Tips for Supplementary Essay Questions

Supplementary essay questions will vary, and some will be required. For example, the University of Chicago insists on an entire additional essay in response to one of their unique “extended essay questions” besides your regular personal statement.

There isn’t much advice I can offer you on these additional pieces of work except:

  1. Obey the same basic precepts in the pages here on personal statement writing.
  2. Look up special requirements for each university that interests you early, so that you aren’t caught off-guard with yet another epic obligation the night of the deadline.

However, there is one generic supplementary question that tends to be required for all applications, even though its form might vary. That is the question about what you’ll get out of this specific university. For example, the University of Chicago’s goes like this:

How does the University of Chicago, as you know it now, satisfy your desire for a particular kind of learning, community, and future? Please address with some specificity your own wishes and how they relate to UChicago.

You do NOT want to take the easy way out by writing an essay that is so ambiguous and non-specific to the college that you can copy and paste it for every application. Nor do you want to write a response that is so insular and esoteric to your own personal college goals that you make no concrete references whatsoever to the amenities available at this institution.

Here’s an example of a generic response:

I’m very excited to go to college as the first person in my family to do so. I look forward to studying psychology because I want to become a therapist someday. It isn’t possible for me to become a therapist without a university education, and so, I think attending this college will help me meet my professional goals. I’m also excited to experience life on my own at such a prestigious institution.

Indeed, seeing which route you’ll take is actually the trick to this question– and I’m sure it’s true that most students, not realizing there’s a trick to be avoided, go the route of simply talking about the personal aspirations they see applying to ANY college environment.

What you really want to do is insert important details from a particular college’s website and promotional materials to show you’ve diligently done your research into this institution. What specifically about this college makes it a great fit for you?

It may sound like I’m encouraging you to write individual supplementary essays to all sixteen colleges you’re applying to– and on some level, technically, I am. But there are two really easy steps you can take to simplifying this process for yourself.

  1. Create a spreadsheet where you take stock of the facts, amenities, and statistics that matter most to you from EACH university you’re applying to. Some details you might want to log for each institution (in separate columns on your spreadsheet) include:
    • Student/faculty ratio
    • Average class size
    • Diversity statistics
    • School’s special status (Ivy League, women’s college, historically black college/university)
    • Academic programs that interest you or pertain to your intended major
    • Unique aspects of the majors that interest you (ex: senior thesis projects, writing awards, internship components, hands-on labs, etc.)
    • Names of clubs and/or athletic organizations that appeal to you
    • Special university-wide programs, like study abroad, community service, internships, consortiums with other colleges, etc.
  2. Create a simple essay template in which you can plug and chug the answers to the college-specific supplementary question for each of your applications. Use whichever tidbits you prioritized from the above list as a guide.

For example, if I care the most about student/faculty ratio, class sizes, diversity statistics, and social life on campus, part of my template might look something like this:

As a working-class woman coming from a very multicultural neighborhood in New York, diversity is really important to me. I am very impressed with [NAME OF UNIVERSITY’S] diversity, given that [X PERCENTAGE]% of students on campus are non-white, first-generation, and from outside of the U.S.

Going to a large high school also taught me that I really need an intimate environment for college. I can only imagine what it would be like to take a seminar with [AVERAGE CLASS SIZE] students present. I am also really looking forward to benefiting from the wisdom of my professors. I think [NAME OF UNIVERSITY’S] high student-to-faculty ratio of [RATIO] indicates I would have many opportunities to get to know my professors well and receive the support I need to succeed.

Although I can’t wait to begin studying [INTENDED MAJOR], I am also really looking forward to the vibrant campus life surrounding so many issues and hobbies I’m passionate about. My high school did not have the financial resources for activities like [CLUB NAME] or student unions like [STUDENT UNION NAME] devoted to [CAUSE]. By exploring these opportunities at [NAME OF UNIVERSITY], I hope to [EXPLAIN YOUR INTENDED CONTRIBUTION TO THE COMMUNITY].

My example isn’t a dazzling piece of writing or anything, but you get the picture. The more knowledge you reveal about this particular university, the more impressed the admissions committee will be with the sincerity of your investment in the college and its offerings.