Writing Supplemental Essays

In addition to your personal essay, some schools require a supplemental essay as a part of the application process. In the supplemental essay, you are often asked to explain why you want to apply to that particular school and why you would be a good fit. Here are some tips to help you out as you tackle these types of prompts:

Identify your passions 

Before you get started on the essay, think carefully about where your interests lie. In addition to studying, what else do you hope to do while at college? Are you passionate about science and want to work in a research lab? Do you love sports and plan to join an intramural soccer team? Do you enjoy writing and dream of working for the school newspaper? Write it all down and come up with a list of a couple of things that are essential to your college experience. 

Do your research 

Now that you know what’s important to you, go onto the school’s website and find out what opportunities they have in those fields. Most schools have a list of available extracurriculars and student groups that you can join when you get there. It’s also beneficial to look up different academic programs, research opportunities, internships and study abroad options. As you’re doing this, jot down everything you find that makes you genuinely excited. 

Culture matters 

Another aspect you should touch on in your essay is the school culture. Is the school’s community based around sports? A tiny liberal arts college with a small-town feel? Is there a strong religious presence on campus? In your essay, you should identify the school culture and explain why it’s a good match for you. Use as much first-hand experience as you can. If you’ve visited, mention something you learned on the tour that stood out to you. If you haven’t had the chance to visit, browse on the school’s website and look at class sizes, research the city the school is located in and read about student experiences. The more information you can get, the better.

Quality over quantity

Once you’ve done your research, you’re ready to begin writing the essay. These essays are usually short: only one or two paragraphs. Since you do not have a ton of space, prioritize quality over quantity. First, in a few sentences, explain why the school would be a good culture fit for you. Then, rather than listing out every activity you find interesting, select two or three of the opportunities from your list and talk about why you want to do them in detail. Be as specific as possible, mentioning the exact names of the programs or student groups you’ve researched. Colleges will be impressed with your attention to detail and it’ll show that you’re serious about the school. 

Be authentic 

Sometimes students write down the things that they think colleges want to hear. However, you should always be true to yourself. For example, if the school is super religious, and that’s not something that matters to you, don’t say that it is. The most important thing is that you’re happy and successful wherever you go to college. This essay provides an excellent opportunity to think critically about your values and determine whether they align with that schools mission. In your research, you might find that it’s not a good fit, and that’s okay! It’s better to know early on. 

Don’t stress 

There are no right or wrong answers for this essay. As long as you put some thought into it and do your best to explain yourself, you’re all set.  Colleges want to see you for the student you are. Look at it as a chance for them to get to know you better. Don’t forget to have fun with it! 

Writing Your Best College Essay

Marc Leroux-Parra, CollegeFindMe Intern

By this point, you’ve probably heard about the essay portion of college applications. If you aren’t the biggest fan of writing, or applications, or writing about applications, you might not be too excited to get started. However, the application essay is the biggest opportunity you, as a student, have to tell your story. Don’t let the fear of sounding “backwards” or “different” impair and water down your writing; colleges want you to tell them your unique background, personal perspective, and experiences. This can make the essay a bit more fun, but you should still definitely take it seriously. So let’s go through some tips for knocking your essay out of the park.

Time management

As someone who applied to all of my schools on the same day, let me give you an insider piece of advice: You cannot write an essay in a day. College application essays require multiple drafts, especially if you want to meet the word count while still being clear and direct. So give yourself plenty of time to organize your thoughts. A draft doesn’t have to be big and complicated; just some bullet points that can turn into sentences and paragraphs and, finally, a personal essay.

Content

Admissions officers want to see your background, personal developments, and experiences reflected within your personal essay. The prompts are merely different lenses through which they expect you learn about you as a person. Before you write, it is helpful to sit down—either alone or with a parent or close friend—and brainstorm a list of the most impactful, emotional, and difficult moments of your life, positive or negative. From this list, you can narrow down the list to one or two events which have defined who you are today. If, at this point, you have more than one finalist event, it can help to analyze each event in detail by asking yourself these questions:

  • When and where did the event take place?
  • Who were you before the event?
  • Who were/are you after the event?
    • What changed? How did this influence your actions moving forward with your life? How have other events been influenced by the effects of this one?
  • Who was around you during the event? How did this change?
  • What emotions did you feel during the event? What emotions do you feel now, looking back at the event?

These questions will help you form a fuller understanding of how a particular event shaped your life, and hopefully make it easier to put it into words.

Word count

In writing these essays, every sentence counts. Every sentence should drive your story forward and provide new information about yourself. That isn’t to say you can’t describe a particular moment with more than one sentence, but if you do, make sure you highlight a different part or detail. And make sure you always, always, highlight how this event has shaped your personality, development, life, and who you are now.

Voice

Keep in mind, you don’t have to just describe who you were and who are now. Let it shine by using your voice. Are you funny? Make (appropriate) jokes! Are you mature? Use language that reflects that. Are you clever? A little word play never hurts. However, don’t try to be someone you aren’t. The whole point of the essay is to paint a picture of who you are. Try telling your story out loud and recording it before you write it down. This will help your essay sound more “you” than anything that comes out of a thesaurus. 

Final note

This might sound like a lot to juggle. And it is, but it’s possible. Every single person who has gone to college has written a successful essay, and you will too. Don’t rush, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. And most importantly, don’t try to be anything other than yourself, because that’s the best thing you can be. 

A Masterclass on the SAT Essay Section

Jeremy Caldwell ‘19, Tufts University

You’ve made it through over 3 hours of SAT testing. You’re doing amazing, but who wouldn’t be tired at this point? After a final break, you’re in the home stretch: the optional essay. “Optional” is a tricky word, because some colleges require you to submit a writing score along with your SAT score. So it’s time to buckle down and write a great essay!

Format

You’ll have 50 minutes to write your essay. Each SAT essay provides you with a short persuasive passage that you’ll have to read and respond to. Your response should discuss how the author of the passage builds their argument using evidence, reasoning, and other persuasive elements rather than restate what the argument is. The purpose of this essay is to assess your ability to analyze an author’s argument. 

Preparing

At the beginning of your essay section, you’ll have a blank page to plan. Use it! This is your chance to organize your thoughts, decide on the structure of your essay, and choose what evidence from the text you want to use to build your analysis. You’ll be able to write much faster and more clearly when you have a clear idea of what you want to say.

Beginning

The structure of your essay should be pretty straightforward. One sentence to introduce the topic, a transition to your analysis, and a very clear thesis statement. Remember: your thesis sentence should state your argument, and briefly discuss what each paragraph will go over. 

Writing

A few key things to remember: 

  • Be careful with your word choice. Don’t be repetitive with the words you use, and avoid vague terms like “so,” “very,” “maybe,” and “like.”
  • Don’t spend too much time on evidence. While it’s important to cite why you have made an argument, don’t quote the passage too heavily. The readers want to hear what you have to say, not the author. 
  • Be objective! While you are writing an analysis, don’t say “I think,” “I believe,” or “in my opinion.” Have confidence in what you have to say!
  • Write clearly. This one is really tricky because of the time crunch, but if the readers can’t understand what you wrote, they won’t be able to score your essay as well.

Timing

Final tips

This essay may seem stressful, but it’s no different from any essay you’ve had to write in English class. Just focus on having a clear argument that is well supported by evidence. And don’t stress about sounding like you have the biggest vocabulary in the world. Being smart doesn’t mean using big words. It’s about being thoughtful and thorough when writing your essay, and being confident in your ability to nail this!