Ask An Expert: How to tackle supplemental essays

December 10, 2014

This week, InGenius Prep‘s admissions expert, David Mainiero, answers the question:

Do you have specific advice for applicants about how to tackle supplemental essays, particularly the school-specific “why us” essays?

With college application deadlines rapidly approaching, students are scrambling to put together their supplementary essays and portray themselves in a compelling light that complements the picture they painted in their main Common Application personal statement.

There are thousands of different supplemental essay prompts out there for every type of school, department, and joint program that is available. Nonetheless, generally speaking, they all boil down to three different important questions: “why our school” essays, diversity statements, and curveballs. Our team of former admissions officers often advises students to treat essays for specific schools like they are answering a “why our school” prompt because the best essay answers organically weave together why a student wants to go to a particular school and why he or she would be an ideal fit for that school. Of course, this has to be done differently across different prompts so that it is not repetitive, but the same overall theme should be driven home from a variety of unique, but genuine angles that reflect the complexity (or simplicity) of who you are as a student.

“Why Columbia” package of essays

Before sitting down to actually write a first draft of a “why” essay, such as “Why Columbia,” students ideally will have done a significant amount of research about the school(s) so that they can begin to apply their findings about what initially piqued their interest to their specific application themes. This last part is critical. Schools don’t just want to know why attending their school would be a great opportunity; they instead want to know why it’s a great opportunity that you uniquely are positioned to capitalize upon. So again, you want to apply your research about the school to specific experiences and passions of your own in these essays. These connections to your past and present make the essay a natural outgrowth of your passion and genuine reflection of your personality.

Read our package of
Read our package of “Why NYU” essays

You want to strike a confident, but reflective and mature tone about your ability to contribute to the community at each school to which you are applying. The idea is to reassure admissions officers about the decision that they are about to make about you. To do that, you need to include what you have to offer them. Moreover, your content should be specific and your interests should be validated by other components of the application. A huge mistake that InGenius Prep’s admissions experts have seen repeated over and over again in these types of essays is to focus on things that are totally unrepresented or even directly contradicted in other areas of the application. Make sure you are cognizant of the image that you are presenting in the rest of your application. For instance, if your personal statement, and all your awards, honors, and activities detail your lifelong commitment to journalism, but you write your supplement about how you eventually want to become an investment banker and are interested in the schools world-class economics department without any reconciliation of those two ideas, your application might be thrown in the scrap heap.

“Why Cornell” package of essays

These essays are short, but can be very persuasive - be sure to pay attention to the topic, focus, tone, purpose, narrative structure, and organization, and mood of your essays as well as your application as a whole.



Browse Successful Application Files

beccapenn38
UPenn ‘21


Accepted to UPenn, Tulane, Elon , UNC

Student in the Huntsman Program in International Studies and Business dual enrolled in the School of Arts and Sciences and the Wharton School.
b_rod
Harvard ‘20


Accepted to Harvard, Yale, MIT, Columbia, UVA

Lover of physics, math, and chess. Football player and bass player. California born and raised.
tannar2020
Stanford ‘20


Accepted to Stanford, UC Berkeley, UC Davis, UCLA

Born in small town, interested in math, science, and literature. Attending Stanford University starting fall of 2016, planning on studying engineering or computer science, with a minor in a foreign language.
ltan98
Fordham ‘20


Accepted to American, Fordham, Skidmore, Syracuse, UC Irvine, UCSB

Hi there! I went to an American school in Hong Kong from K-12 and will be starting my freshman year at Fordham University at Lincoln Center in the fall. If you're interested in theater and come from overseas, I would be of particular help to you!

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