How to Write a 500-Word College Supplement

Ok! So we’ve covered 1-word answers, we’ve buzzed through 50-word ones, we’ve broken down the 250 crew, and now we’re in the final stretch of our Supplement Series: the 500(ish)-word answer. We’re adding ‘ish’, because (as you will see) these longer-form supplements have been known to range from 400 to a whopping 800 words, but the same strategy applies for all of them. Basically, each one of these is like a Common App essay where you don’t get to choose what you write about, but you should take it just as seriously. The awesome thing is that you are getting the intel on how to ace it from us, so they shouldn’t be a problem. If you want more, we even have college-specific posts that break down specific supplement questions, outlining our strategies for success! If we haven’t written a post on the supplement for a school you’re applying to, let us know. While the tips below will give you a firm foundation, we’d love to help you build an amazing application :)

The first few steps of tackling a long supplement essay are similar to writing the 250-word essay, so you may recognize some of this advice. If you don’t, go back and read that post because we think you should memorize it. It’s that helpful.

Start Googling

The first step for any essay, regardless of topic, is brainstorming and research. A lot of the long supplement prompts are versions of the “why us?” question. Dickinson, for example, gives students 1-800 words to answer “Why have you chosen to apply to Dickinson?” This is not a question to be answered on the fly. It is not generic. And you can not, we repeat, you CAN NOT use the same essay for more than one school and just change the names of professors or courses?

We know that it is really annoying to hear this because it would be so much easier if you could just create a template answer, plug in the place-specific details, and be on your merry way. News flash: life isn’t easy and neither is getting into college. Template answers are really easy to spot and even if you write the best template of all time, there is too high of a risk that you will forget to change a detail or send the wrong one to the wrong school, and all of a sudden a Tulane admissions officer stumbles across a reference to the town Dickinson is in and you’re in very very hot water.

So, all of that is to say that if you are answering a “why us?” question you have to do research for each and every school, and write a different essay for each school. We have a whole list of topics to avoid, which will help you narrow down your list of what to include.

Draft, Draft, Draft

Sometimes it feels like drafting is a lost art. In the era of instant communication, the idea of writing something multiple times, or even overhauling it at all, can seem arcane. We are here to tell you that it is not. Drafting is a key part of a successful essay and you should aim to go through at least two, if not three, full drafts of each essay before drilling into the detailed edits.

For Pitzer’s supplement, they ask students to answer one of two questions in 650 words. One of the options is: “Incorporating one or more of our core values, how would you contribute to solving a local or global issue of importance to you?” This is the perfect example of a situation where drafting is super important. Choose 2 or 3 of the school’s core values and take a swing at each of them, or pick the one and then try addressing it in a few different ways. Each time you try, you’ll get closer to the best answer for you.

Also, remember that your answer is an essay, so it should have a narrative. It doesn’t need to be a conventional narrative, and you can have a lot of fun with your answer, but it should have a beginning, a middle, and an end that make sense together. If it doesn’t, start a new draft!

Red Pen

Once you have a final draft that you’re happy with, it’s red pen time. With a limit of 500+ words, you shouldn’t have trouble staying within the limit, so you shouldn’t need to carve too much out. If you’re below the limit, there might even be space to add little details in that give your answer more energy and life. At the same time, remember that you don’t need to use every single word. It is always better to be concise than to ramble.

After you’ve researched, drafted, and edited, you are good to go!

If you want some more hands-on help, please get in touch. We have a stellar track record of helping kids get into their dream schools, even when on paper they didn’t seem like a perfect candidate. We’d love to help you apply to yours.