Ten Tips for Writing College Specific Essays / Supplemental Essays

Ten Tips for Writing College Specific Essays / Supplemental Essays

Time to write those supplemental essays…

  1. Don’t forget your reader. There’s a lot you don’t know about the admissions officers who will read your file—where they come from, what they have experienced, and what they personally value and believe. Keep this in mind as you write. Are you expressing some potentially divisive opinions? Be careful to do so in a thoughtful, nuanced way that appreciates the “other side.” Are you talking about a community that you are not a member of? Make sure that you are using culturally competent and correct language. Are you writing about an experience in a foreign country? Be wary of falling back to cultural stereotypes. The last thing you want to do is show a lack of sensitivity or understanding and offend your reader as a result.
  2. Do show social and cultural awareness, and especially empathy and understanding, for people who are different from you. Every college wants to admit kind, open-minded students who are going to embrace diversity and be a positive force in their community.
  3. Don’t forget to tell a story. Many students write the personal statement then think they’re done with being personal. This is not the case! One of the biggest problems with many supps is simply that they’re boring. The best way to bypass this issue is to craft a personal narrative around whatever you’re writing about, whether it’s leadership, creativity, or your potential major.
  4. Do show an understanding of a school’s mission and values. Linking your experiences or goals to a given school’s values (usually stated explicitly in their mission statement) is an excellent way to add an extra layer of specificity to an essay. It is also important to be sensitive to a school’s values for other reasons: if, for instance, you are applying to Brigham Young University, you wouldn’t want to submit an essay denigrating Christianity or any values specific to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
  5. Don’t just copy-paste information from the school’s website. You need school-specific information in many supplements, especially the why school or academic interest supplement. If you only copy some information you found in the school’s website without explaining how and why that information will apply to your college experience, your essay will seem shallow. Be specific in connecting what you learn about the school with your goals and past experiences.
  6. Don’t try to be too funny. You want to preserve as much of your personality as possible but humor is one of the hardest things to recreate on the page. A written joke—without your gestures, facial expressions, and tone of voice to guide the listener—can come across as corny at best and cynical, or even mean, at worst. Be extra mindful of this if you are trying to incorporate humor into your essays, and trust an adult’s judgement if you’re unsure.
  7. But don’t take yourself too seriously! A lighthearted approach to any topic will make your essay more readable and more engaging and—bonus!—make you seem more fun and approachable in the process. Colleges don’t necessarily care about admitting fun or approachable students but they do want students who will contribute to the community—and these attributes usually indicate that you will.
  8. Do look for ways to show self-awareness. You can get away with almost anything—a bad pun, a selfish thought—if you call yourself out for it in your essay. Doing so also displays a high level of self-knowledge and maturity that colleges value.
  9. Don’t brag (or humble brag), rehash your resume, or focus too much on academic awards or honors. A compelling story, not a big award, is what will make your application unique and memorable.
  10. Do try to be yourself, while keeping the suggestions above in mind. It’s no fun reading essays that scream you are “trying too hard” to be something you think colleges want.

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College Specific Supplemental Essays: Strategy/Tips

College Specific Supplemental Essays: Strategy/Tips

One of the reasons that we like students to have a sense of their college list when they start essay writing is that each essay does not exist in a vacuum. Everything submitted with a college application needs to work together to tell the fullest story possible about who you are, what you are all about, and the value you will add to the school that’s reading your application.

Complement your Personal Statement—don’t compete with it. You should aim to make sure all of your supplemental essays are as separate from the personal statement as possible. For instance, if my personal statement is about my passion for dance (my main extracurricular), and a school requires what we call a creativity supplement in The Complete College Essay Handbook, I would choose to write about something other than dance for the PS because I might want to focus on that in the supplement.

Present a rounded picture, even if you are narrow. Notice that I didn’t say be well-rounded. I don’t advise that! But imagine you apply to a school that requires two supplemental essays. One prompt clearly calls for an academic and intellectual interests (AII) essay, and the second is open-ended. You wouldn’t want to write a second AII essay for that school. Although college is first and foremost about academics, you want the opportunity to present as many parts of yourself as possible; go with any one of the other three types of supplemental essays that we outline in detail within The Complete College Essay Handbook! Every single college applicant should be able to write an impact and influence and community and identity essay.

Consider the school’s values. Sticking with the same example: if a school asks for two supplements and one prompt clearly calls for an AII essay, and the second is open-ended, in addition to writing a different type of supp, you should also take the school’s mission and values into consideration. For instance, since Jesuit schools like Santa Clara, Fordham, and the University of San Francisco tend to value service more than some secular schools, an impact and influence essay would be the best choice for the second prompt. Conversely, a liberal arts college with a long history of political activism, such as Wesleyan, Smith, or Oberlin, might react more favorably to a community and identity essay with an impact twist.

Use your best story. Imagine you have one just incredible story, and it fits perfectly into the impact and influence type. You write the essay—it’s great, and you love it! Then you realize that your top-choice school asks for a community and identity essay. What should you do? If your story is really that good, you are actually better off turning that impact and influence essay into a community and identity essay—even if it feels like a bit of a stretch. Admissions officers will remember how you made them feel—not that you didn’t answer the question quite as accurately as another applicant.

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The Purpose of & How to Tackle College Specific Essays (Supplemental Essays)

The Purpose of & How to Tackle College Specific Essays (Supplemental Essays)

The supplemental essays (or “supps” as we call them) are a chance for you to “supplement” your personal statement (aka the Common App essay) with more information about who you are and what makes you tick. Although many supps ask you to write about seemingly straightforward topics, like your extracurriculars or academics, they are not merely an opportunity to rehash your résumé or the activities section of the Common Application. They are, like the personal statement, an opportunity to tell another deeply personal story—not to brag about your brag-worthy accomplishments. Remember: it is stories, not accomplishments, that will make your application memorable.

For your essay to count as a story, it needs to tell a narrative that charts personal progress and change. Maybe your résumé is full of community service, and though you love it now, when you started, it felt like a chore. Tell that story. Maybe you played piano for ten years only to quit in tenth grade so you could devote more time to your real passion—computer science. Tell that story. Maybe you founded a club, and no one came to the first meeting, but you decided to keep going, and now you have a small but devoted core group. Tell. That. Story. In other words: Tell the unvarnished true story, even if that story isn’t neat or pretty. Those are the best stories!

Although supps present a valuable opportunity to make yourself even more memorable to your favorite schools, they also present a daunting amount of work: the majority of schools require at least one supplemental essay, and some, like MIT and Wake Forest, ask you to complete five or more. Many students we work with end up having to complete, on average, ten to fifteen sets of supps, or anywhere from eight to twenty additional essays. This is an insane amount of writing, and it can seem especially challenging because the prompts for these essays appear to vary greatly from school to school.

Don’t be daunted. You don’t have to write twenty unique essays!

Over the years, we have identified four types of essays that admissions officers most commonly look for. The students we work with write, on average, these four essays that they are then able to adapt and repurpose for different word counts and prompts.  They are:

  • Academic and Intellectual Interests
  • Community and Identity
  • Creativity
  • Impact and Influence

And following our method, you can do this too! In The Complete College Essay Handbook, we provide:

  • An overview of the type, with writing advice
  • Sample essays to show you how it’s done at different word limits
  • Both obvious and less-obvious prompts, so you can get a sense of the ways colleges phrase each question
  • A brief brainstorming questionnaire targeted to that type

We also show you how to adapt your essays for higher or lower word limits and how to repurpose your essays for the few prompts that fall outside of the four types. Using our methods, you’ll be able to maximize your time by writing fewer, but more effective and widely applicable, supplemental essays.

Get a copy today (paperback or ebook option), or if you are interested in working with us 1:1, reach out via email!

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On Celebrating What Really Matters

On Celebrating What Really Matters

To all our seniors: just submitting applications is a huge accomplishment!!!

Take 7 minutes to listen to Kelly Corrigan’s case for celebrating the litany of accomplishments that a completed college application represents. 

There’s so much more to applying to college than where you get in or don’t. Listen here!

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Juniors: What’s Your Story?

Juniors: What’s Your Story?

The start of junior year is the perfect time to determine your story for applying to college. What majors are you considering? What have you done to explore those majors? Where will you add value in college both inside and outside of the classroom? Is your value add clear on your resume? 

It might seem early since you won’t be submitting apps until this time next year, but those apps are much easier to write if you’ve done some work ahead of time. 

Juniors, right now you can:

  • Create a testing plan and learn about test-optional admissions
  • Develop relationships with admissions officers and regional reps (the people who make key decisions on your application) as well as current students and faculty (we can fill you in on why these connections are so important and set you up with a peer guide)
  • Open up a Common App account to get familiar with the system
  • Craft a preliminary college list so you understand the many application plans colleges now use, and why this is a critical component of a smart application strategy
  • Make the best of virtual campus visits 
  • And of course, determine your academic narrative and “story” for your apps, and learn how this plays into one of our favorite parts of the college app process: essays!

Speaking of essays now would be a great time for juniors to grab a copy of our book, The Complete College Essay Handbook

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Class of 2026 (aka Fall ’22 College Start) Admission Plan Changes

Class of 2026 (aka Fall ’22 College Start) Admission Plan Changes

Carnegie Mellon officially offers ED 2 (they had that weird, kinda hidden offering last year!) as do a few other schools. Some new EA, EA2 offerings we well.

Get the full rundown on College Kickstart, our list go-to!

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For High School Counselors: Virtual Letters of Recommendation Workshop

For High School Counselors: Virtual Letters of Recommendation Workshop

Hosted by the JHU Admissions Office:

Join our admissions committee for one of our virtual letters of recommendation workshops, where we’ll share tips on how to write an effective and efficient letter of recommendation. Register for the date and time listed below that works best for your schedule.

Our admissions officers will share examples of what context best serves students in the holistic review process and how that context can be shared in your letters or school profiles.

Register here for June 8, or here for June 10.

Where Our Students Most Frequently Enroll (2015-2021)

Where Our Students Most Frequently Enroll (2015-2021)

What we like about this list is the range. It’s not all Ivy-bound or nowhere, which makes sense given our counseling philosophy and approach. Congrats to all of this year’s graduating seniors!!!

Boston College
Brown University
University of California, Berkeley
University of California, Los Angeles
University of Chicago
Cornell University
Dartmouth College
Elon University
Duke University
George Washington University
Georgetown University
Harvard College
Indiana University, Kelley School of Business
Lehigh University
University of Miami
University of Michigan
New York University
Northeastern University
Northwestern University
Ohio State University
University of Pennsylvania
Princeton University
Syracuse University
Tufts University
Tulane University
Vanderbilt University
University of Virginia
Villanova University
Wake Forest University
Wesleyan
University of Wisconsin, Madison

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Free Online Event: Financing Your College Education

Free Online Event: Financing Your College Education

From the Coalition for College:

We’ve all heard that college is expensive. If you’re wondering if it’s in reach for you, join us for our next panel discussion, where we’ll talk about the cost of college, paying for it, and strategies for graduating with low or no debt.

Join us Thursday, May 6, at 8 p.m. ET | 5 p.m. PT, along with admissions officers from Illinois College, Manhattan College, Stony Brook University, and Wellesley College, who will all share their top college affordability advice and answer your questions.

REGISTER. 

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Looking Beyond “Highly Rejective Colleges”

Looking Beyond “Highly Rejective Colleges”

Linking to a post by Lynn O’Shaughnessy on The College Solution blog that introduced us to the spectacular term highly rejective college. 

The term highly rejective college was coined by Akil Bello, who is an expert on standardized testing and senior director at FairTest, a nonprofit dedicated to reducing standardized testing.

Highly rejective schools focus on turning away nearly all applicants. Rather than use their considerable financial might and prestige to expand the number of students they educate on their own campuses or through satellite campuses, they cling to the status quo.

More higher-ed observers, including Jeff Selingo, the former top editor of The Chronicle of Higher Education, are using the term highly rejective colleges because that accurately defines what these institutions are all about. 

Lynn’s article also features some insights from Tuition Fit’s Mark Salisbury. Here is what Salisbury said about this 2021 phenomenon is impacting popular universities and colleges:

  1. Students who normally would apply to second-tier selectives “shot their shot” with the uber selectives.
  2. As a result, those students didn’t apply to those second tiers at quite the same rate.
  3. Those students got rejected at the uber selectives like they always do.
  4. The second tiers are in the midst of a scramble to get more applications because their admission modeling depends on it. [this is where better deals might emerge!]

Read the whole article here—it’s a must-read!!!

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