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!

 *Stay in the know! Subscribe*

After You Submit Early College Applications

After You Submit Early College Applications

Add these to your to-do list post-submit!

  • Let your high school counselor know you officially submitted your apps so they get your transcripts and LORs in ASAP.
  • Track your application status. Once your applications have been submitted, you often are provided a “portal” from each school. You need to check this periodically (and be checking your email every day too!). You track the status of your app to ensure schools receive all of your application materials. Follow up with your school counselor ASAP if a school is missing your transcript or a letter of recommendation. *Do not expect portals to be updated automatically; give schools some time and do not immediately email if you sent something but it is not reflected in your portal. They don’t like getting emails asking why it is not updated when you just submitted…two days ago.  Expect things to be slow this year as many schools are working in hybrid formats/not everyone is on campus at all schools, etc. 
  • Check your JUNK/SPAM email folder regularly (daily) so you do not miss correspondence from schools. This directly applies to the point above!
  • Continue to learn about the schools on your list (and demonstrate interest) by attending online / virtual events. Tracking interest does not stop once your app is submitted. 
  • Keep track of updates that might be relevant to and positively support your application. Schools benefit from knowing about meaningful awards, new test scores, things like that — not every single tiny thing you’ve done since you pressed submit. 
  • And of course…keep working on essays for ED 2 and RD schools.

 *Stay in the know! Subscribe*

Thoughtful, Authentic, Effective College Essays

Thoughtful, Authentic, Effective College Essays

The college essay is fairly simple to write but often made more complicated than it needs to be. The goal? Clear, concise, effective. Nothing fancy, nothing that should take more than a few weeks, max. 

Effective essays: 

  • Demonstrate authenticity and thoughtfulness
  • Bring the writer to life on paper (but are not an explanation of their whole life)
  • Are excellent in topic, style, and grammar

We are gearing up for a summer busy with college essay support, so our students can start senior year with peace of mind, less stress, and having already completed most of their essays

If you know a rising senior who would benefit from our guidance and who might want to work with one of our two essay experts (both Harvard grads who teach writing), contact us to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation.

 

*Stay in the know! Subscribe*

What Admissions Officers Look For In Essays

What Admissions Officers Look For In Essays

Georgia Tech says it best when it comes to essays! 

What we are looking for…

Essays are evaluated for both content and writing/grammatical skills. So, before submitting your application, you should take the time to edit and review your essay thoroughly. Strong essays:

  • Demonstrate authenticity and thoughtfulness
  • Brings you to life on paper
  • Are excellent in topic, style, and grammar

They also share a few other tips…

  • Get started early. Don’t wait until the last minute to complete your essays!
  • Don’t write what you think we want to read. Write what you want to say!
  • Don’t blow off the essay! We wouldn’t ask you to write it if we didn’t find it to be an important way to get to know you, and what you have to bring to Georgia Tech.

What we have to say…

Excellence in topic, style, and grammar is our Essay Expert’s area of excellence, and where we have been told we add tremendous value in our 1:1 work with students as we help them craft thoughtful, authentic, and effective college essays. 

We are gearing up for a summer busy with college essay support, so students can start senior year with greater peace of mind and less stress. If you are or know a junior who would benefit from our guidance and who might want to work with one of our two essay experts (both Harvard grads who teach writing), contact me to schedule a free, 30-minute consultation call.  

 *Stay in the know! Subscribe*

What Colleges are Really Looking for in Applicants

Fairfax, VA – The Independent Educational Consultants Association (IECA) released its ranking of What Colleges Look for in High School Students, based on an annual survey of nearly 2,000 independent educational consultants. While grades and standardized test scores are near the top of these annual rankings, a number of significant changes and surprises are challenging the assumptions about college admissions. Number 1 on the list: A challenging curriculum. New to the list: The family’s ability to pay tuition. The much-discussed social media presence of students? Not so much.

Many students and parents are surprised to hear that the leading criteria universities want to see isn’t grades* (#2) or standardized test scores (#3), but rather evidence that a student took as rigorous a high school curriculum as they could. “Colleges want to know that future students don’t shy away from a challenge,” said IECA’s CEO, Mark Sklarow. “Grades and scores are important, but it is far better to accept a challenge, show some grit, and earn a slightly lower grade if necessary than to breeze through high school with easy courses and straight A’s.”

*(This does not hold true at all schools, especially uber selective schools, where B’s don’t generally fly for normal applicants)

Item #4 in the ranking—the essay—is also the most misunderstood, according to IECA. The essay tends to be more important at smaller and independent colleges. But too many students think the essay is about construction, grammar, and format. The association warns that while these matter (typos and bad grammar should never happen), the essay must show insight into a student’s unique personality or life-shaping experiences. An essay that worked in an English class is unlikely to be one that is appropriate for the college application. “This essay should help the reader—that all-important admission counselor—better appreciate who you are, what shaped you, and what makes you tick,” says Sklarow. “That doesn’t mean a student needs some life-altering trip; rather a simple ongoing volunteer commitment or personal interaction may be worth sharing.”

Two new items ranked on the 2018–19 list from IECA. Debuting at #7 is the family’s ability to pay. While some schools are “need blind” in their admissions decisions, most are not. Increasingly, according to IECA, colleges take into consideration who can contribute to the school’s bottom line. The other new criteria this year was a student’s character and values (#12). Colleges increasingly contemplate what campus life will be like and how a particular applicant will add—or detract—from the campus. Colleges want to see leaders, students with special skills or talents, and those who have been active in campus activities, as well as those whose values fit a college’s view of itself. Colleges also seek diversity, striving for a campus made up of those from varied cultural, social, economic, geographic, religious, and occupational backgrounds (#9).

Much has been written in recent years about two areas: demonstrated interest* (how an applicant demonstrates a genuine desire to attend) and social media (what a student’s online life reveals). The IECA rankings showed these areas to be of less importance than other items.

*(Also not always true. The Common Data (set) confirms it is considered at many schools. It might just be considered LESS at some schools. However, do not be misled; it is still considered)

Sklarow cautioned that “Every college is unique, so each emphasizes something different in its process of reviewing applications. One of the great benefits of hiring an independent educational consultant is their knowledge of such differences, and their ability to share this information with students as they guide them through the application process.”

 

 *Stay in the know! Subscribe for news, tips, and advice*