Which Top Colleges Don’t Require A Supplemental Essay?

As competition for acceptance to top colleges continues to rise, so too does the number of applications sent out by the average college applicant. While the norm used to be around five, today anywhere from 6-12 applications is fairly commonplace, and the numbers continue to climb. 


A 2019 report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling noted that the percentage of first-time applicants applying to seven or more schools in 2017 reached 36%, up from just 9% in 1990 and 17% in 2005. The report also emphasizes that between the fall 2017 and fall 2018 admission cycles, the number of total first-time freshman applicants grew by 6%. A 2014 article in the New York Times mentioned multiple students who had applied to upwards of 30 colleges, including some who topped 50 college applications. 


With an overall increase in applications, acceptance rates at the top schools go down. And if the Common App weren’t enough to prepare for, many schools have supplemental essays. The bright side is that not all schools require supplemental essays, and this is definitely something to consider before you begin your college applications process. 


How heavily should I weigh supplemental essay requirements of a school when I’m creating my college list?


It can be hard to ignore the essay requirements of some schools when you’re considering whether or not they’d be a good fit for your college list. For example, the University of Chicago is known for its quirky essay prompts, which have required applicants to pick their brains on topics ranging from Olive Garden’s unlimited breadsticks to potential academic design of an interstellar UChicago campus. Other schools, like MIT and Caltech, require separate written supplements ranging in length from short answers to essays.


In the big picture, the essay requirements of a college should not be the determining factor in whether or not you apply. The time that you’ll spend drafting, editing, and polishing your application essays pales in comparison to the amount of time you’ll ultimately spend in college. Instead, think of the essay requirements as an opportunity to really delve more deeply into what makes you tick. Here, you’ll have the chance to discuss your passions and really be yourself. This is your chance to show the admissions committee what you’re really about.   


While the length of a college’s supplemental essay prompts shouldn’t be your top consideration, their content can provide you with some information about the school’s culture, which may ultimately shape whether or not you choose to apply. For example, when you read the quirky prompts from University of Chicago, you can immediately get a sense for the school’s emphasis on creativity and individuality. If the essay prompts at a specific school are a big turnoff for you, ask yourself what they tell you about the school and do some more investigating to see if your gut feeling about it may be correct.


Generally, we at CollegeVine recommend that you don’t become overly fixated on whether or not a school requires supplemental essays. Instead, first consider if the school is an overall good fit for you. Do you match the stats for admitted students insofar as test scores and grades? Does the school offer strong programs in your areas of interest? Are there resources to support your unique values and pursuits outside of the classroom? Is the school located somewhere desirable for you? These concerns are far more important than whether or not a school requires you to write an extra 300 words.


Of course, you can always use the supplements as sort of a litmus test for how much you care about a particular college. For schools you really want to attend, you’re more likely to be okay with extra application work (it’s a chance to stand out, after all). If you’re turned off by the number of supplements, however, it may be an indication that you don’t want to go to the school as much as you thought you did.


That being said, we’ve compiled a list of the top liberal arts colleges and research universities that don’t require a supplemental essay nor have an optional essay (you should always write an optional essay!) 

Top Liberal Arts Colleges Without a Supplemental Essay Requirement


College Location Acceptance Rate 
Bard College  Annadale-On-Hudson, NY 58%
Bowdoin College Brunswick, ME 8.9%
Colby College Waterville, ME 9.6%
Connecticut College New London, CT 37%
Franklin & Marshall College Lancaster, PA 30%
Grinnell College Grinnell, IA 24%
Hamilton College Clinton, NY 16%
Kenyon College Gambier, OH 34%
Middlebury College Middlebury, VT 16%
Providence College Providence, RI 52%
Sarah Lawrence College Bronxville, NY 56%
Skidmore College Saratoga Springs, NY 27%
Wesleyan University Wesleyan, CT 16%
Washington and Lee University Lexington, VA 18%


Top Research Universities Without a Supplemental Essay Requirement


University  Location Acceptance Rate 
Clark University Worcester, MA 59%
Clemson University Clemson, SC 47%
DePaul University Chicago, IL 68%
Drexel University Philadelphia, PA 77%
Fordham University Bronx, NY 46%
Miami University Oxford, OH 75%
Northeastern University Boston, MA 19%
Seton Hall University South Orange, NJ 70%
Stevens Institute of Technology Hoboken, NJ 41%
Stony Brook University Stony Brook, NY 42%
University of Arkansas Fayetteville, AR 77%
University of Colorado–Denver Denver, CO 63%
University of Iowa Iowa City, IA 82%
University of New Hampshire Durham, NH 77%
University of Vermont Burlington, VT 68%


Have college apps-block? Take a look at some of CollegeVine’s posts about essay writing: 


Supplemental Essay Guides 2019-2020

The 2020-2021 Common Application Essay Prompts Are Here

The Four Main College Essay Prompts You Need to Know 


College application is stressful, and that’s why we’re here. Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to all the tools you’ll need to submit a college application that impresses admissions officers, including putting together a college list that increases your admission chances, and crafting essays that best reflect your strengths.

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Short Bio
Kimberly graduated from Smith College with a degree in English Literature. This year, she has been based in Beijing, China, where she works in the education field and rescues dogs in her free time. She will be starting her masters at Columbia University in the fall.

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