Are Supplemental Essays Important? Should You Write Them?

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Supplemental essays are a part of the college application process that tends to get overlooked during the whole process’s chaos. While supplemental essays are not the most essential part of your entire college application, they can be a significant determining factor, so it is a good idea to put in some solid effort on your supplemental essays. We’ll be talking about a supplemental essay and why you should write them in this article.

What are Supplemental Essays For?What are Supplemental Essays For?

Supplemental essays are to give the school you are applying to some answers to specific questions besides those that are asked on the application or in your personal statement. They are a time for schools to get a little more insight into why you might want to attend their school. They often want to know what attracted you to their school.

The supplemental essays are a great place to let college admissions staff know things about you that you might not have felt like you had the opportunity to share in your personal statement or elsewhere in your application. They are a place for you to express yourself and your views, so make sure you put aside enough time to work on these essays.

Not all schools have supplemental essays, so don’t expect extra essays from every school that you’re applying to. That being said, many smaller schools will have at least one supplemental essay that they require, and a good number of larger schools will have optional supplemental essays or short response questions. These essays just give the admissions team a little bit more information about you than what they might have been able to get from your application.

Supplemental essays are specific to each school, so unlike your personal statement, which is on the common application and goes to all schools that you are applying to, each supplemental essay must be written for a specific prompt at one particular school. Writing specific essays allows the school’s admission team to see more about you and to begin to understand how you adapt to different situations.

How Important are Supplemental Essays in the Admission Process?

How Important are Supplemental Essays in the Admission Process?

While supplemental essays are not the only thing that matters in your college application process, they can carry a fair amount of weight in a school’s decision to accept, waitlist, or reject you. How critical supplemental essays are specifically will vary depending on the school, but if a school has supplemental essays, you should write them even if they are optional.

The main reason that college application supplemental essays are essential is that they are the place where the school can ask the applicant specific questions that they want to know the answers to. While the personal statement essay that you submit will be the same for every school you apply to; and your supplemental essays are specific to that school. Writing specific essays for each school means that they are a great place for you to stand out.

While supplemental essays are not often the deciding factor in accepting or rejecting someone, they play a substantial role in a school’s admissions decisions. If a school has taken the time to think up supplemental essay prompts that they want you to answer for them, you can be that writing a good essay will help you, and writing a bad essay will likely hurt your chances of being accepted into that school.

If you write an impressive personal statement, the admission teams at colleges will expect that your supplemental essays will match that level of writing as well. If your supplemental essays don’t match the writing level in your personal statement or the other way around, admission teams may look negatively upon your application. Ensure that you put your best foot forward with your personal statement and your supplemental essays since you are being judged on both essays.

When Do Supplemental Essays Come Out?

When Do Supplemental Essays Come Out?

When supplemental essay prompts are released depends entirely on the school. Many schools use the same supplemental essay prompts for a few years before changing them, but other schools change the prompts every year. In general, the supplemental essay prompts will be released when the common application personal statement prompts are released. Having all essay prompts come out simultaneously will give applicants the same amount of time to work on all aspects of their application.

The common application is released at the start of August each year, so most schools’ prompts will be available around then. This is also when the prompts for that year’s personal statements are released as well. Colleges know that this is a stressful time for high school seniors, so they want to make sure that you have plenty of time to complete their supplemental essays.

Suppose you really want to know the prompts for a particular school over the summer. In that case, you can reach out to the admissions counselor that covers your geographic region to see if they can give you an insight into what to expect from their supplemental essays. Some schools won’t tell you early, but many schools will be willing to tell you if they plan on changing their supplemental essay prompts or keeping them the same from the previous year.

Some schools opt to give you a few choices of prompts for your supplemental essays. If this is the case, they often have one or two options that stay the same over the years while the other options change. Generally, schools don’t have a preference of which prompts you answer from their list, so just pick the prompts that inspire you the most.

How Long Should Your Supplemental Essays Be?

How Long Should Your Supplemental Essays Be?

Colleges tend to be pretty specific when it comes to how long they want your supplemental essays to be, so make sure they are the correct word count. Pay attention to if they are using a character count or a word count while you’re writing the essays, so you don’t have to go back and fix them all later.

In general, supplemental essays tend to fall into two categories when it comes to length. Either the school wants you to write multiple shorter essays or one or maybe two more extended essays. Shorter essays are generally anywhere from 100 words to 500 words, and the longer essays tend to be anywhere from around 500 words to essays with no word limit, although essays with no limit are pretty rare.

The main thing to think about when it comes to the length of your supplemental essays is to make sure that you meet the required word count but don’t exceed it. Some college applications will not allow you to enter more words into the box. If this is the case, as long as your essay is close to the max, you should be good. Don’t stress about trying to make your essay exactly 250 words. If your essay is around 200 words, nobody will dock you points for not counting out 50 more words.

On a similar note, try not to go over the word limit. Remember that writing a short piece of concise writing is often harder than writing a long wordy piece, so schools want to see you work to fit your thoughts into the number of words they give you. Admissions staff read tons of essays, so if yours is crazy long, they might not even finish reading it.

How Do You Write Great Supplemental Essays?

How Do You Write Great Supplemental Essays?

The key to writing a great supplemental essay is to answer the question. This might sound super simple, but you would be surprised how many essays college admissions staff read that have pretty much nothing to do with the prompt.

Supplemental essays tend to fall into a few categories, and each category of prompts should be approached slightly differently. Essays are places for you to talk about yourself, asking you a theoretical or philosophical question, or asking you about the school.

Essays about you:

If the essay prompt is about something you are passionate about or something that you want to tell the admissions staff, this is where you get to brag about how great you are. While you shouldn’t exactly boast, this is the place for you to show off what makes you unique. Supplemental essays about you are where you get to fully express yourself and tell the admissions staff something about you that you didn’t get to tell them in your personal statement.

Theoretical or Philosophical essays:

Essays that ask big questions can seem intimidating, but really what the admissions staff is looking for is that you have an opinion and can back it up. They could ask you some straightforward questions, but what they’re looking for is how you voice your opinion and back it up. These essays are not the place for cookie-cutter answers or for saying what you think they want to hear. This is the place to think critically and show them why you are ready for their school.

Essays about the school:

“Why us?” is a super common supplemental essay topic that many schools ask every year. This question, and others like it, are aimed at allowing the admissions staff to understand why you like their school. They want to know what makes you excited to go to their school. This is not the place to recite the most common fun facts you learned on tour, but it is where you should talk about programs that the school offers that excite you.

If you are a legacy kid at a school, this is also a place that you could bring that in. If this school has been something that you have grown up hearing about and dreaming about, this is the place to say it. Tell the admissions staff something that will make you stick out in their minds.

Great supplemental college essays are concise, give the reader some insight into you, and thoroughly answer the question. This can be a challenge, so make sure that you give yourself enough time to sit down and work on your supplemental essays. These are not something that you should be leaving until the last minute, so start working on them as soon as you can.

Writing a supplemental essay can be challenging because each question can require a different sort of answer. While personal statements are all about you and are generally a more informal style of academic writing, supplemental essays can range from short, casual answers to questions to long, academically worded responses to philosophical questions.

The best way to start writing your supplemental essays is to map them out. Start by creating an outline for each essay. The outline should include how long the essay will be and the main points that will be covered in the essay. Having someone read through your outline to see if it adequately answers the question answered is a great way to prevent having to rewrite your essay later.

After you outline your essay, it is time to start writing. Outlining an essay can be a quick process for shorter supplemental essays, but it can take a while to write a longer supplemental essay. Make sure to give yourself enough time, so you don’t feel rushed while you work on crafting your essays. Keep in mind that you are most likely applying to multiple schools, and many schools have more than one supplemental essay, so timing out your essays is vital.

After you have completed your essay, have an adult help you edit the grammar of your essay. It can sometimes be hard for people to edit just the grammar without editing the essay’s content, but the essay must stay true to you. Remember, you are the one applying to college, not your parents or teacher, so don’t let your supplemental essays turn into their essays.

Before you have to submit your supplemental essays, the best thing to do is to leave them alone for a week or so. Try to live your everyday life and not think about your supplemental essays much. Then, after the week is up, go back to your supplemental essays and read them aloud to yourself. Reading essays aloud is a great way to not only hear potential mistakes but is also a great way to make sure that your essays say what you want them to say.

Since this whole process can take quite a while, and you will be managing this process for multiple essays on top of your regular school work, give yourself more time than you think you will need. Starting as soon as the prompts are released with the common application in August may seem early, but you would rather have too much time than too little time. Rushing through your supplemental essays can negatively impact your overall college application so take some time to do it well.

Wrapping Things Up: Are Supplemental Essays Important?

Understanding the importance of supplemental essays when applying to college is key to writing an excellent supplemental essay. Although they are often overlooked, supplemental essays are a perfect place for you to tell the school you are applying to more about yourself, express your views, and talk about your interest in their school. Set aside some time in your college application process to focus on the supplemental essays.

Professor Conquer
Professor Conquer

Professor Conquer started Conquer Your Exam in 2018 to help students feel more confident and better prepared for their tough tests. Prof excelled in high school, graduating top of his class and receiving admissions into several Ivy League and top 15 schools. He has helped many students through the years tutoring and mentoring K-12, consulting seniors through the college admissions process, and writing extensive how-to guides for school.

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