Common App Supplemental Essay Tips

For each college that you apply to via the Common Application, you’re going to need to create a supplemental essay that answers that school’s specific questions while showcasing your talents and telling your story in a way that demonstrates your unique fit for that particular program.

Please explore the tips below to learn how to compose a Common Application supplemental essay that clearly indicates why your chosen school is perfect for you…and why you are perfect for it as well.

Or access them all at once in Ivy League and Common Application Tips: How to Get Accepted, a free special report that includes all these tips in one instantly downloadable PDF.

Penn Sees Huge Increase in Early Decision Applications

A Daily Pennsylvanian article notes Penn’s new high in early decision applications. This year, 5,133 students applied to Penn early decision, an increase of 6.6% from last year and of 41% since 2008 when only 3,631 applicants applied early decision.

This year, Penn extended its early decision undergraduate application deadline by ten days after applicants experienced technical glitches with the common app’s CA4 platform. The university also extended its deadline last year (due to Hurricane Sandy) and two years ago (also weather-related).

Check out college admissions 101!

(Image from the Daily Pennsylvanian article, “Penn Admissions sees new high in ED applicants”)

2014 Common Application Advice



The newest version of the Common Application ( launches this week, on August 1. Certainly some students and counselors are anxiously waiting for the opportunity to login and look around and begin applications. Many other students have taken the lack of application accessibility as sanctioned procrastination. (“The supplemental essay questions aren’t even available yet!”) The wizards at work on the finishing touches of CA4 assure us that the new version will make applications easier, not just change the essay prompts.

The new essay prompts were released several months ago. In my opinion, the new prompts provide more structure while still allowing an applicant plenty of latitude to construct an essay that is personal and relevant to his or her application. The new Common Application does enforce a strict word limit of no more than 650 words; no longer does an applicant need to worry that her carefully constructed 540 word essay is over the “soft” 500 word limit.

The 2013-2014 Common Application essay prompt choices are here.

The Common Application Facebook page has been adding daily helpful tips, a few of which are particularly critical to applicants in the early stages of this process.

1) Your username is your email address. Easy, right? Yes, but, given the number of contacts a college makes and the number of colleges who are tracking interest indicators, it’s best if this email address is the same one you have been using for your entire college application process. Use the same address you provided to colleges at your high school college fair last year, on the SAT or ACT and on your college visits.

2) When you register, you will be given the opportunity to allow colleges you select as “my colleges” in the Common Application to email you prior to application submission. Again, consistency in your email address will save you from duplicates.

3) You will gain access to the supplements for relevant colleges as soon as you have added them to the “my colleges” section. Consider adding all colleges early in the process so that you can have an overall sense of the writing you need to complete over the coming months.

4) Additional information: the Common Application will still allow for adding additional information. This does not mean that all applicants should have additional information to add. The newest version of the Common Application also allows students to invite additional recommenders beyond the teacher and Counselor that are required. Again, the ability to do so does not mean that you must add these. In fact, many colleges discourage addition recommendations. Check with your colleges or your counselor before adding additional information.

The college application process can be long and sometimes overwhelming. Take it one step at a time and don’t panic!

What is “Passion” in Admissions?

RunnerYears ago, when I first heard b-school representatives talking about wanting to see passion in applications, I thought to myself, “You’re looking for passion from a bunch of investment bankers and engineers???? That’s a pretty calculating bunch.”

“Passion” has a sexy ring to it. An emotional, visceral appeal. It evokes images of glamorous actors and actresses in hot and heavy romances. The good guy in a Frank Capra film changing history. Generals exhorting the troops before sending them into battle.

Forget the steamy romances. Forget the hero delivering a stirring speech. Forget the generals addressing their troops.

That’s not what we’re talking about in admissions.

“Passion” in admissions — be it college, MBA, law school, medical school, or grad school — means dedication. It means commitment. It requires action over time. It can be very calculated and goal oriented, and not at all glamorous. It may lead to a feverish culmination, an earth-shattering moment, and it may not. It can be any one of the following and an infinite number of other activities:

  • Spending hours practicing the cello day-in and day out, year after year.
  • Assuming responsibility for an annual silent auction that raises thousands of dollars for your favorite cause during the five years that you have chaired it.
  • Training and training and training so that you beat your personal best in the race of your choice.
  • Volunteering at a medical or legal clinic twice a week since your sophomore year in college.

Next time you see the word “passion” in an admissions context, look between the lines. Read “dedication.” And those calculating, number-crunching, spreadsheet addicts among you, remember this equation: Passion = Action + Dedication.

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