Tips for Writing your College Supplements

By: Caroline Koppelman

Let’s say you’re at a party and you see the most popular girl at school.  This is a person who you’re kind of obsessed with, so you’ve definitely Facebook stalked her extensively. You might compliment her outfit to break the ice. It wouldn’t be weird to say that you liked her shirt if you really did like her shirt, but you wouldn’t want to compliment everything she’s wearing. And you definitely wouldn’t want to use superlatives in every sentence. You would play it cool, because at the end of the day the most popular girl in school wants to be friends with someone who is her equal, not an overenthusiastic fan.

When you’re writing your college supplements you have to keep the subtle flattery used to impress the popular girl in mind. One of the worst things you can do in your college supplements is suck up to the admissions committee. They will see right through it. Unfortunately, we’ve seen this too many times to count. “[Insert college name] has such a diverse array of courses! The student body is so motivated. The campus is gorgeous and looks like the ideal place to go to college.”

It seems tempting to do this, but don’t tell Prestigious University what it has already told you about itself. Unless it is genuine, and unless you know it from personal experience, don’t put it in your application. In short, avoid false flattery. 

We think students are tempted to write this way for a few reasons, but the main one is their lack of research. Supplements, specifically those that ask, “Why Our School?” require a lot of research. The admissions committee wants to know the specific reasons that you want to attend their school, not the reasons why everyone else does. We always suggest visiting the school, but if you can’t do that, here are three things you can do. 

  1. Choose a major: 
    You don’t have to know what you intend to study, but it is helpful in terms of structuring your essay. Choose one (or a few) majors that truly appeal to you and tell the admissions committee what they are. Research the classes, professors, electives, and research opportunities within those majors and make sure they are unique to the school. There are hundreds of colleges in the United States, so your reasons for applying to this one must be incredibly specific. 
  2. Talk about how you plan to spend your free time: 
    Colleges don’t want to admit students who will run from class to the library. They want students who are going to add something to the community. They want students to engage and evolve within their institution in more settings than just the classroom. Whether you want to join the newspaper or a sports team or start a cooking club, tell them. 
  3. Research the culture as much as possible:
    All of these schools have very specific cultures and personalities. If you’re an introvert who loves spending time in small groups, you shouldn’t be writing about gameday at Michigan. You need to know the cultures of the schools you’re applying to and how they will fit with your personality. Think about location, size, geographical conditions (city vs. nature), and climate. This will help you realize why you want to go there and in return make you write a more convincing response.

When you write about these things, don’t tell them that they have “the best” or “most diverse” department, faculty, student body, or facilities, because that is most likely not true. Like the popular girl example, you want to show the school that you’re a genuine fit, not that you would be so honored if they chose you. 

It’s hard to convince someone in an allotted amount of words with a predetermined prompt that they should want you. The only way to successfully do so is by being honest. You wouldn’t want to waste your one chance to impress the “cool girl” by throwing around empty compliments. Instead, you’d want to appeal to things you know about her to show you have authentic intentions and interest in her. The same goes for college. In the end, you’re just trying to become the applicant that the school feels they can’t live without.