Common App Supplemental Essays: 6 Ways to Prepare for College Supplements

Application Strategies
September 20, 2019
Just When You Think You’re Done, You Realize There’s One More Step To Complete Your College Applications: Supplemental Essays…

Students are often asked to respond to supplemental essay prompts in their college applications, and these supplements are something students should take very seriously. Unfortunately, the essay writing process can make even the most successful and ambitious students nervous.

However, with some preparation beforehand, writing your Common App supplemental essays can be a smooth process that allows you the opportunity to showcase your true self to the college of your dreams.

What You’ll Find In This Article

What Are Common App Supplemental Essays?

In addition to the general Common Application essay, some more prestigious schools such as Ivy League universities and other competitive schools require a supplemental essay response. These supplemental essays are unique to each school and allow them to gain a more in-depth understanding of each applicant.

This means the Common App supplemental essays are an excellent opportunity for applicants to express themselves beyond their basic application.

Importantly, supplemental college essay prompts are not drastically different than any other type of college application essay. The only major difference is that these prompts are geared towards the specific school itself and their values.

Word counts for most supplemental essays hover around 500 words, but be sure you follow each school’s minimum and maximum word requirements or you’ll risk your essays going unread.

While not all colleges require supplemental essays, some of the biggest names in higher education like Yale, Harvard, and Dartmouth do require them. More competitive and selective schools are more likely to require college supplemental essays to help them learn more about their numerous applicants. Students should take the competitiveness and acceptance rate into account when deciding if they should write supplemental essays for their Common App.


Essays listed as “optional” are not truly optional—despite the label. Colleges offer optional essays in order to help ambitious students boost their applications. Because of this, these essays are essential to students looking to have the highest possible chance of admission.

Ambitious students should always complete optional essays.

While nobody wakes up in the morning eager to write a supplemental essay, students who are applying to competitive schools should try to put themselves in the mindset of “there’s no such thing as optional.”

Each additional essay you write is a window into your life that a college wouldn’t otherwise have. Why waste such an excellent opportunity to improve your chances of admission?

6 Ways To Prepare For The Common App's Supplemental Essays

Preparing before you sit down to write your college supplemental essays is a key step that many students skip. Gathering all your prompts, identifying deadlines, and doing research into your prompts will put you a step ahead in the essay writing process.

Students looking for extra help preparing for their supplement essays can also seek the advice of a professional college counselor, who can walk you through the steps needed to write an excellent supplemental essay.

One of the best ways to approach writing your Common App supplemental essays is to treat them like you would any other essay. Give yourself plenty of time to prepare and meet your deadlines. The earlier you start preparing and writing your essays, the more time you will have to review them and make your writing shine.


The first step of preparing for your essays is to find your prompts.

Log in to your Common Application account, or create one if you haven’t already. You should fill out the Common App to the best of your ability before turning to the supplemental essays; your answers to certain questions such as major selection can affect which essay prompts apply to you.

Once you’ve filled out your application and added your colleges, it’s time to find the essay prompts themselves.

Each college has a section for their “Writing Supplement” where you can find their supplemental essay prompts and any extra questions. Gather all of these prompts together in one Word document or take  screenshots to help yourself stay organized.


It’s essential that you pick all the colleges you are applying to within the Common App. While some supplemental essay prompts are available elsewhere online, you should always use the version of the prompt from the Common App itself when writing your response. This version will be the most up to date and accurate. The Common App will also act as a hub of all of your supplemental essays, making it easy to keep track of what ones you still need to complete.

Still, because each college will require different supplemental essays, it’s wise for students to keep track of deadlines and requirements for each school in their personal calendar as well. While essay prompts will be posted by August 15th, each school will have their own deadlines for submission.


Students should take the time to read each prompt carefully. While most prompts are self-explanatory and simple, students who take extra time to analyze supplemental essay prompts will feel more confident in their answers. Let’s take this supplemental essay prompt from Brown University as an example:

“Tell us about a place or community you call home. How has it shaped your perspective? (250 words)”

You should spend time thinking through a variety of possible responses to each prompt as you read. Many students will read the above prompt and immediately think of their own home and how their parents have shaped their perspective on life. However, that’s simply one way to answer the prompt. Other students may choose to read and interpret the prompt in the sense of their hometown, their spiritual community, or any other sort of community that has embraced them.

If you’re ever unsure how well you’ve read and understood a prompt, ask a teacher or counselor for help. Make sure to come prepared with your possible responses to the prompt. These specific examples will allow your helper to determine how well you’re answering the supplemental essay prompt.


Your supplemental essays are a chance to go beyond the basic, general traits covered in the rest of your Common App. A good brainstorming strategy for your supplemental essays is to write a new list of topics that you haven’t already covered. Can you finally mention your civic service record? Is there a way to tie in your summers spent as a camp counselor to the essay topic?

Your supplemental essays are one of the only ways to offer new information about who you are to the college admissions officials. Many colleges ask that you avoid overlapping your supplemental essays with your Common App essay; they’re asking additional questions to gain more insight, not to reread the same essay written with different words.


College supplemental essays that are well researched can greatly improve an applicant’s chances of acceptance.

Students should use specific examples to back up their essay responses wherever possible. Many college supplemental essays are a variation of “why do you want to attend our school” and listing specific courses, amenities, and college features are a good way to show you’ve done your research.

If asked to respond to a quote, look for additional context such as a video recording or newspaper article. Use your research to form your own response rather than paraphrasing someone else’s thoughts. The time spent analyzing your research and using it to inform your response to a prompt will show in the quality of your essay.


While reviewing your essay isn’t technically part of preparing for college supplemental essays, it’s an essential step that many students overlook. Reviewing your work begins with making sure your essay is grammatically correct and free of spelling errors. Then, you should take the time to review the content of your essay; does your response answer the prompt clearly and compellingly?

All the time you spent preparing for your Common App supplemental essays will give you a strong start to your essay writing process.

It’s essential that you put the same amount of effort into reviewing your essays as well.

If you’re struggling with this review process, bringing in outside help during the review process can help you refine your supplemental essays beyond what you can achieve alone. Asking a teacher, mentor, or a counselor to help you revise your essay brings a fresh set of eyes to your work. Not only will they catch any remaining technical errors in your essay, they’ll help you discover new ways to tell your story better.

Everything You Need To Write College Supplemental Essays

Preparing for your Common App supplemental essays allows you to be in control of the essay writing process. Supplemental essays are not all that different from regular college application essays, and thankfully, we have a guide for writing the perfect college application essay. If you approach all essays on your application with the same preparation and mindset, you can create a clearer picture of who you are as a person through your essays.

Ultimately, your supplemental essays are your best opportunity to showcase what makes you the best applicant; make sure you spend the time and resources you need to write the best essay possible.

Of course, whether you’re struggling to edit your essay or you’re having trouble understanding your prompts, it may be time to bring in an expert on the college application process: a WeAdmit counselor. Our essay editing skills are sharp from years of experience, and our counselors can help you through every step of the college application process, even beyond your supplemental essays.

Now That You’re Prepared, It’s Time To Sharpen Your Pencils And Read Your Prompts. Let’s Get Into College!



Need more Information?

Gain all the information you need by getting in touch with our admissions team or booking a free 30-minute counseling session.