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If you’ve opened this post, you’ve likely become familiar with the ugly phrase “supplemental essay,” which is extra writing that many colleges and universities ask for in addition to your personal statement. Not uncommonly, these institutions ask you to write an essay about, “Why I want you and only you, dream college o’ mine.” The prompts are usually written this way: “Why are you interested in Transylvania University?” (800 word maximum).

First off, know this: even if these essays are listed as optional, think of them as required. The college is basically giving you an opportunity to strengthen your application, so, whatever you do, take advantage of that opportunity.

Still, I know writing these little monsters isn’t exactly fun. But it’s easier if you’re able to break them down. Here’s how to do it:

STEP 1: SCOUR THE SCHOOL’S WEBSITE

There is a lot of information packed in these sites, which you can use to your advantage. After looking at a school’s website, I want you to be able to answer these questions:

  • What classes would you like to take?
  • What clubs and organizations would you join?
  • What professor is conducting research you would want to be a part of?
  • Are there internships in which you’d want to participate?
  • Would you study abroad? Where would you go? Why?

STEP 2: WRITE ABOUT YOURSELF AS YOU WRITE ABOUT THE SCHOOL

As you answer the questions above, think about how you can use this essay to talk about a part of yourself that you haven’t addressed elsewhere in your application. Remember, every part of your application should be used to paint a complete picture of who you are and what you’re about.

So, if you have every intention of joining the Acts of Random Kindness Club, list that here. You can even address what you plan to contribute to the club and what in your past has enabled you to be well-versed on the subject.

Usually, schools have a crazy number of clubs that cover just about every subject. However, if there is a club that isn’t available that you’d like to chair, you can list that here, too.

In addition, assuming you have not addressed this in your personal statement, you can use the  “Why I want you” supplemental essays to write about how your potential career/major goals coincide with what the university has to offer.

For example, say you have a tree nut allergy and, in turn, you want to pursue biomedical research in order to one day be able to eat a pistachio. This is the place to write about how this university can specifically help you advance your goals. Maybe Dr. Paula Freedman conducts research on EpiPens. Maybe there is a class on Understanding Food Allergies 101. Maybe there is an Allergies in History class. List that information here.

STEP 3: VISIT THE SCHOOL

If you have the luxury of visiting the campus, do so. While you visit, try to absorb what is unique to the school in particular. Look for:

  • the school newspaper (grab a copy and read it)
  • school pride (what is the mascot? Are  students wearing school t-shirts?)
  • unique dishes being served in the dining halls (does that speak to your ethnic background/food allergy/eating habits?)
  • posters on bulletin boards
  • posters in dorm common areas or on dorm doors
  • equipment in labs
  • what you heard a professor say in the hallway
  • what you witnessed students doing (make sure these activities aren’t generic, like, say, throwing frisbees)

When you visit the school, be sure to take advantage of tours and info sessions. However, in your supplemental essay, don’t write a lot about what the guides tell you. The guides basically give the same spiel to every group, and admissions officers know what they’re telling you, so repeating what they say won’t be unique.

With that said, if you have taken a tour, you should reference it at one point to show admissions officers how invested you are about attending their school.

STEP 4: VIRTUALLY VISIT THE SCHOOL

If you can’t visit the campus of your dreams, don’t despair. There are plenty of ways to visit campus without visiting campus. First, either go to YouVisit or ecampustours.com. Both of these sites offer thorough virtual tours. Second, you don’t see the college you’re looking for on either of those sites, it’s also worth checking out a school’s individual website to see if they have a virtual tour set up on it. Second, read what students have to say about the school here:

Scanning the student reviews (if you read enough of them) will give you a good idea of what a campus feels like. For more information about what useful school info these sites include, click here.

STEP 5: MAKE SURE YOU’RE YOU

While rereading your supplemental essay, make sure it can’t be mistaken for a school brochure. You want to use real, plucky language and real, plucky reasons, so it’s time to leave anything that sounds even remotely generic at the door. Make sure that if you crossed out the name of the school, your essay would be unique enough that you would be able to recognize which school you’re writing about.

STEP 6: PACE YOURSELF

If you’re applying to several schools that require supplemental essays, don’t plan on writing them all in one day. I’d say writing two essays per day should be your maximum or you are going to get tired and your essay is going to show it. Break up your schedule and assign yourself your work accordingly. I promise being fresh makes a huge difference in the outcome. And know, as always, I’m here at tara@swayessay.com if you need any help.