How to Write a 50-word College Supplement

Welcome to the second part in our four-part supplement series! We have a bunch of college-specific posts that dig into specific supplements, but we get a lot of questions from students about how to address the word limits in their supplements more generally, so we decided to dig in, go deep, and help you write the best supplements you possibly can.

That said, if you are looking for specific information on how to tackle the supplement for your dream school, let us know! We’d love to help you out. In the meantime, here is the low-down on how to score high marks for your 50-word answers.

Now, this might sound silly, but please really read the question. Don’t just read it once. Read it. Let it percolate in your brain, then read it again. Like with all supplements, give yourself time to think about it. 50(ish)-word limits are so tight that it can be tempting to just fire out an answer. We promise you, we understand, but doing that isn’t the best way to go about things and you might even shoot yourself in the foot.

When you’re considering the question, ask yourself if this is a question that is pushing you to be creative, or are the readers primarily looking for the facts. For example, the Bowdoin supplement gives applicants 140 characters to ‘Tweet’ how they first learned about Bowdoin. They assure students that this isn’t a trick question and that it’s just for their marketing team, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about your answer. It does, however, mean that your answer will be structured differently than if the question was, for example, ‘what do you care about most in the world?’

That’s would be a big question to answer in 50-words, which is exactly why writing short is hard. There isn’t room to explore and then to find your way home and there is no space to stray away from the point, so please don’t try to.

First, though, Bowdoin example aside, definitely use complete sentences and real words. 50-words is tight but don’t go throwing IMHO in there, and not just because we are ideologically opposed to that phrase. Fact: an opinion isn’t humble if you’re going out of your way to share it.

Now that we have the full sentences lecture out of the way, we know that we said that there isn’t room to explore, but that doesn’t mean that you should be giving up on narrative structure. We are sticklers for narrative structure and we will be until the end of time. There must be a beginning, a middle, and an end. Emphasis on must. Seriously. This isn’t a word vomit opportunity. Even with a story arc, though, in most cases, you should be sure to put your central focus up front. Dramatic reveals can be great in theory, but every supplement is both an opportunity for an admissions officer to keep reading and one for them to put the application down. In journalistic speak: don’t bury the lede.

Finally, speedy to read doesn’t mean speedy to writing and a short format doesn’t mean that it should take an equally short amount of time. Drafting is an important exercise that we’ve seen students skip way too often. Fact: a piece is never worse after drafting it, walking away, editing, maybe walking away again, and then finalizing. We know you want to be done, but don’t rush your way through.

50-word answers are tight, limited, and we actually love them for it. They challenge you to think critically and will make it much easier on the 250-word supplements because you’ll already be a pro at keeping things concise. If you’re having trouble, though, hit us up. We’re sort of really good at this and we’d love to help you out.