9 months ago
Admissions Advice

Have you run into supplementals that risk making you repeat yourself? For which schools?

Some of these supplemental prompts seem like traps intended to encourage repetition.

Right now I'm working on Pomona's application, which has three culture & diversity prompts. I'm not applying to Brown, but I saw on here that they also have two culture & diversity prompts. I'm sure these aren't the only two schools that do this.

Pomona's first culture & diversity prompt is eerily similar to the Common App prompt for "Reflect on a time when you questioned or challenged a belief or idea. What prompted your thinking? What was the outcome?"

So what happens if you choose the second culture & diversity prompt? That one's eerily similar to the mandatory third culture & diversity prompt. So what do you do? You have to choose either the first or second prompt, and the third is mandatory. Do you choose the first prompt unless you have two distinct communities that are extremely meaningful to you?

There's also a completely optional space in Pomona's application to share how you overcame a challenge. This seems like another space where you can fall into the trap of repeating information found elsewhere in your application. Did you already write an additional information section essay about an extenuating circumstance? If you wrote your Common App essay in response to Prompt #2, which asks you to recount a time you faced a challenge, should you skip this prompt? What if you write about a different challenge? Does your application start to sound like a country music joke? (My wife left, my dog died, my truck won't start, I lost my house, etc.)

Has anyone else noticed an application with supplemental essays that risk making you repeat yourself in the same application? Share it here, please!


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2 answers

Accepted Answer
8 months ago

This is an interesting question. I tried seeing if I could find a list somewhere that had similar prompts (I was hoping CollegeVine had already made this) but it appears it doesn't exist. CollegeVine has all the prompts so it might be possible to put a list together and write a blog article on this, I'll pass along the suggestion.

Did you figure out what to do in this type of situation? I'm curious about how you ended up approaching things. I re-read through Pomona's supplemental prompts and, while they are definitely similar, I think they are still distinct enough where you should be able to come up with fairly different answers. You also have to consider the different lengths of the essays you'd be writing. The Common App allows for 650 words, which you should be using most of, while supplementals usually are 250 words max (Pomona's only 200). I'd try not to worry about sounding like a broken record or country music song and I think @OFHanson gave good advice when saying think "big then little." So while you're probably going to want to pick something important to discuss for that common app essay, which can be difficult, I think it's ok to have something less "important" for the supplementals. Meaning whatever you discuss could have had a much smaller impact on your life.

9 months ago

As an applicant this year too, I suggest brainstorming about all the events in your life that have “shaped” who you are academically and as a person. The goal of these prompts is to derive the best portrait of the student they are about to accept. Firstly, your common app essay should be highly reflective of yourself and you should have prioritized what you wanted to say in it—as though it was the only essay you would be writing. Secondly, these supplemental prompts, though “eerily” repetitive, should only follow a similar pattern in that it exhibits personal GROWTH and the shaping of CHARACTER, but it should not be repetitive in the sense of “this happened, then I did this, and I learned this.” In other words, the CENTRAL MESSAGE should be the same, but the formulating of the essay should NOT be. To use your implied example, you do NOT want to sound like a “country music joke”, that is too formulated of A to B to C.

For extra help on the Pomona prompts, visit these sites: (https://www.collegeessayadvisors.com/supplemental-essay/pomona-college-2020-21-supplemental-essay-guide/) And (https://www.koppelmangroup.com/blog/2020/9/15/how-to-write-the-pomona-supplement-essays-2020-2021)

Now always remember, supplemental prompts are “extra features”. Your common app essay should have done most of the work in painting the best portrait of yourself. Meanwhile, the supplemental prompts are the minor details, colors, and the frame that go into your application. They are essentially “expansion” prompts where you are given more room to elaborate on yourself, an extracurricular, an experience not mentioned anywhere else, or a cultural/identity community you associate yourself with.

For further guidance, think “big then little.” You’ve covered the big thing in your personal statement, now surely there are miniature personal-statement-type events that have happened in your life. For example, if a loved one passed away, that is big-essay material. Next, if you need to elaborate on the financial impact of that devastation, that is little-essay material. It really is all about “expansion” and “elaboration”, where can you add?

Hope this helped a little, it’s honestly hard to give a complete answer on this because everyone’s background is so different, and thus, everyone’s approach to the supplement prompts is bound to be unique. Good luck!


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