How to Write a 1-Word College Supplement

Supplements are annoying, supplements are hard, and supplements are really important. Really important. REALLY important. The common app essay matters because it shows a school who you are, but the supplements show a school why you should matter to them specifically. Think about it like this, the common app is the present, and the supplements are the bow on the present. You can be a perfectly awesome present, sorry, applicant, without that bow, which is why some colleges go supplement-free, but having an awesome bow can cover up mistakes in the wrapping job. If that makes any sense...Anyways, the point is that we put a lot of emphasis on supplements because they are the thing that many students forget to set aside time for. Fall rolls around, school starts up again, things get lost in the shuffle, and the supplements end up rushed. Let’s not let that happen.

We have supplement-specific posts for many colleges, but in this series we’ll be offering more overarching advice on how to approach the four lengths of supplements that students most often encounter: 1 word or phrase, 50 words, 250 words, and 500 words (or, really, 400-800 words, but 500 is more succinct). The goal is to help every student feel more confident as they approach or edit their supplements, but if you’re looking for more, or we haven’t written a specific post on the supplement for your dream school, let us know. We’d love to help you out!

You might ask why we would even spend the time writing 600+ words about one-word answers? The answer is that one-word answers aren’t that simple. They aren’t in all supplements, but places like USC love them. The USC supplement includes a series of rapid fire questions that includes our least favorite question of all supplements ever: what hashtag would you use to describe yourself? Ugh. Just ugh.

The challenge with these questions is that there is no room for narrative structure or even an attempt at structure at all, you just have to give an answer - but that doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t be really thoughtful about what answer you give.

First, identify what kind of question it is. (A) is it a question that you can answer without consideration because there is only one possible answer and you are completely dead set on it, like: What is your favorite food? An awesome answer for someone with Japanese roots and/or a passion for complex flavor that comes up elsewhere in the application: Chanko nabe (or ‘sumo wrestler soup).

Or, (B) is the question a little more complicated, like ‘what is your most admirable trait?’ We’re sure you have a lot of them, but this one is going to take some narrowing down.

If the question falls into the (A) category, don’t answer it thoughtlessly, but don’t overthink it. The point isn’t to say something just to be unique (no one under 60 really likes rum raisin ice cream), but also be careful about picking something too generic. If you’re trying to decide between two options, go with the more interesting one. For example, if you’re torn between generic pizza and the crab cake pizza at NYC’s iconic Artichoke Basille’s Pizza, you know which one you should pick.

If the question falls into the (B) category, do think about it closely and we recommend crowdsourcing. Often, the first thing that pops into our minds when we’re asked to describe ourselves, even in hashtag form, isn’t actually the best or most illustrative option, so ask some friends how they would tag you. The key here is, to be honest, and not to pull out a thesaurus. Slightly off synonyms don’t go over well, but if you stay true to yourself you’ve got this in the bag.

Still wondering how to approach these rapid fire questions? Drop us a line. We’d love to help you out. And if the rest of your supplement is stumping you, check out our other posts in this series: 50-word answers, 250-word answers, and 500-word answers.