How to Write the Supplemental Essay "Why This College (2023)

Last Updated on October 7, 2022

Apart from grades, test scores, recommendation letters, and activity lists, prospective college-goers also need to write multiple essays as a part of the college application. While the Common Application requires a common essay (common app essay), many colleges include their own school-specific essays – supplemental college essays. In this post, we will discuss how to write a great supplemental essay for college admissionsparticularly the “why this college” essay prompt.



Table of Contents

Supplemental Essays for College Admissions

Typically, when students (and parents) apply to undergraduate colleges in the US, they concentrate mostly on the Common App Essay. It is fair to say that the common app essay is the single most significant essay a student will have to write for their college applications.

But it is not the only critical; college essay that a young candidate will be required to complete.

Common App Essay vs Supplemental Essay



Supplemental essays are additional pieces of writing required by many highly selective universities, and they can be just as revealing and important as your personal statement.

Unlike the Common App Essay, which is intended to assist admissions committees in understanding who you are and what you value, supplemental essays are assigned by each school in order to determine how you would fit in with their institution of higher learning.

Types of Supplemental Essays

  • The “why us” or “why this college” essay
  • Tell us more about an extracurricular
  • Design a class/a major
  • Tell us about your major
  • Diversity-in-community essay
  • Quick hits

Fortunately, certain extra essay prompts recur frequently, and I would like to share with you how to write the most common one: “Why us?”.

“Why this college” or “Why us?” is the first and most common supplemental question. Essentially, schools want to know why you want to attend their institution in particular.

Some strategies for writing a good “Why Us?” essay are as follows:



How to Write “Why This College” Supplemental Essay?

Start at the end and work your way backward

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  • Consider what your main desire is—what or who you aim to become—and select a few specific things about each college you’re applying to, asking yourself how each of those characteristics will assist you in achieving your goals.
  • Instead of a generic list of attributes that the school meets for you, create a synopsis for each school you are considering.
  • For example, if you are interested in history, then you may include a nugget from the online campus walkthrough you were able to attend in the “Why this university?” essay.
  • You can include insights such as how the university’s architects focused on subtle elements or how certain places on campus are ones that you plan to spend time at.
  • These findings should be consistent with the facts and with your own research.
  • Furthermore, the school should be reputed for the program that you’re looking to highlight and for the quality that you would like to mention.
How to Write the Supplemental Essay "Why This College (1)

Extend your search outside the webpage and be specific

Avoid reiterating sections of the UPenn brochure such as the “About UPenn” section to the admissions committee, as they are well aware of why they are offering you such an excellent opportunity.

Discuss your interactions with the college you’re applying to—did you interact with and learn something from an ambassador, an admission official, a student, a professor, or another member of staff?

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Tell Admissions Officers Something They Don’t Already Know

When answering the “why this college” essay question, use specific details. It’s not enough to say, “I want to go to XX University because it’s a great school.” Or “XX College is my favorite.” Mention courses and professors of interest.

Students should elaborate on the campus organizations or programs that fit certain goals, and specific aspects of the campus community that make it a good social and academic fit.

Be as detailed as possible, but be sure to relate these details to specific goals and interests. Don’t just rattle off some course names and expect to wow the admissions committee.

Former Admission Officers at Columbia University and Boston College

Secondary / Online Engagement



For those of you who were unable to attend the official opportunities, did you conduct your own online research that put you in touch with some of the alumni or with other sources of reliable information such as your school guidance counsellor, alumni, or an independent education counsellor?

  • Perhaps, you attended a certain course or watched a certain faculty member teach online and you’ve aware that such an offering is famous on campus.
  • Is there a tradition followed at the college that you resonate with?
  • Someone from the college’s past who has inspired you through their work?
  • Or maybe a senior from high school has given you an authentic understanding of how great life would be at the university?

Other Alternatives if you’re still struggling with the supplemental essay

  • In case, you’re thinking that you have none of the above you should seriously consider doing some soul-searching and asking yourself whether you’re aware enough to study at the college in the first place.
  • If not then don’t fret; use the time in hand to build authentic relationships with schools, and take some help along the way so that it doesn’t become too overwhelming.
  • If you would like to learn more about how to write winning college supplemental essays, such as the “Diversity story” or the “Why this major?” essays then feel free to drop a message or book a session with me.

Pro-Tip Regarding Supplemental Essays

  • Keep an eye on the supplemental essays while creating your college list.
  • For example, the University of Chicago is known for its quirky essay prompts, which have required applicants to pick their brains on topics ranging from Olive Garden’s unlimited breadsticks to the potential academic design of an interstellar UChicago campus.
  • Other schools, like MIT and Caltech, require separate written supplements ranging in length from short answers to essays.
  • UC and UNC usually ask for 4 supplemental essays. While Wake Forest University asks for 6 supplemental essays.
  • So, as you can see, supplemental essays can take a lot of time. Hence, it’s critical to look at the supplemental essays for specific colleges before you put them on your bucket list.
  • If the essay prompts at a specific school are a big turnoff for you, ask yourself what they tell you about the school and do some more investigating to see if your gut feeling about it may be correct.

Need Personalized Advice?

Book a Consultation Session (30/60 Minutes) with Michael Wharton

Sign Up

Additional Resources on Supplemental Essays

How to Write Cornell Supplemental Essays 2021 – 2022



5 Stanford Intellectual Vitality Supplemental Essay Examples

How to Answer the “Why Yale” Essay Prompt?

Real Examples of Tufts Supplemental Essays

How to Write Brandeis Supplemental Essay

How to Write William & Mary Supplemental Essay

Michael Wharton

Michael Wharton is an Admissions Consultant, Career coach and Aptitude Test Prep Trainer by profession, and an entrepreneur and growth hacker by passion. Having studied at premiere institutions such as St. Xavier’s Kolkata, IIT Madras and Cornell University, and with several years of experience in the education and consulting industries, he’s gained a wealth of experience, which is used to help individuals realize their dream careers.Through the education consulting platform, EduAims, Michael has helped 10,000+ students gain admission to top-50 ranked world-class universities and obtain scholarships worth a total of USD 50 million+. He has also mentored several professional crack their dream job at top companies such as Google, Facebook, Barclays, American Express, CitiCorp, Credit Suiess, Bosch, McKinsey, JP Morgan, Standard Chartered, PwC, KPMG, and many more.



How do you write a why this college supplemental essay? ›

5 Tips for Writing a Great "Why This College" Essay
  1. Treat Each "Why Us" Essay Individually. ...
  2. Spend Time Researching Your Schools. ...
  3. Focus on Your Fit With the School. ...
  4. Provide Specific Details and Examples. ...
  5. Demonstrate a Sense of Enthusiasm.

How do you answer a college supplemental essay? ›

When answering this essay question, use specific details. Mention courses and professors of interest. Students should elaborate on campus organizations or programs that fit certain goals, and specific aspects of the campus community that make it a good social and academic fit.

How to answer why did you choose this major college essay? ›

Tips for Writing the “Why This Major?” Essay
  1. Share how your academic interest developed. The first step in crafting an effective “Why This Major?” essay example is explaining your emotional resonance with the subject, and your background in it. ...
  2. Detail your reasoning and goals. ...
  3. Explain your school choice.
Jun 30, 2020

What do colleges look for in a why this college essay? ›

Colleges look for three things in your admission essay: a unique perspective, strong writing, and an authentic voice. People in admissions often say that a great essay is one where it feels like the student is right there in the room, talking authentically to the admissions committee!

Do colleges really look at supplemental essays? ›

Colleges think a lot about what to ask in their supplemental essay prompts, and they really want you to take time and care in these answers. Pay close attention to the prompts, and really think about how best to answer. This goes even for the tiniest of school-specific essays.

What do colleges want to see in supplemental essays? ›

In addition to the Personal Statement, many colleges require applicants to submit supplemental essays. These supplemental essays ask students to respond to a wide variety of topics: their most meaningful activity, their interest in a particular college or major, an important community they belong to, etc.

What not to say in a supplemental essay? ›

As students craft their responses, here are some common missteps to avoid.
  • Being generic or superficial. ...
  • Not answering the question. ...
  • Repeating yourself. ...
  • Not answering optional questions. ...
  • Not knowing the school you are applying to. ...
  • Forgetting to talk about yourself.
Oct 15, 2021

What should you not do in a supplemental essay? ›

Supplemental Essay Mistakes: Common Errors to Avoid
  • Not Conducting Enough School-Specific Research.
  • Don't Forget to Write About You.
  • Repeating Your Personal Statement or Activities List.
  • Not Answering What the Question Has Asked For—And Wasting Words in the Process.
  • Not Leaving Enough Time to Work on Them.
Oct 5, 2021

How do you write an amazing supplemental essay? ›

Here are some tips for writing great college supplemental essays:
  1. Ascertain which of your college choices require supplements. ...
  2. Read the essay prompt carefully. ...
  3. Write about yourself. ...
  4. Do not repeat anything from the rest of your Common App or Coalition App. ...
  5. Do your homework. ...
  6. Recycle your essays the smart way.
Jun 26, 2018

Why specifically did you choose the major and degree area you intend to take in college? ›

Use your response as an opportunity to tell a story about how your major connects with your career goals. Highlight your skills and abilities in the response. Show interviewers how your major has helped prepare you for doing excellent work in the role at hand. Be genuine.

Can I talk about what I want to major in in my college essay? ›

You can discuss almost anything you want, provided your topic addresses the prompt you've chosen. There are also no rules on style or how to tell your story. You must submit the Common App essay to all colleges that require it, though some may ask you to submit one or more supplemental essays as well.

Why do you think colleges want students to declare a major? ›

Declaring your intended major tells the college that you have definite academic goals and that you are applying to their specific school because their program helps you meet those goals. It sends a message to the admissions authorities that you are more likely to attend their college if your application is accepted.

What do admissions officers look for in college essays? ›

Admissions officers look for students whose essays reveal their character and perspective through their real experiences, not contrived situations. Admissions officers say most essays they read are safe, generic and do nothing to make them remember or want to advocate for the students who wrote them.

What qualities do colleges look for? ›

Here are 9 character traits that colleges often cite when they describe what they are looking for in students.
  • Curiosity. ...
  • Persistence. ...
  • Risk-taking. ...
  • Compassion. ...
  • open-mindedness. ...
  • Social Consciousness. ...
  • Creativity. ...
  • Collaboration.

How should I start my essay? ›

Avoid long, dense sentences—start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader's curiosity. The hook should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of the topic you're writing about and why it's interesting. Avoid overly broad claims or plain statements of fact.

How much do colleges care about supplemental essays? ›

They're your chance to demonstrate that you know what makes the school special and that you're excited to attend that particular institution. Good supplementary essays both highlight what a good fit you are for a college and flatter the college by discussing its unique strengths.

What is the most common supplemental college essay? ›

The most commonly used supplemental college essay prompts are:
  • The “why us” essay that asks you to discuss why you want go to a specific college.
  • The extracurricular essay that asks you to discuss your activities, talents, or skills.
Mar 31, 2023

What does Harvard look for in supplemental essays? ›

No matter what you write, be sure that your essay is specific and descriptive. It should reveal information about you and your personal growth, and it should show Harvard University why you would be a great addition to their campus.

How do you conclude a supplemental essay? ›

There are a few strategies you can use for a memorable ending to your college essay:
  1. Return to the beginning with a “full circle” structure.
  2. Reveal the main point or insight in your story.
  3. Look to the future.
  4. End on an action.
Oct 16, 2021

How long should supplemental essays take? ›

These essays can take anywhere from 20-30 hours as you need to carefully choose a prompt, brainstorm ideas, organize your thoughts, draft, edit, re-draft, edit again, and so on. You also need to make sure you proofread before you submit for any grammar mistakes and have someone else who knows you proofread as well.

When a college looks at your personal essay? ›

As part of the college application process, colleges ask prospective students for a personal essay in order to learn more about them. They want to see context on each student's background, positive traits that the student could bring to campus, and examples of the student demonstrating those qualities.

Does word count matter in supplemental essays? ›

Overall, it's best to stay within the word count limit or range — it's provided for a reason! Writing too much will likely result in your essay being cut off, and writing too little may cause readers to think that you aren't truly interested in their school.

Is it bad to be under the word count in supplemental essays? ›

Most college application portals specify a word count range for your essay, and you should stay within 10% of the upper limit to write a developed and thoughtful essay. You should aim to stay under the specified word count limit to show you can follow directions and write concisely.

Is it OK to reuse supplemental essays? ›

Yes, but do it carefully! Reusing essays can save you time and energy. If you reuse material, make sure to do it strategically, and make sure what you're reusing fits the prompt. Students should not force an essay in there that doesn't really fit just because they already have it written.

What 3 things should never be included in a college essay? ›

College Essay Topics to Avoid
  • Controversial Topics. Controversial topics, such as current political hot buttons, should be avoided at all costs. ...
  • Highly Personal Topics. ...
  • Personal Achievements and Accomplishments. ...
  • Most Important Place or a Role Model. ...
  • Creative Writing. ...
  • Athletic Topics. ...
  • Humorous Topics or Jokes. ...
  • Tragic Events.
Sep 3, 2020

What not to do in a why this college essay? ›

Many essays included things that you should not do in your college admissions essay including:
  1. Never rehash your academic and extracurricular accomplishments.
  2. Never write about a "topic"
  3. Never start with a preamble.
  4. Never end with a “happily ever after” conclusion.
  5. Never pontificate.
  6. Never retreat into your thoughts.

What should I talk about in my supplemental essay? ›

Think about what your big dream is—what or who you hope to become—and identify a few specific things about each college you're applying to, asking yourself how each one of those is going to help you get there. Provide a “mini-thesis” for each school rather than a general list of qualities that the school meets for you.

How do you write a hook for a supplemental essay? ›

5 Tips to Write a College Essay that Hooks Your Reader
  1. Tip 1: Narrow Your Lens. Think small. ...
  2. Tip 2: Start with a First-Person Story. Try starting your essay with a story written in first-person narrative. ...
  3. Tip 3: Use your Senses. Nothing grabs a reader like details. ...
  4. Tip 4: Add Adjectives. ...
  5. Tip 5: Emotionally Connect.
Sep 6, 2019

Do supplemental essays need paragraphs? ›

Like your Common App Essay, the supplemental essay will also comprise five paragraphs – paragraph one will be the preamble followed by spelling out loudly your story, then two paragraphs with the main content and then the finale. A story or a particular incident will work best as a narrative structure.

Can you submit the same supplemental essay twice? ›

If you've already written an essay that happens to fit with another college's similar prompt, then it should take you no time at all to spruce it up and submit it. Reusing the same essay is just fine.

How do you answer why did you choose this program? ›

How to answer "Why did you choose this course?"
  1. Consider your interests. Think about your interests. ...
  2. Discuss your career goals. Discuss your career aspirations, and talk about how the course aligns with your career goals. ...
  3. Highlight your strengths. ...
  4. Focus on positive reasons. ...
  5. Be enthusiastic.
Feb 3, 2023

What is the most important thing to you when it comes to selecting a college? ›

Perspective. The most important factor when considering a college is how the school made you feel. Regardless of all the programs, opportunities, and scholarships, the school you choose should feel like home, a place where you will be able to grow and develop not just academically but in all aspects of life.

How do you answer what is your proudest achievement? ›

You need to make your answer clear and detailed. You would want to avoid vague language such as “I oversaw a project”. Explain what was the project, what was your role and what you achieved through it. Last, but not least, explain why you consider it a significant accomplishment.

How do you make a college essay stand out? ›

A standout college essay has several key ingredients:
  1. A unique, personally meaningful topic.
  2. A memorable introduction with vivid imagery or an intriguing hook.
  3. Specific stories and language that show instead of telling.
  4. Vulnerability that's authentic but not aimed at soliciting sympathy.
Oct 25, 2021

Can I start my college essay with dialogue? ›

Dialogue is a powerful tool not only at the beginning of your essay, but also throughout. You can and should use it any time you want to draw attention to what specifically was said, or to bring your essay to a specific moment.

Is it OK to talk about depression in a college essay? ›

It is okay to write about mental illness and Depression in your college essay as long as it proves that you're a suitable student. Thus, you should be asking yourself, “how does my experience with mental illness or Depression make me a strong candidate?”

What do colleges look for in statement of purpose? ›

Creativity, curiosity, pride in your work, an enthusiasm for learning, a capacity for teamwork, the ability to think independently and so on are all good attributes, and most of us share these in varying proportions. But what schools look for is a mix of individuals that together, form a well-balanced class.

Is it better to apply undecided or with a major? ›

For most colleges, choosing “undecided” as your major will not affect your chances of getting accepted. Admissions officers understand that some students won't be ready to commit to a degree path right out of high school.

What not to ask admissions officers? ›

But all the same, it's not a good idea to ask about the school's party culture or anything related to drugs and alcohol. Questions that make you seem uninterested. Don't ask admissions officers questions that compare them to other schools.

How do I start a college essay about myself? ›

An effective college essay introduction should “wow” admissions officers. It should be creative, intriguing, and unique. Make sure you start with a strong “hook” or “grabber.” It's a good idea to follow this first sentence with a vivid anecdote, which you will then connect to the overall topic of your essay.

What are the 5 traits colleges love? ›

These must relate to one or more of the five traits colleges look for in applicants: drive, intellectual curiosity, initiative, contribution and diversity of experiences. Some colleges may value more than five traits.

How can I stand out for college? ›

How to Stand Out in Your College Application: 15 Expert Tips
  1. Choose Your High School Classes Appropriately.
  2. Earn Good Grades. ...
  3. Use Your Personal Statement to Tell Your Story. ...
  4. Participate in Extracurricular Activities. ...
  5. Volunteer. ...
  6. Keep Accurate Records. ...
  7. Manage Your Social Media Presence. ...
  8. Learn as Much About Your School as You Can.
Apr 20, 2023

What not to do when starting an essay? ›

  1. Fail to address the question's topic in your introduction. ...
  2. Stray from the focus of the question (especially in the conclusion) ...
  3. Insert quotes without introducing them or relating them back to the topic. ...
  4. Fail to provide references. ...
  5. Use informal language, colloquialisms, or overuse rhetorical questions.

What is the first thing to write in an essay? ›

Begin with what you are ready to write—a plan, a few sentences or bullet points. Start with the body and work paragraph by paragraph. Write the introduction and conclusion after the body. Once you know what your essay is about, then write the introduction and conclusion.

How do you write a hook for a college supplemental essay? ›

Give Interesting Facts

Such hooks surprise readers with something they might not have known. Provide a definition or fact related to the topic or arguments you are going to discuss in your essay, and that will make people want to keep on reading and learn more.

How do you write a what makes you unique college essay? ›

How to write an essay about yourself?
  1. Make a List of Questions. ...
  2. What is your family background? ...
  3. Conceptualize and Outline. ...
  4. Be Vulnerable. ...
  5. Utilize Personal Examples. ...
  6. Write in the First Person. ...
  7. Try to discuss more but stick to the topic. ...
  8. Show Personality.
Dec 28, 2022

Why would you be a good fit for this college? ›

Use specific examples that demonstrate you understand what makes that college unique and why you are a good match. If you have visited, state that and don't tell them things they already know like that they have a great faculty or a beautiful campus.

How to answer the college essay question what makes you unique? ›

You can mention unique technical skills/hard skills, soft skills, key personality traits, experiences, personal attributes, or any other factor that makes you an exceptional candidate… and different from other job seekers You could also mention a reason that you're passionate about this industry/work, if that's true.

How do you start an amazing college essay? ›

  1. Keep it brief. ...
  2. Start with an attention grabber. ...
  3. Vividly describe an anecdote related to your essay's main point. ...
  4. Connect the descriptive anecdote to the overall point of your essay. ...
  5. Avoid stale, overused introductory techniques. ...
  6. Don't try to use impressive vocabulary words. ...
  7. Write your college essay introduction last.

What is a good hook sentence for an essay? ›

A strong statement hook is a sentence that makes an assertive claim about your topic. It connects to the thesis statement and shows the importance of your essay or paper. A strong statement is a great technique because it doesn't matter if your reader agrees or disagrees with your statement.

What is the best line to start an essay? ›

The “hook” is the first sentence of your essay introduction. It should lead the reader into your essay, giving a sense of why it's interesting. To write a good hook, avoid overly broad statements or long, dense sentences. Try to start with something clear, concise and catchy that will spark your reader's curiosity.

What makes a good supplemental essay? ›

Make sure everything you mention, including organizations, ties into your goals and interests. Also know about the college and what its admissions officers might be looking for in their applicants. For example, Tulane wants to know you are community and community service minded. Recycle your essays the smart way.

What to say when colleges ask what makes you unique? ›

How to answer "What makes you unique?"
  • Mention skills listed in the job description.
  • Provide examples from your background. ...
  • Avoid generic phrases like "I'm a hard worker". ...
  • Include key personality traits that will allow you to deliver similar results in the future.
Apr 5, 2022

What is a good thing to say about yourself in a college essay? ›

Think about your background, your family life, your family's financial state, your academic history, your childhood, your education, sports you play, and anything else about yourself that makes you who you are. If you're stuck, strike up a conversation with your parents or friends about yourself to get you rolling.

How should I describe myself in a college essay? ›

What to Include
  1. Details from your life that demonstrate how you'd be a great fit at the college.
  2. A brief look at what led you to apply to the college or choose your major.
  3. Your unique passions or interests (connect them to the college if possible)
  4. Strengths and accomplishments that you can illustrate with stories.
Oct 9, 2020

How to answer what makes you a strong candidate for college? ›

A high GPA (relative to what admitted students have) and a rigorous curriculum. Strong test scores (relative to what admitted students have) A specific, honest, and well-written personal statement and/or essays. A unique extracurricular interest or passion (a "spike," as we like to call it)

How do you answer why I would be a good fit? ›

Here are a few ways you could respond:
  1. Highlight your relevant accomplishments. ...
  2. Emphasize your unique skill-set. ...
  3. Explain your personality and work ethic. ...
  4. Practice, but don't memorize word for word. ...
  5. Keep your answer concise. ...
  6. Use the most relevant examples. ...
  7. Focus on the value you have to offer.

How do you answer why is this program a good fit for you? ›

Start with why you're the perfect fit for a place on your course. Mention the most important aspects of your relevant skills and experience early. Prove the points you've introduced – it's here you'd talk about your current and previous studies, your skills, and your work experience.


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