How to Write the Colgate Supplement

By: Caroline Koppelman

Colgate is a top liberal arts school in Hamilton, New York. Every year it gets slightly more competitive and for good reason. This year, Colgate has four supplemental questions:

  1. The Mission Statement for Colgate University sets forth 13 Goals for a Colgate Education. One goal for Colgate students is listed as: Be engaged citizens and strive for a just society: embrace the responsibilities to local, national, and global communities; use their influence for the benefit of others. Please describe how you would embrace this goal as a Colgate student.
  2. Colgate prides itself in tradition. Please describe a religious, cultural, or family tradition you can share with the Colgate community. 
  3. We want to get to know you better. What are three words that your best friend would use to describe you and why? 
  4. Colgate’s core curriculum teaches students empathy, informed debate, and critical thinking. Please tell us what book or piece of literature you believe is important for the entire Colgate Class of 2021 to read. Why?

Regardless of which question you choose, you have to realize that your answer must be something that doesn’t appear anywhere else in your application. Like any good essay, it should add another dimension and give the admissions committee a chance to learn something that isn’t captured in the rest of your application. Your application is going to be viewed holistically, which means you shouldn’t mention the same extracurricular, story, or passion more than once. These supplements, in particular, are a good excuse to be creative. 

The first supplement requires you to tell a story from your life and relate it to Colgate’s values. Many students look at this question and immediately jump to the last sentence and just start describing how they would theoretically embrace these goals. The key here is to not to simply describe opportunities at Colgate, but rather tell a story about how you have already embraced responsibility in your community or influenced others. Reflect on that experience and why it was positive, and then say how you want to move forward at Colgate. For example, if you work tutoring underprivileged students, talk about that experience and what programs at Colgate would allow you to continue that work. 

The second supplement is a great opportunity to relate to the admission committee on a human level. We all have quirky traditions in our communities and homes. Try to avoid Christmas, Thanksgiving, and other big holidays. Instead, tell the story of the weird holiday your family made up, or a tradition you do on every birthday. Allow the admission committee to come into your home and understand your family. This is a chance to showcase your strength as a writer to develop characters and narrative, and create a world for someone in just a couple hundred words. 

The third supplement is our personal favorite but many students find it difficult. And we get it, three adjectives are super specific and require a lot of thought and the margin for error is high. Don’t start with the adjectives, and definitely don’t go out of your way to pick the biggest words you know. SAT vocab is off the table. Instead, figure out three stories you want to tell the admission committee that they don’t already know about you. No extra curricular related stories please. These should be little off the cuff stories or anecdotes that seem inconsequential but really say a lot about you. They should exemplify a trait. After you find your three stories you can pull the adjectives from those stories. A nice way to format this is by having each adjective at the end of the story. That way the reader has to read the entire story, creating engagement and showcasing personality. Avoid overused and bland adjectives like nice, entrepreneurial, and determined. 

The fourth supplement is a great way to show that you read. We’re not being sarcastic. Many high school students don’t read for fun and it shows in their application and their writing. If you’re going to answer this question, proceed with caution. The book you choose can’t be something you would be assigned in an English class or something that evokes childhood nostalgia, and probably shouldn’t be a New York Times bestseller. But, like all supplements, the book isn’t nearly as important as the meaning behind it. You should be writing about a book that represents a passion you have. Maybe you’re a Black Lives Matter activist or a feminist or you’re incredibly passionate about sustainable agriculture. You need to draw out the passion you have when explaining the book. Not only that, you have to explain why you think it’s important the freshman class read it. Don’t think that you need to pick a piece of didactic non-fiction. Fiction can be just as important and educational if you pick the right book.

One of the best aspects of the colgate supplement is choice. With this many options you really have the time to relax, consider the questions, and pick the one you have the strongest answer for.