10 Topics to Avoid in a College Supplement

If you’re like us and you read through dozens of college supplements every week breaking them down, you begin to realize that they have a lot in common. But you’re probably not like us, which is why we’re here. You’re welcome. There are a few supplements that are particularly unique, but most supplements all aim to understand the same thing: 1) why are you applying to their school and 2) what will you bring to the community both inside and out of the classroom? These questions come in different words and formats. Though you should feel free to explore a wide range of reasons, activities, academic topics, as well as reveal aspects of your personality, there are a few things you just shouldn’t touch. Here are 10 things to steer clear of in your college supplement—this goes for any and all supplements.

  1. The Campus
    Writing about a college’s campus says nothing unique about you. Every college is proud of its campus. It’s their goal to make it pretty, but your love of their campus says nothing about you. Trees and grass are trees and grass. Your college supplement should tie in aspects of the college but as they relate to you, your interests, and your own unique story.

  2. The Weather
    As a general rule, ‘the weather’ as a topic is kind of boring. You usually have ~250 words to tell the college why they should accept you, so you don’t need to tell them that you look forward to sunny Florida. It’s a waste of space. If you’re going to broach this topic, make it fit into an extra-curricular aspect. For example, if you’re an avid skier from California, then mentioning the change in weather would make sense in your application to University of Vermont because it’s going to enable you to pursue this interest more intensely. In that case, it’s not really about the weather, but expanding your interests. Talk about your interests.

  3. Greek Life
    Though Greek life should certainly be a substantial consideration for you when you’re choosing a school, it’s best not to mention it in your supplement. The reason for this is because Greek life is not necessarily unique to any school and it doesn’t say a lot about the college. It’s one thing to have Greek life or not to have Greek life, but if it’s there, then it’s there. It’s not really an indicator of how you might contribute to the community. Additionally, we believe that it paints you as a certain type of person—one that values exclusivity. Even if you don’t or even if you have a personal connection to a fraternity or sorority, there are so many other aspects of a college’s social community to point out and connect to in your supplement. Put a hold on harping on the fact that both your mom and sister were presidents of Kappa Kappa Gamma and how you want to continue the legacy. Trust us.

  4. What you’ve “heard” about the school from people or a website
    Forget what you’ve read on College Prowler. Or at least forget it for the sake of your college supplement. Though you should seek out any friends or friends of friends who are current students at a college to hear their opinions, the supplement is not the time to mention a thing you heard from them and are excited about. Every person’s experience is unique and bringing a personal experience that’s not yours into your supplement dilutes the power of your profile. Your application reader doesn’t want to read about someone else’s experience, they want to understand how you think and visualize you on campus. If you say, “I have a friend who is a junior who lived in a single freshman year and I also want that because I value independence,” then you’re essentially telling them a story about your friend. This should be about you. Don’t discuss unsubstantiated claims.

  5. The Food
    Food is important, but it’s not unique to any college. All colleges hope to have great food and feed their students. Food is not a unique reflection on the college and it also shouldn’t be a central reason for your desire to attend an institution. Does the college own an organic farm that you’re interested in working on? Write about that. Don’t write about how you’re excited for the soft serve machine or Zingerman’s.

  6. Study Abroad
    Traveling is amazing. Studying abroad is also a great opportunity to take advantage of in college. The thing is, though, you can study abroad at essentially every college. Your supplement should be specific and mention only unique opportunities that are only available at that particular school. It should show that you’re heavily invested in the details that this school has to offer and are interested in this school for very intentional reasons.

  7. Interning and Post-College Jobs
    We totally agree that a huge part of college is finding your career path and everyone hopes that their studies will bring them to a job that they love. That might mean “cool” internships over the summers and ideally it will mean a job after graduation. But it’s not a great idea to discuss this in your college supplement because colleges want you to come to their institution and be engaged for 4 years. They don’t want to be a means to an end. They don’t want your focus to be on a high ROI, though of course we all understand it’s a factor (and it absolutely should be). It’s just frankly not very charming to say to a college, “I want to go here because I want to get a high paying job in finance immediately after college. I understand that the alumni network is incredibly helpful and well-connected in my industry of choice.” Which brings us to....

  8. The Alumni Network
    In the same vein of #7, you should certainly take this factor into consideration when applying to a school. So much of college is about how it strategically connects you to maximize your chances for success. The supplement is not the time to dive into this consideration, though. A college doesn’t want to feel like you’re choosing them because of their alums, in the same way that you wouldn’t want a boyfriend or girlfriend to choose to be with you because of your family’s connection. It’s always a factor, but now is just not the time to discuss it.

  9. Politics
    When we say politics, we mostly mean don’t be controversial for the sake of being controversial. Politics are incredibly polarizing and extreme right now, and it’s easy to get carried away. Images of soapboxes and megaphones come to our minds. The tone you want to strike with your supplement is opinionated, but open-minded, articulate, insightful, and empathetic. Ranting doesn’t paint you as such. As a general rule, we tend to advise our students to steer clear of politics overall unless you’re applying to a certain, specialized type of school.

  10. Your Visit To X College
    While you should be taking copious notes and asking a lot of questions throughout your time visiting campuses and creating your college list, we don’t recommend talking about your visit in your supplement for a couple of reasons. 1) They already know you visited, so there’s no real point to mentioning it. It’s in your file. You shouldn’t include a fact that the admissions readers already know in your supplement. That’s a rule. 2) The college scripts the tours and they are so familiar with the tour, inside and out, because they created it. Regurgitating information that they literally cherry-picked for you is not very interesting. It’s reinforcement that their marketing methods are working, but says nothing unique about you. This isn’t to say that you had a boring tour. Perhaps you did indeed have a very non-cookie-cutter experience at the college, i.e. you got separated from the group, ran into two Engineering students who were sitting on the lawn and they offered to take you to the engineering school (which only students have access to with their ID). That’s unique. It’s also rare. The fact that you visited, went on a tour, and sat in on an informational session is not a reflective or nuanced story. It says nothing about you. Your entire application should be about you, with facts about the college weaved in seamlessly.

We know that this is a lot, and with these 10 things there are probably 30 more things that we’d advise you steer clear of. But there are also hundreds of things we think you should write about. If you’d like us to do a “How To Get In” post on a particular college’s supplement, email us a request. And as always, let us know if you have any questions.