “any” activity, not just one you have a lot of accolades in, and you don’t even have to write about an activity—you can also write about a travel experience, or family responsibility. 

If the thing that immediately jumps to mind is a club, sport, volunteer experience, or other “traditional” extracurricular, that’s great! Run with that. But if you’re thinking and nothing in that vein seems quite right, or, alternatively, you’re feeling bold and want to take a creative approach, don’t be afraid to get outside the box. Here are some examples of other topics you could write a strong essay about:

  • A more hobby-like extracurricular, like crocheting potholders and selling them on Etsy
  • Driving the Pacific Coast Highway on your own
  • Caring for your family’s two large, colorful macaws

These more creative topics can do a lot to showcase a different side of you, as college applications have, by their nature, a pretty restricted scope, and telling admissions officers about something that would never appear on your resume or transcript can teach them a lot about who you are. That being said, the most important thing is that the topic you pick has genuinely been formative for you. Whether it’s a conventional topic or not, as long as that personal connection is there, you’ll be able to write a strong essay about it.

The key to writing a strong response is focusing less on the activity itself, and more on what you’ve learned from your involvement in it. If you’re writing about a more conventional topic, remember that admissions officers already have your activities list. You don’t need to say “For the last five years, I’ve been involved in x,” because they already know that, and when you only have 200 words, wasting even 10 of them means you’ve wasted 5% of your space.

If you’re writing about something that doesn’t already show up elsewhere in your application, you want to provide enough details for your reader to understand what you did, but not more than that. For example, if you’re writing about your road trip, you don’t need to list every city you  stopped in. Instead, just mention one or two that were particularly memorable.

Rather than focusing on the facts and figures of what you did, focus on what you learned from your experience. Admissions officers want to know why your involvement in this thing matters to who you’ll be in college. So, think about one or two bigger picture things you learned from it, and center your response around those things.

For example, maybe your Etsy shop taught you how easy it is to bring some positivity into someone else’s life, as crocheting is something you would do anyways, and the shop just allows you to share your creations with other people. Showcasing this uplifting, altruistic side of yourself will help admissions officers better envision what kind of Harvard student you’d be.

As always, you want to use specific examples to support your points, at least as much as you can in 200 words. Because you’re dealing with a low word count, you probably won’t have space to flex your creative writing muscles with vivid, immersive descriptions. 

You can still incorporate anecdotes in a more economical way, however. For example, you could say “Every morning, our scarlet macaw ruffles her feathers and greets me with a prehistoric chirp.” You’re not going into detail about what her feathers look like, or where this scene is happening, but it’s still much more engaging than something like “My bird always says hello to me in her own way.”

The most common pitfall with an “Extracurricular” essay is describing your topic the way you would on your resume. Don’t worry about showing off some “marketable skill” you think admissions officers want to see, and instead highlight whatever it is you actually took away from this experience, whether it’s a skill, a realization, or a personality trait. The best college essays are genuine, as admissions officers feel that honesty, and know they’re truly getting to know the applicant as they are, rather than some polished-up version.

Additionally, keep in mind that, like with anything in your application, you want admissions officers to learn something new about you when reading this essay. So, if you’ve already written your common app essay about volunteering at your local animal shelter, you shouldn’t also write this essay about that experience. Your space in your application is already extremely limited, so don’t voluntarily limit yourself even further by repeating yourself when you’re given an opportunity to say something new.

How do you hope to use your Harvard education in the future? (200 words)

Although the packaging is a little different, this prompt has similarities to the classic “Why This College?” prompt . That means there are two main things you want to do while brainstorming. 

First, identify one or two goals you have for the future—with just 200 words, you won’t have space to elaborate on any more than that. Ideally, these should be relatively concrete. You don’t have to have your whole life mapped out, but you do need to be a lot more specific than “Make a difference in the world.” A more zoomed-in version of that goal would be something like “Contribute to conservation efforts to help save endangered species,” which would work.

Second, hop onto Harvard’s website and do some research on opportunities the school offers that would help you reach your goals. Again, make sure these are specific enough. Rather than a particular major, which is likely offered at plenty of other schools around the country, identify specific courses within that major you would like to take, or a professor in the department you would like to do research with. For example, the student interested in conservation might mention the course “Conservation Biology” at Harvard.

You could also write about a club, or a study abroad program, or really anything that’s unique to Harvard, so long as you’re able to draw a clear connection between the opportunity and your goal. Just make sure that, like with your goals, you don’t get overeager. Since your space is quite limited, you should choose two, or maximum three, opportunities to focus on. Any more than that and your essay will start to feel rushed and bullet point-y.

If you do your brainstorming well, the actual writing process should be pretty straightforward: explain your goals, and how the Harvard-specific opportunities you’ve selected will help you reach them. 

One thing you do want to keep in mind is that your goals should feel personal to you, and the best way to accomplish that is by providing some background context on why you have them. This doesn’t have to be extensive, as, again, your space is limited. But compare the following two examples, written about the hypothetical goal of helping conservation efforts from above, to get an idea of what we’re talking about:

Example 1: “As long as I can remember, I’ve loved all kinds of animals, and have been heartbroken by the fact that human destruction of natural resources could lead to certain species’ extinction.”

Example 2: “As a kid, I would sit in front of the aquarium’s walrus exhibit, admiring the animal’s girth and tusks, and dream about seeing one in the wild. Until my parents regretfully explained to me that, because of climate change, that was unlikely to ever happen.”

The second example is obviously longer, but not egregiously so: 45 words versus 31. And the image we get of this student sitting and fawning over a walrus is worth that extra space, as we feel a stronger personal connection to them, which in turn makes us more vicariously invested in their own goal of environmental advocacy.

As we’ve already described in the brainstorming section, the key to this essay is specificity. Admissions officers want you to paint them a picture of how Harvard fits into your broader life goals. As we noted earlier, that doesn’t mean you have to have everything figured out, but if you’re too vague about your goals, or how you see Harvard helping you reach them, admissions officers won’t see you as someone who’s prepared to contribute to their campus community.

Along similar lines, avoid flattery. Gushy lines like “At Harvard, every day I’ll feel inspired by walking the same halls that countless Nobel laureates, politicians, and CEOs once traversed” won’t get you anywhere, because Harvard admissions officers already know their school is one of the most prestigious and famous universities in the world. What they don’t know is what you are going to bring to Harvard that nobody else has. So, that’s what you want to focus on, not vague, surface-level attributes of Harvard related to its standing in the world of higher education.

Top 3 things your roommates might like to know about you. (200 words)

Like Prompt 2, this prompt tells you exactly what you need to brainstorm: three things a roommate would like to know about you. However, also like Prompt 2, while this prompt is direct, it’s also incredibly open-ended. What really are the top three things you’d like a complete stranger to know about you before you live together for nine months?

Questions this broad can be hard to answer, as you might not know where to start. Sometimes, you can help yourself out by asking yourself adjacent, but slightly more specific questions, like the following:

  • Do you have any interests that influence your regular routine? For example, do you always watch the Seahawks on Sunday, or are you going to be playing Taylor Swift’s discography on repeat while you study?
  • Look around your room—what items are most important to you? Do you keep your movie ticket stubs? Are you planning on taking your photos of your family cat with you to college?
  • Are there any activities you love and already know you’d want to do with your roommate, like weekly face masks or making Christmas cookies?

Hopefully, these narrower questions, and the example responses we’ve included, help get your gears turning. Keep in mind that this prompt is a great opportunity to showcase sides of your personality that don’t come across in your grades, activities list, or even your personal statement. Don’t worry about seeming impressive—admissions officers don’t expect you to read Shakespeare every night for two hours. What they want is an honest, informative picture of what you’re like “behind the scenes,” because college is much more than just academics.

Once you’ve selected three things to write about, the key to the actual essay is presenting them in a logical, cohesive, efficient way. That’s easier said than done, particularly if the three things you’ve picked are quite different from each other. 

To ensure your essay feels like one, complete unit, rather than three smaller ones stuck together, strong transitions will be crucial. Note that “strong” doesn’t mean “lengthy.” Just a few words can go a long way towards helping your essay flow naturally. To see what we mean here, take the following two examples:

Example 1: “Just so you know, every Sunday I will be watching the Seahawks, draped in my dad’s Steve Largent jersey. They can be a frustrating team, but I’ll do my best to keep it down in case you’re studying. I also like to do facemasks, though. You’re always welcome to any of the ones I have in my (pretty extensive) collection.”

Example 2: “Just so you know, every Sunday I will be watching the Seahawks, draped in my dad’s Steve Largent jersey. But if football’s not your thing, don’t worry—once the game’s over, I’ll need to unwind anyways, because win or lose the Hawks always find a way to make things stressful. So always feel free to join me in picking out a face mask from my (pretty extensive) collection, and we can gear up for the week together.”

The content in both examples is the same, but in the first one, the transition from football to facemasks is very abrupt. On the other hand, in the second example the simple line “But if football’s not your thing, don’t worry” keeps things flowing smoothly. 

There’s no one right way to write a good transition, but as you’re polishing your essay a good way to see if you’re on the right track is by asking someone who hasn’t seen your essay before to read it over and tell you if there are any points that made them pause. If the answer is yes, your transitions probably still need more work.

Finally, you probably noticed that the above examples are both written in a “Dear roomie” style, as if you’re actually speaking directly to your roommate. You don’t have to take this exact approach, but your tone should ideally be light and fun. Living alone for the first time, with other people your age, is one of the best parts of college! Plus, college applications are, by their nature, pretty dry affairs for the most part. Lightening things up in this essay will give your reader a breath of fresh air, which will help them feel more engaged in your application as a whole.

Harvard is doing you a favor here by keeping the scope of the essay narrow—they ask for three things, not more. As we’ve noted many times with the other supplements, 200 words will be gone in a flash, so don’t try to cram in extra things. It’s not necessary to do that, because admissions officers have only asked for three, and trying to stuff more in will turn your essay into a list of bullet points, rather than an informative piece of writing about your personality.

Finally, as we’ve hinted at a few times above, the other thing you want to avoid is using this essay as another opportunity to impress admissions officers with your intellect and accomplishments. Remember, they have your grades, and your activities list, and all your other essays. Plus, they can ask you whatever questions they want—if they wanted to know about the most difficult book you’ve ever read, they would. So, loosen up, let your hair down, and show them you know how to have fun too!

Where to Get Your Harvard Essays Edited

Do you want feedback on your Harvard essays? After rereading your essays countless times, it can be difficult to evaluate your writing objectively. That’s why we created our free Peer Essay Review tool , where you can get a free review of your essay from another student. You can also improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays. 

If you want a college admissions expert to review your essay, advisors on CollegeVine have helped students refine their writing and submit successful applications to top schools.  Find the right advisor for you  to improve your chances of getting into your dream school!

Related CollegeVine Blog Posts

how to write supplemental essays

Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

Tips for writing an effective college essay.

College admissions essays are an important part of your college application and gives you the chance to show colleges and universities your character and experiences. This guide will give you tips to write an effective college essay.

Want free help with your college essay?

UPchieve connects you with knowledgeable and friendly college advisors—online, 24/7, and completely free. Get 1:1 help brainstorming topics, outlining your essay, revising a draft, or editing grammar.


Writing a strong college admissions essay

Learn about the elements of a solid admissions essay.

Avoiding common admissions essay mistakes

Learn some of the most common mistakes made on college essays

Brainstorming tips for your college essay

Stuck on what to write your college essay about? Here are some exercises to help you get started.

How formal should the tone of your college essay be?

Learn how formal your college essay should be and get tips on how to bring out your natural voice.

Taking your college essay to the next level

Hear an admissions expert discuss the appropriate level of depth necessary in your college essay.

Student Stories


Student Story: Admissions essay about a formative experience

Get the perspective of a current college student on how he approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about personal identity

Get the perspective of a current college student on how she approached the admissions essay.

Student Story: Admissions essay about community impact

Student story: admissions essay about a past mistake, how to write a college application essay, tips for writing an effective application essay, sample college essay 1 with feedback, sample college essay 2 with feedback.

This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at

Highly-selective colleges and universities often require supplemental application materials. These materials help further personalize the admissions process so that each college’s admissions committee has the information it needs to select a vibrant and diverse incoming class. 

In this article, we will look at 10 supplemental essay prompts from top colleges and universities for the 2022-23 admissions cycle. Once you get a better sense of what to expect from a supplemental essay prompt, we will outline key strategies for answering these prompts, as well as provide practical writing tips to help you get started.

Complimentary Initial Consultation

Fill out this form to book your complimentary initial consultation..

Tell us your name.

What are supplemental essays and are they important?

Each college has its own sets of values and criteria that it looks for in applicants. This is why determining college fit is so important. By carefully researching each school on your college list and having several clear and compelling reasons for wanting to attend, you will increase your overall chances of admission.    

One way that colleges gauge whether or not a student would be a good fit for their university is by posing unique supplemental essay prompts. This is why knowing how to write a supplemental essay is so important. Most colleges with supplemental essays will have applicants write the “why this college” essay . 

Many selective colleges will require additional supplemental essays as well. In some cases, you will need to prepare an additional five essays per school, so give yourself plenty of time to complete each essay thoughtfully, write multiple drafts, seek out feedback, and proofread. The college application process can feel overwhelming at times, so make sure you brainstorm ways to stay organized during the college application process . 

Although the style and content of the actual prompts can vary greatly, at the core these prompts have one thing in common: They are designed to get to know who you are as a person, what your values are, and whether you demonstrate compatibility with the university’s overall mission. 

How to write supplemental essays

If you’re looking for supplemental essay tips, you’ve come to the right place! In this section, we will discuss how to write a good supplemental essay, by providing several key application essay tips. 

To start, it’s important to remember that the process of writing supplemental essays is similar to the process of writing a successful personal statement . Review components of a strong personal statement to give yourself a fresh perspective before beginning your supplemental essays.

Tips for writing supplemental essays

Supplemental essays are typically pretty brief. This is why it’s important to learn how to write concisely and powerfully. Having very few words to respond does not mean that you should prepare your responses casually or that your responses shouldn’t include lots of details. Rather, approach each word limit creatively. Whether you have 50 words, 200 words, or 500 words, try to use each sentence and detail to your advantage. One of the best ways to do this is to begin by freewriting. Write down everything that comes to mind. Take time to fully flush out your ideas. Then review what you’ve written and see what feels most important. These are the details you will want to highlight in your response.

Some colleges will require three to five additional essays. Maybe even more! This is why it’s important to be prepared and plan ahead. Supplemental essays are an important part of your college application and they require a lot of time and effort. While some supplemental essay prompts may be similar between schools, in general, you want to avoid recycling your college essays. Admissions officers can tell when a student is tweaking an existing essay to fit a prompt.

While some essay prompts are required, others are optional. In general, try to answer each prompt thoughtfully and creatively. After all, it’s no secret that college admissions are highly competitive so it’s great to give your application “an edge” whenever possible. That said, there are times when you should pass on writing an optional essay. If you’re not sure whether or not you should submit an essay for an optional prompt, begin by drafting a response. Then ask yourself if the essay feels forced or genuine. Does the essay convey something new about you that isn’t included in the rest of your application? If the question doesn’t seem to apply to you and you are genuinely unsure what to contribute, you should probably skip that particular essay. After all, no one wants to read an uninspired essay that doesn’t contribute to your overall application.

2022-23 supplemental essay prompts

As mentioned, supplemental essay prompts can vary significantly. Some prompts ask you to respond in 50 words while other prompts ask you to respond in 500 words. Some prompts focus on academics while others ask you to reflect carefully on your cultural upbringing or life philosophies. Still, other prompts will ask you to introduce who you are as a person or discuss something that you enjoy.

Just as supplemental essay prompts vary in style, your responses will also vary. Some prompts will require you to be thoughtful and serious, while other prompts may encourage you to be humorous or creative. It all depends.

Brown University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Brown University requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

Brown’s culture fosters a community in which students challenge the ideas of others and have their ideas challenged in return, promoting a deeper and clearer understanding of the complex issues confronting society. This active engagement in dialogue is as present outside the classroom as it is in academic spaces. Tell us about a time you were challenged by a perspective that differed from your own. How did you respond? (200-250 words)

Columbia University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Columbia University requires the following supplemental materials: 1 list of 75 words, 1 list of 125 words, 3 essays of 200 words each, and 1 short answer of 35 words. One of their supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

For the following questions, we ask that you list each individual response using commas or semicolons; the items do not have to be numbered or in any specific order. No explanatory text or formatting is needed. (For example, it is not necessary to italicize or underline titles of books or other publications. No author names, subtitles or explanatory remarks are needed.)  

List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)

how to write supplemental essays

Meet with our college admissions experts

Dartmouth college supplemental essay prompt.

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Dartmouth College requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

“Be yourself,” Oscar Wilde advised. “Everyone else is taken.” Introduce yourself in 200-250 words. 

Duke University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Duke University requires at least one supplemental essay, with the option to submit an additional two supplemental essays. One of the optional supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?

Emory University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Emory University requires two supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

Emory If you could witness a historic event (past, present or future) first-hand, what would it be, and why?

Harvard University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Harvard University requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words)

MIT supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, MIT requires five supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows:

We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it.

Princeton University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Princeton University requires three supplemental essays and three short responses. One of the short-answer prompts is as follows:

Please respond to each question in 75 words or fewer. There are no right or wrong answers. Be yourself!

What is a new skill you would like to learn in college?

What brings you joy? 

What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment?

Stanford University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Stanford University requires three supplemental essays and five short answer responses. One of the short-answer prompts is as follows:

How did you spend your last two summers? (50-word limit)

UPenn supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, UPenn requires three supplemental essays. One of the supplemental essay prompts is as follows: 

Write a short thank-you note to someone you have not yet thanked and would like to acknowledge. (We encourage you to share this note with that person, if possible, and reflect on the experience!) (150-200 words)

Yale University supplemental essay prompt

As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Yale University requires the following supplemental materials: 1 list; 6 short answer questions; 1 additional short essay of 400 words. One of the short answer prompts is as follows:

Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What would you ask them to discuss? (200 characters or fewer)

Supplemental essay examples

One of the best ways to prepare your supplemental essay responses is to look at successful past examples. In this section, we will look at three examples and explain why each response is successful. 

This first example was submitted as a part of Harvard’s college application. This essay is in response to the prompt: Please briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences. (50-150 words).

Feet moving, eyes up, every shot back, chants the silent mantra in my head. The ball becomes a beacon of neon green as I dart forward and backward, shuffling from corner to far corner of the court, determined not to let a single point escape me. With bated breath, I swing my racquet upwards and outwards and it catches the ball just in time to propel it, spinning, over the net. My heart soars as my grinning teammates cheer from the sidelines. While I greatly value the endurance, tenacity, and persistence that I have developed while playing tennis throughout the last four years, I will always most cherish the bonds that I have created and maintained each year with my team.

This essay uses rich, descriptive language to evoke a clear sense of movement and place. The first paragraph shows a creative and expert control of language, whereas the second paragraph uses straightforward language to highlight key characteristics. Overall, this response is creative, well-balanced, and uses each word to its advantage. 


This essay was submitted as a part of an MIT college application. The supplemental essay prompt that it addresses is: Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations?

We were moving away from my home of thirteen years to go miles and miles away, from my whole life. Worst of all: away from New York City – the only place in the world worth knowing – or so I thought. The town might as well have been called “Miniscule Ville”. I resented every second of it. The real shocking thing to me was almost that anything existed outside of New York City. NYC is a world of its own, with its own pulses and lifeblood. I still think it’s a great place, and I’ll likely at least visit it someday, but right now, I want to visit everywhere. My move humbled me. I began to love nature walks, the friendly camaraderie of the small town, and saw a world I never imagined. I thought I knew it all just because I lived in New York. Here was a great place, hidden from view. I loved experiencing that new world, learning local history, and most of all, learning the life stories of my new neighbors, each one of whom had a fascinating life. My greatest dream is to be a journalist, covering other countries, and learning about new worlds and neighbors. My old perspective feels so limited. If I can share global stories, I can open up my perspective, and I can share those stories with a thousand homes so readers can learn about other perspectives as well. The world is full of different lives. Everywhere is somebody’s home.

This essay covers a lot of material; most impressively, it shows a shift in perspective and its effect on the student’s lived experience. It also clearly explains the student’s academic and professional goals. The tone of this essay is both confident and humble. It demonstrates who this student is as a person, what their goals are, and what they value.  


This essay was submitted as a part of a Duke college application. The essay addresses the prompt: What has been your best academic experience in the last two years, and what made it so good?

Most teachers who taught me talked a big game about wanting students to engage in debate, or “dialectic” as they called it, and to challenge their ideas. In my experience, most of this was a fabrication. The best essay grades and participation marks were found through parroting what was dictated from on high. Did the teacher think such-and-such is the “correct” interpretation of a novel? You did, too, or you lost points. None of that was true for Ms. Jackie Winters. The first essay I sent her came back with the note, “This doesn’t sound like you; it sounds like me.” I asked her about the note, and this initiated a marvelous learning environment, in which I grew faster than I ever have in any other class. Discussions were lively, and the more I presented my authentic views, the more I was respected. My grades were dependent on being backed up by rhetoric, sources, and logic, not by compliance. Due to this engagement, this was the most enjoyable English literature class I had, and I feel like my viewpoints were challenged. I learned to question my ideas and dig into a text for the best results. Best of all, I was putting in more and more effort to find good, quality sources to back up my arguments. I was held to a high standard and shown respect, and I believe that those qualities made for the best learning environment possible

This essay clearly shows a shift in perspective and the effects it had on this student’s ability to think, speak, and write critically. Structurally, this essay uses an anecdote to introduce and contextualize a topic, but the essay itself isn’t overly narrative. Rather, the student explains, in detail, how this teacher’s encouragement and guidance have influenced their willingness and ability to engage with the source material and academic discourse.


Key takeaways and moving forward

Supplemental essays are an important part of your college applications. In fact, they are a key factor in what college admissions officers look for in an applicant . Highly-selective colleges and universities use supplemental essays to further personalize the college admissions process. After all, thousands of qualified students apply to Ivy League institutions each year and only a small fraction are admitted. Supplemental essays allow you to share more about who you are as a person and as a student. Use each prompt as an opportunity to add something new to your college application. If you feel like you could benefit from professional guidance throughout this process, reach out to learn more about our services .

Frequently asked questions and answers

Still have questions about supplemental essays and the effects they have on college applications? Review the following frequently asked questions and answers for further insight on supplemental essays. 

How important are supplemental essays?

Supplemental essays are an incredibly important part of your college applications and should be properly prioritized. If a college didn’t care about your response, they wouldn’t ask you in the first place. Put plenty of time and care into your responses. Write several drafts, seek out feedback, and always proofread.

How long should supplemental essays be?

Always follow directions. Colleges will specify how long each supplemental essay should be, usually right after the prompt itself. Depending on the college, and the prompt, a supplemental essay’s word count may range anywhere from 50 to 500 words.

Do supplemental essays change every year?

It all depends on the college. Colleges often reuse past prompts, but there are no guarantees. This is why it’s important to plan ahead and make a list of supplemental essay prompts early on in the college application process.

Are supplemental essays required?

Sometimes colleges will have both required and optional supplemental essays. That said, the essay prompts are clearly labeled. In short, each college will specify whether supplemental essays are required. 

Do all colleges have supplemental essays?

No, not all colleges have supplemental essays. Highly-selective colleges, however, often require at least one additional essay.

  • December 14, 2022

Supplemental Essay Guide for 2022-23 Prompts

how to write supplemental essays

Contact a Prepory college admissions coach and start your college admissions journey.

Our college admissions experts are here to guide you from where you are to where you should be. Through our comprehensive curriculum, individualized coaching, and online workshops, you are set for success as soon as you connect with us.

During our initial consultation, we will: 

  • Assess your student’s applicant profile and higher education goals 
  • Provide detailed information about our services and programming
  • Share tips on how to navigate the U.S. college admissions process 

Let's get started!

how to write supplemental essays

Land your next great job with a Prepory career coach!

Let us help you advance your career, Identify new opportunities, participate in mock interviews, build, thrive, grow, and land your dream job.

Subscribe to our blog!

Follow us on social media

Want to get admitted to your dream school or accelerate your career?

College Admissions

Career coaching.

(929) 244-3365 [email protected] 12555 Orange Drive, Suite 100A, Davie, FL 33330

how to write supplemental essays

Copyright © 2023  Prepory Coaching Group LLC.  All Rights Reserved.


Ready to take the next step towards college admissions or career success?

Book your free consultation.

Nice to meet you! What's your email?

And your phone number?

Please select a consultation time.


  1. College Supplemental Essay Examples for a Successful Paper

    how to write supplemental essays

  2. How to Write Great Supplemental Essays for College

    how to write supplemental essays

  3. AO Advice: How to Write Great Supplemental Essays that Stand Out

    how to write supplemental essays

  4. How to write the BEST supplemental essays

    how to write supplemental essays

  5. How to Write Harvard Supplemental Essays?

    how to write supplemental essays

  6. 8 Tips for Writing Supplemental Essays

    how to write supplemental essays


  1. Supplemental Essays 2023

  2. Reading my accepted STANFORD Supplemental Essays (as an International Student) !

  3. How to Stand Out on Your College Essays This Fall [Webinar]

  4. The Secrets to Writing and Editing Compelling Supplemental and "Why Us" Essays

  5. How to Write Supplemental Essays

  6. Supplemental Essay Writing


  1. Learn How to Write Great Supplemental College Essays

    Learn how to write supplemental essays for hundreds of highly-selective universities with step-by-step guides, essay examples, and analysis. Find tips and tricks for tackling different types of supplemental essays, such as the why this college, why this major, why this extracurricular, and more.

  2. The Ultimate Guide to Supplemental College Application Essays (Examples

    Learn how to impress admissions committees through any school-specific essay prompt with this comprehensive guide. Find tips, examples, and strategies for writing supplemental essays of different lengths and formats, from 650 words to 150 words or less. Impress admissions committees with your personal statement skills and rhythms.

  3. How to Write a Supplemental Essay for College Applications

    However, a couple of the questions asked applicants to write lists - for instance, a personal top 10 list - rather than a full paragraph or two. Supplemental essay prompts come in all shapes ...

  4. How to Write the Most Common Supplemental College Essays: A Complete

    This can be cut down to: The way you schedule your classes is ideal because…. Most times phrases such as "I think," "I believe," "it seems," and other similar wording is not necessary and simply takes up extra space. Use your judgement, but generally, these phrases get the boot. Keep an eye out for the word "that.".

  5. How to Write the Brown University Supplemental Essays: Examples + Guide

    Step 1: Write that problem down on the center of a piece of paper. Step 2: Draw lines off it to the right and left. Step 3: At the ends of the lines on the left, brainstorm reasons why that problem bothers you (Ex. I'm a student, and I have trouble getting my medications, so this is a personal problem).

  6. Your Definitive Guide to Supplemental College Application Essays

    Updated: Jan 01, 2024. Supplemental college application essays come in a vast range of topics and sizes and are often the biggest challenge for students after getting through the grueling initial application stages. These essays are crucial in the admissions process, as they provide a more personal and detailed context of your candidacy.

  7. How to Write a Supplemental Essay: Steps and Prompt Examples

    Writing a strong supplemental essay often involves multiple drafts. After writing your initial draft, take a break and return to it with fresh eyes. Look for areas where you can improve clarity, coherence, and conciseness. Check for grammar and spelling errors. Seek feedback from teachers, peers, or mentors to gain different perspectives and ...

  8. Supplemental Essays Guide: How to Write, Tips & Examples

    In this complete guide, we'll cover everything you need to know about writing excellent supplemental essays, including examples from well-written essays, tips for common essay prompts, and each possible length. To top it all off, we've also included answers to the most frequently asked questions about writing stand-out supplemental essays.

  9. How to Write Great Supplemental College Application Essays

    For example, if captain of the school's soccer team is on the activity list, don't write an essay about the biggest game of the season. The admissions officers already know soccer is an interest, so choose a deeper topic that reveals something meaningful. One example: A student's top activity on her activity list was horseback riding.

  10. How to Write a Great Supplemental Essay

    Since the word limit on supplemental essays is usually pretty low, you need to make every word count to get your point across. If you're struggling to comply with the word limit, comb through your essay and eliminate every sentence, phrase, and word that doesn't serve a purpose. If it doesn't add to the story, cut it.

  11. Don't Sweat the Supp Stuff: Advice for Crafting Your Supplemental Essay

    Below is the supplemental essay prompt for students applying for entry to Hopkins in the fall of 2024: Tell us about an aspect of your identity (e.g., race, gender, sexuality, religion, community, etc.) or a life experience that has shaped you as an individual and how that influenced what you'd like to pursue in college at Hopkins.

  12. How to Write Supplemental Essays that Will Impress Admissions Officers

    The Common App personal statement, for example, is maximum 650 words. Supplemental essays, on the other hand, typically range from 100 to 400 words (although occasionally some will be longer). When added together, you'll likely be writing at least a couple thousand words for your college applications. Research.

  13. How to Write Every Type of Supplemental Essay

    Before you jump into the writing process, however, read through our strategic advice for writing winning supplemental essays. The 5 Main Types of Supplemental Essays. Although it may seem that colleges require an overwhelming amount of writing, bear in mind that most of the supplements you will have to write can be categorized into common ...

  14. Tips for Writing Supplemental Essays

    Plan ahead and give yourself the time you need to brainstorm, draft, edit, and proofread. Tell your story. Supplemental essays have the same purpose as the standard ones - to give you an opportunity to share something about yourself. Even if the question is focused on the college, don't just use this as an opportunity to show your knowledge ...

  15. How to Write the Harvard Supplemental Essay

    Learn how to write great responses to Harvard's supplemental essay questions with examples and a guide. Find out what the prompts are about, how to brainstorm ideas, and how to structure your essays.

  16. Purdue Supplemental Essay: 4 Top Tips for Writing Yours

    How to Write a Great Purdue Supplemental Essay: 4 Tips. To wrap up, here are four tips to help you write a great supplemental Purdue University admission essay. #1: Write Succinctly and Purposefully. All three Purdue supplemental essays you need to write are pretty short, with one 250-word essay and two 100-word essays.

  17. How to Write a Great Supplemental Essay for Harvard

    Grammar and Sentence Structure. Good grammar, correct spelling, and sentence structure are crucial aspects of a well-written essay. Vary your sentence length and structure to keep your writing engaging. If you have a series of long sentences, try to follow up with a short sentence so your reader has a mental break while reading.

  18. How to Write Supplemental Essays for College Applications

    Some schools ask the reason why you want to attend their college, while others ask about your interest in a particular program or your major. Write about yourself. Your essay must present information about yourself that will make the college want you. Tell something positive about yourself. Do not repeat.

  19. How to Write the Harvard University Essays 2023-2024

    First, identify one or two goals you have for the future—with just 200 words, you won't have space to elaborate on any more than that. Ideally, these should be relatively concrete. You don't have to have your whole life mapped out, but you do need to be a lot more specific than "Make a difference in the world.".

  20. Ultimate Guide to Writing Your College Essay

    Sample College Essay 2 with Feedback. This content is licensed by Khan Academy and is available for free at College essays are an important part of your college application and give you the chance to show colleges and universities your personality. This guide will give you tips on how to write an effective college essay.

  21. How To Write College Supplemental Essays

    Supplemental essays are an important part of the college application process, as they provide an opportunity for you to showcase additional aspects of your candidacy that may not be covered in your main personal statement.. These prompts are designed to elicit specific information or insights that will help admissions officers gain a deeper understanding of who you're as a person and a ...

  22. Supplemental Essay Guide for 2022-23 Prompts

    As a part of the 2022-23 college applications, Columbia University requires the following supplemental materials: 1 list of 75 words, 1 list of 125 words, 3 essays of 200 words each, and 1 short answer of 35 words. One of their supplemental essay prompts is as follows: For the following questions, we ask that you list each individual response ...

  23. How to Write the Rice University Supplemental Essays: Examples + Guide

    Step #1: Imagine a mini-movie of the moments that led you to your interest and create a simple, bullet-point outline. Step #2: Put your moments (aka the "scenes" of your mini-movie) in chronological order, as it'll help you see how your interests developed. It also makes it easier to write transitions.

  24. How to Write Princeton Supplemental Essays

    When you set out to write your Princeton supplemental essays, one of the most important things you can do is draw the reader in right from the start with what is called a "hook" . Consider using a personal anecdote that piques the reader's interest, a fact that might surprise them, or a shibboleth, which is an opening phrase or statement ...