Supplemental Essays: The Art of the Supp

It may be shorter, but it’s not easier. The “it” is the Supplemental Essay, also known as the ‘I Love You’ letter or the ‘Why Us?’ essay that many students erroneously regard as easy-peasy. One student just confessed, “I’ve NEVER done anything this difficult in my entire life.” I assured her that I was certain she had, and she best get writing as her ED application deadline looms.

So, what’s the trick to these pesky “additional” essays that some colleges ask students to pen and how are they different than the personal narratives required on application portals?

Supplemental Essays are Not About the Student

Supplemental essays are about the college to whom the student is wooing, I mean, writing. The application portal essays (Common App, Coalition, etc.) are about the student. The successful Supp conveys the research and contemplation a student has done in order to articulate WHY said school is the ONLY school for them. I recently advised a student that his Supp could be sent to any big research university, not the one he’d like an offer from in the EA round. It wasn’t that he hadn’t used jazzy adjectives and a charming tone, and it wasn’t that his essay wasn’t beautifully written. It was that he hadn’t “dug deep” to find the small — and large — differences between the myriad spirit schools. For example, University of Vermont is a very different institution than University of Florida. And it’s not just the pine trees vs. palm trees issue. One tip is for students to look into the eyes — and on the website — of a college in order to write a Supp that says: You’re for me.

They’re Tailor-Made

Supplemental essays offer students the ability to communicate EXACTLY what opportunities and culture a certain school offers them. How will a student use THAT SCHOOL’S seminar in Buddhism to write their thesis on pantheism? And similarly, how will a student play on THAT SCHOOL’S varsity tennis team while simultaneously contributing to THAT SCHOOL’S newspaper and majoring in THAT SCHOOL’S CompSci department? Or how will a student leverage THAT SCHOOL’S Internship in DC Program into a job in politics? Showing a school that what they have on offer is exactly what a student is seeking, and then how the student will take those offerings and make them their own, is the Art of the Supp.

They’re Demanding

Creativity. Cleverness. Cunning. Many schools don’t ask the clichéd ‘Why Us?’ question anymore. And they definitely don’t want recycled information — how many APs a student took while babysitting siblings and organizing a global walk for diabetes — rephrased in a fresh way. It’s not that those accomplishments aren’t meaningful, it’s just that that information has probably been chronicled in the application portal AND it’s not showcasing a student’s ability to “think out of the box.” Supplemental essays require precision and concision. The reader is an admissions rep from one specific school, which means the “messaging” must be targeted. My suggestion to students: Know thy audience!


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