Preparing for New Supplemental College App Essays & My Own Personal Prompts

Yesterday I attended an online webinar with the Director of Admissions at Barnard College. She was going over what matters to Barnard in reviewing applications, and the subject of supplemental essays came up. These are essays, often very short, that are in addition to the one Common Application essay that is required for the vast majority of colleges and universities.

Readers of my blog know that the Common Application essay prompts will remain the same as last year’s prompts – you can review them here. The Common Application Organization made this decision many months ago. But the supplemental essays that many colleges require are often not posted until summer – and sometimes August 1, when the Common Application itself usually goes live.

Given our topsy-turvy year, this year might be a little different. I’m hoping the supplemental essay prompts will come out earlier.

One huge change: nearly every college and university in the country except about a dozen is going to be test optional this coming year. Check with FAIRTEST.ORG for the latest list. The hold-outs that will REQUIRE standardized tests thus far are the Ivy League, MIT, Cal Tech, U Michigan Ann Arbor, and Harvey Mudd. But double check with the FairTest list, which is updated frequently. Whether all of them will require SAT subject tests is another matter. Check with the individuals college!

Another difference we might see are changes in some of the supplemental essay questions that are asked by a great many colleges and universities. Because of the radical changes in our lives this semester, my suspicion is that some colleges might have a question asking students to reflect on aspects of the pandemic as it relates to their academic and personal lives.

I’ve written a few prompts whose answers I’m curious to know:

  1. What have been the two most challenging aspects of the pandemic for you as a student? How have you worked around these obstacles?
  2. As you reflect on how your academic life has changed during the pandemic/lock-down, discuss how what initially seemed to be a disadvantage became an advantage?
  3. What are three specific things you’ve learned about yourself during the pandemic that have influenced your academic life?
  4. Has the pandemic influenced any major decisions you have made or changed the course of your life in any way you can point to?

I’ll be on the lookout for actual supplemental essay prompts as they appear on the application horizon and will post about them when I find out! In the meantime, if you want a 25-page PDF of supplements from previous years, please write to me and I’ll send it to you:

In the meantime, if you’re applying to any of the University of California colleges, from UC Berkeley to UC San Diego, the “insight” questions seem to be identical to last year’s, and you can read them here. UC is not on the Common Application. Students are required to write 4 essays of 350 words each – choosing from a total of 8. I love the 8 choices and have worked with many students on them in the past few years.

If want help brainstorming or need another pair of eyes on your essay drafts, shoot me an email or give me a call (East Coast time): and 1-855-99-ESSAY.

And stay safe and sane.

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