How To Write the Best College Supplement 2018

Imagine you’re the CEO of your own dog walking company and the business you built from scratch many years ago has finally made enough money to move into a real office, established a following, and just made the “Top 100 Companies To Work For in 2018” list. It feels deserved; the beginning stages of your startup required an extraordinary amount of work and too many late nights to count. You’re excited about the possibility of bringing on new team members so you make sure the company website is fully updated. Through the magic tap of a finger, any potential employee can find endless amounts of information about the size, location, and history of the company. There’s a directory of current employees, a long list of activities those employees currently do, and a number of other resources you think might be helpful. Available jobs (there are a lot) are posted and sortable based on interest and you kindly offer office tours. You’re reading through cover letters from potential new hires and come across the following:

  1. “I’m an ideal fit for your company because of how much I have to offer. I was captain of my high school soccer team and on the debate team, so I’m used to juggling many responsibilities at once. I’m interested in Economics but I also love animals, and I think I could get a mix of both at your company which I heard reputable and prestigious. I was prom queen, got all A’s in English, and volunteer whenever possible. I come from a big family so I’m used to working with a lot of people, but I’m also hoping to attend college in another state so I can become more independent, but I’m looking for a job that I’ll like for the next three months. I’m not exactly sure what my dream job is but I know that many opportunities could present themselves at your company. I want to work somewhere where I’ll be constantly working to find my niche.”
  2. “Two years ago I started a small dog walking business in my neighborhood with my brother. We walked the dogs of our elderly neighbors for free and I’m interested in the part of your team that recently partnered with the humane society. I read an article in Forbes about how you founded your company and my goal is to learn about building this kind of company on a larger scale while contributing to your practice. ”

Let’s weigh our options:

Applicant #1 meant to sound well-rounded and aspirational but came across as unfocused and egocentric. Listing this many unrelated interests and past experiences makes it seem like you’re open to pretty much any job out there, but kind of already feel like you have what it takes. Even though applicant #1 has many achievements, she sounds entitled.

Applicant #2 points to a specific past experience that makes them capable (and genuinely interested) in the work that will be required and touched on what they have to offer to the company. They’ve clearly done their research and this is an application that could only be sent to you, CEO. You probably feel special reading it.

Talking and writing about yourself is not easy. If your essay is about every single thing you’ve done during your high school career, you will seem self-absorbed. A laundry list of achievements seems insincere and you need to take advantage of the opportunity to write about why you want to attend this school, and only this school. Check your ego at the door and focus on something specific and meaningful. Colleges want to admit students that are eager to learn so a grounded a humble approach is best. The purpose of this essay is to find the best possible fit and get what you want.

All of this means is that the focus here is on you, with knowledge and facts about the school seamlessly weaved in throughout. What brings you to X school and what do you think you’ll do once you get here? Colleges don’t want 2,000 freshman year students that are all exactly the same. That’s boring, and you’re not boring. Campuses want to be dynamic, interesting, diverse, and full of life. The strongest supplements answer the question of “Why Me?”. You need to identify why you want to be a part of the program and what you’ll add to it, and you’ll do that by focusing on the following:


Hyperfocus on one of your academic interests. If you’re not sure what to major in, think about the classes you’ve taken thus far. Has something one of your teachers taught you really resonated? A book that made you think in a different way? They already have your transcripts and grades but now is your opportunity to show them something they don’t already know.

This is important; it’s completely fine to write about why you’d be best history major ever and end up declaring yourself Pre-med. You’re allowed to change your mind once you get to school. Admissions officers want to see that you’re a decisive and determined thinker who will make the best of their four years at their school. But they won’t hold you to the major you wrote about in your supplement.

Admission officers want to know you’re going to show up on day one and graduate four years later. If you write about your unlimited potential and desire to find your “passion,” you’ll come off as someone who will negatively impact the school’s graduation rate statistics. It doesn’t look good when colleges have a bunch of students that took their sweet time to graduate because it suggests that a school is lacking in resources. When you write about your academic plan, it should include a list of classes that caught your eye and why.

Part of the Michigan supplement, for example, asks how their curriculum supports your academic interests.


If you’ve been an avid member of the robotics team for the past three years, now is not the time to discuss your plans to join the intramural wrestling team. The activities you write about should make sense in the context of your application and supporting materials, but with some extra flare. This means that the clubs you write about joining should be logical extensions of the activities you’re already doing. If you love English class and are a long-standing member of the drama club, find something similar on campus. Scour the school website and find a few extracurriculars, clubs, and special interest groups you’re interested in joining. Explain what you’ll bring to the table and why you’re interested.

A few things to keep in mind:

  • Weather is boring.
  • Never mention the beautiful campus.
  • Everyone wants to go to Harvard.
  • Current students know what’s up: talk to them.
  • Never borrow specific ideas from friends or the internet.
  • “I’ve heard this school is really ____” is never a good start.
  • Don’t talk about post-grad life or networking opportunities before you’ve gotten in.

We’ve read too many supplements to count. Need help with yours?