The Undergraduate Supplemental Essay Part 1- Standard Supplementals
Types of Supplemental Essays
We all know that we have to write the Common Application personal essay, but what are supplemental essays? There are two types of supplemental essays: type one, the ones that ask you more specific questions about why you are interested in a specific subject or school, and then type two, the more creative–almost challenging–supplemental essays. As part one of a two part article, I will begin by discussing how you should approach the first type of supplemental essay.
Purpose of Supplemental Essays
The Common Application personal statement gets to understanding you more as a person– your strengths and weaknesses, how you think about the world and your place in it, who you are beyond your grades and test scores. However, this essay does not tell each school about why you have chosen to apply to their particular school. The type one supplemental essay can be thought of in two ways: one, why you are a good fit for the school and two, why the school is a good fit for you.
What is the Supplemental Essay Really Asking?
It is important to read the question carefully to understand which question they are asking you because how you approach this question will be different based on what they are seeking. If they are asking why you are a good fit for their school, they are interested in knowing about you, your personality, your strengths and weaknesses and what you would add to the school and its incoming class. If they are asking why the school is a good fit for you, they want to know what you will gain from the school and this question is more about your knowledge of the school. How you respond to each of these questions will be slightly different, so make sure you read and understand the prompt.
Why Are You Choosing Our School?
Answering both of these questions requires you to do some research about the school and understand what is appealing to you. If you say “Cornell is a great place for me to learn more about math”, that is not good enough. Universities are places where you can study math in depth, what’s special about Cornell’s math program? I tell students: “If you write about why you are applying to a particular school and you can delete that school’s name and replace it with any other school’s name, then you have not shown you understand the school you are applying to” (e.g. “Cornell is a great place to me to learn about math” is a sentence that can be used for any school: “NYU is a great place for me to learn about math”, “Tunxis Community College is a great place for me to learn about math”). The responsibility is on you to research the math program at Cornell, looking at specific reasons why its math program is better for you than other schools’ programs. For example, if you are interested in majoring in math at Cornell, what is unique about the math knowledge you will gain at Cornell? Quick research indicates that Cornell math students can study abroad in Budapest or Moscow; if this is of interest, you should delve deeper into what you can learn via either of these programs that makes Cornell the right math program for you.
Why Are You Choosing This Major?
The second type of supplemental essay often asks about why you have selected a particular major or area of study to pursue. Similarly, this answer should include an indication that you understand the strengths of studying this area at the particular school. However, here you would be allowed to talk more about personal interest and history that led you to pursue this area of study. Often students will say they want to major in an area because they are “good at it” but this is not sufficient. In fact, simply stating you want to major in a subject because you are good at it implies that you do not take on the challenges of subjects you are easily “good at”. Here, you are a bit less focused on the school and more on the major. What’s so interesting about math to you? For example, real world problems are based upon mathematical solutions; do you have examples to showcase how you have used math beyond the classroom, or how you could potentially do so? This essay is about your passion for a subject, and how it might relate to your future career and life goals.
Keep in mind that these supplemental questions are to understand how serious you are about a subject area and also, how well you really understand the school you are applying to. Talking about falling in love with the campus when you visited at age 10 will not suffice as it does not show any knowledge or understanding of the school itself. For a successful supplemental essay, make sure you take the time to learn about the school through not only the school’s website, but various student forums/discussion boards as well. Be concrete, focused, and able to say why above all else, this program fits you best (or vice versa, depending on the question).