When writing supplements for college applications, myself and other students alike have asked, “How do I make an interesting supplement that will stand out?”
As an admissions counselor for Dewey Smart (you can book an appointment with me here!), I always answer this question the same way: either you have to give an interesting answer or you have to give your answer in an interesting way.
Today, let’s break down these two concrete ways of separating your essays from the crowd.
The first way to write an interesting supplement is to choose an unconventional way of answering the essay prompt. For example, let’s consider one of the supplements for the school I attend, Columbia University.
Why are you interested in attending Columbia University?
Initially, most would approach this essay in a systematic manner; maybe someone would write a paragraph about the academics, one about the clubs, and wrap up with a paragraph about the campus.
This method of approaching essays, especially those with the more generic “Why this school?” prompt, will inevitably result in an essay that won’t leave a lasting impression on readers. Just imagine reading through thousands of essays answering the same question—even if someone provides even a well-researched and well-written essay, it’ll blend into the thick stack of extremely similar papers.
Need help with researching colleges for essays? Check out my blog post on that topic!
Therefore, we want to choose an unconventional way of approaching the question, typically through the structure of our essay. The structure ideally should reflect some aspect of your interests or abilities that you want to demonstrate to admissions officers.
For this specific essay, I chose to structure my answer around three separate New York hip-hop quotes, demonstrating my long-held interest in rap music and my creativity. However, I made sure to still make sure that I demonstrated my interest and have researched Columbia. To illustrate, here’s an excerpt from the middle of the essay:
Next is a line from Count Bass D: a reflection on his relationship to music, he states on “Potholders,” “It’s a chore, a fact of life, a labor of love.” At Columbia, the students approach each of their interests, from Super Smash Brothers to quantum physics, the same way he approaches rap: with dedication and hard work. I envision exploring my passions through the Association of Computing Machinery and a newly-formed Counter-Strike esports team.
Here, my answer is actually fairly boring: I say that I like that Columbia students are passionate and hard-working. You could say that about the students at many colleges.
But, I am able to “earn” this lack of detail through my interesting way of describing favorable aspects of Columbia through hip-hop lyrics. And, of course, I make sure to name drop a specific related club to show off a bit of my research.
Many interesting supplement ideas can be generated in a similar way; give yourself some kind of limitation or requirement in your writing that will say something about you.
Some other interesting supplement responses include giving your answer in a form not explicitly asked for. Think answering a prompt with a poem, screenplay, or letter.
If you’re like me, I bet that all of this writing advice can be a bit overwhelming to digest in blog form. So, if you want to work with me in a one-on-one session, set up an appointment here.
The second way you can make your essay stand out is by giving an interesting answer in a conventional way. There’s not as much advice that I can give about this method, as it is pretty dependent on the interestingness of your particular background.
If you’re not intrinsically interesting, there’s a simple way to write an essay that is: build a bridge between two distinct aspects of your personality.
To show this method in action, let’s take a look at another Columbia supplement:
Please tell us what from your current and past experiences (either academic or personal) attracts you specifically to the areas of study that you noted in the application. (200 words or fewer)
A very interesting answer to this question could be an essay describing how a student’s passion for skateboarding influenced their interest in theoretical mathematics. Or, maybe you run a Minecraft server with your friends, and the act of creating that virtual society brought you down a path of wanting to become a politician.
Essentially, a method of constructing an interesting answer to a question is to take a recreational interest of yours and describe how it influences your interest in a more academic subject.
Again, doing this will make you stand out. You’re much more likely to remember the skateboarding mathematician than the strictly math-doing mathematician.
If you’re having trouble tying the different aspects of your application together, check out this blog by the Dewey Smart team on making a cohesive “brand” for yourself.
As you can probably guess, the best-case scenario here is to write an essay that gives an interesting answer in an interesting way. Combine the strategies of choosing an interesting structure either by setting a limitation or choosing an unconventional format with the strategy of “bridging” your recreational interests to your academic interests.
This is harder than it sounds, and I don’t want you to think that every single essay that you write needs to live up to these standards. Instead, view these as guidelines that can help you more easily create a memorable essay.
A solid, well-written essay will never “hurt” you, but if there are other aspects of your application that you feel you need to make up for, like lower-than-average test scores, making sure that your essays are as impressive as possible is a must.
To work with me one-on-one in creating standout essays and navigating all of college admissions, from test-prep to financial aid, set up an appointment with me here!