Self-reflective supplements ask the unanswerable, need to go


Olivia Kardos

Sharada Vishwanath argues college supplemental essays are too taxing and their place in applications should be reconsidered.

Sharada Vishwanath, Online Editor

So you’ve finished the SATs. You’ve mustered up enough courage to ask teachers for recommendations (RIP quiet kids). Just when you thought you couldn’t possibly get more numb from the process, you have to scrape up any substance from the 17 years of your measly life to write a series of introspective essays? The level of self-reflection needed to write college supplements is simply not healthy, and it’s actually a really gross feeling to have to dissect your life of any meaning. Colleges should stop asking for supplemental essays or at least start asking better questions. 

The personal statement—the 650-word essay that is required by nearly every college—is fine because 650 words is enough space for anything important to be fully described. Supplemental essays are usually much smaller, not nearly giving enough room to appropriately answer with deep retrospection the prompts often demand. I understand, I truly do, the essays are a space for creative kids to shine. A chance to explain any significant aspects of your life that aren’t represented by grades. And fine, granted, a lot can happen for some people in 17 years. But arguably, for the vast majority of the kids, the essays are the same repeated fluff that college admissions officers are forced to read over and over again.

Typically colleges might have a “why this major” or “what’s your passion” essay. There’s something very silly about demanding to know your motivation. A lot of times, interests don’t have a crazy origin or single moment that defines them. Often, they develop over the course of time or form as an arbitrary product of our environments. Interests and hobbies can start feeling manufactured when you are forced to start detailing where they originated from. Not to mention, plenty of people go to college undecided. College is supposed to be about figuring out what we like and what we want to do with our lives, so why ask what our passions are before we even get there?

Even worse than the “why major” essay is the “perspective” or “challenge you’ve overcome” essay. As a privileged girl from a white, generally affluent town, my biggest challenge is whether I should get my coffee from Dunkin or Starbucks. It doesn’t feel right to scramble around for something remotely meaningful when there are people who are going to be answering the same prompt with experiences that are actually powerful and real and should not be equated with mine.

Examples of good supplemental questions to ask could be “Tell us about a piece of art or music you enjoy,” “What do you do for fun?” or the infamous UChicago prompts which have previously included “So where is Waldo, really?” or “What can actually be divided by zero?” These kinds of questions can actually be fun to write and can still provide information about who you are without making you feel like you’re “packaging” yourself.  

With the recent news of the SAT essay and subjects no longer being administered by the College Board, essays, extracurriculars and recommendations now matter more than ever. This will surely start to make the admissions process a race of who can best create a desirable “personality,” and pretty soon we’ll all become mindless zombies that can’t tell the difference between ourselves and the manufactured “character” we’ve created for college. College supplements can often make students feel like they need to take actual life moments and turn them into selling points, which breeds inauthenticity. Are you really creating a local movement, or just to write about it? Is this non-profit truly created with the intention you say it is?

Students lose so much sleep over the admissions process. The least colleges could do is ask questions that are actually fun to answer and can be written by 17-year-olds with limited life experiences.