How to Write the Best Supplemental Essays for College

By: Caroline Koppelman

When you sit down to write your college supplements, you might struggle with having to talk about yourself. Some people can easily write hundreds of words about all of their accomplishments and “unique” characteristics, but others find writing about themselves to be uncomfortable. Since your goal in writing the supplements is to convey your qualifications and achievements in a way that is not off putting to the reader, we’ve made a list of tips that will help you to successfully accomplish this task.

  1. Read what you’re writing out loud. While writing, your words might look alright on paper, but when you say them aloud you’ll realize they come across differently. Hearing what you’ve written will make the sentences that are too pretentious stand out and help you to maintain humility.
  2. Try and keep some perspective in mind. Write about the things that make you stand out from the thousands of other applicants that are also at the “top of their class,” have the “highest test scores” and have participated in “a lot of extracurriculars.” You want to write about the things that set you apart, not that make you blend in. While those accomplishments are important, they are also already represented in your application. The supplements serve as an opportunity to tell admissions something they haven’t heard.
  3. Make sure your writing is nuanced. In simpler terms, stay humble! There’s nothing worse than working on your essay for so long only to have an admissions official pick it up and immediately put it down because they can’t bear to read it any further. You want the reader to be intrigued by your writing -- your words should make them want to read further.
  4. Talk about a combination of interests and passions, not just your talents. While all of your achievements might mean a lot to you, they don’t really provide much depth to your character. You want to be sure to write about the things that you’re passionate about. This will help the reader to better understand who you are and how you’ll fit in at their school.
  5. Create a narrative. If writing about yourself brings discomfort, then your best bet for communicating your skills and characteristics in a supplement is to include them in a story. The story you choose should be based on a personal experience, either one that you learned from or one that affected you in a great way. The story will then do the “talking” and allow you to convey your personality, interests, and abilities in a more subtle, but just as effective way.

Writing about yourself is something that you’re going to have to do while applying to college. You can’t avoid it. Each supplement is meant to build your character so that a complete stranger has an insight into who you are. Without writing about yourself, there would be no way for admissions to get a dynamic depiction of who you are. If you follow these tips and manage to keep your ego in check, we know that you will be able to write a variety of meaningful supplements that help speak to your character.