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Supplemental College Essay Prompt Examples

What is a supplemental essay?

While most students know that all colleges expect them to write a Common App essay, also known as a Personal Statement, parents and students are not as familiar with the supplemental college essays they need to write. Besides the central personal statement, every student needs to respond to supplemental college essay prompts. In this post, we are sharing everything you need to know about supplemental college essay prompts as well as supplemental college essay prompt examples and ways to think about the prompts. These essays or questions are called supplemental essays.

How many supplemental essays do I need to complete?

Depends on the schools you are applying to. Some schools require no supplemental essays while others require many. Schools like Stanford, Yale, Johns Hopkins and Tufts have many supplemental essays. Other schools like Arizona State University, Drexel, Northeastern have no supplemental essays at all. Schools like Harvard and Princeton will require additional essays that look much like the Personal Statement and some students may have to write two, three or even up to four 650+ word additional essays. This is especially true for students applying to Honors Colleges at universities.

Are supplemental essays as important as the personal statement in college admissions?

Supplemental essays are very important to the application. Supplementals offer students the opportunity to highlight fit factors for a university and show off the interesting person that they are. Supplementals offer students the chance to speak to research-based work (always a plus!), service projects, community work, and passion areas.

What are common supplemental essay topics?

Supplemental essays for each school often repeat. The most common supplement questions are: 1) Explain why you chose your major? It is good to have a major to talk about here. For students who are undecided, it is better not to center the essay around being undecided. Picking a major and highlighting an interest in it can actually serve a student well. Other questions schools commonly ask are : 2) Tell us about an extracurricular you do just for the fun of it. It is important to actually create a strong outline for these essays and do serious research and thinking before writing. Investing time in planning these responses, sharing novel experiences and showing very specific knowledge will help students stand out from peers with generic responses. 3) Why us? This requires school-specific research and work figuring out where the student connects to the school. 3Students often want to lean into university, student and campus life. The campus is an immediate go-to for students on these prompts-the mountains or the city, the lakes and trees on campus, playing on a team, etc.

What schools want in response to this essay prompt is to know that students are going to use the most resource-rich time of their lives thoughtfully over four years. Students can start this essay by making a list of areas they will look forward to academically–professors and research opportunities with them, classwork, special academic programs offered uniquely on the campus they plan to attend, and more. Students can connect the school to their own meaningful experiences during high school. For example, students applying for engineering should mention high school engineering projects they have worked on over summers or during the school year. Many students have gone through Boeing’s program or Project Lead the Way in school. They might have completed an engineering camp like UPENN Summer Engineering or Cooper Union Summer STEM. It is important to highlight that work in the “Why Us?” essay to connect to ways one might contribute to specific university programs.

What makes a good supplemental essay?

A strong supplemental essay will be more technical than narrative. There are a few golden rules for the supplemental essays: 1) First, each essay should be about a different topic. Students should not repeat or talk about the same things. This is a chance to really show the admissions committee who you are and repeating answers about the same topic is a missed opportunity. 2) Present your adult self-committees are less interested in hearing about things like reading Harry Potter or watching TV as a favorite extracurricular in student essays. They want to hear about research, playing music, reading physics books voraciously, engaging in math for fun. They want to understand what makes you tick academically more than personally and casually. This doesn’t mean the essay responses cannot be quirky or fun. But, they should be packed with information showing off your areas of academic strength, too.

What are the supplemental essay questions from the top 10 schools in the country for this year?

-Princeton University Supplemental Essays

Princeton has many supplemental essays. Responses range from 50 to 250 words.

1) Briefly elaborate on an activity, organization, work experience, or hobby that has been particularly meaningful to you. (150 words)

2) At Princeton, we value diverse perspectives and the ability to have respectful dialogue about difficult issues. Share a time when you had a conversation with a person or a group of people about a difficult topic. What insight did you gain, and how would you incorporate that knowledge into your thinking in the future? (250 words)

3) Princeton has a longstanding commitment to service and civic engagement. Tell us how your story intersects (or will intersect) with these ideals.(250 words)

4) What is a new skill you would like to learn in college? (50 words)

5) What brings you joy? (50 words)

6) What song represents the soundtrack of your life at this moment? (50 words)

7) Princeton also requires students to submit a graded written paper as part of your application. Learn more.

-Harvard University Supplemental Essays

Harvard offers a brief space for students to highlight one area of particular importance extracurricularly alongside a lengthier essay that resembles the Common App in nature. Harvard allows students to write on a topic of their choice allowing them to choose from one of the following topics:

  • Unusual circumstances in your life
  • Travel, living, or working experiences in your own or other communities
  • What you would want your future college roommate to know about you
  • An intellectual experience (course, project, book, discussion, paper, poetry, or research topic in engineering, mathematics, science or other modes of inquiry) that has meant the most to you
  • How you hope to use your college education
  • A list of books you have read during the past twelve months
  • The Harvard College Honor code declares that we “hold honesty as the foundation of our community.” As you consider entering this community that is committed to honesty, please reflect on a time when you or someone you observed had to make a choice about whether to act with integrity and honesty. 
  • The mission of Harvard College is to educate our students to be citizens and citizen-leaders for society. What would you do to contribute to the lives of your classmates in advancing this mission? 
  • Each year a substantial number of students admitted to Harvard defer their admission for one year or take time off during college. If you decided in the future to choose either option, what would you like to do? 
  • Harvard has long recognized the importance of student body diversity of all kinds. We welcome you to write about distinctive aspects of your background, personal development or the intellectual interests you might bring to your Harvard classmates. 

Columbia University Supplemental Essays

Columbia has many supplement questions that ask students about their interests in reading, academic and cultural interests. Because Columbia has a lengthy series of requirements in the Common Core, their admissions committee evaluates whether students will be interested enough in the core curriculum through some of their questions.

List Questions:

  • List the titles of the required readings from academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)
  • List the titles of the books, essays, poetry, short stories or plays you read outside of academic courses that you enjoyed most during secondary/high school. (75 words or fewer)
  • We’re interested in learning about some of the ways that you explore your interests. List some resources and outlets that you enjoy, including but not limited to websites, publications, journals, podcasts, social media accounts, lectures, museums, movies, music, or other content with which you regularly engage. (125 words or fewer)

Short Answer Questions:

  • A hallmark of the Columbia experience is being able to learn and live in a community with a wide range of perspectives. How do you or would you learn from and contribute to diverse, collaborative communities? 
    (200 words or fewer)
  • Why are you interested in attending Columbia University? We encourage you to consider the aspect(s) that you find unique and compelling about Columbia. (200 words or fewer)
  • Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)

Massachusetts Institute of Technology Supplemental Essays

MIT has a series of short answer essay questions:

  • Describe the world you come from; for example, your family, clubs, school, community, city, or town. How has that world shaped your dreams and aspirations? (250 words or fewer)
  • Pick what field of study at MIT appeals to you the most right now, and tell us more about why this field of study appeals to you. (100 words or fewer)
  • We know you lead a busy life, full of activities, many of which are required of you. Tell us about something you do simply for the pleasure of it. (200–250 words)
  • At MIT, we bring people together to better the lives of others. MIT students work to improve their communities in different ways, from tackling the world’s biggest challenges to being a good friend. Describe one way in which you have contributed to your community, whether in your family, the classroom, your neighborhood, etc. (200–250 words)
  • Tell us about the most significant challenge you’ve faced or something important that didn’t go according to plan. How did you manage the situation? (200-250 words)

-Yale University Supplemental Essays

  • Students at Yale have time to explore their academic interests before committing to one or more major fields of study. Many students either modify their original academic direction or change their minds entirely. As of this moment, what academic areas seem to fit your interests or goals most comfortably? Please indicate up to three from the list provided.
  • Why do these areas appeal to you? (125 words or fewer)
  • What is it about Yale that has led you to apply? (125 words or fewer)
  • What inspires you? (35 words)
  • Yale’s residential colleges regularly host conversations with guests representing a wide range of experiences and accomplishments. What person, past or present, would you invite to speak? What would you ask them to discuss? (35 words)
  • You are teaching a new Yale course. What is it called? (35 words)
  • Yale students embrace the concept of “and” rather than “or,” pursuing arts and sciences, tradition and innovation, defined goals and surprising detours. What is an example of an “and” that you embrace? (35 words)
  • Yale’s extensive course offerings and vibrant conversations beyond the classroom encourage students to follow their developing intellectual interests wherever they lead. Tell us about your engagement with a topic or idea that excites you. Why are you drawn to it? (250 words)
  • Respond to one of the following
  • 2A. Reflect on a community to which you feel connected. Why is it meaningful to you?  You may define community however you like.
  • 2B. Reflect on something that has given you great satisfaction. Why has it been important to you?

Additional supplemental essays can be found on university websites by clicking on the links below:

Stanford University Supplemental Essays

University of Pennsylvania Supplemental Essays

California Institute of Technology Supplemental Essays

Johns Hopkins Supplemental Essays

Northwestern University Supplemental Essays

Duke University Supplemental Essays

Dartmouth College Supplemental Essays

Brown University Supplemental Essays

Vanderbilt University Supplemental Essays

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