A photograph of a grandmother sitting on a couch in her living room

From Average to Exceptional: 9 Secrets to Nail Your Supplemental Essays and Land Your Dream College

Maya Chen
May 7, 2024

Navigating the college application process is like embarking on a challenging expedition. Each step, from gathering transcripts to soliciting recommendations, is crucial. Yet, among these steps, supplemental essays often emerge as the most intricate puzzle pieces. Unlike the general application essay, supplemental essays demand a deeper introspection. They are not just about flaunting achievements but are a window into your personality, values, and aspirations.

While grades and test scores provide a quantitative perspective, these essays offer colleges a qualitative insight into who you are and how you'd fit into their community. At their core, these essays grapple with two fundamental inquiries: "Who are you as an individual?" and "Why do you believe our institution is the right fit for you?" Understanding and effectively addressing these questions can be the key to unlocking the doors of your dream college. So, let's embark on this journey of mastering supplemental essays together.

1. The experiences question

Top-tier colleges often delve into your life experiences to understand your character and values. When addressing this, it's not just about recounting events but analyzing their significance. Share moments that made you rethink, adapt, or grow. How did a summer camp shape your leadership skills? Or how did a community project redefine your understanding of teamwork? Link these experiences to the university's values, showcasing how they've prepared you for the college environment.

🚀 Example

Describe a volunteer experience that had a significant impact on you.
During my sophomore year, I volunteered at a local animal shelter. While it began as a way to fulfill community service hours, it evolved into a profound lesson about empathy and responsibility. I realized that every small action, like feeding a stray cat, had a ripple effect. This experience mirrors the ethos of [University Name], which emphasizes community engagement and holistic development.

2. The question about your interests and goals

Your passions and aspirations offer colleges a glimpse into your potential future contributions. Trace the evolution of your interests. Did a school project ignite a love for environmental science? Or did a mentor introduce you to the world of entrepreneurship? Discuss how these interests have shaped your future goals. More importantly, connect your ambitions to a broader purpose, like community development or technological advancements for societal good.

🚀 Example

How did your interest in your chosen field develop, and how do you see it shaping your future?
Ever since I attended a robotics workshop in middle school, I've been fascinated by the potential of AI in healthcare. My goal is to develop algorithms that can predict early onset of diseases. This ambition aligns with the cutting-edge research conducted at [University Name]'s AI lab.

3. The adversity question

Challenges often bring out resilience and adaptability. Elite colleges are keen to see how you've navigated obstacles. Share not just the challenge but the strategies you employed to overcome it. Did you seek mentorship, adapt a new approach, or perhaps collaborate with peers to find a solution? Highlight the growth that emerged from these challenges, showcasing your problem-solving abilities and commitment to personal development.

🚀 Example

Share a challenge you faced in your academic journey and how you overcame it.
In my junior year, I struggled with calculus, almost failing the course. Instead of giving up, I sought tutoring and dedicated extra hours to practice. This experience taught me resilience and the value of seeking help when needed.

4. The influential person question

People shape our perspectives and values in profound ways. When discussing an influential person, paint a vivid picture of their impact on you. Was it a coach's discipline that instilled a strong work ethic? Or a sibling's perseverance that inspired resilience in you? While you highlight their influence, pivot the narrative to focus on the values you've internalized and how they've directed your choices and aspirations.

A wise lady sitting on a sofa in her house
An influential person has the power to illuminate one's path, molding not just their choices, but the very essence of their being
🚀 Example

Who has been the most influential person in your life, and how have they shaped your aspirations?
My grandmother, wasn't just any history teacher; she was a storyteller who brought the past to life in our small living room. Every weekend, she'd recount tales of ancient civilizations, brave warriors, and epochal revolutions, often using old maps and artifacts she'd collected over her 40-year teaching career. I remember being captivated by her vivid descriptions of the Egyptian pyramids or the strategies used in the Battle of Waterloo. It was through her animated storytelling sessions that I developed a deep-rooted passion for history. This love, kindled by her, has guided my academic choices, leading me to pursue a major in history with an aim to unravel and share such captivating stories with future generations, just as she did with me.

5. The diversity & community question

Diversity enriches learning experiences. Reflect on your definition of 'community'. How have you contributed to fostering inclusivity or bridging cultural gaps? Share instances where you've celebrated diversity, be it through events, initiatives, or personal interactions. Highlight how these experiences have broadened your perspectives and how you envision contributing to the college's diverse community.

🚀 Example

How do you define community, and what role have you played in yours?
Growing up in a multicultural neighborhood, I viewed community as a tapestry of diverse backgrounds. I organized cultural exchange potlucks, fostering dialogue and understanding. I aim to bring this inclusive spirit to [University Name].

6. The “why our school” question

Colleges seek students who resonate with their ethos. Dive deep into what the college offers that aligns with your interests. Highlight specific programs, faculty, or initiatives that excite you. Beyond academics, touch upon extracurriculars that match your passions. Reflect on the college's culture and values, drawing parallels with your own beliefs and experiences. This essay should be a testament to how you see yourself thriving and contributing to the college community.

🚀 Example

Why are you interested in attending [University Name], and how does it align with your academic and personal goals?
[University Name]'s Global Studies program stands out to me, especially with its focus on Asian economies. Additionally, the college's annual cultural fest resonates with my passion for celebrating diversity.
A passionate student standing in front of her artwork
Discover the hidden treasures of your authentic self; they are the jewels that sparkle on your path to success

7. The rapid-fire list

Short-answer questions, embraced by some elite colleges, aim to capture your spontaneity and creativity. Despite the limited word count, there's ample room to reveal your personality. Craft responses that are thoughtful and inventive, steering clear of predictable answers. Dive into aspects of your authentic self that might be hidden in other parts of your application. Use this opportunity to let your individuality shine and offer a fresh perspective.

🚀 Example

Share three quick facts about yourself.
Favorite book:
"To Kill a Mockingbird" by Harper Lee. This classic novel opened my eyes to the deep-rooted prejudices in society. Through Scout's innocent eyes, I learned the importance of standing up for justice and the profound impact of empathy in understanding others.
Dream job: AI Researcher in Neurological Healthcare. I'm passionate about harnessing the power of artificial intelligence to diagnose and treat neurological disorders. After witnessing a close family member battle Parkinson's disease, I'm determined to innovate in this field, making early detection and treatment more accessible.
A word that describes me: curious – whether it's diving deep into a new book, exploring a new coding language, or understanding the intricacies of a historical event, I have an insatiable thirst for knowledge. This trait drives me to constantly expand my horizons and seek out new challenges.

8. The roommate question

This seemingly casual question provides colleges a glimpse into your character and daily habits. It's about understanding how you'd fit into a shared living environment. What might a potential roommate find fascinating about you? Perhaps you curate playlists for every mood or have a Sunday breakfast ritual. Maybe you've embraced mindfulness practices that benefit those around you. Beyond showcasing your unique traits, emphasize how you create a sense of belonging and camaraderie, indicating your potential as a valuable member of the college community.

🚀 Example

What are two things your future roommate should know about you?
Morning ritual:
every morning, without fail, I play my "Sunrise Serenades" playlist. It's a mix of indie pop, acoustic covers, and some classic rock that I've curated over the years. It's my secret sauce to waking up with energy and positivity. So, if you hear the soft strumming of a guitar or an upbeat melody at dawn, that's just me setting the tone for the day.
Sunday self-care:
Sundays are sacred to me. It's when I unwind with my DIY spa ritual. This involves a lavender-infused bubble bath, a homemade avocado face mask, and some calming meditation music in the background. It's my way of resetting for the week ahead. If you're up for it, I've got an extra face mask and some relaxation techniques to share.

9. The significant issue / civic engagement question

Colleges value students who are attuned to global issues and are proactive in their civic roles. Choose a topic you genuinely care about. Delve into its intricacies, offering an informed viewpoint. Whether your focus is on climate change, social justice, or another pressing matter, discuss potential solutions and your role in effecting positive change. If you've been involved in related initiatives, highlight them to underscore your commitment and proactive approach to global challenges.

🚀 Example

What global issue are you passionate about, and how have you engaged with it?
The digital divide concerns me deeply. I've initiated computer literacy workshops in underserved communities, aiming to bridge this gap. At [University Name], I hope to further this cause by collaborating with the tech outreach clubs.


1. How can I improve my essay writing skills?

Improving your essay writing skills requires consistent practice and a focus on specific aspects of writing. Here are some steps you can follow:

  • Reading and research: read extensively to broaden your understanding of different writing styles, vocabulary, and sentence structures. Research the topic you're writing about to gather more information and develop a well-rounded perspective.
  • Understanding the prompt: grasp the requirements of the essay prompt. Ensure you comprehend the key themes, questions, or issues you need to address in your essay.
  • Structuring your essay: create a clear and coherent structure that includes an introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. Make sure your ideas flow logically from one paragraph to the next.
  • Developing a strong thesis statement: craft a clear and concise thesis statement that encapsulates the main argument or point of your essay. Ensure that your thesis is well-supported by the content in your essay.
  • Effective use of language: use a variety of sentence structures and vocabulary to make your essay engaging. Ensure that your language is precise, concise, and appropriate for your target audience.
  • Citing sources and evidence: if required, include credible sources and evidence to support your arguments. Use proper citation styles such as APA, MLA, or Chicago to avoid plagiarism and to give credit to the original authors.
  • Editing and proofreading: review your essay for clarity, coherence, grammar, punctuation, and spelling errors. Consider seeking feedback from peers, teachers, or writing centers to get different perspectives on your work.

2. How do you write a level 7 essay?

Writing a level 7 essay requires a comprehensive understanding of the topic and a structured approach. Here's a step-by-step guide to help you:

  • Understand the rubric: familiarize yourself with the grading rubric and criteria for a level 7 essay. Identify the specific requirements for content, structure, analysis, and language use.
  • Thesis formation: develop a strong and clear thesis statement that encapsulates the main argument of your essay. Ensure that your thesis is complex and can be supported by evidence and analysis throughout the essay.
  • Well-structured essay: organize your essay into clear paragraphs that follow a logical progression. Ensure that each paragraph has a clear topic sentence and supports the main argument of the essay.
  • Evidence and analysis: use relevant and well-explained evidence to support your arguments. Analyze the evidence thoroughly, making connections to the main thesis and demonstrating a deep understanding of the topic.
  • Critical thinking: demonstrate critical thinking skills by analyzing the strengths and weaknesses of different perspectives, theories, or arguments related to the topic. Present a balanced view while clearly articulating your own stance.
  • Clarity and cohesion: ensure your writing is clear, concise, and cohesive. Use transitional words and phrases to create a smooth flow between ideas and paragraphs.
  • Conclusion: summarize the key points of your essay and restate your thesis. Provide insights into the broader implications or significance of your arguments.

3. What should I write my supplemental essay about?

When considering what to write for a supplemental essay, it's important to tailor your response to the specific prompt provided by the college or university. Here are some general tips to guide your approach:

  • Reflect on your experiences: consider your unique experiences, challenges, or achievements that have shaped your identity or perspective. Choose an experience that highlights your personal growth or resilience.
  • Connect with your goals: discuss how your academic and personal interests align with the opportunities offered by the institution. Highlight specific programs, courses, or extracurricular activities that appeal to your aspirations and ambitions.
  • Highlight your personality: showcase your personality traits, values, and beliefs that make you a unique and valuable addition to the university community. Share anecdotes or examples that illustrate your character and passion.
  • Express your fit: explain why you believe you are a good fit for the institution and how you can contribute positively to the campus culture and community. Demonstrate your understanding of the school's values, mission, and ethos.
  • Be genuine and authentic: write in your own voice and avoid trying to fabricate experiences or qualities that do not reflect your true self. Admissions officers value authenticity and are looking for students who can contribute meaningfully to the campus environment.
  • Seek feedback: share your essay with trusted mentors, teachers, or peers to gain valuable feedback. Revise your essay based on their suggestions to ensure that your message is effectively communicated and resonates with the reader.


Tackling supplemental essays is more than just answering questions; it's about weaving your unique narrative into the tapestry of your entire application. These essays offer a platform to showcase facets of your personality, experiences, and aspirations that might not be evident elsewhere. By blending creativity with authenticity, you not only answer the prompts but also resonate with the ethos of the institutions you're applying to. Staying informed about current events and demonstrating genuine engagement with significant issues further amplifies the depth and relevance of your responses. As you embark on this intricate process of self-reflection and articulation, remember that resources like Aha are here to guide you. Subscribing to Aha can provide you with invaluable insights, tips, and guidance to navigate this pivotal phase of your academic journey with confidence.

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