How to Write Supplemental School Essays

What to keep in mind to ensure your application is cohesive and informative

Essay with Ease
7 min readAug 23, 2021

On the majority of college applications, you will be required to write supplemental essays in addition to your personal statement. While these might often be shorter in length, they are still equally as important, especially because the school has requested them specifically. Within these supplemental essays, they are seeking additional information about you that will help them get to know you better and what you can offer their school in order for them to make their final decisions about who should be a part of the next incoming class. It’s vital not only to respond to the prompt as requested but to think about how it will fit into your application as a whole.

Up until the supplemental essays, most aspects of your application will come together rather naturally. Your transcript will showcase your classes, your activities will describe your involvement, and your personal statement will highlight a particular story you wanted to tell. Consider the elements currently at work within your application and different elements that could be further strengthened or highlighted or that might further round out your application.

For instance, if you are interested in becoming an art major and spent your personal statement writing about your love of sculpture but didn’t have time to mention the community service that allowed you to see the impact of art in bringing people together, if it fits a supplemental prompt this might be an appropriate place to insert it to further showcase how art arrives in your life. Conversely, maybe you feel through your activities and essays thus far you’ve already shown enough about your passion for art, but you want them to know that you are a natural, empathic leader. Finding a way to highlight your leadership role in a particular club might be a new way to reveal what you have to offer that rounds you our more holistically.

Each decision about how to approach each topic will be unique to each person. One thing that is important to note, especially in schools that might require multiple supplemental essays, is that all your essays will be working together to tell your story. If a school asks you to write three supplemental essays, maybe don’t write them all about art unless they truly do have a different slant. Allow them to see different sides of you so they can understand you as the dynamic, versatile, fascinating person you are. After brainstorming potential topics to each question, reflect on what each presents about you before making a final decision, and moreover, how these topics constellate with one another to form a broader narrative.

Supplemental Essay Length

Generally, the length of supplemental essays is no longer than the personal statement, which is 650 words. Most run anywhere from short answer responses of 100 words to about 400 words. In summary, they are less than a page. The good thing about this, is they might come together quicker than the personal statement. The other thing to consider, however, is because they are shorter, you’ll need to make more decisions about which information is absolutely vital to include, and what isn’t. You might also need to experiment with how to condense phrases and information so that you can include more information. As a note, just because they are shorter, you should still spend time editing them and ensuring they reflect the best you have to offer.

Types of Supplemental Essays You Can Expect

One of the most common supplemental essays is the “why school” essay. This is essentially asking you to reflect on why you want to attend the particular university. A blanket essay here will not do. There may be elements you can pull upon from a universal “why school” template you’ve made for yourself, perhaps some sentences reflecting on your major, but the rest should be tailored to the university itself. What is unique about their programs or professors? What extra curriculars would give you additional experience? What was your experience when you visited campus that made you feel you had to go there? Spend the time doing the research and making it personal. Admissions officers can tell the difference between individuals who have done the work, and those who haven’t. They want to see the university inserted into your self narrative. Why do you need these opportunities to get from where you are now to where you want to be? Make it convincing.

Another common essay is a “why major” essay. Here, they want to better understand what has motivated you to this point of your academic career and what you hope to achieve. Think about specifics within and beyond the classroom that have guided you. Generally, the more specific and personal these essays are, they more they shine. Talking about learning the basics of design in art class is an excellent place to start, but what else is out there? When and why did you decide that this had to be what you studied? Let them get into your head, see you saw how basic foundations of design gave way for people to communicate with each other, even as a subconscious level based on how visual elements made them feel. Paint them a picture of the impact your first gallery showing in your high school cafeteria had on you when you saw the reactions of other people. Tell them why this is what you were meant to do. Include credentials as they’re important, as they can highlight steps you’ve been taking, such as studying with an artist and leading art club, in addition to depicting your narrative. (You don’t have to go overboard with credentials thought, because they’ll have that in the activities. Insert what feels important for narrative, don’t just regurgitate.) They want to see they you’ve given it genuine thought and they you’re prepared to step into study of the subject at the collegiate level. Other people may be interested in studying a similar subject. So especially for common things like biology or economics, what drives you, specially? What have you done to explore and prepare? What do you hope to achieve? Inserting these elements will turn it from universal to individual.

A third common type of essay is the “expanded activities” essay. You might be asked to expand upon one of your activities that has been the most significant to you. How do you choose? The answer might be obvious, any you might choose the one that you’ve been in leader in for a couple of years or that you think its experience has shaped who you are. Here, you don’t want to just describe the activity, but the impact it has had on you. What was your role? What did you do? What did you learn or gain from the experience? How has it made you who you are? Question like this can help you to get to a level of substance about the activity, versus running through base description of what the club does. That was for the activities list. When choosing which activity to write about, as with the other essays, think about how it fits in with other elements of your application. If for your personal statement you wrote about an activity, don’t write about it here. Spend the space introducing something new so that your application has as much information as possible within it. They’ll read through all your essays at the same time, so you don’t need to repeat yourself. You might choose something that further highlights your major or skillsets that would be relevant there, or you might choose something that highlights a passion or personality trait that doesn’t appear elsewhere but feels vital to understanding you.

While these are three common prompt types nearly everyone will have to write, you will find more out there, including some that ask for more creativity within your response. These all vary greatly by university and often become more specific in what they are asking for, but maintaining the spirit of the above advice and considering how they construct your application as a whole, you’ll be on a good track. Tell your story authentically and enthusiastically regardless of what you’re writing.

More information about the above prompts can be found in additional advice posts. Please visit them for more robust discussion of how to approach your essays.

Working Smarter Not Harder

Depending on where you are applying and their requirements, you might have quite a few supplemental essays to get through. When working with students, one of the first things we do is organize all their upcoming supplemental essays and their deadlines. Then, we look for overlap within the prompts. If multiple schools ask for a why major essay, you don’t necessarily need to rewrite it every time in its entirety. Your details and story will be about the same. However, you might have one that asks for 300 words versus 400 words. Write the longer version first to see all that you are working with and then condense it down to the shorter word count. Instead of writing multiple essays with new ideas, you can reconstruct what you are already working with, which can save time. Be sure when doing this you are paying attention to each school’s prompt so be sure you’ve answered it as they requested, but it is okay for you to reuse writing you’re working on if it fits into different responses.

With the above advice, you should be set to get started on your supplemental essays. In summary:

create a document for yourself with all upcoming essay prompts so you can stay organized and identify overlap,

consider what each prompt asks for specifically,

reflect on how various responses might enhance your application by further strengthening present elements or inducting vital information that has yet to appear,

and finally, be true to yourself in your responses with your interests and intentions and put it in writing.

Ultimately, within the application they want to get to know the person who will be joining their campus in the fall, how they will contribute to academic and social life, so let them know!

If you’d like assistance keeping your supplemental essays organized and assessing how to create a holistic application, sign up for an Essay with Ease program! Each is individualized to meet your needs and you’ll have me as a personal guide throughout the whole process. Contact me today for a free consultation.



Essay with Ease

With years of admissions experience and professional writing, Christina of Essay with Ease is your go-to guide for all essays related to college admissions.