How To Write the Occidental College Supplement

Occidental is a liberal arts college in Los Angeles, CA. Fun fact: it’s one of the oldest liberal arts colleges on the West coast. The school has about 2,000 undergraduates. We break down their supplement below:

Why are you applying to Occidental? What are your intellectual curiosities and why do you think Occidental is the right place for you to pursue them? (200 words maximum length)

This question is a pretty clear “Why Occidental?” question that they are asking. Instead of trying to answer why you want to go to Occidental academically and culturally in this response, just tackle the academic. Do some research and find a class or two, as well as a professor that you’re interested in studying with. The goal here is to discuss how you plan to expand your academic interests at Occidental and specifically why you’d want to do such a thing at Occidental.

If you don’t have an obvious or apparent academic interest, that’s completely okay. What’s not okay is to say that you’re “Undecided.” Choose a topic that fascinates you in some small way and run with it—Occidental won’t hold you to an English degree if you arrive on campus and decide that you want to major in Spanish. We promise. What’s important is to have a direction, even if you veer from that direction in the long run.

Oxy's central mission places value on a community composed of diverse backgrounds, life experiences, and perspectives. What do you value in a community and how do you see your perspectives and life experiences contributing to our sense of community? (200 words maximum length)

This second part is still asking the “Why X College?” question, but here is where you tackle the community and cultural aspects of Occidental and how you will contribute. What we’ve suggested to our students who have applied to Occidental in the past is that they begin with a story that brings the reader into their community. Tell a story about something that happened within your community. “Community” can be interpreted loosely—it can be your school community, your neighborhood, your family, etc. It doesn’t need to be the place that you live.

Keep your story small and relatable—expand upon a defining component or experience that occurred within your community. The goal here is to evoke empathy. For example, we had one student who wrote about how he befriended the woman who lived on the third floor of his four-story building in Brooklyn. She does her grocery shopping on Saturdays at 9am, and he was always there (just “by chance”) at around 10:30 to help her bring everything up the stairs. He orchestrated it such that they passed each other on the ground floor of the building and he’d offer, because she was too headstrong to ask. He just did it, despite her saying that she “could do it.” He knew she could. That wasn’t the point. The point was that he made the task easier for her and gave her the chance to channel her energy into other tasks. For example, cooking, watching “The Voice,” or reading. All of which she enjoyed.

This not only displayed his sense of awareness and sensitivity towards those around him, but also the ability to take initiative and carve out time in his life for the sake of someone else. It’s a small task that he completes every week. It takes less than 5 minutes, but it speaks to his character.

The story should be structured in such a way that you can easily weave Occidental into it, and such that Occidental seems like a logical extension of your life. Per the above story, it’s incredibly easy to incorporate Occidental’s community service opportunities and a general awareness for others that would be incorporated into his experience at Occidental. Discuss an aspect of Occidental’s campus and community that relates to your own sense of identity and reality. The point is to paint a picture of yourself and make it impossible for the admissions reader to envision you anywhere else but Occidental—make them want you on their campus.

In addition to an intellectually rigorous experience, Oxy’s residential community seeks a vibrant and interesting student body. What's your idiosyncrasy, and how does it reflect your distinct character? (129 words maximum length)

When we say that you can tell a lot about a college by reading their supplement, we mean it. This question is no exception. Their word count, as you might notice, is 129 words. They want you to know just how quirky they are. Whether or not that’s true, you can make this perception that Occidental has of itself work to your advantage. You can play into it while still being yourself. Tell an interesting story that shows a different part of your personality—for example, one of our former students told a story about how he had made basil pesto 34 times with different cheeses and nuts in an attempt to find the perfect basil pesto blend. This is the story that he told to Occidental—it displays an outside interest (cooking) as well as an appreciation for perfection and a dedication to finding the answer. It really displayed his personality in a beautiful way, and Occidental agreed (he got in).

Onto the short answer questions. Here’s the thing about these: they only matter if your answer is monotonous, repetitive, or cliche. Read: boring. Don’t be boring. We know you’re not, so your answer shouldn’t be either.

What is your favorite word?

Choose a word that makes you feel something. It might even be a word that makes you feel weird and icky, but that’s why you like it. Because it evokes some emotion and a visceral type of feeling. Don’t pick a word just because it’s long. Some of our favorite words include:

  • Moist
  • Ravioli
  • Voracious
  • Tulip
  • Erudite

What is the fifth song on the soundtrack to your life?

It’s hard to go wrong here. As a rule, we’d say avoid Nickelback and Three Doors Down. If you are a Top 40 person, we’d understand if this question tripped you up. In that case, go with irony. It’s always a good idea to mention a song that you actually like that you think perhaps the admissions readers may have never heard of. No matter what, it’s hard to mess this question up. Unless, as we mentioned, you say something by Nickelback, Three Doors Down, or Taylor Swift.

If you had your own food truck or restaurant, what would it be called?

Such a fun question, but be very careful with puns because we know it’s so tempting here. As much as we love “Sweet Dreams Are Made of Cheese, Who Am I To Dis-A-Brie,” “Let’s Taco Bout It,” or “Top of Dough Mornin’ To Ya,” you’re not going to get much better than those, so we’d advise against stealing our ideas and making it short and sweet. Make them smile. You can make it rhyme if you want. You don’t have to. And per the warning against cliches, don’t make up a food truck called Fern that serves avocado toast. Nor should you copy a television show and attempt to monetize Pollos Hermanos or Central Perk.

We know that the college process isn’t fun for most people (we think it’s the best), so these more creative questions can feel like a trick. The key is to not take yourself too seriously, but if you need some help with the lighter stuff, or even the more serious stuff just let us know.