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Wednesday, December 23, 2015
How to Master the Supplemental Essay
If you've ever applied to business school, you know what I'm talking about. This isn't the 500-700 word missive you're required to compose about your life, your background, your ambitions. This one seems easier because it's so short. Two-hundred and fifty words? No problem! That's three short paragraphs. Easy, right?
As an editor, I can promise you that these supplemental essays are really just lying in wait to trip you up. The admissions committees haven't peppered the application with them out of a sense of boredom. After all, why would they want to add to their reading load? Nope, they're there for a reason.
Here's how to tackle them.
1) Answer the question right away. There is no room for an introductory paragraph. If X University wants to know why you want to be a part of their engineering department, tell them. They want you to prove to them that you've put thought into this.
2) Don't recite their brochure to them. These supplementals often ask for specifics, like why you've chosen Emory, or what you hope to accomplish in their Physics program. Don't tell them what Emory has to offer in general. Tell them why Emory appeals to you. And don't talk about architecture or weather.
3) Pay attention to the question. By the time you're drafting your 150-300 word supplemental, you've already delivered the main course. Don't repeat the generalizations from the main essay. The university wouldn't include the supplemental prompt if they didn't want additional and distinct information.
4) If possible, have fun. Some universities use the supplemental essays as an opportunity to elicit unconventional responses. Don't be afraid to be original. Tufts asks "What makes you happy?" Yale asks "What do you wish you were better at being or doing?" Look at these prompts as opportunities to be creative.
Above all, don't assume that word-count and time-investment are inversely proportional. Give as much time and space to preparation of supplemental essays as you would to the primary essay. Your readers are paying attention. And they're waiting for something good.
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