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The Trick to Managing Supplemental Essays

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supplemental essays lineup

A still of the usual suspects from College Essay Academy Chapter 7.

October brings with it all manner of terror including chilly breezes, flu shots, pumpkin shortages, and the looming approach of early application deadlines. But one demon lurks in the shadows, lying in wait until the last possible second, when suddenly it pounces on unsuspecting applicants. It is the hidden supplemental essay, scourge of many an early application. These little gremlins can be tough to locate, and they can cause some serious angst when you find them just days before the submission deadline.

Don’t fall victim to last-minute supplemental essay stress. We made you a guide that will help you hunt down your supplements and defeat them in style:


To start, watch our tutorial video on how to locate hidden writing questions on the Common App. (Pro-tip: the section on finding hidden supplemental essays starts around 8:42.)


Once you’ve rounded up all of your pesky supplemental questions, line them up and knock them down. Supplemental essays may appear to come in many different forms, but these shape-shifting questions often fall into one of three common categories:

  • The Why Essay: Why do you want to go to our school?
  • The Community Essay: How will you contribute to our school community?
  • The Activity Essay: Tell us about an activity you do now (or will do) and what it means to you.

Cluster your supplemental questions into categories, line them up by length and start writing. Start with the longest essay in each category and cut down from there. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. Identify where there is natural overlap in your target schools’ prompts and use it to your advantage.

We know this sounds crazy, but as you start to wrangle these little essay monsters, try to get get excited! In the words of Frank Bruni, “What college gives you hinges almost entirely on what you give it.” So bring it. We know you’ve got it.

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Read our guide to the 2015-16 Common App Essay.

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