A Guide to Crafting a Great Supplemental Essay

September 3, 2021
A post by Kyah Stewart, Admission Counselor

You’ve narrowed down your college list. You’re about to put the final touches on your application. But wait – you forgot the supplemental essay! You might be surprised to find that many schools ask for an extra, school-specific essay. It can feel like a lot to complete at once, but don’t panic, because we’ve got you covered! Check out these admission-approved tips and tricks for crafting a great supplemental essay.

  1. Start early and create multiple drafts. Hello, my fellow procrastinators, I’m talking to you! Putting off assignments until the last minute won’t work at a place like Richmond. One of the biggest mistakes that students make is not giving themselves enough time to write and edit their essays, which leads to them turning in a first draft. Starting early will give you plenty of time to write and make changes, without rushing to meet the application deadline. Most times it takes practice to perfect an essay. If the writing isn’t coming easily, scrap it and try a new angle! You might be pleasantly surprised at where it ends up.
  2. Create an outline. It can be difficult to stay on topic when there is so much you want to share in only 650 words (the word count maximum for the Richmond Question). But, for a clear and concise essay, you should pick a prompt and stick to it. This is where outlines come in handy! An outline will guide the direction of your writing. It doesn’t need to be too detailed—just jot down a couple of key points that you want to be sure to discuss. As you’re writing, check back occasionally to make sure you are staying on track. If you decide that you want to change direction, just adjust your outline and keep writing! Half the battle is just getting words on paper to start.
  3. Invest equal time and effort into supplemental and application essays. Let’s talk Richmond for a moment. In addition to the application essay, the University of Richmond requires an additional Richmond Question. If you didn’t know before, now you do! (Take a look at our three new essay prompts here). We recommend setting aside adequate time to complete both essays. There’s nothing more disappointing than a polished piece of writing in the application essay followed by a shallow submission for the Richmond Question that feels blown off. Keep in mind that this is one of the best opportunities for your admission counselor to get to know you—so be authentic and genuine and let your personality shine! It can help to think of every space in your application as a new opportunity to share a different angle of who you are. What haven’t we learned yet? Asking this question can be a great guide.
  4. Show your essays to people you trust. Don’t be afraid to allow others to read your writing. Have your parents, teachers, coaches, and even your friends take a look at your drafts. It can seem daunting to show your essay to others (especially if you decide to share a more personal story), but the extra effort you put in will pay off. When you show your essay to other people, they can catch mistakes (like spelling, punctuation, or grammar) that you might have overlooked. They can also help to ensure that what you’ve written is clear and concise. Just be sure to only take advice that feels right to you. At the end of the day, this is still your essay. A helpful guiding question you can ask your readers is simply, “Does this sound like me?”
  5. Trust your gut. The number one question that students ask admission counselors is “what essay prompt should I choose?” And to that, we say trust your gut instinct. Which prompt stood out to you the most after reading the options? Which prompt will allow you to showcase your most authentic self? Only you can decide which prompt is right for you—for a well-crafted essay that stands out, it needs to feel personal. The more excited you are about responding to a prompt, the more excited we’ll be to read what you have to say! It’s not the topic that matters. It’s how you write, and what you reveal about yourself. We promise you that enthusiasm will shine through.
Now get to writing!