The gift of a supplemental essay

Last Updated on November 10, 2020 by Real College Matters


By Ryan Perry

The time of year is upon us when college lists are in flux and supplemental writing requirements are in full swing. Many colleges ask additional questions to gauge a student’s adaptability, leadership potential, or work ethic. Quite frankly, supplemental essays function as the behavioral interview for colleges and universities. They don’t receive THAT much attention, right?

Importance of the supplemental essays

Not so fast. Whereas a Common Application essay gets a cursory read, a supplemental question or two is crafted intentionally to elicit a particular kind of information, so let’s indulge the admissions office. I believe that every school requiring extra writing does so for a reason: filter the students who will go the extra mile, find a specific type of student for their community, or have an additional criterion to distinguish the many talented applicants. So, if we have to write them, then let’s write them well.

Some people may preach that your theme and response are paramount when submitting an application. “They say a lot about you!!” I can understand this logic, but I see these tedious writing exhibitions as an opportunity to prove your analytical ability. You have the chance to choose a lane then explain your reasoning in 200-400 words — what a gift! Many questions get into the existential or the hypothetical genre, so I fully support a proper brainstorm ahead of any written work. Looking at the numbers though, 1000 applications will likely cover the bases of unique and brilliant thoughts. Rather than trying to outthink the competition on the way to an eye-catching response, I advocate for a well-crafted narrative and a justification for its selection.

Tell your story

I’m constantly reminded that young people have incredible stories to tell.   Students already have the ideas in their minds; we just need to access those concepts. Authenticity is the name of the game, so I always push for the most genuine response presented with solid logic. As it turns out, those ingredients allow young people to stretch and explore their imagination as they find their answers to the questions prompting them.

Students, next time you open an application to find supplemental writing prompts, have confidence in yourself! If you attack the questions with the intention to logically explain your answer, then you deserve to have that confidence. Admissions officers everywhere are looking for students willing to write substantively.  Enjoy the opportunity to say something and defend your ideas.

About Ryan

Ryan graduated from the College of William and Mary before earning an MS in Commerce from UVA’s McIntire School. He works in the film industry but makes time also for essay advising.

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