11 Supplemental Essays

Ms. Cameron Hu


Presentation Materials

11.1 Importance

Why are supplemental essays important?

  • Because the Common App essay is… “common”
    • Every school you are applying to with the Common App gets to read the same essay.
    • Your Common App personal statement isn’t school-specific.
  • Because activity lists are objective and short
    • Schools may know what you have done from an activity list, but they won’t know the story behind your achievements.
    • Motivation, inspiration, aspirations
  • Because supplemental essays tell one particular school what they want to know about you
    • Namely, the sort of fit you have with the school, their values, and their characteristics

11.2 Prompts

How do I find specific supplemental essay prompts?

Always refer to the Common App information for school-specific essays. Even if you can search a school’s supplemental essay prompts online, prompts often change from one application cycle to next.

What do prompts typically ask me to write?

Remark on a unique curricular feature or opportunity specific to the school, and provide information about how you would utilize them.

  • Example (Brown University): “Brown’s Open Curriculum allows students to explore broadly while also diving deeply into their academic pursuits. Tell us about any academic interests that excite you, and how you might use the Open Curriculum to pursue them while also embracing topics with which you are unfamiliar. (200-250 words)”

Remark on your fit for a school in respect to an academic value they hold dear or to a scholarly standard to which they hold their students.

  • Example (Brown University): “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)”
  • Example (Brown University): “Brown students care deeply about their work and the world around them. Students find contentment, satisfaction, and meaning in daily interactions and major discoveries. Whether big or small, mundane or spectacular, tell us about something that brings you joy. (200-250 words)”

Remark generally on why you are interested in a campus, a program on the campus, or an area of study on the campus.

  • Example (NYU): “We would like to know more about your interest in NYU. What motivated you to apply to NYU? Why have you applied or expressed interest in a particular campus, school, college, program, and or area of study? If you have applied to more than one, please also tell us why you are interested in these additional areas of study or campuses. We want to understand – Why NYU? (400 words)”

Remark on your fit for a school in respect to a personal value they hold dear or to a behavioral/social standard to which they hold their students.

  • Example (NYU): “NYU was founded on the belief that a student’s identity should not dictate the ability for them to access higher education. That sense of opportunity for all students, of all backgrounds, remains a part of who we are today and a critical part of what makes us a world class university. Our community embraces diversity, in all its forms, as a cornerstone of the NYU experience. We would like to better understand how your experiences would help us to shape and grow our diverse community. Please respond in 250 words or less.”

Remark on your role in a community now and predict the evolution of that role in the context of a school’s campus community.

  • Example (University of Washington): “Our families and communities often define us and our individual worlds. Community might refer to your cultural group, extended family, religious group, neighborhood or school, sports team or club, co-workers, etc. Describe the world you come from and how you, as a product of it, might add to the diversity of the University of Washington. (300 words)”

Remark on the academic major(s) you intend to study at a school.

  • Example (University of Washington-Madison): “Tell us why you decided to apply to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. In addition, please include why you are interested in studying the major(s) you have selected. If you selected undecided please describe your areas of possible academic interest. (You may enter up to 650 words, but 300-500 is recommended).”

11.3 Preparing to Write

Before writing a supplemental essay from a prompt like the ones above, you should collect information about:

  • course offerings (from a departmental website),
  • professors and faculty (from a departmental website),
  • clubs and organizations (from a “campus life” section on a school website, like this one),
  • traditions,
  • the location of a school.

11.4 Writing


Development of your academic interest → related courses taken → related researches and/or projects conducted → one or two courses the school offers that are appealing to you and/or professors’ research interests that match with yours and/or undergraduate research/lab opportunities


Introduction of currently involved activity and possible continuation → Activities you wish to engage in college and/or facilities/supports you can get from college

11.5 Schools that Don’t Require Supplemental Essays


  • Middlebury College
  • Smith College (all-girls school, sorry, guys 😢)
  • Grinnell College
  • Colby College
  • Kenyon College

Research universities:

  • Northeastern University
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Ohio State University

11.6 Tips

  1. Don’t get carried away by the prompt! Focus on telling your story and showcasing your characteristics that match what the school values.
  2. Don’t tell facts that the school is aware of (e.g., location).
  3. Does the content still make sense when you switch XXX University to YYY University? If so, you better fix it!