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Articles / Applying to College / Will So-So Common Application Supplements Hurt Admission Chances?

Jan. 9, 2009

Will So-So Common Application Supplements Hurt Admission Chances?

Question: How important are supplements to the college admission decision? If you have phenomenal Common App essays but decent and generic supplement essays, will that hurt your chances of being accepted to top schools?

Admission officials at highly competitive colleges often have a tough time deciding between one uber-qualified applicant and the next. Thus, any edge you can give yourself is important, and this includes submitting super essays for not only the Common App itself but also for all supplements. In fact, at some colleges, the supplement essays will carry the most weight because these are the topics that admission officials have specifically chosen in order to elicit the information they want to see.


However, while a strong essay can help an applicant's chances, a "generic" one is not necessarily an automatic deal-breaker. For instance, many college supplements require those insidious "Why have you applied to this school?" diatribes, which tend to spawn mediocre responses from the vast majority of candidates. If admission folks ruled against every student who waxed poetic about the caring sharing faculty and fine facilities offered by their institution, there probably wouldn't be enough other applicants left to fill the freshman class. :-)

Thus, the bottom line is this: So-so supplements might hurt your admission odds but, hopefully, other strengths--in Common App essays and elsewhere---will pull you through.

Written by

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone

Sally Rubenstone knows the competitive and often convoluted college admission process inside out: From the first time the topic of college comes up at the dinner table until the last duffel bag is unloaded on a dorm room floor. She is the co-author of Panicked Parents' Guide to College Admissions; The Transfer Student's Guide to Changing Colleges and The International Student's Guide to Going to College in America. Sally has appeared on NBC's Today program and has been quoted in countless publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Weekend, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report, Newsweek, People and Seventeen. Sally has viewed the admissions world from many angles: As a Smith College admission counselor for 15 years, an independent college counselor serving students from a wide range of backgrounds and the author of College Confidential's "Ask the Dean" column. She also taught language arts, social studies, study skills and test preparation in 10 schools, including American international schools in London, Paris, Geneva, Athens and Tel Aviv. As senior advisor to College Confidential since 2002, Sally has helped hundreds of students and parents navigate the college admissions maze. In 2008, she co-founded College Karma, a private college consulting firm, with her College Confidential colleague Dave Berry, and she continues to serve as a College Confidential advisor. Sally and her husband, Chris Petrides, became first-time parents in 1997 at the ripe-old age of 45. So Sally was nearly an official senior citizen when her son Jack began the college selection process, and when she was finally able to practice what she had preached for more than three decades.

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