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US Application Supplemental Essays - All You Need To Know!

What types of questions do universities ask? Learn about the different types of supplemental essays and how you should approach them. ‘Why Us Why You’ The ‘Why Us Why You’

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What types of questions do universities ask?

Learn about the different types of supplemental essays and how you should approach them.

‘Why Us Why You’

The ‘Why Us Why You’ prompt requires you to outline why you want to go to that university specifically


The Academic Interest Essay

These essays require you to talk about your chosen major - or if you are applying ‘undecided’ where your academic interests lie in general.

Describe An Extracurricular

These questions ask you to describe an extracurricular you are involved in and how it has shaped how to see the world.

The Meaning Of Community

Prompts around ‘community’ ask you to explain how you see the value of community, what communities you have been involved in, and what you would bring to campus.

The One Longer Essay

These essays are like a second Common App personal statement often being 650 words long. The prompts are usually broad and provide plenty of choice in response.

Short Answer Questions

Many universities opt for short answer responses - some 50 words or less. In doing so they seek to find out who you are, what you like, and what you will contribute to campus.

Write A Letter To Your Future Roommate

A Stanford favorite, this question enables you to share what you will contribute on a smaller scale - how you will bond, support, and encourage those in the university community.

Miscellaneous Prompts

These questions are usually creative and unique! For example, U Chicago favors some great miscellaneous questions like: “What’s so odd about odd numbers?”!

US Supplemental Essays information presented more in-depth.

Imagine you want to hire someone for a job.

Your boss gives you 10 questions that you have to ask — but she tells you that you can create a few extra questions of your own in addition.

The first 10 questions will give you a good sense of who the applicant is, but those extra few that you create — those are the ones that will give you the best insight into whether the person will be a good fit to work with you and your team.

You can think about US college supplemental essay questions in the same way. The Common Application questions are the standard questions that every school gets answers to — but the supplemental questions represent the individual universities’ best chance to really get to know you and to judge whether or not you’ll be a good fit on their campus(es).

They’re also your best chance to show schools why they should pick you. Lots of students underestimate the importance of supplemental essays — and lots of students get rejected as a result. If you’re here reading this, then you’re already well on your way to avoiding that critical mistake.

Luckily, there are identifiable patterns in the supplemental questions that most universities ask, so you won’t have to start anew on every single essay.

In this special booklet, we walk you through the 8 most common types of supplemental essay questions and provide tips on how to answer them.

Ready to get started? Read on!

The Basics

Admissions Officers use supplemental essays to fill out their picture of who you are and learn things about you that are not contained in the rest of your application. The supplemental essays shouldn’t contradict anything you’ve written elsewhere, but they shouldn’t repeat anything either.

If we were to choose three words that are key to the success of your supplemental essays, they’d be specificity, authenticity, and commitment.

When it comes to specificity, colleges want you to go deep into your research on what they have to offer, and the various unique aspects of their campuses that appeal to you directly.

That means taking time to do substantive research —it doesn’t mean finding the first class on microeconomics they offer and mentioning it in your essay, because that’s neither specific to the university (every university has an intro to microeconomics class!) nor is it specific to you (thousands of students will take a class like that).

When it comes to authenticity, colleges are looking for personality and individuality. That means talking narrowly and specifically about what interests you. If you love completing Rubik’s cubes as a hobby, that should go in the essay. If you love model trains, that should go in the essay — the key is just finding an outlet for it at the university (a cubing club? a hobby club?). Don’t just talk generally about the “incredible career opportunities” — what specifically is going to be great for you?

When it comes to commitment, universities want to see that you’re the type of person who’s had experience committing to extracurricular activities and your various communities in the past and that you intend to do so at their school in the future. You can express this eagerness to commit in ways small and large — it can be as simple as saying something like “I plan to build on a passion for community service that began in high school by joining ______ tutoring club at Johns Hopkins University". Little additions like that show that you value your commitment to things you did in the past and plan to continue building on that commitment in the future.

The Types and Top Tips on How to Answer Them!

Broadly speaking there are 8 main supplemental essay types. Below we explore these types AND offer some Top Tips on how to answer them!

01. The ‘Why us? / Why you?’ Question

For a ‘why us’ prompt, your focus should be on (1) what the school offers and (2) how it aligns with your interests, passions, and values. The college is asking you: “why are you choosing us?” For a ‘why you’ essay, your focus should be on (1) your interests, passions, and values, and (2) how they align with what the school offers. The college is asking you: “why should we choose you?”

TOP TIP

The ‘Why us’ / ‘Why you’ questions are two sides of the same coin, but the order in which you present the items—and the amount of the essay you spend on them—is reversed for each. Ultimately, your goal with this essay should be to sincerely, authentically, and excitedly tell admissions committees what you will get out of going to their school in particular, and what you will contribute to their school as a student there. Which specific opportunities will you take advantage of? How will you bring your skills and past experiences to bear as a leader and collaborator on their campus?

02. The academic interest essay

These essays ask you to explain your intended choice of major, or if you don’t have one, your academic interests in general. They are typically ‘short’ answer questions, with universities often asking for responses in 150-250 words.

TOP TIP

When answering this prompt you must address three questions: Why you want to study your elected future major area of study (or if you are undecided, you’ll need to write about your primary area(s) of academic interest), what your your goals are for the future, and how pursuing this course of study will help you to achieve them. You don’t need to know exactly what you plan to do in the future, but it’ll make your essay a lot stronger to have a few ideas and try to develop those ideas with a bit of detail

03. Describe an extracurricular

Tell us about an extracurricular activity you’re involved in and how it has shaped you. Once again these questions normally ask for a 150-250 word response. In these essays, you explore one of your extracurriculars in greater depth.

TOP TIP

In this essay, it’s more important to talk about something that matters to you than it is to talk about something that is impressive. With this question, admissions officers want to know (1) which item on your activities list is most important to you, and why; (2) what is something about your participation in that activity that we can’t learn elsewhere on your application; (3) what you have learned through your experience doing that activity that you can take into the future; and (4) how this extracurricular positively impact others and/or embody your values?

04. The meaning of community

Colleges may word these questions somewhat like this: “Our college campus is all about community and valuing a diverse group of people. In what ways do you value community? How have you contributed to communities in the past? What would you bring to our community?” As you can see in this case you need to narrow down on what you would bring to this specific university’s community.

TOP TIP

In asking this question, admissions officers are trying to find out: What in particular does our school have to offer that you’d like to get involved in as a future student? And… What will you contribute or bring to the table as a student on our campus? In answering these questions you must show how your past experience as part of a community informs what you’ll contribute.

05. The second Common App essay

These essays can vary in content just like the Common App essay, and they are similar in length (500-650 words). They might ask you to write about a person who has inspired you or write about an experience that has shaped how you approach the world, or to use a quote as a starting place to tell them about your perspective.

TOP TIP

This supplemental essay type typically asks you to write a 500-650 word piece using a usually broad prompt to guide your answer. Writing this essay is like writing a second Common App essay - but you must be sure to pick a new topic that explores a new area of your past, interests, personality, or attributes

06. Short takes

Some colleges ask you to provide brief descriptions of yourself or things you like in 100 words or less — sometimes without even using complete sentences. They might ask for two adjectives your friends would use to describe you; or your favorite word; or what your favorite snack is; or who (living or dead) you’d like to ask a question to, and what you’d ask them; or if you were teaching a class, what it’d be called.

TOP TIP

These short answer questions can be hard to tackle! Top tips include: answer the question, but don’t repeat it, consider the underlying message you are sending, explain your answer, and be specific!

07. The write a letter to your future roommate prompt

This prompt is pretty self-explanatory the aim of it being for admissions officers to gauge what you will bring to campus as an enthusiastic, passionate, intellectual, and empathetic member of the college community. They can be creative, humorous, reflective, inspirational — whatever theme and style reflects your personality best.

TOP TIP

These questions provide a great opportunity to show what you will bring to campus on a micro-level. Will you be the ball of energy that exudes positivity, or the reflective listener who is always there to lend a helping hand? This question must be honest and reflect a side of yourself that will provide a true insight as to who you are beyond the classroom.

08. Miscellaneous prompts

These are the creative or otherwise unusual prompts (“design a major,” “design a class,” “what do you do for fun?”, “choose an image that represents you,” “what gets you excited about learning?”, etc.) that vary in length and style. While not common, they can be great fun for applicants to create!

TOP TIP

These questions vary, but some basic tips include: be personal (go deep!), be humble (no bragging!), be intellectually curious (show your love of learning) and be genuine (no platitudes or clichés).

Now that you are armed with all you need to know about US application supplemental essays, it’s time to think about what this all means to you personally — as an individual student with unique goals, university targets, academic interests, and passions.

_Ready to get started on your path to a leading US university?

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Nver Saghatelyan

Published a year ago