A lot of students like the Common App because it is predictable—you know what you’re going to be asked well before you need to start working on producing any essays or form responses. 

The supplemental applications for specific schools, however, can be a little more surprising. These forms ask for more detail, more thought, and more personality than the Common App, for a good reason: schools are trying to get a fuller picture of you and gauge how interested you are in them! Here’s some information to help you plan ahead.

The supplemental applications for the colleges to which you apply will likely have a combination of question types, ranging from lists, to short answers (300 words or less), to full essays (500 words). 

The single most common question you’ll encounter is the “Why do you want to go here?” question, though it may be phrased in more complex ways. Don’t respond with “Campus is pretty and I’ve heard good things about the school.” Instead, conduct in-depth research on what your life would be like on that campus, from the dorms and food to the specific classes you’ll take and professors you want to work with. See here for our supplement research worksheet. Turn your research into a compelling essay that describes your preferences and how the school meets them. 

You’ll also get prompts that ask you to describe yourself in different ways. Some are direct, like:

  • Write a letter introducing yourself to your future roommate.
  • How would your friends describe you?
  • What do you do for fun?
  • Describe a community you belong to.
  • Describe a challenge/ethical dilemma you faced.

Other prompts may be less direct about asking what kind of person you are, but this idea should still be at the core of your response. I’m talking about prompts like:

  • Why is diversity important?
  • What are your motivations for choosing a particular major or career (medicine or engineering, for example)?
  • Who has been the biggest influence on you?
  • What will you contribute to our campus?
  • What is your favorite book?
  • What event in the last year has had the greatest impact on you?

Even the prompts, such as “List five books you read for fun this year”, say something important about you. Don’t lie to make yourself sound more sophisticated. If all you read this year was Harry Potter and Twilight, own it—be true to yourself! (And if you’re reading this as a junior, start reading books that you won’t be embarrassed to list on your applications!)

In my experience, the best answers to any supplement question are always full of personal details, school specifics, and authenticity. 

Your answers should exhibit your enthusiasm for the school, prove that you’ve done your research, and make it easy for the admissions officers to envision you as a person and a member of their campus. 

If the school is truly a fit for you, these answers should come naturally. But, don’t get me wrong: they won’t come automatically. You’ll need to do research on the schools and reflect on your priorities and values, but you shouldn’t need to force your story to fit what you see as the school’s expectations.