Frequently Asked Questions

September 15, 2022
By Leanne Soulard

Happy New School Year!

College application season is officially here and we are flooded with questions about supplemental essays: their purpose, their significance in the admissions process, and the best ways to approach them. With that in mind, we bring you our best tips for writing thoughtful responses that will help you demonstrate why you’re a great match for the colleges on your list. Here we go!

Why do some colleges require supplemental essays as part of the application?

Many colleges use supplemental essay questions to gauge a student’s demonstrated interest in their school or a specific program. Although the responses to these questions are often limited to a few hundred words, they are important and can, in some cases, break a tie between two students competing for the same spot in the freshman class.

What do colleges look for in a response to a supplemental essay?

Colleges are looking to see that you’ve done your homework and they expect you to be explicit about how their school is a good fit for your particular interests and values. They expect students to make connections between the experiences they’ve had and the ones they hope to have by using specific details and examples about why they are a great match for X College. In other words, X College knows what it’s looking for and it wants you to show them why you are that student!

What are the most common supplemental essay writing prompts?

The two most common essay prompts are the “Why Us?” essay and the “Extracurricular Activity” essay.

We’ve provided tips for the “Why Us?” essay above. 

Through the “Extracurricular Activity” essay, colleges learn about skills, qualities, and values you haven’t already covered in the personal statement. It’s another way for colleges to learn who you are outside of the classroom. A great way to approach this essay is to revisit the Activities section of your Common App (the part where you listed the most important activity to you at the top per the directions) and elaborate on that activity. What did you learn through this experience and how has it shaped your high school experience?

Are optional supplemental essays really optional?

Although admissions counselors often reassure students that optional essays are truly optional, keep in mind that colleges use these essays to assess demonstrated interest and fit. At College Edge, we strongly encourage students to answer all optional essays.

Make no mistake: even though the prompts may be vague and the word limits small, supplemental essays are important. Make sure you leave plenty of time to write these responses. Leaving them until the last minute is not only a bad idea but almost certainly a recipe for sloppy work and vague responses that communicate to colleges that you haven’t done your homework.

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