Dear QB: How do I write a great supplemental essay?


At this point in the application process, you have probably spent countless hours on the QuestBridge application, and likely wrote numerous drafts of your essays. It would be great to hear that you never have to write a college admissions essay again, but unfortunately, that is probably not the case.

Many of our college partners have a short answer/essay prompt that you need to pay attention to. Today, we’re going to show you how to tackle one of the most common supplemental essay topics:

“Why [college name]?”

Generally, they want to know why you want to go to their school. What they’re thinking is: There are hundreds of schools out there. Why do you want to come here?

This is your time to shine. This is your time to prove to the admissions officers that you have done your research (because you have, right?) and know exactly why you would be a great fit at that school. Here are the best strategies we encourage you to use for this essay:

Actually write a different essay for each school.

It’s easy to spot a standard response:

“[College name] is an incredible school, and I’ve heard great things about it. Here is one standard, but cool, piece of information that I found in the mail you sent me, or that is easy to find on the homepage of your website.”

It’s even worse when you accidently leave the name of a different college in, or mix up the “fun” pieces of information you pulled from their emails. Trust us – this happens all the time.  And yes, it matters. Don’t be one of those applicants!

If you have visited the school, specifically mention that.

Tell them that you have been to their campus already, mention what you saw and what you liked, and can see yourself there.

If you haven’t been able to visit, but you have talked with current students via phone or email (which hopefully you have, and if you haven’t, you should!), talk about that! You can reach out to the admissions offices of schools that you’re interested in to ask to be connected to a current student who has similar interests to your own. When you include this in your essay, you’ll show the admissions officers that your thorough research has only further convinced you to apply there.

Show your excitement and talk specifics.

Is there a particular academic program you’re really interested in? Something about the student life that sets it apart from other colleges? Tell them exactly what makes you excited to attend their school.

What does this look like? Below, we’ve written a mediocre answer and a stellar one in response to the prompt “Why College X?”. Remember – these essays are often capped at around 200 words – so use your space wisely!

Mediocre Sample

I’ve always dreamt of attending College X mostly because it is ranked in the top 10 in the US! I am very dedicated to my academics, and I want to go to a top school so that I can get into a great grad school.  Besides having great academic reputation, I hear that the campus is very beautiful. The high school that I go to right now is in really terrible condition, so it would be very cool to go to a school that actually looked nice. Everything about College X sounds like a dream – tons of student groups, a diverse student population, living in dorms, and some of the best dining hall food in the country. I really think that College X is the college of my dreams – and I look forward to being an active and contributing member of the student body.

Stellar Sample

For a long time, I thought I wanted to go to college close to home, which would have meant a big state school. But the more I’ve researched College X, I’ve learned that I really want to be to be part of a passionate and close-knit community, and in order to find the right one, I’m okay with going further from home. Though I haven’t been able to visit College X in person, I have researched it extensively online and on social media. However, the best insight into X was through the Facebook posts I followed throughout the year. In one, I learned about a community dinner organized by the social justice club where community members, students, and professors shared a meal and discussed the role of the college in encouraging broader community education. That is the kind of community I have always wanted to be part of. Sure, I’m excited to study  thermo-nuclear engineering on campus (I’ve learned some exciting things about your program!), but I am even more excited to see what my peers are interested in, and continue learning with them.

If you were an admissions officer, which student would you be more interested in admitting to your school? Definitely the student who wrote the second essay.

Now’s your chance – go and write that winning supplemental essay!

Dear QB is an advice column for QuestBridge applicants and QuestBridge Scholars. To submit a question, email with “Dear QB” in the subject line.

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