Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

College Admissions

Our counselors answered:

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

Helen H. Choi
Owner Admissions Mavens

To Get To Know You Better

Many colleges have supplements to the Common Application for two reasons: (1) to determine how much the applicant knows about and wants to go to the school; and (2) to ask specific questions of the applicant that the general Common Application prompts do not cover. Many schools include the following question in their supplements: "Why us?" They want to know why the applicant has chosen to apply to their particular school. Schools use this question to determine an applicant's "demonstrated interest" and to gauge the student's enthusiasm for the school. If a student knows quite a lot about the school through alumni, school visits, etc., a student will be able to answer this question with lots of telling details. This signals to the school that the student has a strong interest in the school and is more likely to accept an offer than a student who has less of demonstrated interest. Schools also use supplements to gauge a student's "fit" with the general tenor and vibe of the school. Some schools have a unique personality, and they want to make sure that students can find a solid place within that community. For example, the University of Chicago offers students extremely unusual essay prompts such as "Don't write about reverse psychology" and "Tell us about your non-scientific method." You can really tell a lot about this school and about the type of students they attract by such creative, whimsical and thought-provoking prompts!

Reena Gold Kamins
Founder College, Career & Life, LLC.

Supplements allow you to share more about yourself.

The information captured on the Common Application is information that all participating schools need and want. The questions asked on the Supplement are of interest to that school but may not be of interest to other schools. For example, one school supplement asks if applicants have participated in any robotics competitions. That's not something that every school needs or wants to know, so it's included on that school's supplement but not on the Common App itself.

Karen Ekman-Baur
Director of College Counseling Leysin American School

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

Supplements to the Common Application The Common Application was developed in part to establish a common denominator among institutions to which a student would be applying, permitting the student to complete one application which would then be submitted to multiple institutions. That makes sense because there are many common elements between one college and another regarding what they want to know about their applicants. Why should a student have to waste time repeating the same information over and over again? Everything an institution wants to know about an applicant doesn't always boil down to those "common denominators", though. In the cases in which a school wants additional information or has other essay topics which it sees as more relevant to itself, a supplement specific to that school will be required. Except for identification details, the supplement will not ask for information which has already been provided on the general Common Application.

Pamela Hampton-Garland
Owner Scholar Bound

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

Most colleges want to know more than generic information about who enters their home. Imagine going through a lists of thousands of applicants with the same application, the supplemental personal statements, CSS profiles, essays all humanize the individual and helps the college decide who should be coming to dine with them for he next 4 years.

Lynda McGee
College Counselor Downtown Magnets High School

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

The one negative thing about the common application if you represent a college is that it is common. You can apply to a dozen schools with just a few extra clicks. So they are left to wonder: is this student really interested in our campus, or did they just apply because it's easy? By adding supplemental questions, a school can ask the question "Why us?", which will let them know whether you are familiar with their campus and if you have put any real thought into applying. Take these supplements very seriously! It is how you will stand out from the others who decided to apply on a whim.

Erica White
College & Career Counselor Middletown High School

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

Some schools need additional information to make an admission decision or for statistical reporting. For example, on the future plans section, there are only general academic interests listed, on the supplement the college typically has a list of majors that college offers and you will have the opportunity to put in your specific major of interest. Sometimes a college wants additional essays to learn more about a student and why they are interested in their college. My advice is to always fill out the "optional" essays. Providence college for instance always looks more favorably upon a student who writes something meaningful in the optional essay section, especially if that student is on the fence for acceptance.

Angela Conley
College Admission Expert VentureForth

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

The best way for colleges to understand your interest in their program offerings are responses which reflect knowledge of faculty, departments, traditions or courses indicating you "did homework." Too often students piecemeal their general responses cutting and pasting answers which are patently clipped and pasted from the responses used for other institutions. If you are really invested in gaining admission, it will be apparent in answers that reflect synchronicity between your gifts or aims which are well-matched or potentially enhanced at the specific school to which you are applying - not every school. The other impact of supplements is the match, or lack of consistency between the writing in supplements as compared to your major essay.

Rebecca Joseph
Executive Director & Founder getmetocollege.org

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

While more than 500 colleges accept the Common Application, more than 50% create supplements because they want more information. Some of the information is informational, while others are additional short answers or long essays. These essays truly vary. Some are long second responses. Some are "why are you a good fit for us?" Others have short responses that probe different aspect of your experiences and character. View each supplemental essay as a gift. It's another opportunity to share more stories and unique qualities you have to offer a college.

Andrew Belasco
CEO College Transitions LLC

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

Currently accepted by more than 500 selective college and universities, the Common Application allows students to complete one form and apply to dozens of colleges--at once. Arguably, the Common Application has simplified the application process for thousands of students, but in some ways, it has complicated the objectives of participating colleges. Given the ease with which students can now apply to multiple institutions, some colleges are finding it increasingly difficult to gauge the intentions of applicants. If admissions officers fail to admit a sufficient number of genuinely interested students, the college is likely to experience declines in enrollment, yield, revenue and rankings. Therefore, to distinguish substantial from superficial commitment, colleges adopt Common Application supplements featuring institution-specific questions and essays that test the knowledge and commitment of prospective students. The information that applicants provide within these supplements are especially important to highly selective institutions, who have an increasing need to differentiate between highly qualified applicants. Therefore, students should give serious attention to Common Application supplements, and devote the due-diligence and effort needed to convey their "fit" for a particular target school.

Kathleen Harrington
Owner New Jersey College Consulting

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

The supplement component of the common application is essential to complete in order to complete your application. Due to the fact that over 463 schools subscribe to the common application, thus making it easy for students to apply to multiple schools quickly and potentially without genuine desire attend some of those schools, the supplement section allows for a more personalized touch by the college to garner a greater understanding of your desire to attend their school. Be sure to answer any and all supplemental questions thoroughly. Keep in mind that if a college indicates that a part of the application is "optional", such as extra supplemental questions, you should highly consider completing these items to further showcase your genuine interest in attending.