At many universities that are highly selective, the GPA and test scores of the vast majority of the applicants are so high at the top of the scale it’s outlying submissions, like essays and recommendation letters, that make the difference in tipping the scale toward admit.


Selective colleges and programs will often require additional writing pieces beyond the “Personal Statement” (aka essay) in the main application. These essays should not be overlooked. They are as important as the personal statement giving a deeper peek into who the student is and if he or she will fit on the campus. Click To Tweet

All Shapes & Sizes

What to expect? There’s a wide gamut of topics and limits when it comes to supplemental essays. Expect them to be as short as 150 words or as long as your personal statement. As always, it’s quality over quantity. Here are some examples of common topics students will encounter.

  • Why do you want to attend this college, aka “Why Us”
  • Explain your favorite extracurricular activity
  • Why you want to be admitted to: your major of choice, the honors program, etc.
  • Future career goals

When to Write Supplementals

The Common App, serving over 800 schools, goes live August 1 each year. While LEAP encourages students to write their personal statement in June and July with a simple copy and paste into the applications once *live* for the new school year, most supplementals can’t be written until after applications go live.

Why is this? Most colleges, not all, don’t release supplemental writing prompts until applications are live. Some colleges will and students can try to do some digging to locate the prompts or work with LEAP who will provide early notice as they become available. When prompts are available early, our writing team encourages students to get an early start.  Even on August 1, some of the college-specific essays won’t yet be available. Keep checking back!

Where do You Find the Prompts?


Some are obvious. When the college is added to your “My Colleges” list in the Common App, you will see on the left sidebar navigation “Writing Supplement”. This immediately points out so as in the case of the University of Colorado Boulder. 



While other colleges such as the University of Cincinnati bury the writing prompt in the “Questions” section. 






Still others will appear you don’t have an additional essay, BUT when you select a specific major or program (such as Ohio State’s Honors & Scholars programs) an additional essay pops up to your surprise!  

Work Ahead of Deadlines!

Application deadlines in October and November might make it feel like there’s ample time to take a leisurely pace, but this is rarely the case. One student with whom I’m working will be applying to 11 colleges (Ivies among them) ALL of whom require one OR MORE (!) supplemental essays.

Take the time it took to complete the personal statement and multiply it many times over. This can be, for students applying to a good number of highly selective schools, an exponential amount of work while still working to keep up with senior year course work. Common to these selective schools is requiring mid-year senior grades; therefore, it is vital to keep grades up in 12th grade.