As if completing a Common App essay wasn’t enough, colleges across the United States often require additional supplemental essays (if whenever they’re considered “optional” by the institution, students should always strive to complete them in order to increase your chances of getting an acceptance letter.) These essays, usually short responses from 100-500 words, allow admission committees to get a better idea of your entire college application. They hope to determine your dedication to a specific major, your potential involvement in their student community, and why exactly you want to apply to a specific program or the university altogether.

Indeed, with the complicated process that is already required for applying, including improving your academic rigor, devising an application strategy, seeking letters of recommendation, and doing your best to strengthen your extracurricular involvement, one can only ask – is there a simplified application that doesn’t require thousands of words of writing? Unfortunately, competitive and popular schools, which are likely on your college list, are only increasing their requirements.

Fear not! While applying is a tedious, nerve-inducing process, you can easily overcome the challenges of writing supplemental essays thorough research and being true to yourself. Similar to writing any personal statement, you can get far with a few carefully considered steps.

Ask yourself why you want to pursue a specific program

Are you applying to a computer science program primarily because you know it leads to a well-paying, fulfilling career? You’ll need to think beyond salaries and career outlook. Think about the important items that lead to you a specific program. What are the problems you aspire to solve by earning a computer science education? The same goes for a degree in the humanities, or in medical sciences. Can you draw from any personal experiences? A great way to approach any writing is to draw an emotional response from the reader and showing authenticity through personal experience is a great start. This is a perfect way to begin brainstorming for any “Why Major?” type essay.

Research the school

One of the popular supplemental essays is “Why Our University?” If you’re only applying to a university because they have a great social scene or are prestigious, you have to look further. Look into the type of resources they offer for the program you’re interested in. Are there labs associated with the electrical engineering program? Are there student groups related to outdoor activities? Do you want to get involved in religious discourse? Find those groups, resources, and other items of interest and name them in your writing. This shows that you did your research and are serious about becoming a student at their institution.

Plan out your involvement at any university

This overlaps with the previous point, but is highly relevant for any supplemental essay that asks how you’ll be involved in their student body. A good approach to this is reviewing your own extracurricular list during your high school years. If you were involved in robotics, debate, chess club, student government, volunteering, or other groups, establishing the connection between what you did in high school and what you look forward to doing at the university can help convince the admissions committee that you’re determined to have a presence in the various school offerings.

Be true to yourself in your writing

Honesty can go a long way, and if there are some obvious grey areas in your application and your supplemental essays, it could raise a red flag. Start by creating an outline for each school you’re interesting in and connect that with prior experiences. You might be considering a university near a mountain range, let’s say the Rockies, because you’ve been involved in Boy Scouts and have been camping and hiking all your life. This type of genuine connection can ease doubts in the eyes of the reader. Admissions committees might go through thousands of supplemental essays, don’t be afraid to make yours memorable.

Avoid cliche statements

Authenticity is important! Don’t write what you think admissions committees want to hear; it’s crucial that you write to clearly convey your characteristics and interests as clearly as possible. If visiting the campus had a large impact on your decision to apply, be honest and include that as well. Talk about your surroundings, your interactions with any students, staff, or guides during your visit, and other items you feel are related to your aspirations.

Do not plagiarize!

There’s nothing wrong with seeking ideas and inspiration online when you’re trying to get started on a supplemental essay, but nothing will disqualify your application to a university faster than the suspicion of plagiarism. The simplest way to avoid plagiarism is to carefully plan out your response with ideas drawn from your personal experiences and interests, but if you do venture online to get a sense for what’s expected you need to ensure what you write is original and true to you. If you’ve crafted a genuine response to your essay but you’re still in doubt, it never hurts to run your essay through a trusted plagiarism checker like Quetext before hitting that submit button. Your work will not become public and Quetext can tell you if your essay is too similar to something published online.

With these tips, you will be on your way to writing outstanding supplemental essays. Beforehand, be sure to create outlines, brainstorm, and plan to spend a significant time researching your options. More importantly, read your essay out loud more than once – are you really covering everything you intend to discuss, and how does it sound? Reading past essays could help you develop ideas on what to write, but it’s important that you retain your own unique voice in any supplemental essay you submit to universities. For more help with the Common App, check out our article Writing For The Common App: Advice And Strategies.