Dear College, I Love You: Supplemental Essay Tips

Dear College,

I Love You.


The Student of Your Dreams

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day? Though art more lovely and more temperate.

That’s not a bad way to start, but the line’s already been taken by Shakespeare in his Sonnet 18. Still, the sentiment conveyed is one I encourage students to consider replicating in their supplemental essays. Supplemental college essays, also dubbed supps, short-answer essays or a college’s individual essays, are often much more challenging for students to “nail” than the Common Application essay or personal statement.

Here’s why supplemental essays are different:

They’re Shorter

Typically 150-250 words, the short essays that many schools require have very pointed prompts. And they challenge a student’s inclination to blah blah blah. I urge them to “get in and get out” or Practice the Art of Concision.

They’re Not All Questions

Before putting pen to paper or fingers to keypad, I advise students to double-check each prompt to clarify the punctuation. Are they being asked to answer a question or respond to a statement? Or is the college asking for a list, or better yet, do they simply want URLs of a student’s favorite YouTube videos?

They Should Express a New Dimension of an Applicant

Ideally, I like to review a student’s Supplemental Prompt List before they begin their CA Essay. Then, they can choose what material of their lives they’d like to discuss in their longer essay versus their supps. If a student has already used their personal statement to discuss their love of Harry Potter or their desire to be a doctor or their comfort found in the smell of their grandmother’s house, then those topics are taboo for the individual school essays. One student mentioned how meaningful their community service work would be in New Orleans if they were to gain acceptance to Tulane University and another mentioned shaking the bronze hand of Herman B. Wells, the famous statue at University of Indiana if they matriculated to IU. It was obvious to me when reading these supplemental essays that the student had done their research and gotten to know the idiosyncrasies of the two schools and their environments.

They Must Convey Love

Why will no other school do? That’s what the most successful short-answer essays demonstrate. A student is essentially down on one knee proposing to a college and in order to be effective in communicating this singular love, the essay must reflect the powerful combination of research and emotional connection. “Get sticky with a school’s website,” I often write on students’ essays. Go to the Mission page, recite the school’s Values or Leadership Principles and try and discern a college’s unique point-of-view on education. It’s not easy to spend time clicking through those college sites to find majors that appeal or extra-curriculars that resonate or study abroad programs that seem relevant to a student’s interests. And then there’s the College Tour Syndrome. Many students complain that “all their guides sounded the same.” I get it. They often do. But, when I ask a student to remember the dorm rooms, the cafeterias, the trees dotting the campus, how far the library was from the residential halls or houses, they recall a billion details. Details are queen/king when writing these love letters.

Takeaway: Don’t wait until the last minute to tackle the shorter essays. Short is always harder to write than long!

For information about College Counseling/Essay Coaching, please drop me a line at or give me a holler at 917-863-2424. Also, for “news you can use,” please check out my blog posts and Facebook page.