Kate Sundquist 5 min read College Essays, Essay FAQs

Which Top Colleges Don’t Require A Supplemental Essay?

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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 six to a dozen applications is fairly commonplace, and the numbers continue to climb.


A 2015 report from the National Association for College Admission Counseling noted that the percentage of students applying to seven or more schools in 2015 reached 36%, up from just 9% in 1990 and 17% in 2005. These numbers represent just a glimpse into the lives of students who are competing for spots at the most selective colleges nationwide. 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. 


This is no easy feat. While the task has been simplified by the Common Application, now accepted at more than 700 institutions, many schools now require additional supplements to accompany it. This means that a student applying to 10 different colleges could be expected to write at least 20 polished essays as part of the process.


In this article, we’ll break down the supplemental essay and discuss why it shouldn’t be a major consideration in the creation of your college list. We’ll also outline the circumstances in which you might need or highly prefer to apply to a few schools that don’t have required supplemental essays, and we’ll provide a list of some highly-ranked schools from this list. To learn which top schools don’t require supplemental essays, keep reading.


How heavily should I weigh the application 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 this year include references to Captain Planet and Sharknado. Other schools, like MIT and Caltech, require five 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.

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We'll help you negotiate a better price from your two favorite colleges. Last year, a few of our students even saved more than $100,000 on the total cost of their education (more than $25,000 per year).

Under what circumstances should I consider whether or not a school requires supplemental essays?

While it’s best to create your college list without regard for supplemental essay requirements, you might encounter situations in which you need to consider the time commitment involved in writing these essays. Given that some schools requiring up to five supplemental essays, you’ll need to plan well in advance if you intend to tackle each one seriously. If you decide that you need to add a few schools to the list at the last minute, or you find yourself suddenly out of time to apply anywhere at all, you’ll want to know which schools don’t require a supplemental essay, and you’ll want to know quick.


If this is the case for you, don’t worry; we’ve done some of the legwork for you. Below, you’ll find a list of some high quality schools that don’t require supplemental essays.


Schools That Don’t Require a Supplemental Essay with the Common Application

Middlebury College: Middlebury requires only the essays from the Common Application, along with the usual teacher recommendations and transcripts. Additional materials such as an arts portfolio can be uploaded through the student portal, but there is no guarantee that they will be reviewed by the admissions committee.


Harvard: While the application requirements for Harvard do require a supplement, each of its required components is a multiple-choice question or a fill-in-the-blank. There is an optional supplemental essay, which we would recommend completing whenever possible, but it is not required. You can read more about this in our post Should You Send the Harvard Optional Supplement Essay?.


Washington University in St. Louis: Washington University in St. Louis does not require any supplement to the Common Application or Coalition Application. They note on the FAQ page of their admissions website that “supplemental essays are required for our Academic Scholarship and Fellowship Programs, which are open to all first-year applicants. Because our application deadline for our academic scholarships is January 5, 2018, we would like students to focus their time to thoughtfully address our scholarship essays and not add an additional strain.”


Williams College: Williams is another strong school with an optional supplement. Of course, as before, we do recommend completing optional essays. You can read more about it in our post How to Write the Williams College Application Essays.


Wesleyan University: Currently ranked 21st in National Liberal Arts Colleges by U.S. News and World Report, Wesleyan requires neither test scores nor supplemental essays. They note in their testing policy that “students should have the power to decide how best to present themselves to the admission committee and whether—or not—their standardized test results accurately reflect their academic ability and potential”. Beginning in fall 2017, it will begin to accept the Coalition Application in addition to the Common Application.


Colby College: Colby College is currently ranked 12th in National Liberal Arts Colleges and does not require a supplement to the Common Application or Coalition Application. Another attractive feature of its application process is its lack of an application fee.


Amherst College: Okay, okay, highly-ranked Amherst College does actually require a writing supplement, but we’re including it on this list because one of the options is something you’ve already written. Though you could write a separate essay for the supplement, you are also invited to “submit a graded paper from your junior or senior year that best represents your writing skills and analytical abilities.” This option specifically invites you to submit a paper you’ve already written for school, and in fact the admissions committee prefers a paper that has your teacher’s grade and comments on it already. Consider this option if you’ve held on to your top work from the year.


Want help with your college essays to improve your admissions chances? Sign up for your free CollegeVine account and get access to our essay guides and courses. You can also get your essay peer-reviewed and improve your own writing skills by reviewing other students’ essays.


For more about creating a college list and writing application essays, check out these CollegeVine posts:

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Kate Sundquist
Senior Blogger at CollegeVine
Short bio
Kate Koch-Sundquist is a graduate of Pomona College where she studied sociology, psychology, and writing before going on to receive an M.Ed. from Lesley University. After a few forays into living abroad and afloat (sometimes at the same time), she now makes her home north of Boston where she works as a content writer and, with her husband, raises two young sons who both inspire her and challenge her on a daily basis.