How Important are Supplemental Essays in College Admission?

By Neil Chyten/Article #1649

While only a small percentage of colleges require students to submit supplemental essays, many top-tier colleges, consider the supplemental essay to be even more important than the Common App personal narrative. Harvard and many other top colleges view the supplemental essay as more authentic than the common app essay.

The fact is that only a small percentage of colleges require students to submit supplemental essays. However virtually all top colleges do, and they believe that these supplemental essays are at least as important as the Common App personal narrative. Harvard, and many other top-tier colleges, consider the supplemental essay to be even more important than the personal narrative. For these colleges, students must provide meaningful detail that will allow admissions committees to elevate them over other candidates.

So, then, how should one respond to the supplemental essay prompts? Let’s use Harvard as our example. First, it should be noted that Harvard has two “hidden” prompts found in the questions section: one under academics and one under activities. These are both quite short at 150 words. For the main essay, students can write about anything they want or choose one of the provided prompts.

Harvard gravitates toward students who have done the most with the opportunities that they have been given in their lives. Therefore, it would make sense to address how you have taken advantage of your opportunities. Harvard also likes leaders and collaborators. Therefore, it would make sense to write about these factors. Third, Harvard wants to know how you will contribute to the “brand.” Harvard covets its brand and protects it vociferously. It will seek to identify how you will help bolster the Harvard brand. Being on the admissions committee of, Harvard is not about building the perfect freshman class, it is about moving its brand into the future.

Finally, Harvard tends to look more at content than writing style – unless you are planning to become an English major. Also, Harvard admissions is the best in the business! After all, they have been doing this for a very long time. As a result, they can smell a phony from a mile away.  Therefore, you should try to write honestly about something meaningful and aspirational. Don’t try to fool some of the smartest people on the planet.  Overall, your Harvard supplemental essay should be inspirational as it elucidates a quality that Harvard believes will be good for its brand. So before you write it, think about your qualities and characteristics that are most outstanding and that Harvard believes will translate to important contributions to society upon your graduation. Your writing should be reflective of someone who thinks on a worldly scale rather than a local scale.

 

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