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Five Tips for Writing College Supplements

We all know the college admissions essay is one of the biggest hurdles of the admissions process. But what about the writing supplements? Just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, random and vague supplement prompts are thrown at you with little to no direction on how to answer them. Here are some tips for overcoming the dreaded college writing supplements:

college supplement writing


1. Don’t overdo it

Prompts come in all different forms and abstractions from quote-based to simply asking what your favorite book is and why. Supplements are a way for colleges to see the way you think and find out something unique about you. There is no reason to go out of your way to make your responses over the top or exotic, because over-exaggeration leads to writing that is not believable.

Colleges understand that you are a (young) human being, so it’s okay to say that your favorite book is The Hunger Games or your favorite movie is Transformers. They do not expect you to be academically driven in all of your interests so saying that you love 16th-century English paintings is not going to do anything for you unless it is true for you.

2. Don’t overthink it

Every college loves to throw in a quote supplement, especially when it is related to one of their values, founders, or alumni. When I applied to the University of Rochester, one of the prompts featured a quote from Fredrick Douglass: “Man’s greatness consists in his ability to do and the proper application of his powers to things needed to be done.” This prompt stumped many students and caused a rush to all of the online forums in hopes of figuring out what it could possibly mean.

The point of these quotes is to see how you think as an individual and how you interpret something and apply it to yourself. If you read what other people think, then your response is no longer your natural interpretation (and all those responses end up sounding the same). I recommend brainstorming the prompt on your own and breaking it down into something that you can connect yourself to.

3. Answer the question

In this Frederick Douglass prompt, the following was asked: “You’re showing us your ‘ability to do’ in this application. Please describe also how you apply your ‘powers to things needed to be done.’ Explain why you want to join our Rochester community of independent thinkers who create positive change and make the world ever better.” This question itself is very loaded and with a limit of 250 words, it can be mind-boggling to have to fit all of your ideas into a small box.

It is also very easy to neglect certain parts of the question that may confuse you and focus on the parts that you do understand. However, every part of the question (especially the quote) is important to the University. The best advice for these kinds of loaded questions is to pick a talking point that is broad enough to cover and answer the main aspects of the question and spend the bulk of your response explaining a specific event or occurrence in your life where you embodied your topic or an example of it.

4. Start early

Like the big essay, it is important to start writing your supplements early. Despite barely being one-fifth of the word count of your college essay, supplements give the university the opportunity to ask you some spontaneous questions that will give the admissions team a picture of what kind of individual you are.

The supplements can have just as much of an impact on the admissions decision as the essay can, so it is very important to at least start brainstorming early. You do not want to start your supplement the day before your application is due and have a mental breakdown of how to fit all of your ideas into 100-250 words.

5. Proofread

This tip should go without saying but I understand what it’s like to finally be finished with all of the writing and wanting to just submit everything and not look back. Proofreading is one of the most mundane, unenjoyable tasks that comes with college applications, but it is very important. Even with a supplement as short as 100 words, there is a chance that there is at least one typo.

While no one is perfect, colleges expect you to put your best foot forward and typos can give the impression of a lazy, uncaring student which is definitely not you. So don’t let them get that idea, and proofread away!

Whether you decide to apply to the University of Rochester or any other institution, I wish you the best of luck in your future endeavors. Happy writing!

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