How to Write a Great Supplemental Essay for Harvard
This article is a first-person account by Elias Miller, a CollegeVine livestream contributor. You can watch the full livestream for more info.
- Respond to the Prompt
- Grammar and Sentence Structure
- Bring Meaning to Your Writing
- Use Your Word Limit
Any student interested in applying to Harvard can do so via the Common Application, the Coalition Application, or Questbridge. Applicants can submit supplemental essays with their application. In this article, we break down tips and tricks for writing a great supplemental essay.
Respond to the Prompt
Any supplemental essay that you write should directly respond to the prompt. This might seem like an obvious tactic, but many students’ essays fail to accomplish this. A common mistake is taking a supplemental essay written for one school and using it for another prompt for a different school. While you may have a decently written essay to submit, it won’t specifically answer the prompt.
Some students write a supplemental essay that simply doesn’t answer the prompt. Maybe they have a story in their head that they want to share, but it doesn’t work with the essay, or they are trying to be unique. Whatever the reason, it is bad practice not to answer the prompt. Admissions officers will see that you aren’t able to follow directions at the very beginning, and they will assume that you won’t follow directions as a student on their campus. The same rule applies to the word limit.
Grammar and Sentence Structure
Good grammar, correct spelling, and sentence structure are crucial aspects of a well-written essay. Vary your sentence length and structure to keep your writing engaging. If you have a series of long sentences, try to follow up with a short sentence so your reader has a mental break while reading. Conversely, if you have too many short sentences in a row, your writing could lack flow and emotion, so be sure to include long sentences too.
Also, try to make good word choices. It is natural for you to get a bit tired while writing essays during the application cycle, but the words that you pick have specific meanings. Words are how we express our thoughts and emotions, so ensure that your words accurately share the message that you want to get across. If you are writing and put down a word that doesn’t feel quite right, a great tip is to put a bracket around it and come back to it a week later. This is an excellent way to approach word choice with fresh eyes.
Bring Meaning to Your Writing
Limiting redundancies and repetition is the easiest way to bring meaning to your writing. Part of this means making suitable transitions between sentences and paragraphs. You don’t want to end a topic too abruptly, as that could confuse the reader, but you also want to use your word count wisely. It’s a delicate balance, and a great way to know if you need help with paragraph transitions is by having someone proofread your essay.
Also, be sure to evaluate your writing. Each sentence serves a purpose, like contributing to the overarching narrative, adding details, and explaining an event or topic. Read each sentence in your essay and glean its purpose. Then, try to categorize that purpose. In the end, make sure all the sentences flow together logically, with no repetition.
Use Your Word Limit
This last tip is relatively straightforward. There aren’t many things about your application that you can use to convey your personality and passions. While your GPA and test scores enable admissions officers to determine what kind of student you are in the classroom, your essays are where admissions officers get to learn who you are. If your essay comes in significantly below the word limit, you are missing out on valuable space. Every sentence you write is a glimpse into who you are, so by not maximizing your word count, you are showing less of yourself to your readers. Your essay doesn’t need to match the word limit exactly, but if you have over 30 words left, you might want to check if any details are missing.