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?

Rod Bugarin
Former Admissions Officer Columbia, Brown, and Wesleyan University

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

Here is my video response to the question.

Suzan Reznick
Independent Educational Consultant The College Connection

The supplement gives the school an opportunty to learn more about you!

In some cases the supplement can ask you to write one or more additional essays. In other cases, the college might just request that you answer some questions. With a few notable exceptions, the more selective a college is- the more likely that the supplement will be challenging to complete. The most common extra essay asks the often key question of "Why do you want to attend our school"? I call that question the "Love Letter Essay". And if you cannot answer that question, perhaps then you need to ask yourself why you would want to go to that school! While it can be tough, try to avoid a generic one size fits all essay and ensure that you are answering with a genuine response.

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!

Nancy Milne
Owner Milne Collegiate Consulting


Colleges have supplements because they may feel that the Common Application doesn't provide them with some needed information. Often it is an opportunity to ask an essay question unique to that institution.

Annie Reznik
Counselor/CEO College Guidance Coach

Finding the fit, from the college perspective

A well devised review process should reflect the college's mission and goals. Application requirements stem from creating a review process grounded in institutional identity. Supplemental essays enable very distinct institutions to tailor the Common App to their institution's specific goals and mission. While supplements can seem cumbersome, they may reveal something about the school to which you are applying. And, the supplemental responses should resonate a student's compatibility with the institution.

Laura O'Brien Gatzionis
Founder Educational Advisory Services

For some schools, it is all in the details...

Each college or university has its own institutional mandate. Those schools that require more information to make admissions decisions, ask for those details in the institutional supplement.

Chip Law
Co-founder Managing Director Educational Avenues

Supplements a curse, a blessing or just a real pain in the ...?

A long time ago (think around 10 years ago) a college supplement was a way to collect additional data on an applicant. The data sought, looked at legacy information (did mom or dad or their parents attend the school for instance), some particular information on your choice of major or other demographic data that is not normally asked in the body of the main application. For many schools this remains the case to day. For the purpose of this answer let's look at the Common application which represents over 400 of the top colleges and universities in the US. In addition to the above each school may want to know why you want to go to their institution and will allow you to write an essay on this subject. They want to know if you've done your homework and can cite things that are specific and unique to their school or campus. If you reply with generic terms, your response can hurt your chance for admission. More selective schools will ask more challenging questions. Here, the essays are tougher and the supplement IS used as a key criterion for making an admission decision. You need to be careful as you reply to these questions and must give mature well thought out answers. One popular school asks you to describe something that outrages you. Trust me: telling the school about the annoying chem lab partner that loudly chews gum while you do your lab work is a sure to get tossed into the deny file. Now that many schools are test optional, a supplement becomes a necessity in order to differentiate applicants when they are in the admission decision process. So what are they for you? As a blessing they can be the best way for you to showcase you uniqueness and increase your chances for admission. As a curse they can become onerous and the more schools that you apply to the more time and care you'll need to put into them. Yep, they're a pain, but if you are seriously into doing your best when you apply, you must take each one as a small project whose importance may make a major difference in your life.

Charles Beal
counselor covina high school

Why do some colleges have supplements to the common application?

i feel that certain colleges want to put their personal stamp on the application. It is in the same vein that a few of the colleges will still ask for the SAT 2 even though a great percentage of the colleges no longer require SAT 2 the other colleges are satisfied with the SAT 1

Rana Slosberg
Owner Slosberg College Solutions LLC

Common App Supplement

Some colleges have supplements to the common app because they want to learn more information about the prospective student. Common questions on the supplement include: -- What college in the University the student is interested in attending? -- What is your intended major? -- Have you visited the college? -- Have you had an interview? -- Have other family members attended this college? Often there are one or more additional essays in the supplement. A common essay in the Supplement is some variation of "Why do you want to attend College X?"

Bill Pruden
Head of Upper School, College Counselor Ravenscroft School

Common Application Supplements—A Vehicle for Better Understanding

Some college have supplements simply because they want more information in order to get a better understanding of who the applicant is and what they might bring to their school community. The Common Application offers them plenty, but in a process that is ultimately about schools creating the kind of community that reflects their mission and goals, they may have some more pointed or focused questions and concerns that are not fully reflected in the Common App. Ultimately the supplements are additional opportunities for an applicant to show who they are and why the fit might be the best one for all involved.