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Writing supplements: how important are they?

HarvardWomanArchIMG_3790In September many high school seniors focus intently on writing their personal essays—and rightly so. A strong essay is a crucial component of your college application package. If you haven’t completed a personal essay you’re proud of yet, you should do so…pronto.

But amidst the hubbub, it’s easy to lose sight of the other writing challenges you’re about to face.

Known variously as “writing supplements,” “supplemental essays,” “college-specific essays,” “individualized essays” or simply “supplements,” these little essay assignments can be found at different locations on the Common Application—or on the Universal College Application, if you’re using that system. In some cases, the writing supplements pop up as surprises, just when a student believes he or she is almost finished. This is not the best time to have your first encounter with a probing admissions question.

The most selective colleges

Are you applying to the most selective colleges? If so, you’ll probably be asked to write supplemental essays for most of the schools on your list. These colleges all have their own questions they’ve labored over… and they are very interested to hear your response.

Make no mistake. Although sometimes buried at the end of the applications, supplements are important. They offer you the chance to show yet another side of yourself—and to prove why you’re the perfect fit for a particular school.

Often ignored by applicants until the last minute, writing supplements are really a valuable tool for gaining an edge. Rather than dashing them off in the final hours, a wise applicant will give each question serious thought and craft each piece with care. Your answers should be an integrated part of your college admissions strategy.

Get organized, get prepared… then get to work

To avoid last-minute panic, go over your college list carefully now to determine which schools require writing supplements. (Some schools say the supplement is optional, but take that with a grain of salt.)

If necessary, visit the admissions webpage of each school to find out what question or questions they are asking this year. If you can’t find this information on the web, email the admissions office and ask.

Make a list of the questions each college will be asking, and be sure to note the required word count for each. As soon as you’ve completed your personal essay, start work on the supplements. The extra time you  spend planning and writing them is likely to bring much better results.

– The College Strategist

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