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Tackling the supplement essays

In the seventh of her 12-part series, Katherine Mehta talks about supplement essays - what they are and how you should tackle them.
BY Katherine Ernst Mehta |   02-09-2016

In addition to your Personal Statement or Common App essay, many schools will also require you to submit supplement essays as part of your application. There are three main types of supplement essays that you will come across in your applications. They are: The Why This College Essay, The Why This Major Essay, and The Activity Essay.  

The Why This College Essay

By asking why you want to attend, colleges are trying to figure out how interested you are in the school, and whether you’ll be the right fit. To begin writing the essay, think about what you hope to gain from your undergraduate experience and how this college will help you do that.  You will want to thoroughly research the school, so that you can support your essay with specific examples, to prevent it from sounding too generic.

Here’s an example of a well-researched essay: At XYZ University, I will be able to pursue my passion for film studies through attending Film Society meetings, and taking classes like “Film Noir” with Professor Sarah Smith.

And a poorly researched, generic essay: I would love to go to school here because I want to explore the liberal arts and enjoy California’s beautiful weather.

The Why This Major Essay

Like the Why This College prompt, this essay also has a two-fold purpose: to explain why you are interested in a particular major, and to highlight any work you’ve done or related experience you may have in that area.  Even if you’re going as Undecided, you should still use this essay to discuss potential academic interests.  The essay could convey a time or experience that sparked your interest in a major, or helped you develop that interest.  You can also explain what you hope to do in the future, and how studying this major in college will help you achieve that goal.

Here’s an example of a strong, focused essay: My passion for Engineering began at a young age, when I used to spend my free time taking apart and reassembling old mobile phones.  I continued to explore this interest through an internship at my uncle’s automotive parts factory.  Today, I hope to pursue Mechanical Engineering at XYZ University, where I look forward to…

And one that is weak and unfocused: I’m so interested in everything that I’m not really sure what I want to study, but I hope that, at your university, I’ll be able to figure it out!

The Activity Essay

This prompt usually asks you to briefly describe one of your extracurricular activities or experiences, and why it was meaningful to you. Use this essay as an opportunity to elaborate on something that you haven’t already written about in one of your other essays. It can be about an activity to which you’ve devoted significant time, but doesn’t necessarily have to be.  It could also be about something that you’ve only done once or twice, but found particularly challenging, stimulating or enriching. Unless you have a very unique angle, however, try to avoid writing about activities that many other students have participated in, including MUNs, brief volunteer experiences, and sports.

Here’s an example of an interesting approach to the essay: Composing and playing original songs on the piano is not only my creative outlet, it’s also how I connect with others around me…

And one that is less insightful and interesting: My two-day village volunteer experience profoundly changed how I see the world.  I not only realized how fortunate I am, but also how little others have, and how it’s up to people like me to help them.

As with your personal statement, your supplement essays should be written in a voice that is true to you, and should give the admissions committee deeper insight into your experiences, your personality, and what you can bring to their college community.

Katherine Ernst Mehta is CEO and Founder of Edvanta Consulting, which works with international high-school students seeking admission to US universities. She first came from the US to India for research, and now lives in Delhi. You can reach her on Twitter at @EdvantaCo. Previous instalments of her 12-part series on US college admissions are here.



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