HOW many essays will I have to write?!

As part of the college application process, many colleges ask supplemental questions that dig a little deeper into who you are and your interest in their institution. These questions can vary widely and may also tell you more about what the institutions consider to be important. When you hear stories about students needing to write twenty different essays, these supplemental questions make up the majority of those. Of course, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed at the thought, so today I am sharing a few tips to assist in the process:

First, answer the prompt! – It sounds simple, but many students don’t actually answer the question that’s being asked. A straightforward response that answers the prompt is better than an elaborate one that tangentially addresses what’s being asked.  

Why our college? – Inevitably you’ll run across this ubiquitous question, “Why are you applying to our college?” It’s not a fluke that most colleges ask a question about your interest in applying/attending. Those that do are looking for genuine answers that touch on more than just the superficial aspects of their school (size, location, aesthetics). Dig deeper. Identify unique characteristics (clubs or programming, special academic opportunities, etc.). With this question especially, it’s incredibly important that you…

Don’t recycle answers. – It’s easy for colleges to tell when you’ve copy/pasted an answer from a different school’s supplement. Try this test. If you replace the name of the school in your answer with the name of some other school, and your answer still makes sense, you may need to be a little more specific.  

Look at question subtext. – Sometimes colleges try to “signal” what they value as an institution in their question. If you see a question about diversity/involvement/research/etc. you can be sure that students on their campus are expected to value that characteristic as part of their educational journey. If you don’t value that characteristic, or feel a strong disconnect, then you may want to rethink applying there. 

Pay attention to minimum and maximum answer length. – If your answers are obviously too long or short, it can show the college that you aren’t able to follow directions. Try to stay as close to the maximum length as possible, making sure to avoid obvious “filler” in your answer. 

Get comfortable with open-ended questions – Many supplemental questions aren’t looking for a “right” answer. One unique question from the University of Chicago simply asks “Find X.” Open-ended questions can make students uncomfortable, but think of it as a way to show your creativity and have fun with your answer.

Avoid complication. – There’s no need to break out a thesaurus when answering prompts. If you’re using language you’re unfamiliar with, or aren’t used to writing regularly, it’ll show. That said, you don’t have to over-simplify either. Try and strike a balance between having your prompt be approachable and professional.   


If you make use of these tips, and make sure to space out your timing in order to ensure that you are not writing ten essays in one evening, this should actually be a very manageable process. Even if you have to write twenty of them! :)

Posted on February 1, 2017 pm28 4:46 pm

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