Disclaimer – we’re not experts. Everything in this series will be from our personal experiences and points of view, so take it with a grain of salt.
Supplements. No, not the vitamins your mom makes you take every morning – the college app version! They are what they sound like, supplements to your Common Application and main essay. Each college asks for specific supplements, short responses to prompts that vary in length – they can be as long as a couple of paragraphs, or as short as a sentence!
So where do you find these prompts? We’ll go into more detail in our post about the Common Application, but for now:
- Log in to your Common Application
- Click on the tab “College Search” and find the college you are applying to
- Once the college is added, you’ll be able to access the supplements in the college’s tab when you go to “My Colleges.”
The number of supplements tends to vary widely, so be sure to answer all of them! These prompts should go up around August, but you can still access the old prompts if you go on the Common App now (double check that they are updated before you start).
Tip: Some schools will have similar supplements. You can repurpose them, but be careful! The one supplement that you should never be able to recycle for a different school is the “Why *insert college here*?” supplement. If you can put any other school’s name there, then it’s not specific enough.
You’re probably thinking, “I just wrote a super long essay and poured out my heart to them – they still need more?!” Don’t fret. Most of these supplements are not long and can be pretty fun to complete (even if you’re not a nerd).
The first thing you should think about when you start is the context you are writing in. What were the activities you listed in your app? What was your Common App Essay about? Who have you already shown that you are? You want to use these excerpts to show something new about you or be a powerful reminder of who you’ve said you are. There may be some holes in your story that have not been addressed yet or topics you want to elaborate more upon. Do that here! Your supplements should complement your Common App, and fit with it at the same time. For example – if your Common App essay was about your main extracurricular, maybe talk about it in a different way or talk about a different extracurricular you’d like to highlight. Obviously, go with the topic that makes for the best supplement – but also keep in mind that you’re aiming for balance.
Tip: Spend as much time and energy as you spent on your essay on your supplements. These are questions that the college admissions board wrote themselves, meaning that they’re paying attention to your answers.
The hardest supplement is typically the “Why *insert college here*?” one. While visiting a campus and getting a feel for its vibe helps tremendously, not all of us have the chance to do that. To get inspired for this prompt, we recommend really immersing yourself in the college. Research it online, watch YouTube videos about campus life, and read essays from their students. Find a reason to love the college that is deeper than its prestige and shallower features.
You may also get writer’s block regarding your other supplements. Really dig down deep and figure out why you love a certain activity or if there’s an event that changed your life. This isn’t the place to talk about your accomplishments or talk about what you did. It’s about the why. If you really get stuck, take a break from writing and try verbalizing what you’re trying to put down on paper to a friend. Talking about it gets out your true feelings, and makes the words flow easier.
Now the fun (?) part: actually answering the prompts.
The best way to do this is to look at a supplement from this past year. This is a prompt from the Stanford application:
What five words best describe you?
Simple, right? Well not necessarily. While you could easily just throw out 5 words that describe you (Passionate, Confident, Adventurous, Determined, and Compassionate), that doesn’t say as much as it could. The five words we listed could easily describe all college applicants. Try to be a creative with your responses! Have fun with them!
First, note that the prompt asking for 5 adjectives has a 10 word limit (*mindblown*). Also note that you are able to bold, italicize, and underline in your responses – use all your resources! So, stay true to yourself and find the best way to package who you are. Write something that will make your application POP.
What five words best describe you? “Curiosophile. Neologistic. Compassionate. Playful. Competitive (seriously — bring it on!).”
“Curiosophile. Neologistic. Compassionate. Playful. Competitive (seriously — bring it on!).”
This was a sample given by a Stanford alumni. More tips and examples can be found here.
Here’s a personal example from Kat.
“One of the prompts asked for who you would want to be for a day if you could be anyone but yourself. For the response, I said Barack Obama so that I could spend a day with Joe Biden being best friends.”
The point is, have fun with it and be creative! Make sure the admissions officers remember your application even after they’ve read thousands of other apps. Don’t be afraid to take a risk that showcases your personality. If you’re funny, be funny. If you’re witty, be witty. If you’re sarcastic, be sarcastic. Really show who you are and why you’re unique. There is a large spectrum of supplements – from unbelievably short to inconceivably weird. But the great thing about that is that they help you show the entire spectrum of who you are. Be you and don’t hold back. The college wants you – you just have to show them why.
Kat + Daniel