When it comes to Ivy League applications, the hardest part is figuring out exactly what to write about. We’re written about Ivy League common app essay topics, but this blog post is exclusively about supplements. Here you can read our advice on how to write the supplements for all of the Ivy’s: Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, University of Pennsylvania, and Yale. But this post will provide general tips that apply to every Ivy.
The most important thing to keep in mind is that the supplemental questions give you an opportunity to make yourself a more dynamic and interesting person, not to reiterate information that already appears on your application.
Let’s look at the Yale supplement as an example before we lay out our top three tips. One of Yale’s supplements asks: “You’re teaching a Yale course. What is it called?” A lot of students double down on one of their extracurricular activities with their answer. For example, if you’re captain of the basketball team you write that you’ll teach a class about the NCAA controversies, or if you’re editor of the school yearbook you teach a class about David Remnick. And that’s a huge mistake. Admissions counselors view your application all at once, so you need explore another dimension of yourself. They already know that you’re the editor of the school yearbook, so you need to pick a topic that sheds light on another one of your interests.
Here are our general tips and tricks:
Write about the right stuff.
As we explained above, most students try to write about what they think is the most impressive thing about them and that’s not a successful way of providing depth. Remember how many students applied to Harvard last year? You need to make yourself stand out. We can’t stress this enough: don’t write about anything that you’ve already shown with the rest of your application. We’ve found the most successful essays to be about the things that make students vulnerable. The hardest part here is to find a balance between being vulnerable and making the admissions counselor cringe. Vulnerability does not equal trauma. With each supplemental question, find a way to answer in a personal and genuine way.
Apply to 1-2 Ivy League schools only.
We often hear that it’s a numbers game and applying to all of the Ivy’s increases your chances of getting in, but diversifying your school list DOES NOT increase your results. This is not investing. What schools did you like the most? If you loved Brown, you probably didn’t love Princeton. Be honest with yourself about what you liked about each school. Consider the location, program, and overall vibe and culture of campus. You’re better off hyper-focusing on 1-2 applications and spending the time it takes to thoughtfully answer the supplements than stretching yourself thin and applying to every school.
Don’t try to be profound.
This never works. It comes off as pretentious. Going back to Yale, their supplements asks “What inspires you?” Pick something genuine. Admissions counselors will immediately catch on if you’re posturing by picking something out of your wheelhouse.
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