Supplemental Essay Mistakes: Common Errors to Avoid

Padya Paramita

Supplemental Essay Mistakes: Common Errors to Avoid

As you work on your personal statement and activities list, you hopefully have supplemental essays as an upcoming task on the back of your mind. College applicants often underestimate the importance of supplemental essays and mistakenly put them off until the last minute. They make up a crucial component of your application, and there are several common supplemental essay mistakes that are easy to make.

From misunderstanding the prompt to repeating information that you’ve already provided in your application, supplemental essay mistakes might seem obvious, but even if you accidentally make them, your admissions decision could be on the line. So read on and make sure you’ve avoided these common errors.

Not Conducting Enough School-Specific Research

While your personal statement goes to every school, supplemental essays are school-specific. As a result, it’s extremely important that you read up on the school as much as possible. Colleges use supplemental essays to determine fit. If the college sees that you’ve written an essay that can be applied to any school, they’ll know that you have no idea what the school stands for—and therefore, you’re not a good fit. This is one of the easiest supplemental essay mistakes to avoid. Be as specific to the school as possible.

Schools can really tell if the things you’ve provided in the “why school” essay are generic. If it’s relevant to every single school, you’re doing it wrong. If there’s information that’s easily found on the first page of the school’s website you’re doing it wrong. The “why school” essay really needs to include information that’s unique to that school. So include names of classes, names of professors, names of programs, extracurricular activities, specific things that only exist in that school that you’d take advantage of and why. 

Don’t Forget to Write About You

Speaking of fit, remember that you must not just list a few appealing resources in a row and think that schools will know you’re perfect for them. If you leave yourself out, they’ll have no idea what makes you good for their institution. As they read your application, they’ll ask the question, “Are you the right kind of student for them or could they picture you more at a different university?” So, you must think about how you’d contribute to campus and convince them that you’ll take advantage of their resources and that you’re the kind of student they want. College admission is increasingly competitive, and it’s not just about being perfect. Fit can outweigh your test scores and grades—of course, those are important too—but it’s also important that you address how much you fit the school and why their unique facilities are perfect for you specifically. 

Repeating Your Personal Statement or Activities List

One of the most common supplemental essay mistakes that students make is repeating themselves. You need a balance. Supplemental essays should contain new information and provide a broader picture of you. Ideally, you’ll paint the kind of picture that the school you’re applying to wants, because every set of supplemental essay questions is unique to that specific school. Since admissions officers read hundreds of applications, they do not want to read about the same things over and over!

That being said, the idea of having a central theme to your application is incredibly important. You want to come off as someone who knows what you like and why you like it. If you are completely all over the place—for example, if in your personal statement you talk about chemistry, and in one of your supplemental essays you talk about business, and in another supplement you talk about your theater arts group, and your activities list has entries related to engineering, admissions officers will be confused!

So while you shouldn’t repeat information word for word, your application should maintain a common theme.

Not Answering What the Question Has Asked For—And Wasting Words in the Process

Supplemental essays require you to be specific because they ask you for very specific things. They also tend to have very tight word limits. As a result, one of the supplemental essay mistakes you must avoid is misunderstanding the prompt and adding unnecessary information. Read the question very carefully, prioritize the content necessary to get your narrative across, and cut anything that isn’t adding anything important. Each sentence should provide new information that makes you memorable in the reader’s mind. If you go over the limit—or start repeating your personal statement—it’s time to make cuts and keep what’s new and relevant.

Not Leaving Enough Time to Work on Them

Let’s face it. You have a lot of work to do and many components to get through as part of the college application process. While this isn’t technically among the content-related supplemental essay mistakes that students make, remember that you’ll have a lot of essays to write. Colleges can ask any number from one long essay to about 6-7 supplemental essay questions. If you don’t leave yourself plenty of time to plan, write, and edit your essays, you won’t be able to properly convey why you’re a strong fit for these schools. Don’t leave them for the last minute!

Supplemental essays are designed to help colleges understand why you’re a perfect fit for their institution. Avoid the most common supplemental essay mistakes and make sure that understand what schools look for from the different prompts, then convey how you would uniquely contribute to campus. If you convince admissions officers that you will make the most of the school’s resources, and you’re a strong fit, you’ll give yourself a fighting chance in the admissions process. You got this!

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