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The Hidden College Essays No One Counts On

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magnifying-glassOctober is over, early deadlines have passed, but terror still lurks around every corner. Boo! Surprise! You’re not done with your college applications yet. You’ve passed a major hurdle, and you should be proud, but the bulk of your applications have yet to be submitted. You’ve got two months left to power through the rest of your list, so buy yourself a celebratory doughnut, high five your grandma, and open up a new document on your computer. Now is not the time for complacency! (Plus, you don’t want to jinx your early applications by being overly confident.)

You probably think you deserve a break (and you do!), and perhaps you even think you don’t have that many essays left to write (think again!). We regret to inform you that schools can hide their supplemental essay questions in the weirdest places, and they can sneak up on you when you least expect it. The last thing you want is to discover an additional 300-word essay three hours before the deadline. So do yourself a favor and set aside some time over the weekend to thoroughly research and collect the rest of your supplemental essay questions. It will be a nice reprieve from writing, and you’ll set yourself up to divide and conquer. Lucky for you, we made you a list of the most common supplemental essay hiding places.

School Website

Okay, so this one might be a little obvious, but it’s a great place to start. For schools that aren’t on the Common App, it might also be the only place to start. If you’re lucky, the general admissions page on the school website will list all the essay prompts in one place, like the UCs do. If you’re less lucky, you might have to poke around the admissions blog to find the post that announced the new prompts, as is the case for the UNC prompts. The hunt can get even trickier if you’re applying to a special program or school within a larger university. For example, the University of Michigan has a general prompt for all freshman applicants, but specific programs like the Ross School of Business Preferred Admissions program may require additional writing or provide supplementary instructions for the essay.

The Common App Activity Section

When the school website fails to provide all of the answers (or questions, in this case), the Common App is an excellent fallback. Over the years, the platform has gotten better at signalling to applicants which schools have additional questions and writing requirements, but some essays can still lurk in unexpected sections. The most likely section to harbor camouflaged essays is the activity section for any given school. Often, this section will simply ask you for a list of activities, but some schools may demand more. The most common additional essays you’ll find in this sections are short answer questions that ask you to briefly expand on each activity in some specific way, or an extended activity essay that asks you to write a longer description of a meaningful activity, what it has meant to you, and how it might inform your presence on campus.

Common App Sub-Questions

The sneakiest prompts of all hide, completely concealed to the naked eye, until you provide a response to another question. For example, filling in your major may unveil a new prompt or set of prompts related specifically to your discipline. Take the time to fill out your basic information for each school as soon as possible to lure out these final prompts and complete your list.
The next two months will be intense, but knowledge is power, and arming yourself with a complete list of supplements will make your life a whole lot easier.

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