Application and Essay Tips

The Importance of Supplemental Essays in College Admissions


When you hear the term “college admission essay," you may be thinking of just the Common App essay -- but when reality strikes and you see that your school of choice also requires additional essays, it can be surprising -- and confusing.

A supplemental essay is an additional, tailored essay question (or several) that an institution asks applicants to answer. You may wonder just how important a supplemental essay is in the college admission process, but just because it is “supplemental" does not mean it's any less important in the college admissions process. In fact, the supplemental essay is paramount to many colleges, and writing it should be done with as much thought and effort as any college essay.

Supplementals Show Who You Are

At colleges that don't offer in-person interviews, supplemental essays can provide better insight into the personality of a prospective student. Jamiere Abney, senior assistant dean of admissions at Colgate University, a liberal arts college in Hamilton, N.Y., says that the essay allows the admissions team to learn something about each applicant in their own words.

“Unlike the personal statement within the Common App or Coalition essay, the supplement is focused on the individual institution, so these questions allow us to grasp how well a student understands who we are and what we value as a campus," explains Abney. “Understanding this element is key in recognizing if we are a good fit for the student and vice versa."

Jill Madenberg, principal at Madenberg College Consulting in Lake Success, N.Y., and co-author of Love the Journey to College, advises that responses to supplemental essays should be tailored specifically to the college for which you're writing the essay.

“This is not a 'copy and paste' situation; answers to supplemental questions can be a game-changer for an application," advises Madenberg.

Some Departments Embrace Supplementals

For students applying to colleges with specific degree programs, such as the arts disciplines, supplemental essays can be extremely important to the admissions process.

The Hartt School at the University of Hartford asks prospective students about their short- and long-term career plans, which life experiences influenced their decision to pursue the arts and how they think that The Hartt School will help prepare them for their professional career.

“The supplemental essay is really important to our admission process," says Megan Abernathy, director of Hartt Admission at the University of Hartford. In fact, Hartt faculty read the supplemental essays of prospective students before audition day, which is another component of the admissions process for many performing arts students.

“It really helps the faculty understand the student's passion for this rigorous discipline of study and how they feel our school will help them achieve their goals," notes Abernathy.

Because many institutions in the arts specifically may ask very similar supplemental essay questions, students may be tempted to use the same answers for all of their applications.

“Students should be careful not to reuse the same essay for all their institutions -- every school is different and applicants want to ensure they are thoughtful about speaking to that institution," advises Abernathy. “The supplemental essay then also serves as a great exercise for the student in assessing how they see their fit to an institution."

Therefore, make sure that when you start thinking about what you will be writing about for your college admissions essay, don't forget to start preparing for supplemental essays, too. Strong essays across the board will help maximize your entire college application for each college.