Whether you’re a high school senior looking to apply to various colleges this coming school year, or even a curious sophomore planning ahead, you’ve likely heard that multiple universities require essays as part of their application. The Common Application (or Common App), which many colleges use, has a section where you can select one of five topics about which to craft a personal essay. This essay will then be part of the application for any college you apply to using the Common App. However, some colleges have an additional, unique supplement you must complete, usually in the form of more essays or perhaps a few short answer questions. The idea of having even more materials to submit can be daunting, so here are some things to keep in mind as you go about completing these supplements.

1. They’re sometimes optional

Yes, some application supplements are not mandatory, but instead can be completed at your discretion. The writing supplement for Williams College is only one such example of this. This can be a weight off your shoulders if you’re days (or hours!) away from the deadline. Keep in mind, though, that even though the supplement is technically not necessary, it’s still probably a good idea to do it if you have the time. Anything that can give your admissions officers a more fleshed out idea of who you are as a person and how you think can only help your chances of acceptance.

For instance, Harvard University allows applicants to submit an additional essay if they think the information they’ve already provided on the Common App is insufficient. Furthermore, doing an optional supplement can demonstrate your interest in a college.

2. They can be an opportunity to show off your interests

Speaking of optional, submitting supplementary art materials is usually something that is not generally required, but it can be infinitely helpful in conveying your talents and what you spend your free time doing. If you’ve been taking art classes since the second grade, but don’t necessarily plan to study art in college, you can still show off the fruits of your passion in the form of a still-life charcoal piece or that oil painting of your brother that you’re particularly proud of. Furthermore, art supplements typically are not limited to visual arts–recordings of music, dance, and theatrical performances, or even selections of creative writing are all things that are often accepted.

Many schools also allow students to submit research–it’s one thing to say that you interned at a laboratory for thirty hours a week one summer, but it’s another to actually show the abstract of a research paper you worked on.

3. They can be more important than general essays

While this is certainly not to undermine the importance of Common App essays, colleges have supplements for a reason. Many schools receive applications from many qualified students (that is, with great standardized test scores and grades and a strong essay)–more than they have room to accept. When they get to that point, they need to start looking at how well an applicant “fits” their university. Fit is a pretty vague, abstract concept, but what it basically boils down to is whether or not admissions officers think you will be happy and successful at their school.

Examples of bad fit can be as simple as wanting to study engineering at a school without an engineering degree program or being an introvert at an infamous party school. Supplements allow officers to know information about you as it pertains to their particular college.

4. They’re not something that can be easily copy-and-pasted from college to college

Unlike the Common App essays, which are based on fairly broad prompts and thus can be recycled for scholarship applications and most other things that require an essay, supplements are particular to a college. This is not to say, though, that supplements don’t still have trends. In fact, many of them ask why you’re interested in attending that school, while others may go even more in-depth and have you discuss why you decided to apply for a certain program. Still others ask such bizarre questions that you really can’t find them anywhere else (the University of Chicago and Tufts University essay prompts are notoriously quirky).

The bottom line is, however, that it’d be unwise to write the same essay for every college without considering the nuances of each school.



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