Maximize your Impact with Supplemental Essays

Banging on conga drums at an assisted living center, launching a cooking class on a military base, pushing through sweaty weight-lifting, and studying marine science in the shallow depths of a nearby swamp. No, these are not the activities that our TTA staff members engaged in this past weekend. They are instead the topics of some successful supplemental essays that our seniors wrote in the past few months.

While many students are encouraged by their guidance counselors to think very seriously about their main essays for the Common App, the supplemental essays can sometimes fall by the wayside, yet those essays are still vital pieces within the qualitative materials that make up your application.

The prompt on many college supplements typically reads something like this: Briefly elaborate on one of your extracurricular activities or work experiences in the space below.

Depending on what the exact prompt is, the idea is to zoom in and elaborate on a particular job, quirky hobby or special interest.  You want to get across your passion for the activity, your expertise, your uniqueness, and your high level of initiative (teaching yourself something, learning something on your own, engaging with others, etc).

It’s also important for you to plan out your supplements so that you can ensure you are maximizing your time. Some colleges ask for a 650-word supplemental essay and others may ask for a 200-word response on a similar topic. Our advice is to prep that 650 word supplemental essay first, then you should pinpoint the key 200 words within essay 1 and trim it down to ensure you can repurpose the essay. For example:


Please choose two (2) of the short answer prompts below. Each response should be no more than 150 words.
1. What is your favorite fiction or non-fiction work (film, book, TV show, album, poem, or play)? Why?
2. What motivates you to learn?
3. What do you want to bring from your current community to the Emory University community?
4. In the age of social media, what does engaging with integrity look like for you?


Now, when you look to the prompts that Wake Forest University has, you’ll note that you’re already pretty far along as the prompts are similar. Wake Forest’s first 3 supplements are:

1 (a). List 5 books you have read that intrigued you.
1 (b). Discuss the work of fiction you have read which has helped you most to understand the complexity of the world.
2. What piques your curiosity?

Right off the bat you can see that Emory’s supplement 1 aligns with Wake Forest’s 1a and 1b. And, Emory’s supplement 2 aligns with Wake Forest’s # 2. Motivation to learn can certainly be quite similar to curiosity.


Emory University also has the ever-popular community essay. This supplemental prompt is common because it’s an opportunity for the student to show colleges his/her diversity and strong sense of community that he or she will bring to campus.

UMichigan also has a community supplement this year; it reads: “Everyone belongs to many different communities and/or groups defined by (among other things) shared geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, or intellectual heritage. Choose one of the communities to which you belong, and describe that community and your place within it.”

Colleges are BIG on community and HUGE on diversity in today’s modern admissions arena. The odds are strong that you’re going to have to prep a community supplement in some way. Other examples of colleges that have a community supplement this year are: Brown University, Boston College, UChicago, UVA and Yale.


We urge students to reflect on their community and where/what they call home. What does diversity mean to you?  Why is community important to you? Where are you from? Note just physically, but spiritually, mentally, emotionally, etc. The University of Michigan this year actually helps students out a lot in terms of brainstorming what might make applicants diverse.  Many think about only race when it comes to diversity, but it’s SO much more than that. As UMichigan advocates, think beyond and reflect on diversity in terms of “geography, religion, ethnicity, income, cuisine, interest, race, ideology, intellectual heritage”, etc.?

We’ve had students use the community supplement to talk about their military family, all-girls school, LGBTQ group, local meditation center, and more. Think outside the box, but inside your place, your people, your community. How are you different from the pack, but also how do you fit with YOUR pack?

supplemental essays for college applications


One thing is for sure, college admissions officers don’t want to read the same supplemental essay response again and again. This is your shot to expand on who YOU are. If that’s in a community supplement, then great. If that’s in a “Top Ten List,” as some colleges love to ask for, excellent. If that’s in a “Why Essay,” then use the space to show you’ve done your research on what the school has, how you mesh with their academic and extracurricular offerings, and what you can bring to them.

Every college and every university already believes they are terrific, their faculty are the best teachers and researchers in their fields, their labs and facilities are superior, and the courses they offer are groundbreaking —don’t just restate all of those impressive campus offerings back to admissions officers, instead illustrate what YOU uniquely offer them.

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